Asian Girl Problem #116: Thoughts on White Privilege

“Do you think America doesn’t totally accept you, or you don’t accept it?”

I think that’s what he asked. If not, this is how I interpreted it. It’s a good question because it makes me bristle, put up defenses, prepare to argue. The underlying accusation being that part of this chip on my shoulder is self-inflicted. Maybe I’m scrutinizing, searching for differences and injustices to prove a made-up theory. I don’t want to think of myself as Angry Asian Girl, but in these moments, I realize how easily that anger pops up from underneath the surface. I value them. It shows how confused I still am. How quickly I can be contradicted, just as I think I have it figured out.

At the time, I answered, “I don’t know.” Because I needed to think about it and because how does one explain something this complicated without going into tiny subtleties, fleeting moments and glances, historical and cultural details that have totally escaped the other person? You basically have to teach them a new language before opening up the conversation. That’s what I call white privilege. It’s not just what white people *have*, but what they *lack* in terms of accessing the delicate space that lets them empathize. It’s not their fault–I’m not even invited to that space all the time, and when there, I spend a long time blindly grasping at air. (re: this blog) Someone with white privilege is spared from these (non?)issues that neurotic, angry, hypersensitive people like me worry and wonder about. They have the luxury of exploring their individuality without the burdens of race.

My answer to the question is “yes and yes.” Since it became apparent that America didn’t totally accept me, probably when I was like five, I’ve been ashamed. When I got older and prouder, that shifted to anger, which is more productive and easier to deal with. Now I’m like a jilted lover–it doesn’t matter how good America treats me compared to my motherland, or how well I’ve assimilated–I’m not falling for it. To me, totally accepting America as is would be admitting that I want to be American like the ignorant people I grew up around. If there was a racial sensitivity Olympics, America would win, but that’s not saying much. I have higher, perhaps unattainable standards for this country.

A. 100 – someone who is 100 percent at terms with their black identity. More often than not, you’re not any one of these types, but you can’t be “just yourself” either.

B. oofta – someone who adjusts their blackness depending on the environment.

C. nosejob – someone who tries to hide their blackness in exchange for whiteness.

This is one of my favorite parts from Dear White People, because I think all minorities have embodied each of these personas at some point. And how their community reacts will absolutely affect that choice. It’s ridiculous to say that someone can be totally secure that they’ve chosen the “right” person to be, when their social standing, professional success or ego might be on the line.

Just like it’s ridiculous to totally accept a country, or feel any pressure to entertain such a ludicrous concept.

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4 thoughts on “Asian Girl Problem #116: Thoughts on White Privilege

  1. I had my own mini melt down at work recently because of passing “harmless” comments… it’s starting to get ridiculous and it’s like do I have to pretend not to hear? I think you captured it perfectly: “Someone with white privilege is spared from these (non?)issues that neurotic, angry, hypersensitive people like me worry and wonder about.” Someone will say something in passing, but then we spend hours thinking about the comment. Can’t we just exist??

    • so curious what you’ve been up to azalea, and what’s been going on in the land of ports! i’ve love to rekindle our email correspondence even if they are short and far between! i almost set out on a road trip up there all the way to vancouver. it’s happening next year.

  2. Hi, I just stumbled upon this blog today and usually, I don’t make comments, but I’ve had many discussions about these topics with my girlfriends and for what it’s worth, I thought I’d put in my two cents.

    To that question, I would say neither. America accepts everyone. And I accept America. It’s a certain type of person that does not know how to handle me. But truthfully, I get that no matter where I go, including Korea. Women are not engineers in Korea and I get worse crap from the Korean men I have to work with. The awesome part of America, is that I can shame them for being a jerk!

    If it’s not elitism, then it’s ignorance. And it took me a long time to realize that there are a lot of ignorant people out there. Either way, I like to do a bit of shaming as a response. Jerks need feedback that they’re being jerks.

    I don’t think “White America” is America in it’s entirety. I think it’s a slowly dying majority because of blogs like this and increase in dialog that educates people about racial sensitivity. And that gives me hope.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Dooroo. It’s so true that there’s a lot more ignorance and accepted racism in other countries, and much fewer social and legal rights for minorities. I feel lucky that we’re in a time and place where we’ve already achieved (at least perceived) acceptance and the next step is claiming more agency.

      “If it’s not elitism, it’s ignorance.” So astute. Being [INSERT ETHNICITY]-American is uniquely different–and those of us who are grew up in an environment of elitism where our existence provided fodder for other people to feel elite. Cynical view: Us being here, asking to be included as Americans, gives them a reason to show their superiority over other less accepting countries.

      I love that you call people out. Feeling shame is a personal decision, and usually warranted if it’s genuine

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