A Conversation About White Privilege and Why it Exists

The title may be misleading because I’m neither an anthropologist nor a sociologist, so I actually have no real scientific or societal basis as to why White privilege began and why it’s still in existence. I have some pretty good ideas, but not founded enough to write an entire blog post about them — this is about how it DOES exist despite what some people may say.

First off, being a minority in America is a weird thing, especially belonging to the “elite” minority group, the one white people don’t really mind all that much except when it comes to penny pinching and a lack of understanding at nail salons. Have major strides been made since the beginning of American time? Absolutely. But why is it that not that long ago (less than a century, even) that it was illegal for me to marry a white man, to own land or a home, to even vote? Why were fellow Asians (the Japanese to be specific just in case you’ve been living under a rock and literally know nothing) forced into internment camps a mere 70 some years ago? Babies born in internment camps are still very much alive, which means it wasn’t long ago enough (of course it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but it did, and nothing I can do or say will change that).

And to add to the confusion (for me and probably everyone else), I’m an international adoptee, which has garnered such comments as, “Well, you’re not a real Asian” or “So you’re basically White.” Have I said these things about myself? Totally. But there’s a difference between what a person can say about themselves and what other people can say, sorry if it bothers you and feels unjust. And I’m working on curbing comments like that anyhow so as to not add to the unfortunate race problem we have here in the old US of A. (And just as an aside, I recognize there are some major race issues in other countries, but I don’t live in those countries, probably you don’t either, and that doesn’t really affect how America acts. If it does, it most certainly shouldn’t — “Well, as long as there’s a group of people more racist, then we’re fine.”) But back to the issue at hand — I am most certainly a real Asian (my facial features prove that quite readily), and I’m not basically White since I am, last time I checked, full Asian. Also I’m not basic at all *snaps*. It would appropriate to say, under these circumstances, “Well, you’re ethnically Asian but culturally American, which is a predominately White culture even though White people can’t seem to get enough of Taco Tuesdays.”

tacotuesdaysimpsons

If you’re a White person reading this, fuming and foaming at the mouth that I am declaring that White privilege exists, well … sorry, but I don’t make the rules. Does it appear that White people in America have some unearned social advantages because of the color of their skin? Absolutely. Does it mean I expect all White people to sit around feeling bad about themselves because of the color of their skin? No. That would be racist. (And just to clear things up, we all say or do racist things from time to time, and those instances do not make us Racists. They make us humans who say and do dumb crap. When a minority says to you (should you be White), “That’s kind of racist,” don’t get all up in arms about it. Accept the feedback and reevaluate what you’ve done and then probably stop that particular behavior. Recently I got into a rather heated argument with someone over Facebook (which I most certainly did NOT want, by the way — I hate Facebook arguments quite thoroughly and don’t ever go to other peoples’ pages to disagree with them, even if I feel confident I can be diplomatic about it) in regards to whether “South Pacific” is racist. First of all, it totally 100% is, and I don’t give a hoot about in what decade it was written or what the original intent was. People are unintentionally racist all the time, and that doesn’t make it any less offensive. It just makes it steeped in ignorance. Plus, things age out. Let’s all agree to retire “South Pacific” because it’s 2016 and no one should be producing it anyhow. And rather unfortunately, the White person with whom I was trying to discuss the matter did NOT take my feedback well and then downgraded my distaste for racism to mere offense. I wish a more productive conversation could have ensued from the whole thing and that the other person could have begun to understand that when two Asian people are saying, “This thing is racist against Asians,” it very well may be. For a much better explanation of the ultimately too negative connotations to the words racist and racism, plus several good ways White people can overcome their White fragility (y’all are SUPER fragile) and occasionally swallow that uncomfortable pill of being wrong, check out this post here.)

“But what about reverse discrimination? White men can’t get anything these days because of all the benefits the minorities are getting.” HAHAHAHAHAHA shut up and go away, first off. No one wants to hear about how hard it is to be a White man in America. But that does bring me to my next point about The Problem with Affirmative Action, and Why it Needs to Go Away. It’s been proven time and time again that the government probably needs to stop making sweeping generalizations about groups of people and offering handouts to those they consider less fortunate — there’s actually very little that bothers me more than White altruism (I’m looking straight at you, Brangelina).

Story time. When I was in college, one of the organizations held Affirmative Action Day in the student union, where they sold food at different costs depending upon the buyer’s ethnicity. Spoiler alert: that didn’t go over well and no one thought it was a good idea. I mean, I guess it was cool that for just some pocket change I could buy a burger (or was it candy? Too old, can’t remember), and I think at the time I took part in it just because it was so cheap (cheaper for Black students, cheapest for Native Americans, which … the offensiveness runs deep with that one, kids.) Here’s my beef with Affirmative Action: it was created by White people, for starters, and appears to be a handout to POC (people of color) because apparently we can’t achieve anything without the assistance of our White superiors. Is it reverse discrimination, however? Absolutely not. It is, unfortunately, hiring employees or accepting college students for all the wrong reasons. Accept Black students into your student body because of their GPA, their motivation, their drive, their extracurriculars — not because you have a percentage you need to fulfill to appear diverse. They’re out there, they exist, and they don’t need your help. We don’t need your help. But ultimately till that goes away, when someone says, “I want you because of the color of your skin,” that is not in any way similar to, “I do not want you because you are White.”

I don’t think the answer is abolishing the notion that race exists at all. I’ve heard that argument, and it just ultimately sounds like something a White person would say. I’m proud to be Asian, to be a little different from other people, to have unique traits that no one else can have. I think there are dozens and dozens of cultures that shouldn’t be downgraded in the name of fighting racism under the guise of “But we’re all humans.” I DO think we need to open up the conversation about White privilege, what White people can do about it, how they can take responsibility for it, how they can learn valuable lessons from POC. And I think POC need to recognize that the majority of White people are inherently good, that they have good intentions, and that there’s a lot they (and we) don’t know. When someone says something racist, don’t be rude about it. Let it be a learning experience, and if they react negatively to that feedback, don’t engage in argument. You’ve offered up knowledge, and what they do with it is up to them. I’ve been told almost my entire marriage that the key to success is good communication, and that translates VERY well to all interpersonal relationships. When you take the time to listen and understand, that’s when growth occurs. That’s how we get rid of the race problem in America.

The-biggest-communication-problem-is-we-do-not-listen-to-understand.-We-listen-to-reply

We’re All a Little Bit Racist

I mean, that’s true, isn’t it? Even when we don’t mean to be, racism just kind of inherently happens because stereotypes exist, and we as a society bow down to them, and then we start to think we’re right.

Stereotypes come from somewhere — they have to — so the argument, I suppose, is that they hold within them some iota of truth. And while that may be the case, over-generalizing an entire group of people, whether by ethnicity, country of origin, religion, or political stance, is something we should probably all avoid. Even if a study were done that proved it to be true in 98% of all cases, there would still be that 2% proving it is not a blanket theory.

So Mexicans slough at work, Blacks kill police officers, Asians are good at math, Indians may actually be computers in human form, and White people are gun-toting patriots.

I’m going to go ahead and just dispel any idea that Asians are good at math because I am quite terrible at it (in recent years, I’ve become a math atheist. And I know, I know, you’re wondering what it ever did to me and why I’m bearing a grudge, but it’s far easier to not acknowledge its existence than let it ruin my life). I do not play the violin. I’m pretty lazy and lack self-discipline. I speak one language, and I don’t eat rice on a regular basis (because, you know, carbs are bad for you *insert eye roll here*).

There’s this misconception that, so long as it’s “positive,” it’s not racist. And it’s true that not all stereotypes are racist, but for the most part, all racism is stereotypical. I belong to a group of individuals who are often viewed as the superior minority — my people work hard and apply themselves. Except for, you know, the ones who don’t, but they’re in the minority of the minority and simply do not count. When you say to me, “You must be good at math,” don’t snow yourself into thinking what you said wasn’t actually racist because *sighs* it was. Offensive? Not particularly, until I start thinking about the racism aspect, but I realize you could say far worse things to me, so I suppose I should count my blessings that I belong to the most worthwhile race.

By the way, not all Asians work hard. *raises hand* I slept in till 11:30 today and didn’t get out of bed for two hours.

I feel like I need to also say something on the matter of racism in humor. Look, a few of my favorite stand-up comedians are kings and queens of self-deprecating humor relating to their ethnicities and countries of origin. We could probably argue all day long as to whether that humor is a good outlet to deal with the duality of being a minority in America or a negative impact on an entire race because it’s feeding into the stereotypes. I personally consider it the former, although I’ve heard some that not only stepped into the latter but actually jumped in head first, and then it was no longer amusing to me. And unfair though it may be to you, it’s just more acceptable for minorities to joke about, you know, being minorities.

Otherwise, racism in humor is awkwardly uncomfortable to me. If something is both funny and racist, the take away from that ultimately should be that it’s racist, and it just shouldn’t ever be uttered. Really nothing should ever trump racism. When I was in high school, I was working on a group project with some friends. One white boy, one white girl, one black boy, and myself, so like … AMERICA! Somehow the topic of funny racist jokes came up (I feel like it must have been jokes at first and then treaded into the uncomfortable place of racism), and after the white boy told one particularly offensive “joke” involving the n-word (he actually said it right there in front of my friend, Marvin, and I don’t recall how he reacted, but I was none too pleased), my friend (I’m just going to spoil the ending for you and let you know the relationship ended upon utterance of this joke) said, “No offense, Mary, but …”

I’m going to give you a brief lesson on how to be a decent human. If you must begin anything with the words “no offense,” then you really shouldn’t say it ever at all under any circumstances. You are openly admitting that you are a fool because 1. you know you shouldn’t say it, 2. you’re admitting you know it, and 3. you’re doing it anyhow. Seriously, that makes you suck at humanhood.

The rest was, “… What do you say to an Asian you see in the hall? …*insert the most uncomfortable silence known to man* … I CHINK I GOT SOME GOOK IN MY EYE!”

So, I mean, like I said, the friendship died a fiery death right then and there. One racial epithet is more than enough, two is just gratuitous.

The problem is, I know what her line of thinking was — as an adoptee, I’m considered by many friends and acquaintances to essentially not be Asian. And while I am certainly not interested in Korean culture, the fact that I was born in Asia to parents of Asian descent and a long line of Asian ancestors makes me, ahem, Asian. I can’t really alter that. But because of this non-Asianness, I am somehow immune to all things racist? (I do pose this as a question because it baffles me still.) I may watch the Super Bowl and eat pizza and listen to Adele while wearing leggings (I draw the line at Uggs, although I bought some seriously cute leg warmers today), but … still Asian. Still going to be offended by racist comments.

It happens, accidental (and intentional) racism. And whether or not you believe race is something created by society to separate us and we’re all just humans gosh darnit, it’s here to stay. I doubt we’ll ever truly be able to get away from it. (Also, I think that’s a really stupid argument and sounds like something a white person would say to seem relevant to his ethnic “peeps”.) What’s important, however, is how mindful we are on a daily basis, how hard we try to be thoughtful and kind and to ignore all the stereotypes, allowing ourselves to simply learn about those around us.

Adoption in the Media

For whatever reason, adoption has kind of been a taboo topic for decades upon decades upon decades. I don’t really understand it myself — adoption happens, it’s a thing, babies being placed in loving homes is basically the raddest ever. Let’s just talk about it, guys.

And let’s not pretend like babies are adopted for reasons only related to illegitimacy or youthful parenthood — children are adopted every day for every reason under the sun. And you can sit around thinking the birthparents are terrible people who made awful decisions, that they brought a child into the world without wanting it in the first place, but might I remind you that they did not get an abortion. So let’s not call names, shall we?

Teen pregnancy is even more taboo — like we don’t want to discuss the fact that teenagers have sex (and *gasps* KNOW about it, God help us all). And what a remarkably brave, mature decision to place a child for adoption in hopes for a better life for not only the child but themselves. It’s not selfish that they hope for better lives for themselves, either — I believe it’s commendable if they want to finish high school, go to college, find careers, fall in love, and have children when they are more ready for it. I’m not condoning teen pregnancy, but I think it’s time that we stopped looking down on them so much.

We’re humans. We make choices. Sometimes the choices are less good than others.

Aside from “Juno,” I haven’t noticed a ton of teen pregnancy and subsequent adoption in the media all that much (unless you turn to the Lifetime Network, and I know, I know, every few hours someone is placing a baby because she was 15 and pregnant, 16 and expecting, or pregnant at 17). So when “Mom,” one of my favorite sitcoms starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney (who, btw, are two of the most under-appreciated female comediennes out there today), decided to not only perpetuate the family theme of becoming pregnant at a fairly young age but then PLACE THE BABY FOR ADOPTION, I was pretty excited.

First off, I need to clear up a few things: a birthmother NEVER, under any circumstances, “gives” her baby up. So the verbage they continually use each episode is grating because it’s entirely wrong. A birthmother places her child with another loving family. They never give anything up.

But that aside, and I understand that’s mostly due to societal ignorance because it wasn’t till recently that people started addressing the whole placed v. gave up, they’re doing things pretty well. The daughter wants to place her child, the father was scared at first but SPOILER ALERT decided it was going to be the best option for everyone. And then we met the SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE ME THE FIRST TIME future adoptive parents, who, you guys this is so huge, was comprised of a Caucasian male and an Asian female. Like, an interracial couple adopting a white baby.

THESE THINGS, THEY DON’T REALLY HAPPEN. And it made me really pleased. Like, oh my gosh, society is apparently ready for this. And no one’s freaking out that an Asian woman will have a Caucasian baby for the rest of her life because hey! It’s America! It’s 2014! We do stuff like that, and it’s awesome! (And don’t even get me started on the whole interracial couple thing — the first one I ever saw was between Eric Matthews and one of his girlfriends in “Boy Meets World,” and as a little Asian girl fully aware she’d marry a white man, that was rad.)

“Mom”: attacking all the potentially controversial topics in one fell swoop.

This only makes me crave more. Let’s recognize that society, it is changing, and for the most part it’s changing for the better. Because not that long ago, my birthmother would have been shunned in her society for having a child out of wedlock, and I wouldn’t have been able to legally marry my pasty-white husband, and not much longer ago than that, I wouldn’t have even been able to vote.

Let’s Start an End

I’ll just warn you now: This post is going to have a couple instances of slightly harsher swears than you may be accustomed to from me. I’ll be quoting people if that makes you feel better, and it’ll still be PG-13. There will also be some racial slurs thrown in for good measure (again, quoting people, and by now you probably realize this is going to be a serious post).

So. Let’s talk about bullying.

I was neither a bully nor was I particularly bullied when I was growing up. I went through the regular little kid racism in grade school on a pretty daily basis — dumb stuff like, “Your eyes look like this” (cue the infamous stretching of the eyelid corners) or “Your face is flat” or “You look different” (newsflash, kid: we all look different). But since I was raised by excellent parents who helped me adjust to the world in basically every way, I remained pretty unphased.

I mean, I still remember almost all of it.

Like the time in sophomore Biology class and a couple students somehow got onto the topic of hilarious, racist jokes (there were four of us in the group and honest to goodness — I can’t make this up — one was Black and the other was me), and a girl I thought was my friend said, “What do you say to an Asian in the hallway? … I chink I got some gook in my eye!” In case you’re wondering, no, we’re not still friends, and no, I didn’t think that was particularly hilarious because I don’t like jokes that include epithets. Maybe I’m a killjoy.

I have a dear friend who was bullied nearly every single day growing up and retaliated with bullying kids who were just a little more vulnerable. I don’t condone that reaction, but there’s a big part of me that understands where it came from. Because kids — especially the ones raised by mean people — are a force to be reckoned with, and you just can’t escape it.

I have two vivid memories of instances where I was bullied — both by girls, both over stupid reasons. The first was a reaction to my saying she looked like she did her makeup with Skittles — pretty rude, I realize, but for a week or so, her friends would sidle in next to me at the cafeteria and tell me they were going to, at some point, kick the shit out of me. In the end, things were resolved, and I managed to keep all of my shit inside, which is generally my preference.

The second was a reaction to my being — I don’t know, smarter? The TA? Champion of the underdog? — and they informed me, during a peer counseling session (that’s a joke, by the way. Don’t have kids try to fix other kids’ problems.) that they would call me a bitch every time they saw me in the hallway and would even have all their friends and cohorts and family members and gang boyfriends and who knows — the whole damn world? — do the same.

That never actually happened because the assistant principal and I had a lovely chat about what took place. I am nothing if not a strong, resilient girl, and I don’t take no crap from nobody.

But the bullying stopped there, and for the most part, lasted no longer than a week or two. I never found any reason to bully other kids because I was about 4’10” at my tallest in middle school and weighed I think around 85 lbs., plus I was raised by the World’s Nicest Woman who would have shuddered at the thought of my being mean to anyone. I was the kid who would go home, crying to her mother, about other kids getting bullied. I was the kid who encouraged her mother to anonymously purchase coats and longer pants for kids I saw being treated unfairly so maybe — just maybe — the bullies would get off their backs.

In hearing stories from friends who were bullied growing up, I think it’s high time we put an end to it. Close the chapter on bullying and move on to something a whole lot better. Put a stop to mean people raising mean kids, to abusive parents hitting their children, to alcoholics getting pregnant.

Look, I get it — we’re all going to get hurt at some point in our lives. We all will. But that doesn’t mean we have to put that on someone else — that doesn’t ease the pain at all. It just spreads it, like a wildfire, till one day we’ll look around and all we’ll see is miles and miles stretching across the globe of people who are hurt and are hurting and we won’t even recognize our own communities.

This video has gone viral on Youtube, and chances are you’ve seen it posted on friends’ walls and thought to skip it. Well, stop that. It’s a quick seven minutes that will change the way you view bullying and will hopefully continue to spurn change.

Want to learn more? Visit http://tothisdayproject.com/

Engrish

Engrish cracks me up. There’s probably a joke in there somewhere — for those of you just joining the party, this is what I look like:

I mean, this is what I look like after airbrushing my head.

I mean, this is what I look like after airbrushing my head.

Yep. I’m Asian. I’m Asian and I laugh at Engrish.

In my defense, I’m adopted and only look the part — I don’t speak the language, I don’t care for the food, and I know the most basic parts of the culture, like, the country is full of Koreans and a lot of them are Buddhist.

[No, I am not from North Korea. That wouldn’t actually happen in real life.]

So the other day, whilst in Las Vegas, Husband and I went on a shopping spree. And by Husband and I, mostly what I’m getting at is that I bought a ton of clothes and dragged him around the Forum Shops till about 11:30 pm, despite his upset stomach, headache, and exhaustion. I know, I know, wife of the year. I’m expecting my award in the mail any day now.

At my favorite store — we’ll call it I&N so I don’t get sued or something (yeah, like corporations read my blog) — I found a cozy hooded sweatshirt. As it turns out, I am a real sucker for cozy hooded sweatshirts. So I bought it, not actually reading the text embroidered on the front. I figured it had something to do with athletics or college or school or any of the other arbitrary things manufacturers put on the front of hooded sweatshirts, and I didn’t mind.

In fact, it says, boldly, in all caps, “SINCE 48 ATHLETICS ESTABLISHED.”

I’m sorry, come again? Is that like a partial headline?

Hooded Sweatshirt
Mom says I should return it, but there’s something kind of fun and campy about a grammar snob Asian wearing a sweatshirt with Engrish on the front of it. For all the world to see.

Dangerously Close to the Edge

We’re now teetering into the zone of “This is officially low point material that is no longer funny … just low.”

Yep, another person figured I couldn’t possibly be Mary. That Asian face — it’ll apparently get you every freakin’ time.

If anything, the hair, eyebrows, makeup, and wardrobe should generally give away that I am not actually from the homeland.

In other news, Husband is away on a business trip till Wednesday evening, I nearly gave myself food poisoning with last night’s dinner, and school has begun, which means slow walking, confused 18-year-olds dominating campus. Which is cool, I suppose, if you’re a fellow confused 18-year-old looking for friends, but isn’t particularly desirable when you’re trying to get stuff accomplished in a timely manner.

Well, It Happened Again

Disclaimer: this is going to be kind of complainy. I’m an unabashed complainer sometimes. You’re welcome.

I try to avoid using too many colloquialisms, but I had such a Monday today, and there are really no other ways to describe it beyond being such a Monday. I have a friend who only works Tuesdays through Fridays , and I’m starting to see the appeal.

But I also see the appeal of not working ever.

It was one of those “I don’t have a whole lot to do” days that, in the very last hour, turned into one of those “I have so much to do I’m not only going to work an hour and fifteen minutes past the time I normally go home, but I’m also going to be an hour late for a meeting” days. And those are always fun. And I discovered, after being hot, sweaty, and somewhat irritable, that Monday afternoons around 4:30 are, quite possibly, the worst times to go shopping at Costco. This is something I should have realized, what with being Mormon and living amongst a thousand families who have lots of kids who eat a lot of food and have a special evening at home all about families called — this is going to probably surprise you — Family Home Evening on Mondays.

I know, I know, I’m being all facetious in the bad way. I’m sorry.

But let’s get back to that meeting to which I was an hour late. It wasn’t a work meeting per se, although it was with a work contact on a more personal matter, and I should lead in with, “It wasn’t him.” He’s a nice guy, that Craig. You stop by Utah County sometime and deal with a guy named Craig, well, expect him to be nice. But he had a coworker he introduced me to who was, well … You know I don’t think I’ll actually speak to his character quite yet.

Craig introduced me as being Mary N—– because, well, that’s who I am (not giving you my entire last name makes me feel all sneaky and mysterious, by the way, even though the majority of you already know it — hi, Mom! Any opportunity to feel like a ninja, I suppose). And coworker of the year shook my hand and said, “Mary N—–, huh? You look like a traditional Mary N—–. All-American. Nice.”, which actually meant, “You look like your name should be Ching Chang Chong.”

He meant that in jest, of course, and had I not been representing BYU to a certain degree, I probably would have told him he looked like a traditional, all-American a-hole.

 

Oh, I realized the other day, it would be good for me to repost my email address for those of you interested in sharing your low points with me for THE CONTEST (note the all caps this time because I’m being all serious n stuff): thelowpointoftheday[at]gmail[dot]com