I came across another fellow WordPress blogger under the name ‘subversivemommy’ and read her post: 7 Things My Biracial Sons Will Be Asked Because They Look More Asian Than White, of all the posts about racism, discrimination and all that comes with it, this one spoke to me because I too, am biracial, in the same combination as her sons, caucasian father (Anglo-Irish) and Chinese mother. As an only child, for as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve never thought about what it would be like for my brother if I had one. What his life would be like and more importantly, what he would look like (more Chinese or more white) and how that would impact his life.
Contrary to her sons, I am the opposite, I appear more white than Chinese and it’s not helped by my frizzy mop of curly untamable brunette locks, which I hate. I wanted my mother’s shining black hair, but she tells me if I got her hair color with my skin and eye color combination, I would literally look like a ghost and that’s not a good look, so she put that thought out of my mind. I love my mommy. But besides that, I inherited Irish skin, which means I turn bright red after a short amount of time in the sun with zero prospect of tanning, my eyes are brown, but brown in the caucasian variety, and when the sun is shining in the right angle, my eyes can appear translucent causing great concern to my Chinese relatives. At a quick glance, I look caucasian to most people but for those with the most discerning eye to detail. But to give it proper context, I will post her entire blog entry below for my readers and comment after:
July 14, 2015: Disclaimer: I’m no expert, but I’m a mom and teacher operating in my spaces situated in history. I’m not here to invalidate anyone truly willing to dialogue with me, because:
1. I am a real person.
2. My sons are real people.
3. My politics are personal and the personal is political. There’s context.
4. I work and exist in many spaces: Asian American, Toisan, Chinese, immigrant, feminist, straight, LGTBQ, brown, black, liberal, even some conservative, mostly post-colonial and my most new spaces are white spaces. because life… but I am not a cultural relativist. Nor am I an Anglo-phile or an imperialist sympathizer. Nor do I hate my Asian American brothers. Accusations of that nature will not get the light of day on this blog post. (Nor do I hate being Chinese American or Asian American or Asian and want to infect my sons with internalized racism and self-hatred.)
4.5 (and as for Asian American woman privilege, I do want to expand on that critique and also give space in my responses about my relationship with my kids’ white/Italian NYC type of father…but, why colonize my life with your presuppositions about me? And to respond to the many comments about my rejecting Asian men “all my life”; I have never dated a white dude prior to my kids’ father. I only dated Asian American men by choice (personal and political) and social geography helped–Yayy Area! Moving to NYC really changed my social geography and because LIFE! ) Please, complicate the shit! For those that have or have tried to, I appreciate it…honestly ( even if I may have incensed you with this post–I’m a blogger who posted like 3 posts prior to this one…so I know there’s room for growth. So, there is so much room for dialogue and context building if anyone is actually interested in that…I’m unsure as of right now.)
5. My time here is limited as I am off the summer running after my sons who are napping right now. I’m also new to this universe. My Android phone is like 2nd generation old and has no memory and I just learned about Reddit, like a few months ago.
6. So this blog post is definitely limited–so that’s why I’ll respond more in-depth in a later post if anyone actually cares–kids’ naps are almost up.
Thanks for reading thus far.
My biracial sons are turning out to be quite Asian looking. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like for them had they looked more white, like their dad. I won’t lie and say, while these babies were growing in my belly, that I hadn’t hoped that they would come out a racial melange. What if they looked straight Chinese, like me?
As they get bigger each day, it is becoming more and more apparent that they look like two cute little Asian boys.
Boy, did we miss something BIG here? Did my sons miss the chance to snag the coveted golden ticket of whiteness?! So close yet so far?! Did they win the ticket to the chocolate factory but forget to wake up in time for the tour?
Edit: If I ever imagined I’d be spitting such tragic colonial rhetoric, I would admit that I never knew fear until I had kids.
Do I think my kids’ will have an easier life as white men as opposed to being seen as Asian? Yes.
Is this fucked up? Yes. Racism is fucked up.
For instance, what if they grow up to be short but they LOVE playing basketball like their father did as a kid? Would I be blamed for this due to my 5’ 1” stature in their myopic adolescent tirades? Their Chinese grandfather barely clears 5’ 3”. And yes, their father is southern Italian, so not much of the tall genes there either, but we all know the Asian will be blamed for this genetic demerit. Man, my sons will be pissed once they realize they’ve inherited my physical stature, right? In due time, they will be reminded of this.
These were the common thoughts a subversive Asian American mommy like me pondered as other mothers-to-be were planning what sheets they wanted to buy for their babies’ cribs to match other window coverings.
Mothers of color worry about these things. We worry about crib sheets too, but we do not have the option to be colorblind in either case.
I’ve even uttered the common refrain that mixed Asian + white kids are just the cutest and always a winning combination to stay status quo. Now that I see my sons look more Asian, have I somehow upheld the racial status quo, or do I work consciously to subvert racial hierarchies?
So I pose the thought: how will perceptions of my biracial sons shape their experiences? What will they be asked throughout their lifetime as perceived Asian men as opposed to white men? The inspiration behind this post came when I read an account of this white father who shared (In light of the emerging mass protests against the murders of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers.) what he could do as a white man that his black son may not have so easily accessible to him. And this reporter who penned a letter to her daughter to prepare her for the inevitable experiences with discrimination, captured the melancholy of racism. Then what about thesetwin sisters, one white and one black but twinnies nonetheless!
Here are 7 things my biracial sons will be asked throughout their lifetime because they look more Asian than white:
- Being asked if they speak English.
This may not happen until they look old enough to know how to explain directions to someone. Furthermore, this will only need to happen once for them to realize that to some people, they don’t look like they belong here in America.
- Being asked if they speak Chinese or Japanese or Korean…
My two sons have an Asian-looking mom who speaks broken Chinese. Most people will think my sons are either Chinese, Japanese or Korean. At some point in their lives, they will be asked if they speak any of the trifecta of East Asian languages. It pays to be on safe side and have all bases covered when one makes cultural assumptions. I’m not sure if my sons will learn Chinese on their own, but I’m quite sure that they are not going to learn the language from me, as sorry as that may sound.
- Being asked to be the expert of all things Asian.
Since they look more Asian they are then by default the expert on all things Asian. They will be asked why people at “Chinese food” places don’t eat the food they cook. They will be asked what the weather is like in China and why Chinese people eat that weird shit. It won’t be a surprise to me if they’ll be asked if they are sympathetic to communists. They may be asked what snuff jars are or who Li Bo was. They may even be asked to quote Confucius, every Chinese person’s dad. Maybe they’ll even know the answers–which would be awesome, but it’s likely they may even be chastised for not knowing any of the answers to the questions for which they are being asked.
- Being asked if they eat cats, dogs, rhino’s, and dragons.
Okay, I’ll make a half-hearted concession. For the average American palate, Asian cuisine contains some weird shit. Stuff with bones it in, scales, eyes, necks, vegetables, creepy crawly things that you dry and mash up with a mortar and pestle and then drink it up in the name of health. And yes, there are regions in many parts of Asia where the consumption of what the average American treats solely as pets as opposed to food in the meat aisle, is rather normative. So, it is likely, my sons will be asked whether they’ve tried canines or cats because it is a joke so often echoed under the breath of the person ordering that sesame chicken or General Tso’s. Ha. Ha. It’s a knee-slapper. Racism is so funny! What my sons will have to learn; however, is that such questions are really just declarations confirming how otherworldly or unassimilable the people making the food or behind the counter, appears to the customer. My sons may be that person behind the counter or at least look a lot like him frying up that rat.
- Being asked if they have small penises.
We can measure (excuse the pun) the likelihood of this happening by the level of how “Asian” they look. The inheritance of the trope of the emasculated Asian man born with a small penis depends on what is on the surface more than what’s under those tighty whiteys (excuse the pun).
- Being asked if their penis size is attributed to their Italian side.
Say they are heavily endowed. Their partners may, by default, assume that their European genes gifted them with generous genitalia. That would explain it. End of story.
- Being asked where they are from (and they don’t mean what city).
The question that starts it all. They may develop a nervous tick because of this question. Again, being asked this is just confirmation that my sons’ facial features remind people that they look like they may be from somewhere else…like Shandong, China or Kamakura, Japan. My sons will have to develop creative responses to this question like, “New York City.”
Because that’s where my sons are from. Because my sons are as much white as they are Chinese. Because it doesn’t matter. Because the answer is so beyond simply being American (Please don’t lie to them and say “We’re all the same.” while ignoring the awesome benefits of being white.) And because America is so “colorblind”, we’re left in the dark even as we explain ourselves until we’re blue in the face.
Back to my story:
Full disclosure: I’ve not kept up with what’s going on in the young Asian American community, in fact, I never felt part of it when I was in my late teens and early twenties, it’s probably because of my very caucasian appearance and as a result, my experience with racism and discrimination was minimal compared to theirs. When I say that I suffer the same pressure from my family to get straight-As and go to a good college, the reply to me is always along the lines of, ‘it’s ok for you because you are white, you’ll get ahead regardless’. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now but who was I to invalidate someone’s point of view? And I didn’t get straight-As and I didn’t go to an Ivy League college and I could have gotten along further in life if I was more confident about myself but that’s unrelated to my race, that was about the relationship I had with myself.
Next, I cannot recall one incident of racial discrimination in my life that really scarred me, perhaps it never happened because of my caucasian appearance, though I experience plenty of sexism (unrelated to my race). However, I am also told that I can be oblivious in the most obvious situations, like when my college boyfriend was ogling the waitress while I was right there and trying to get her number when I wasn’t looking. My girlfriend was aghast, at me not noticing his behavior. So not noticing racist behavior towards me could be a case of my being oblivious.
Growing up, I hear a lot from Asians of all ethnicities about how lucky I am that I look more white than Chinese. And they always lamented over the other unfortunate biracial children who looked more Asian than white. I found it offensive. My mother is one of the most beautiful people anyone could meet, she’s an amazing woman. I find it perverse that Asians spend thousands on skin whitening creams and caucasians spend thousands on tanning beds or hours laying out in the sun to get that tan. It’s downright convoluted. The whole Asian worship of European facial aesthetics a manifestation of self-loathing for traditional Asian facial features. The amount of skin whitening creams on the market across Asia makes my head explode. When I say this to Asians, they tell me it’s easy for me to say, I am white and I look white, in their minds the ‘preferred’ race in beauty and success. I don’t even have to convince people I am half-white, I have to do the opposite, convince others that I am half-Chinese.
I was born Taiwan, I began my schooling there in Chinese schools with other Chinese children, not an international school like what most kids like me would have gone to. I received my early education only in Chinese and as a result I ‘forgot’ my English and to this day speak fluent Chinese. Also, my parents divorced so I no longer saw my dad regularly and as a result my English suffered, my weekly English tutoring lessons to maintain my English wasn’t enough. So, I was an ‘American’ looking girl who spoke almost no English in Taiwan. I also stood out like a sore thumb at school and I was teased for it. My frizzy birdnest hair combined with the humid climate didn’t help matters either. It was kept short for convenience and on most days it stood straight up. It was then my mother knew that my home would be in America, regardless of what her situation with my father was. I looked American so I should live in America. She didn’t want me growing up sticking out like a sore thumb amongst my peers. She was a pragmatic woman.
So to America we came, I was amongst my ‘kind’, at least I looked like the majority of the people. Only one problem, I had forgotten how to speak English, I was the white girl that didn’t speak any English but my mom refused to put me in ESL classes, she said that I knew how to speak English, I just needed to recall it. It was my mother tongue along with Chinese and people don’t forget their mother tongues. Again, she was right, my English came back within months, just like that. I spoke like a native American, it was as if I never forgot it. I didn’t waste one year in ESL. I love my mommy.
I never talked about race or racism with either of my parents. With my father, it’s the WASPy reserve that kept him from talking about it. It was also uncomfortable and impolite, you silently acknowledge it but don’t act like a racist and that was how he went about his life. He actively avoided situations that might turn ‘racial’. He didn’t want to be called a racist and he hated defending himself (another WASPy thing). He told me to ‘celebrate my unique heritage’ and that was it. My paternal relatives treated me normally, as their grandchild, niece, cousin with a Chinese mother, they love me for me. With my mother, she told me that I had the unique opportunity to combine the best of East and West, to pick the best traits of each culture and apply it. We didn’t talk about racism specifically, not because it’s not there but her life’s philosophy is there is no point talking about something you can’t control. You can’t control racist jerks, if they want to be racist and have racist viewpoints, what can you do about it? She always told me to ignore the ‘noise’, concentrate on myself, do my best in all my endeavors and let life take its natural course. Very good advice which only recently I’ve begun to follow. I never asked my mother if she’s ever suffered any racial discrimination in America, I am sure the answer is ‘yes’, but we never had this discussion. She also has the tendency to be oblivious to the obvious.
I am not sure if my parents not discussing race and racism was a good thing or not, it may have contributed to my general obliviousness. I’ve certainly never thought about the racism my children would face when they grow up while I was pregnant with them or even now. I just let them be kids, it’s too great a burden to them to think about racism at their ages. I have subconsciously adopted my mother’s approach and for now that’s working. If they encounter any racist incidents, I would be the first there to fight that battle with them. However, those are hypothetical situations, which has yet to materialize.
The most common question I get asked up to this day by non-white people (white people are too PC to ask) is ‘do you feel more Chinese or White?’ The answer is both, equally passionately, depending on what day of the week and what situation it is. There are some mornings I wake up and all I want to do is wolf down a plate of pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausages with a hot mug of coffee. And there will be some days where I just want to eat all the supposed ‘crazy’ shit the Chinese eat and they include ‘fins’ and other body parts. Dim Sum is always my firm favorite. I can never get enough of hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants with questionable hygiene in the middle of Chinatown where the whole restaurant staff watch me, an American girl, scarf down their dishes with a pair of chopsticks. Panda Express and Panda Inn are an abomination to me. There are parts of my life philosophy that is undeniably WASPy and some undeniably Confucian (my family are big Confucian believers) and I find equal value in both, but the religion I practice is Catholicism (my dad’s religion). My extreme coffee addiction is definitely a trait inherited from my dad. He mainlined coffee, I don’t think he drank water, much to the chagrin of my mother. ‘Of all the things you inherit…’ she would say. She thought coffee was god awful, smells good, but tastes horrible. ‘The awful bitterness” she’d say.
The times when others make fun of Asians, I get real angry and speak up and point out their racist views. I do not tolerate any racist jokes in my presence, there will be no ching chong chopsticks or any other kind of racist jokes in my hearing, I don’t tell racist jokes nor do I find them funny. I try my best to not say anything that can be remotely construed as racist in front of my children, whose heritage are even more complex than mine and I celebrate them for it.
Now to subversivemommy’s 7 Questions, which I read with a giggle, here are my comments:
- Being asked if they speak English. – Not applicable to me. I get looks of shock when I speak Chinese, usually by other Chinese, and they proceed to prod every detail of my life as to why I speak Chinese and why I speak it so well. To avoid retelling the story of my parentage over and over again, I have at times pretend I don’t speak Chinese. Sorry mom.
- Being asked if they speak Chinese or Japanese or Korean… – Refer to above.
- Being asked to be the expert of all things Asian. – Rarely, most people (Chinese or not) don’t realize that I also read Chinese, schooled in Confucianism and ancient Chinese history and I am now studying to become a qualified court interpreter.
- Being asked if they eat cats, dogs, rhino’s, and dragons. – Yes, a polite and firm ‘no’ is my answer. Though I acknowledge that some Chinese people do eat weird stuff, it’s not the norm.
- Being asked if they have small penises. – Wrong gender. Not applicable to me.
- Being asked if their penis size is attributed to their Italian side. – Refer to above.
- Being asked where they are from (and they don’t mean what city). – I do get this a lot, but like subversivemommy, I say the city I was raised in and lived for most of my life.
I found it disheartening that she had to write a series of ‘disclaimers’ so that her readers wouldn’t accuse her of all sorts of vile things. In 21st century America, it shouldn’t be such a big deal if we marry outside of our race, regardless the combination, nor should anyone be accused of self-hating when their choices veer out of the norm.
Articles, magazines and blog posts about racism in America has been popping into my reading stream lately and I take it as a sign that maybe it’s time for me to talk about the obvious but uncomfortable. I’ve been told to ‘confront’ my white privilege and on top of the white privilege the Asian privilege as well. I do, thank you very much. I look at the mirror daily and know that I have a charmed and blessed life. And I also know that for all that I’ve achieved, it’s not only just down to my hard work, my race plays a part in it too. I don’t know how my life would have looked like if I didn’t look more white than Asian and I won’t know so it’s no use postulating. I am grateful and celebrate the life I have now.
I suppose what I want to say to subversivemommy is to have her sons celebrate their heritages to the max and to revel in that. I believe one way to counter racism is to celebrate your heritage, whatever that may be. Racism will always be an issue in this country, after all, this country was founded on the back of racism where blacks were enslaved. The conversation will always be tough, uncomfortable and at times unbearable, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had in order for this country to heal and move forward. When I see children of different races in my local high school gather after school and hang out together, doing what teenagers do, it makes me so happy. As I know that’s what my children can look forward to when they grow up, but then I start to think, will this same group of diverse kids still be friends after they go on to college and their paths diverge into different professions? Will they still be friends or will each of them revert to the status quo of being friends with the same race?