Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reflections on Asian & Black Relations

For some reason, I have started to think more about experiences from my younger days--saying that makes me sound older than I am, but I mean things from high school and college that I have forgotten all about over the past few years. For instance, not long ago, I remembered that I went through this "Asian phase" for about 4 or 5 years. Now, I've written a bit about how I've dated several Asians, have a bit of a preference for them and other "brown" people romantically, and so on. But this was different. For one thing, my phase wasn't like that white-guy fetish thing.

No, I think there was probably a period of time where I kind of wanted to be Asian. There was never a moment in my mind where I consciously said this to myself, but there were so many signs. I remember writing a post a few months ago in which I mentioned how during my junior year of high school, the way I thought about white people started changing because of the AP history courses I was taking, to the point of affecting who I started hanging out with. I think that was the very beginning of my "Asian phase," because up to that point I had been subconsciously trying to fit in with white people. It wasn't like I'd never had black friends; I had definitely tried to. In fact, I would say my experience up until I was 17 was trying to fit in with both blacks and whites, and having more success with whites than blacks. In high school, I think I gave up on blacks somewhat and focused more on white kids. But during/after those history courses, I found myself socializing more with blacks and Asians.

When I went to college, the overwhelming majority of my friends were Asian. My undergraduate school was very diverse, though still predominantly white. In fact, being at my law school is more shocking to me because I tend to use the amount of Asians you see at a school or company as a sign of complete racial alienation. By that, I mean that if you don't even see a good representation of Asians there, then you know that this is a place not going in the right direction because Asians are the one minority group that whites allow to be everywhere that signifies success (and I realize that sounds like a stereotype or the "model minority" myth). Although I see and interact with markedly less Asians than in undergrad, I view it more as a problem of location--my undergrad was in a diverse city while my law school is in a white college town--and the failure of the legal area in general to be racially inclusive and open. But initially, it was very weird to not see as many Asians as I did in college. Still, I have realized that the university still has more Asians than any other racial & ethnic minority.

Would I still be close with Asians if my law school had more Asians like I was in college? I don't think so. Things really have changed with me, plus I view the Asians at my law school as more "white-washed," although I have been in the presence of one Asian male who talks about whites very badly, and my friend Nikki knows other Asians who have something to say about whites. It's not as if I don't have Asian friends now, but not very many and one of them has more solidarity with blacks than whites. My junior year in college, most of the Asians I hung out with were Southeast Asian, and some of them acted as if blacks and Southeast Asians were the same race--a race called "brown."

My sophomore year, it was a different group of Asians. My roommate was Korean and Spanish, and she clearly had issues with that--in short, she wanted to fit in more with Asians, although she was like so many Asian girls seem to be in terms of preferring white males romantically. But she and I became somewhat close, I suppose, and apparently she talked about me a lot when she went home on the weekends because her mother told me so once. A lot of the time, because of her, I would be surrounded by Asians. I remember one time--and this happened in high school and my junior year with the Southeast Asians--sitting at "the Asian table" with her (yes, some colleges have this, too, just like high schools) and being the only non-Asian there. I'd told her about having accounts with some sites that were really exclusively for Asians--I had them because the Asian guys I'd dated told me about them and wanted me to look at things like pictures they'd put on the sites, etc--and how I used to go into Asian chatrooms, chat with other Asians and pretend to be Asian, even learning/using some of the Asian slang and type (i.e. aZiAn PrIdE).

By the time the year was over, she had taught me Korean words and she could say something in Korean that I could understand, to her surprise (I guess because she thought I didn't remember). I'd tried Korean food (which I didn't like, but I am very unsophisticated in my taste in food, i.e. I like junk food). Her mother came to our room all the time, which I hated because I felt uncomfortable around parents when I was younger. Her mother, sensing my discomfort, flat-out asked me once if I disliked Asians!!! Hahahaha!!! I couldn't believe she'd said that, but it is so funny to me now. My roommate was just like, "MOM, she has Asian friends and boyfriends and an account on AsianAvenue!" HAHAHAHA!!!

I would say that things started to change again my senior year in college. Finally, I'd gotten my own room on campus. Two of my roommates before had been Asian. I remained pretty isolated my senior year in college because having my own room--and a TV in it and plenty of music--meant I didn't have to engage in forced interaction with anyone. I liked it a lot. Some of my friends from junior year also lived in the same dorm, but since I stayed isolated I didn't see them a lot. Besides, college wasn't the time I made friends I'd have forever; I think law school is more along those lines for me. And then I took a couple years off from attending school and didn't think more of it. Just like that, the "phase" was over and forgotten. I can't really put my finger on a reason why, other than, I guess, for three years I wasn't really around Asians anymore and out of sight was out of mind.

I also couldn't really say what brought that particular phase on. I mean, obviously I didn't want to hang out with whites that much, sure. But I didn't consciously set out to hang with Asians. I don't remember how I got started going into Asian chatrooms, but I'm thinking it had something to do with making Asian friends for the first time at school and becoming more curious about the people and the culture. I pretended to be Asian because I was talking to guys I liked online who were Asian and I subconsciously didn't feel like it'd make sense to be a black female in an Asian chatroom or that they'd like me if they knew I wasn't Asian like them. Everybody was "pinay"/"pinoy" (Filipinos) or "viet."

Doing the readings I've been doing from and about Asians has been one of the things, I guess, that has jarred my memory. I remember while I was reading "Global Divas" "pinay" and "pinoy" being mentioned, as well as other things I remembered learning back then, and I started remembering the chatrooms and the Asian tables and everything else. It seems like I always have some race-related question on my mind that I like to raise in my blog, so the one for the past few days has been--why, considering my past with Asians, don't I see them as "allies"? Or why don't I propose such a thing or attempt to build those bridges between blacks and Asians? Why do I now view Asians more in terms of blacks vs everybody else rather than non-blacks vs whites or any other combination that does not put blacks in opposition to Asians? And how do I reconcile this view with a physical attraction to Asians?

I've noticed that there are people and works out there who/that raise a history of coalitions between blacks and Asians or suggest that blacks and Asians--or blacks and any other oppressed group--should work together. Frankly, I don't really know the history, but I like to look at what's going on today. I've seen on some Asian sites that hate crimes against Asians in the US are increasing. Be that as it may, I do believe that blacks and most other oppressed groups are moving in different directions in the US from each other. At the very least, any unity that used to be there is drifting as many Asians, Latinos, non-black queers and so on are finding more and more acceptance and support among the white mainstream.

Though at times it looks as if blacks are also finding that acceptance, there are also many indications that signify blacks are moving backwards in the US for various reasons but including racism. The same complex dynamic is true for other groups, too, but in a different way. For example, while immigration might be under attack and hate crimes might be rising, the Asians and Latinos who were born here do have many white friends and are generally acceptable spouses to white parents for their kids (Asians more so than Latinos). In turn, it's very difficult to discuss who is progressing more than others because each group is progressing in different areas than others while falling backwards in others. Though some Asians such as Frank Wu and "Tamara Nopper" readily acknowledge that blacks are viewed and treated more negatively in the US than Asians are, other Asians still don't believe it even despite their own racism towards blacks.

This tug of war, the similar anger to blacks expressed by some Asians--not to mention the comparisons to blacks--and the insistence that Asians also experience racial discrimination & alienation are the reasons I have started doing this reading. Yet, except some major exceptions such as more recent hate crimes, I've yet to see much of anything about the Asian experience that approaches the difficulty of the black experience. I've read book after book, article after article, message board after message board...and the discussions seem to be similar time after time, with Wu probably offering the most depth of analysis and discussion.

To me, their major concerns in the US are not being considered American--which, as I've written in my blog before, applies to everyone except whites in the US, though in different ways, and is something Asians do to Latinos and blacks just as much as they say whites and blacks do to them by making the term "American" synonymous with "white" and only accepting whites as friends and romantic interests--wanting to fit in with whites and/or other Asians and balancing that with more traditional Asian culture, and occasional racial incidents such as racial slurs/actions and stereotypes.

So, to me, it makes no sense to say that Asians tolerate more racism from whites than blacks, especially if you're not black and, thus, have no real idea what blacks deal with. Similarly, I cannot definitively say that blacks tolerate more racism than Asians, just that I believe this is so. That's the point of my "research"--to try to learn more about what Asians experience in the US. But this minimizing of experience back and forth--the same thing that goes on between blacks and gays--is one of the reasons why coalitions of the past are, to me, impossible to form in the present. I think that people like Asians, Latinos and whites--including white gays--are tired of hearing from blacks...but I also think that's one of the reasons why racial incidents can happen to blacks and all kinds of people will react. It's not because they all think it's wrong; more like, "we don't want to hear those niggers' mouths anymore, so let's pretend like we agree with them to shut them up." Similarly, people don't respond to incidents against Asians because Asians are seen as not reacting and because Asian issues don't exactly make the front page or the evening news, especially since the white agenda is to convince everyone that Asians have no problems...which most black people believe.

But I also like to point out that we're selfish, all of us. Asians care about Asians. Blacks care about blacks. White gays care about white gays. We're not interested in coalitions because we don't believe and/or don't care if other groups have problems. Nearly every oppressed group in the US right now believes they are the only oppressed group or that they are the most oppressed group. It's not like the past when women obviously couldn't vote or work certain jobs, or blacks obviously couldn't frequent the same spots as whites. Discrimination is so hidden and subtle now that people not of a particular group are fooled into believing it's not there. So we'd have to spend time convincing our would-be partners against oppression that we have problems, too, I said, we don't want to hear about anybody else's problems.

Finally, just because one group is oppressed doesn't mean that they identify with other oppressed groups or don't play a role in their oppression. In fact, I believe that being a member of an oppressed group makes you more likely to discriminate against others, not less likely. We all want to feel like we're better than someone else in society. For whites, that's everyone else, except sometimes Asians. For blacks, it's queers. For queers, it's blacks. For Asians and Latinos, it's blacks and queers and "fresh off the boat" immigrants from their backgrounds. In other words, if we're going to get together to fight white supremacy, we first have to settle our own sh!t with each other...because, trust me, we all have sh!t with each other. But, as I said before, we don't want to settle our sh!t with each other...we just want to settle our own problems. Some people think that this divide between Asians and blacks is the result of whites using Asians against blacks as the model minority, which I did point out in one of my recent posts. But discrimination against "dark people" is also just a part of the Asian culture, i.e. it's there with or without white people doing anything.

Long story short--I don't believe in the possibility of coalitions. I do believe that it's "us vs them," i.e. blacks against non-blacks, and will continue to become even more so. It doesn't make sense to even me, as a black person, that Asians and Latinos and white queers would align themselves with black people when they are staring the opportunity dead in the face to advance by getting on straight white people's good side. After all, it's easier. It doesn't exactly allow you to be who you really are, I think, but that's a sacrifice that, particularly many Latinos and Asians, seem to take rather gladly. White queers don't have to do much of anything, as, being white, they are already much more accepted than they think they are. The same is true for white women who view themselves as still oppressed.

I say that anyone who wants to align themselves with another oppressed group or start such organizations should. After all, the more I learn about Asians and discrimination against Asians, the more I notice discrimination against Asians, the more I check myself on it, and the more I correct other people on it. Fighting for Asians is still not my priority, just like fighting for gay rights isn't--I still can't naturally help but to care most about blacks and black issues (although the argument is frequently made that you can't discuss identities in isolation, as I demonstrate quite often in my blog...but, for example, I don't mean that we shouldn't discuss black gay issues, but that we shouldn't be worried about building coalitions with white gays). Then again, fighting for Asians is not every Asian's priority, and fighting for blacks is not every black's priority. And I'm certain that fighting for blacks is not most Asians' priority.

What about romance? I've noticed something with blacks and Asians, that is mentioned somewhat briefly in the last link above in this post...and that is that neither group considers the other a suitable romantic option. But there are different reasons. For Asians, it's obviously more culture-driven. For blacks, given the comments I've heard from my mother and the surprise other blacks have expressed at my interest in Asians--particularly black women--many blacks just don't find Asians physically attractive and don't view them as date-able. It's funny to me how some do like white people do, i.e. try to paint blacks as the ones who are racist against them out of absolutely nowhere--Asians haven't done a thing to blacks, yet blacks just hate them.

Well, Charles Barkley has this book called "Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?" or something along those lines that I read a couple years ago. In it is an interview with a Jewish man who, if I remember correctly, relays a joke of sorts that goes a little something like: "What do blacks think about Jews?" Answer: "They don't." I would say that, for the vast majority of blacks, the same is true of Asians. Sure, sometimes some blacks pull out an offensive Asian joke. But for the most part, Asians don't exist to blacks, especially blacks who have very little interaction with or see very few Asians. As much as the world is Asian and white to Asians, it's black and white to blacks. And from the way many Asians complain about being left out of racial discussions, I'd say they know that.

So if Asians don't exist to blacks, then dating Asians never enters their minds. So, pretty much any black I've mentioned that possibility to, it's out of this world. You might as well have said you're thinking about dating this puppy you saw outside--it's just as unfathomable. Puppies aren't things people date. They aren't romantic beings. They have no sex appeal. They are just there. And Asians aren't people anybody but Asians should date, to so many blacks. They aren't romantic beings. They have no sex appeal. They are just there. And they might as well be a completely different type of being than blacks are.

I worry about it because I know that my mother would not get it if I really did bring an Asian home. I'm not sure it'd be like how an Asian or white parent might react if you bring a black person home--it's not like, "you're dating beneath you" or "you'll be shunned in the community." No...more like total bewilderment. What do you see in this person? This person has those funny eyes--they couldn't possibly be attractive with those eyes. My friend Angel, who is white and Asian but looks more white...what would she do if I brought someone like her home? I've told my mother before that there are some Asians who don't look like she insists all Asians look, regardless of being mixed or not, and I told her Angel doesn't look that way. She doesn't believe it. Would she be relieved if I were dating Angel and she saw that Angel didn't look like that? And if she were, how would I deal with that? Because I don't think that's any better than being upset that she's Asian and "looks Asian." It's the same as how people comment that mixed blacks look better than other blacks or are prettier than everyone else, or that mixed people in general are good-looking. It's a "compliment," but it's still offensive.

I could almost hear my mother saying, "Oh, she's pretty!" about Angel in this imaginary scenario where I'm dating her and bring her home, and that pisses me off. Angel might look white, but she's also Asian, she knows she's Asian, she asserts that she's Asian (though not in an unnecessary, defensive, abrasive or I-have-to-prove-myself way, but I still wonder how my family would deal with her looking like she does but identifying as Asian). And I like that about her, and I wouldn't like someone as pretty and as great as her but with more typical Asian features less. Obviously, with the way I describe the kinds of features I like, if anything, I think more typical Asian features--particularly the darker skin color--are more attractive. I don't want my saying "Angel doesn't look Asian" to my mother to seem like an implicit statement that I wouldn't be interested in her if she does. It was one of the ways I have to nicely tell her that what she thinks is so true is really so dumb.

Aside from thinking about what it would be like to take her home, I'd love to date Angel if she were available to me. Although I don't think blacks and Asians have the best of relations, I just don't see her or my other Asian friends in those terms. I don't generalize or stereotype my friends the way I do people I don't know. I have never felt like any of them were anything but on my side; in fact, I almost think of us as having our own race because we tend to think so similarly on social issues. When I was angry at whites in general about the affirmative action ban in Michigan and didn't even want to see other whites, I talked to all of my friends about it. It really was almost as if they weren't even white to me because all that really matters to me in my personal relationships with people is how they think. It's the closest we get to transcending race, although we still acknowledge and discuss our races. Of course, I wouldn't be able to do it if I weren't lucky enough to sense when someone would make a great friend for me...I'd be in huge trouble, not to mention alone, if I couldn't do that.