I am going to make a post very different from my previous ones about the multiracial experience. For the sake of showing my growth, I will keep those about, but knowing what I do now, there is so much I would change. They were authentic feelings, those experiences and reflections. Yet, there are quite a few insights I have faced the past week that knowing what I do now, the wisdom I had acquired, I would have changed several things I have done these years. Or, even what I had written about, really.
One would think with people my age, we would have it all figured out when it comes to the complications of multiracial identity. It turns out that in my yearning to find belonging, while also genuinely wanting to do what I can to elevate the voices of my marginalized family and fight on their behalf, I had taken for granted something. Something I cannot take for granted anymore.
A handful of times, I have passed as Greek or Italian, people who can be (or even flat-out are) ethnically ambiguous but been assimilated completely. They count among the times I had been mistaken as Latinx or Pacific Islander. Even if not passing as pure White all the time or a lot of my life, I still enjoy more privileges of white-passing (or white seeming) that many others from the Southeast Asian community do not. No matter the “softer” forms of racism I experienced growing up, or occasional racial microaggressions I may face now, that does not negate the fact I am still viewed as preferable in white supremacy’s ideology than the rest of my family.
Yes, you heard me. I am not making a post focused on how I had suffered or struggled from my identity issues as what people have called a “super quapa,”* or a 1/4 Asian who does not look pure white. I am not an imposter coming out, either (even if I feel occasional [Multi-]Racial Imposter Syndrome). I made this post to own this: that I have not yet sufficiently faced the fact I still had some advantages compared to my family. As it is, I took enough space with that part of the conversation.
I have not had my passing privilege hit me in the face and make me feel a fool for it until some recent feedback. And, I also owe it to learning from some awesome social justice scholars and activists regarding my foibles. It does not matter that I was marked a person of color (POC) group on the census before 2000 because I could not get away with being marked otherwise. What matters is the now, and how I am reflecting how I still have it better than my relatives who had never passed without some additional means (if at all).
This is me “saving the Mixed Tears TM.”
As Jonathan Fisk eloquently says in his article on Save Your Mixed Tears and Other Tips for Mixed Living: Reconciling White-POC Mixed Identity and Its Privileges, there is a sense of entitlement often attributed to having one’s experiences and narratives centered. It is similar to the “White Tears” TM phenomenon when someone is called out for being exclusive, racially insensitive, or just non-sugarcoated racist, and unwilling to make amends for it because of entitlement. This sense of entitlement easily comes at the expense of non-white blooded POC’s mic time, something that I am only learning about more as I learn about the issues of Colorism; issues of white-seeming/passing/light-skinned privilege. Sure, there are times and places for these narratives and conversations. White people or the institution of Whiteness should never police where I belong in the system (though the system does anyway). And to that end, I found because I took for granted the power of Colorism, I have unintentionally taken more space than I should have in a recent conversation.
Without giving names (the person was right), I had gone on a little nerdy, enthusiastic ramble about an article without reading all of it, and came across very condescending in the process to someone who belonged to the same POC community. My enthusiasm was said appreciated, but I made a fool of myself because I tossed in my thoughts based on other people’s responses, and did not complete reading the piece. Foot-in-mouth, just like that. It dawned on me a little too late, admittedly. Not considering the power imbalances inherent in the interaction, I was the snowflake that caused the avalanche.
It was called out, and I am glad for it. It needed done.
In this case, I was in the role of the lighter-skinned/white-passing feminist woman who spoke out of turn toward a POC feminist woman, not the intersectional feminist I aspired to be. During this exchange, I realized too late I was no better than the White women who spoke out of turn with me. So, I listened, swallowed my pride, and verbalized that the person in question was heard, I would do better next time, and thanked them for their feedback. I also acknowledged what else I needed to do better on next time, and that was sugarcoating racism less in this conversation, as well (I am told I can be too diplomatic or nice).
I may be honest in saying I meant no issue, that I did not mean to come across condescending or explaining a person’s experiences to them in my attempts to sympathize or relate. Still, there was no way I did not cause issue with how I acted. For this, I am truly, deeply sorry.
And really, it would not surprise me if I might have done this before a few times without realizing it while I was blind to my advantages from Colorism. Some White folks have said I had or have a very authoritative or intimidating tone, even beyond this conversation. I am trying to work on it while not letting people simply police my tone. Still, at the end of the day, my concerns-from-birth are not on the same scale as my relatives who do not pass as anything but Southeast Asian. I do not 100% fit the socially-constructed narrative they do that subjects them to more negative stereotypes, criminalization, and other systematic oppression. The times I had felt singled out by the authorities is nowhere near the times some kin I know had been or risked being.
Even if one can argue about the concept of passing/seeming being on a scale, situational, or dependent on someone’s individual timeline or brackets of time, it does not mean it does not apply to me. Acknowledging the complexities of the idea of passing/seeming does not render it anymore null than the Asian of the Eurasian me. Even having some features that are European mixed in constitutes as a form of passing. Whitewashing in Hollywood has very much decided that having some level of white-passing or seeming guarantees more roles for ethnically Asian people, especially if they are Eurasian. Obama benefited from his multiracial background in ways darker-skinned black people could not, even while being subjected to negative biases for it (Fisk, 2017).
It sucks, and it is unfortunate for anyone who does not want to face that reality. It might feel like it adds to the sense of alienation of being multiracial, sure. Regardless, I am going to say this, out of love to all multiracial children with European blood in the United States: we have imperialism, Colorism, and white supremacy to blame for this.
I get it. When younger and more stupid, like when I was far more conservative and trying to play into the “model minority” fallacy, I had likely been upset at feeling “treated differently” by my family. Well, I am coming out to say I am done with that. I am so, so done with that. It is not my family who has the agency to decide who has advantages in our society. And any day, the definition of Whiteness may shift again and include (or exclude) other groups, whether they like it or not. I had been blessed in this, as my family has not held my past ignorance against me. It is not something obligated to me.
For anyone who may have been hurt by my unwitting role from my passing-privilege I am now endeavoring to keep under my radar (and wish I had learned to years ago, really): I am sorry. Please take this as part of my sincere effort to make amends. You have every right to have held a standard for me, and I understand a little more of why now. I understand if no one can forgive me for any of this, too. I am not entitled to your forgiveness. Only the choice to do better, little by little. Regardless of my pride, you have the right to have your space and accept me based on your experiences, just as I need to embrace my own space in between POC-Whiteness.
Striving to be both simultaneously an ally and a member of a single POC community is new territory for me, just like me actively working toward social justice has been. Regardless, I am going to try changing my place in the grand narrative, and I hope I succeed overall – for the better. I will do this by trying to learn more and do more about Colorism and passing-privilege, seek advice, and research on ways to better pass the mic to the less advantaged among the communities I belong. For the sake of transparency, and better respecting space, I have also made sure to modify my About page to make clear the specifics of my multiracial background. Passing the mic as well as space during events is not enough, and I am learning more about this as time goes on. As much as I would love to, I cannot promise perfection, but I will listen when you have issue, acknowledge your words, apologize for my ignorance, thank you for holding me accountable – and reflect on how I can do better each time. Regardless if you will see me worthy of friendship or trust.
When I reflect on my multiracial identity in the future, I am going to do a lot more with engaging the evolution of my insights; address Colorism/passing issues more. Just because it has advantaged me on the white supremacy perks’ scale compared to less ambiguous appearing POC does not make it right. If anything, it is an example of how white supremacy is still pervasive in U.S. society, how even having some European blood is tied to resources. The system also has shown capable of pitting members of the same community against each other to reinforce itself. It does not matter whether most whites see me as not white on the white/non-white hierarchy This system will still advantage me compared to people of Asian descent who fit closer to the narrative given to them by the dominant culture, and that is enough. I am not cool with how this has harmed many communities who had to fight harder to have the same resources, or how I have been unwittingly complicit for my obliviousness on my end.
As it turns out, I have a lot of work to do on myself yet.