Banana vs FOB
December 25, 2019 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Who has the right to claim a racial identity?

NPR Code Switch on "Racial Imposter Syndrome"

Can You Appropriate Your Own Culture?
It’s frustrating not just because white culture influences her fashion and body choices, but because connecting to her ancestry has been systematically denied.

The Biracial Bind Of Not Being Asian Enough

In a series of studies, Renn found that physical appearance, cultural knowledge, and peer culture all influence the way multiracial people identify. While ethnicity and culture are determined by where you come from and the customs you experience, race is primarily measured in terms of looks. And it’s that simple fact that makes Rachel Dolezal infuriating for so many people. Dolezal can claim to identify as Black, but the privilege does not extend the other way around. A Black woman can’t escape discrimination by simply proclaiming that she identifies as white. As Gaither says, “The more minority you look, the more you can claim a minority identity. And that’s usually because if you look more like a minority, you’re going to face more discrimination.”

The Five Stages of Being Biracial (If You’re Me)

Racial impostor syndrome doesn't just affect multi racial people. When the US conceives of all Asians as perpetual foreigners, non immigrant Asian Americans can face questions on whether they really "count" as Asian:

Between FOB and Banana: How We Try to Define Being Asian-American

Asian Americans aren't alone in this tensions - there's a whole bunch of food related insults for people that "act white."

Sam McKenzie Jr. has this to say on the matter:

But the people accused of “acting white” have never concerned me, perhaps because I’ve been on the sticky side of that label. Instead, I store my concern for people who “react white.” If “acting white” is a way of being, then “reacting white” is a way of responding to human beings. One is a way of existing; the other is a way of resisting. People can have all the Black-approved characteristics possible and still “react white.”
What is “reacting white”? For one, it’s adhering to respectability politics that blames and shames people without critiquing the underlying structures and systems that have contributed to their circumstances. For another, it’s passing judgments based on colorism, in-group empathy gaps, and unconscious biases that prefer white Americans.
In her 2019 book Thick: And Other Essays, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom writes that “whiteness is a response to Blackness.” With every advancement in society by people marginalized by racism, a racist reaction follows. Throughout history, whiteness has been clutching its handbag, exacting force, and taking flight.

Previouslies: 1. 2. 3.
posted by arabidopsis (11 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
I was born in the Philippines, to parents who, like many in the Philippines, were some mix of the different cultures who have lived in and crossed through the islands. Some Malay, some Chinese, a great grandfather from Ireland who came to Manila to dodge WWI and never went back. As a teenager, I immigrated to Canada, and attended a high school with a bunch of other Asian immigrants, and we bonded over illicit rice cooker dinners and Hong Konger card games. It was university in the States where I met 2nd and 3rd generation Asian-American students and realized while we were superficially similar, we were not the same. Lots of guys were really into cars, video games, and poppy house music. I was into bikes, tabletop role playing games, and Aphex Twin. They always wanted to go out for karaoke, and I always thought that sort of thing was torture.

The three Filipino Americans that I knew also came from some really large, deeply knit families with multiple layers of cousins, aunts, and uncles all up in each other's business, and whose families had some problematic racial prejudices. Like, yes, sure, you can date a Korean or a Thai person while you're in school and just having fun, but no way are you going to be marrying them.

It got to a point where I was having an argument with a classmate about why the notion of "Filipino purity" is so ridiculous when the very nature of our people is of interbreeding and diversity, and he just said, "well, you're not really Filipino anyway."

"I was born in Manila. You were born in Jersey. You don't get to tell me what I am."

In retrospect I realize that my retort was unnecessarily cruel. But I wish I knew that then and would've been clearer about saying that I didn't want to tell him if he was Filipino enough or not, but I wouldn't accept him telling me what I was either.

I wound up drifting away from those friends and spending more time in techno and goth/industrial clubs in the city. Out of those scenes, my best bonds were with two Chinese Americans and a Vietnamese American who all got this liminal space within a liminal space, of not even fitting in within our other immigrant communities because we listened to weird music or liked reading Leonard Cohen when we should be studying to be doctors.

Which all to say that I stopped concerning myself if I was considered a Banana or a Twinkie or a race traitor. Those were things other people have said to have power over me. Nobody who labeled me a banana was doing it as advice or as help. I found people who got me and that was enough.
posted by bl1nk at 8:18 PM on December 25, 2019 [73 favorites]

I'm a half-white fourth-generation Japanese American. I spent much of my childhood almost entirely surrounded by white people, aside from my immediate family. I don't pass as white, but I do have an Anglo/European name, which affects people's initial assumptions. At some times in my life I absolutely felt "not Asian enough" to claim it as an identity, or that I was "basically white," culturally.

But I also never forgot that in 1942, my grandparents were forced out of their homes and into concentration camps, along with anyone with as little as 1/16 Japanese ancestry. If it happened in my lifetime, it wouldn't matter how white I felt. Some white privilege might be lent to people like me, but it's not ours to claim. All it takes is something like a war for the majority of white people to change their minds about who belongs and who doesn't.

These days, I feel it's important to specifically identify as multi-racial, and to be aware (and help others be aware) that this means different things to different people. There are so many people with backgrounds and experiences that get talked about so little.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:15 PM on December 25, 2019 [37 favorites]

And in Southeast Asia itself, as bl1nk alluded, is itself a predominantly diasporic region, with ppl with non-indigenous backgrounds that's not at all recent but embedded for centuries. Yet! We wrestle with being bananas a lot too. In Malaysia/Singapore it's complicated by intra-communal assertion of authenticity - Chinese Peranakan who have been here since the 15th century at least that's adopted many of the local customs Vs the slightly more recent wave during the European expansion that's a bit more stereotypically Chinese, and within THAT, the Anglophonic Chinese (exemplified by Singapore's first post-independence PM, Harry Lee) Vs the Sinophonic China-oriented Chinese (exemplified by that same PM, who dropped his Christian name in public and began to be known as Lee Kuan Yew), AS WELL AS Southeast Asian Chinese Vs Mainlander Chinese. *And* inter-communal claims of authenticity which is the dark side of the various nationalism projects of the countries in the region, where a Chinese person is the perennial foreigner somehow. Somewhere in there whiteness is a complicating factor, both in decolonisation-turned-fascist sense and classism-plus-middle-kingdom-ethnocentrism to excuse racism against indigenous cultures for being too lazy and hence open for colonial exploitation.

Anyway, just taking another moment for my regular reminder to everyone here, this is why the Crazy Rich Asians movie was especially tone deaf but *shrugs* Americans.
posted by cendawanita at 12:34 AM on December 26, 2019 [14 favorites]

(as in, that bit where Eleanor Young was sniffing to that Rachel character, that she'll never be Chinese. Like, hello??? Aunty???? You're SINGAPOREAN.)
posted by cendawanita at 12:37 AM on December 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh god yeah, half-Filipino, half-white person here. My mom emigrated to the states with her family when she was just out of high school, settled in Detroit where years later she met my dad and had me. So I'm literally the son of an immigrant, but it never felt that way for so many reasons, from my dad being white and whose family has lived in Michigan since the 1600s, to class—my mom's dad was a doctor with his own practice, mom herself was a lab tech at the Red Cross, so we were pretty middle class. And the attitude when they moved over was "we're Americans now" and so my mom never taught me or my siblings tagalog. And that has been a huge thing. We didn't have a community of other Filipinos, it was more or less just my family, so I wasn't immersed in the culture. And not having it in my mouth, in my language, makes me feel so far removed from other Filipinos. I am always excited to meet other Filipinos in the wild until I have to explain to them I don't speak the language or anything. Like, it feels to me like I'm mostly a white kid (though visually, I'm pretty obviously not white) with a Filipino mom, and I hate that. It really bothers me that I don't feel like I'm from anywhere and like I don't belong anywhere. It's something I feel like I'll be reckoning with for the rest of my life.
posted by Maaik at 8:30 AM on December 26, 2019 [17 favorites]

Thanks for a great set of articles, this really resonated with me. I’m of half Mexican descent and half European descent married to man of half Mexican descent half Filipino descent and we have kids that are now measuring in the quarters. My husband and I dealt similarly with our multiracial identities by leaning heavily into the Mexican side. But my Mexican side has been in the US so long no one speaks Spanish anymore or knows anyone in Mexico or even what part of the country our family was from. I know all the genealogy on the white side back to the Middle Ages but the Mexican side is a mystery. So I had to put a lot of work into learning Spanish, dancing folklorico, and learning cultural traditions but I still don’t feel like I belong completely. I’m ethnically ambiguous looking but not white passing among white people.

One of our kids one is white passing, the other is decidedly not. My husband and I wonder how determining their identity will be for them and imagine it will be very different for each kid. Right now they are little so we just talk about the different places their ancestors came from and try to balance out the euro-centric history lessons when they come up at school. I think it will be advantageous to them to have parents who’ve gone through this identity journey before them, even if we don’t have the answer for ourselves sometimes it just helps to talk it over with other people who get it.
posted by wilky at 2:18 PM on December 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you for this post and this discussion. It inspired me to log in again after 5 years and comment!

I'm a multiracial Mexican and White person who is maybe an 8 out of 10 on the white-passing scale and who is the son of an immigrant father, but like Maaik I don't really feel like it in a lot of ways and didn't have the same experiences as many first generation folks. That said, the thing about being a white-passing person of color (wait, is this even possible to be a POC if you look mostly white?) is that while you're bestowed with many privileges, it's also true that the pain and many of the disadvantages are bestowed as well, just not as perceptibly. I'm talking about the economic and social capital disadvantages, the intergenerational effects of trauma, dispossession and colonialism. These things live on literally in the genes and in the body and are expressed in ways that aren't always understood even by the person living them because we and most around us perceive us as only white. Which is mostly true, so then can I claim a narrative around a particular trauma or pain when I don't share fully the present day struggles?

Also, I literally do not know the language of my father and his people/my family because of the real fear of violence and discrimination for me as one of only a handful of nonwhite/nonblack people where I grew up in at the time. The funny part is then being sort of shamed (for lack of a better word) or tut-tuted by white employers (and white backpackers just recently back from "Peh-Roo") for not knowing Spanish and being unable to apply for positions in my field where Spanish-speakers command a premium. Because it benefits white employers, it's now a great thing to be bilingual. Not so much in the deep south in the early 80s though the 90s.

So. . . yeah, being a mixed race person (also gay) with strong European ancestry is a weird thing. I try see it as a sort of super power that allows me to know the pain of exclusion and othering while also knowing the very real and powerfully alluring appeal of (even the mildest forms of ) white supremacy. It's a trip where you're never able to be quite sure where you stand along the oppressor/oppressed axis.
posted by flamk at 8:52 PM on December 26, 2019 [19 favorites]

flamk: I relate super hard to what you just shared. Thank you for sharing.
posted by primalux at 9:57 PM on December 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Filipino stories are bringing tears to my eyes. The fracture between me and my siblings is surprisingly hard to write about. I thought enough decades had passed.

My mother is Filipino and my father is Filipino and Spanish, with Chinese, Italian, German and British several generations back. It’s messy and complicated.

I’m the eldest. For two years, it was just me. Mama and Papa only spoke to me in Visaya, my mother’s tongue. They figured I’d pick up French or English when I went to school. Oh yeah, I’m Canadian by birth.

My brother showed up two years later; my sister a year and a bit after that. So we’re pretty close in age so you’d think our early years would be similar. They were not.

Because I spent the most one-on-one time with my parents, I am bilingual. My brother has to translate but is fluent. My sister never was able to acquire a second language and she has no feel for Visaya. My sister would never get the same quality alone time.

Something shifted when she entered high school. She resented not knowing Visaya. By then, we had moved to the USA so we usually spoke English, even at home. She wrote down every recipe she could from all the relatives. She went on holiday to Cebu and stayed at the family compound. When she married, she incorporated Filipino wedding traditions into the ceremony. She was convinced she was less loved, not Filipino enough. It broke our hearts, she tried so hard. She wanted an approval she couldn’t name. And when we failed to signal correctly, she became furious. Her anger frightened and repelled my brother and I. So we let her go and we drifted away.

My parents speak to her; I’m glad. My brother says she rings him every year or so. After a while, she gets wound up again and he has to hang up. Yesterday I got an email, text, WhatsApp, and FB message all saying the same thing: Merry Christmas! You and Mr. Icing still together? Can I call? I’m not so angry anymore, let’s chat.

Now I have a phrase for what has driven her: Racial Imposter. It’s good to have a name. Maybe I’ll get brave enough to send her this post.
posted by lemon_icing at 2:35 AM on December 27, 2019 [20 favorites]

Not specifically about Biracial Identity; but this article in Jezebel by Prachi Gupta really haunts me.

Stories About My Brother

Because I have nieces and nephews who are trying to navigate trying to live in both worlds, I have been really affected by this article. I don't have kids myself, so I never think about this; growing up in the US trying to maintain contact with your ancestral culture. My family has become more religiously observant; more than they would be in India; because they want to 'pass on the traditions' to the kids. However, the kids are growing up here in the US. Their efforts to navigate both worlds is tricky.

Also, one of my nephews is having growth problems and is very, very conscious of his height. When your 3 years younger brother is taller than you when you are yourselves 12; it's not easy.

Also too, this article by Wesley Wang is a useful add-on, albeit from a completely male perspective.

Paper Tigers.

Thanks for making this MeFi post. It has given me more to think about.
posted by indianbadger1 at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

so my mom never taught me or my siblings tagalog. And that has been a huge thing. We didn't have a community of other Filipinos, it was more or less just my family, so I wasn't immersed in the culture. And not having it in my mouth, in my language, makes me feel so far removed from other Filipinos.

yeah, I feel that. My mom's Filipina, my dad's white, and I have almost no memory of ever knowing Tagalog. My mom says that before me and my sister started going to school, we would speak Tagalog around the house- I was born in Kansas, and there were some Filipinos in Kansas that I know we hung out with, so it totally makes sense that I used to know Tagalog. But when I was like 5, we moved to El Paso, and I don't remember us finding a tight group of Filipinos there. And once me and my sister started going to school, we lost whatever Tagalog we knew because we were speaking English so much at school. As I've gotten older, the urge to finally get up off my shoulders and learn Tagalog has gotten stronger and stronger, but I still haven't done it.

And the funny thing is that like about 10 years ago, my mom and my sister went to go visit some Filipino relatives who were living in Hawaii, and one of my mom's cousins reveals that Tagalog isn't even my mom's first language- she first learned Ilocano and really only learned Tagalog because when she came to the USA to go to nursing school, her roommate (who was also Filipino) only knew Tagalog, so she learned Tagalog to be able to talk to her nursing school roommate. So now that voice that keeps telling me "you should learn Tagalog" is slightly thrown off- should I learn Ilocano instead? Or both maybe?

I really liked the The Five Stages of Being Biracial (If You’re Me) article because it really highlights how a biracial person's identity can be shaped by soooooo many things other than just "having parents from different races". Things like: do your parent(s) speak a language other than English, can you speak that language too, what city did you grow up in, what are the racial demographics of the city you grew up in, can people intuit one of your races but not the other, are you racially ambiguous and people assume your race to be different than it is, do either your first or last name broadcast your race, how close are you to your parents (and which ones), what kinds of foods do your parents cook, etcetcetc.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:22 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]

« Older It's About to Get Lit, Y'all   |   Santa’s Post Office was built for Eleanor... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments