At a friend’s birthday party the other week, I was sitting with a group of people talking about nothing in particular when suddenly a person in the group turned to me and said, ‘you know, I never think of you as an Asian, you’re like a total banana’. He flicked his cigarette and laughed, I crunched into a piece of bread, it was all I could do to not overreact to the seemingly innocent remark. It was kind of awkward, I mean, where did I even get the bread from?
For those of you who don’t know, a banana is a somewhat racial reference to someone who is ‘Asian on the outside and White on the inside’. I have always considered this to be a nonsensical turn of phrase, like a clean and righteous stripper. Although not traditionally offensive it struck a chord that caused a righteous racial rage within my diasporic loins (maybe not loins.) I was furious with the person, until another one of my best friends, who is also Asian, said that she never thought of me as Asian.
I began to wonder if I had been making a subconscious effort to appear less Asian than I am. As I opened my double-eyelid tape packet and whitening cream I decided that people who cast racial judgments like this are full of shit, and for any Asian growing up in a society outside of Asia we are damned to be placed in two categories both of which are more or less mercy to the ridicule of the Drinking Coconut (white on the outside, white on the inside, this is the best I could do)
To me, the insinuation that I was trying to be less Asian than I am was ridiculous on two levels.
1. Even if all of my interests, language and style were an emulation of a white person, I would be fooling no-one, except blind people.
2. The remarks also assert that I am not acting the way ‘an Asian should’.
People assume that Asians should act in accordance to the caricature of an Asian they have come to know in their mind. Should start talking louder? Cut queues more? Should I tell you I can’t come to your party because I’m simply too busy practicing the Piano and previous years versions of Standardized Tests?
As it turns out I can either be a Banana or a FOB; someone who is apparently so ashamed of the way their race is perceived that they outwardly scheme (pointlessly) to become racially odourless or the epitome of the things people find so exotic and hilarious about being foreign.
Is it hypocritical that I’m generalising here? Maybe. But if I had a 10 cents for every time someone said, ‘Hey you’re Asian, you must be smart.’ I’d have like $15.30, which in hindsight doesn’t really drive home the point that I was pushing. My point is that my academic ability has nothing to do with the fact I am Asian and everything to do with the fact that I preferred to play Math Rescue than with other children. The fact that I am a bad driver has nothing to do with my race and everything to do with the fact that the iPhone has Facebook (and I’m very popular).
I don’t see myself ashamed of being Asian nor do I exclusively surround myself by Asian culture to assert and signify my cultural identity. The fact of the matter is I think I’ve done pretty well, growing up and finding a unique set of values and beliefs in a country that offers no outstanding role models or representation of my race in mainstream media. Just because I don’t subscribe to your idea of how I should behave does not mean for a second that I am rejecting my heritage. I nor anyone else, exists to be your stereotype.