I have a few friends who like me, are of Asian (and I use Asian as a broad collective noun, because to individually name each country individually for sensitivities’ sake would take too long) descent. Growing up Asian in a Western society is a unique experience, personally I think the affectations of growing up diasporal on cultural and personal identity is something that needs to be talked about more rather than less. In a previous post I commented upon how the societal expectation of otherness was projected upon individuals of a non-western background, that there were identifiers that people associated with the experience of being and assuming an ‘asian identity’. Lately though, I have noticed more and more friends of asian descent choosing to assert their identity in a way that almost ignores or chooses to suppress any identification with the oriental.
This is mostly manifested in an avoidance or downplay of anything that would overtly identify an individual with being Asian. At dinner the other night, a friend of mine with clear Asian hertiage proclaimed how he was allergic to dumplings.
To which I was like
That was like saying you are allergic to meat, flour and water, also known as the ingredients of dumplings. He then made a bit of a show about how he was hopeless with chopsticks. No one said the words ‘Bad Asian’ but they were probably thinking it. ‘But Mysterious Author!’ I hear you yell, ‘isn’t it highly hypocritical of you to be expecting him to like dumplings and use chopsticks well? Isn’t that exactly what you were complaining about before?’
Sure, expecting a person of Asian descent to be good at using chopsticks and to love dumplings is incredibly racist, but the ability to part take in both of these activities is not solely rooted in the heritage of your DNA. Dumplings are delicious and can be enjoyed by all just the way chopsticks can (and are) widely used by all cultures. I think it was the conscientious effort to distance himself from the overt Chineseness of the location in an effort to maintain his statute as part of everyone else in what was a largely white-male crowd that made me go
It’s possible I’m reading too much into it, but I feel that, at least with the people I observe, that identification with or enjoyment of a ‘typically asian’ activity somehow devalues your identity as a whole; that you will somehow be judged in a negative way for simply, being Asian. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, and that some people aren’t shit and generally racist, it does. For the most part however, I think that we tend to assume the worst in people before they are given a chance, and we therefore edit the presentation of ourselves to others in order to avoid this identification.
A friend recently posted a link to a thoughtcatalog article on people trying to ‘Guess the Race’ of the Author. Upon a second reading, she makes some really good points, I do however take issue with the assumption that anyone who asks this question is immediately a racist douchebag. Many of my asian friends get offended if people ask them their nationality during conversation.
“Oh my god, she just kept asking me what my background was when I said Australian, isn’t that so rude?” Khap (a lovely Vietnamese friend) said to me one day.
Not really, I thought. We have to think about context, wherein some people have grown up in a white hegemonic society whereby they will, for reasons right or wrong, assume that you have links to a country other than Australia. Nationality and Ethnicity is one and the same for some ignorant members of society. Ignorance does not always point toward a level of racism, just a level of stupidity. Think about it this way. You have lived in Australia most if not all of your life, have an Australian accent etc. It’s pretty fucking clear that you are, for all intensive purposes, Australian. Could it be that the person asking the question just phrased it incorrectly? I personally answer questions like this with a ‘Well I’m Australian, but my background is from Malaysia” (N.B. not as sterile as this. We all know how great I am at conversation)
Why does the question have to be so loaded that it suddenly means, “I’m asserting my right to this land and diminishing yours”? People claim that it has to brought up in ‘the right way’. Well I have no idea how this could be brought up, in a non-weird way. The least offensive way about asking someone about their ethnic heritage (not nationality) was, “I acknowledge the fact that you identify as Australian, but could I please enquire as to the nature of your ethnic origins if that doesn’t offend?”
Pretty awkward. If all you to remedy a question like this is stick to the ‘Australian’ guns, all you are going to do is breed the feeling that you are extremely unfriendly. Humans are both extremely curious and dumb, and unfortunately it is our cross to bear, but punishing the question in a way that doesn’t provide education will only further propagate a feeling of difference. Maybe these people just don’t know how to ask my perfectly prepared question, and they are genuinely interested in where your heritage harks from, with no hidden cultural-superiority agenda.
It is certainly unreasonable and incredibly culturally insensitive to deny someone an identification with a legally recognised nationality; at the same time it is unfair to ourselves to deny an aspect of our identity for the sole purpose of reinforcing this. If it’s because you honestly don’t know anything about your ethnic heritage, well, that’s something you probably have to have a good look at as well.
I guess what all of this comes down to for me is the cringe factor whenever I see my friends and people of Asian descent doing things that indicate on a certain level that they are ashamed of being Asian. In a sense it’s unavoidable, we ourselves have internalised a certain devaluing of the Asian identity by simply being of a Western Society. However, there is a difference between racial equality and racial odorlessness, and defensiveness over non-consequential questions, the ramifications of which are quite inconsequential seems like a step in the wrong direction.