Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sick of being "In-between"

I get tired of seeing us characterize ourselves as "in-between" or "torn between two worlds". It's an absurdly common theme. From academic studies to MTV Real World profiles, these is a cliche framing of the Asian American experience. It's worth studying since it's obviously how we are perceived by mainstream Americans, but why have we internalized it as the way to communicate our experiences? Just like the way Malcolm cast off his "slave name", we need to cast off this colonial language and value system.

The simple fact is that people moving around and cultures changing is a natural process. Even as we pick up and drop "new" cultural properties, we are causing others to do the same. After all, Europeans had to come from somewhere. Latinos developed out of native populations originally descended from Asian explorers being brutalize by European invaders.

So I don't think we are "in-between"--we are just "in-process" like everyone else. There's "Asia" and all its parts and peoples. There's white America and all its parts and peoples and there's us and all our parts and peoples. I don't belong to Asia and I don't belong to America. I belong to me and my community and a struggle that will show everyone else what we already know--we aren't caught between worlds--we are a vital part of the only world there is.


Blogger Matthew said...

When I was in high school, one day an African-American girl took it upon herself - out of the blue - to lecture me about the "fact" that I was black, basically telling me that no matter how I thought of myself, the world would think of me as black, so therefore I'm simply black. And that wasn't the first (or last) time that such an unsolicited lecture was delivered upon me - and always by someone African-American. There's a myriad of reasons why people have felt the need to spontaneously say such things to me, but I don't feel like going into them right now.

Suffice it to say, I've always had a bit of an issue in dealing with the topic of "which race are you?", even though it's an absurd question posed within an absurdly defined society. Biologically, of course, I'm African-American and Euro-American, with a bit of Native-American thrown in. (The elephant in the room being that everyone is a mutt, and made up of different ethnicities that we've felt the need to categorize and define, yet only the more obvious among us are ever boxed into a corner about 'choosing' which one we belong to).

As for which ethnicity I am culturally, to keep things on a shallow, superifical level, I'm probably more Euro-American, simply because that's what my mother was, and she was around more, and we bonded better. But I've always wondered, upon giving such an answer, what is implied by the choice that is given to me (i.e. black vs. white)? It's true that the African-American community, in one sense, has its own sense of 'culture', and as we've already confirmed that a person's biology is pretty immutable, then when a person of obvious mixed-race ethnicity is posed the 'choice' question, then the unspoken aspect of the question must be culture-based. And yet even that is a murky swamp of shifting definition.

For the black community in the United States has developed a culture that is different than what the black community in Zimbabwe, or even in Canada as developed. I'd even venture to argue that the supposed 'culture' of the African-American community here in the U.S. is very Western influenced, if not Western-controlled. So, when I am put on the spot and asked why I don't wear Fubu, or drink Schlitz Malt Liquor, or listen to Snoop, or what have you, I'm really being asked why I don't identify with the Westernized cultural markers of a segment of the African-American community (markers which, btw, have also been appropriated by other ethnicities in the United States). It should also be noted that there isn't really a 'white culture', per se, as most of what passes for caucasian culture in the U.S. is merely a hodge-podge of other, more ancient cultural aspects (with the 'Asian-theme' being quite the appropriated culture of late, mainly is architecture & design, and decor).

I'm not necessarily saying that crossing cultures, or pilfering aspects of one culture and putting them into another are bad things. I guess what I'm getting at is that we need to realize and understand that this is what's going on, and that what we're really discussing is just 'culture,' plain and simple. It's a mish-mash, so to try and tell half-breeds to choose which one to belong to is, to put it bluntly, ignorant. Especially given that we're all mutts anyway, at least over here, and to therefore put the spotlight on the ones who are the more obvious mutts is just unempathetic and wrong.

Sorry to babble on so much. You wrote a great topic here, and I couldn't resist. ;-)

Take care.

4:15 PM  
Blogger xian said...

On the contrary, I really appreciate the read and the sharing of deep personal experience on the topic. Our society needs to look at the diversity of experience on these topics, because otherwise we just get stuck with pervasive stereotypes about what a "normal XYZ background" is. Ethnic majority folks aren't expected to have a uniform experience, so why should we?

11:58 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I have problems with the idea of race on the very foundations. The same way that I don't really believe in the ideas behind gender. Personally, i've never seen it as a valid criteria to base a distinction on. It's really just an easy mark, easier for the white folks to hate the chinks or the niggers because of what they are. Without such labels, they would have to try and think of reasons to hate them as other human beings, which would be a lot harder to justify. Just as it is easier to oppress women if we mark them all with a bunch of fictional characteristics to prove that they aren't as valid human beings as men.

It's important to note that the mirror does go both ways. I have to put up with a lot of shit because I was born white. People make rascists jokes and comments around me all the time and think that I should agree because of it. I'm supposed to ignore the suffering of the third world, and place money ahead of everything else also. I never wanted to be white, just a person. That's what we all are regardless of race or gender or beliefs, equal people.

7:52 PM  

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