Another platform for me to spew out thoughts.
The problem with Race, and other controversies in my head
I got into an interesting conversation about race the other day. Actually, it was a series of conversations with various different people, and these conversations, frankly, have been ongoing for well over a decade for me now. But that aside…
I’ve been thinking about race. In ways that I think will make me immensely unpopular in any sort of ethnic minority group of which I am a part, or purport to be a part, or seen by members of which to be a part (whatever). I’ve been thinking about race and human dignity. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the ethnic minority to which I most closely identify — Asian American. And for the first time in a very long time, I’m having a problem identifying using the term “Asian American.”
What is Asian? Why can’t I be American? These questions aren’t new. What is new, though, is WHY we want to feel like we “belong” in America. We get so offended when someone asks where we’re from, assuming we are foreign. Take a look around, folks. A lot of people with Asian descent ARE foreign – they were born in not-America…yes, we can make the argument that no one would assume a Black/African American (choose your poison) person would speak Swahili. But if you’re walking on the street, and you encounter an Asian person, chances are high that person 1) knows how to speak or understand some form of Asian language, 2) was born in an Asian country, and 3) does not consider English their native language. For this particular stereotype, it is based a lot on the truth of the situation. And for this particular situation, it will most likely be ameliorated through time. In a few generations, people with Asian face will likely all speak English (provided they stay in this country and populate it and make lots of babies), and people will stop assuming people with Asian faces are foreign.
And then, there’s the question of…why do we feel like we want to “belong”? I think it boils down to the question of human dignity. The question here, though, is, who’s the authority on this dignity?
When I say human dignity, I’m not talking about the material or physical. I’m not saying that we should question the atrocities that befell likes of Vincent Chin and others who are physically assaulted for being not-White. I’m not defending the difference in the pay scale for African Americans (or Black Americans) and Latino Americans (or Chicano or whatever words you want to use to identify) – those, under the ideologies of equality in this country, are wrong. I’m also not disregarding the history of colonialism and imperialism and the wrongs the West (and White) have done to Asian countries and societies, nor am I excusing the past grievances of genocide, torture, murder, death, maiming, and other forms of badness that came from White interaction (or, sometimes Japanese) with Asia. I’m questioning human dignity on that transcendant level – the level on which we often speak of love and art, the one with which we can only be concerned with if we have enough food to eat, clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads.
A few more points – let’s be Marxist for a sec and boil everything down to the material. Are Asian Americans as a group really economically disenfranchised? No. What’s so bad about being the model minority? People think we’re smart. Why is this a bad thing? What of the medical field, which is teeming with folks of Asian descent making a great living? How about the fields of engineering? What is it that makes an individual happy? Really happy? Is it some transcendental idea of “belonging” and “equality”? Or is it being able to provide a comfortable life for oneself and one’s family?
The argument comes in where people complain about lack of representation in the media. And yes, I agree that in some forms of media and representation, like Broadway, Asians are sorely underrepresented. For the record, the article says Asian Americans make up 12% of the NYC population. Keep in mind that the population of Asian Americans in America is roughly 4-6%. So, what is adequate representation? I would like to conduct a study to see what percentage of characters in commercials, TV shows, films, are of Asian descent. I would venture to guess that we are hovering around 4-6%, if not greater.
Finally, think about it. The desire for racial equality would not be significant if it weren’t for a Western ideological, neoliberalist framework. So, is our dignity defined and authorized by the big bad White man?