Malicious or Not, Racism is Still Racism

I’ve severely neglected updating this blog, and I know I preface almost every entry with that statement, but it’s a sad truth that also doubles as a sign of good things – I’ve been busy! My calendar has been packed with people and events, activities and engagements – rather than documenting them or writing out of boredom or introspection – I’ve just been living my life. I’d consider that a success, wouldn’t you?

However, today I felt compelled to write about an issue that has affected our country for decades and an issue that has affected me personally my entire life – that ugly issue being Racism. I guess what catalyzed this post was anger and outright disgust. Recently, students from my own alma mater have been culprits of some malicious pranks that could arguably be considered hate crimes. What century do these kids live in and what possibly could motivate such hateful, ignorant behavior? Let’s also consider that these fuckers are probably some of the loudest supporters of our cash cow of a football program that is heavily characterized and defined by its African-American athletes, trainers and coaches. Given the fact that it’s 2012 and that the University of Texas at Austin is known for tolerance, diversity and a generally liberal sensibility (quite unrepresentative of the rest of our Red state and other universities in the Big 12), behavior like this sickens and embarrasses me as an alum.

That overtly hateful behavior is what I consider “Obvious Racism.” Racial slurs and harassment towards people of color are blatant acts of racism, brimming with malicious intent. But what I wanted to talk about today is what I call “Discreet Racism” or perhaps, “Unintentional Racism” – and it’s a problem that I’ve faced my entire life as an Asian-American woman.

During my senior year, one of my cultural studies courses at UT created a fascinating discourse about my own ethnicity – in the media, Asians are either portrayed as a smart, hard-working “Model Minority” or as some strange, exotic, mysterious group. I grew up with stereotypes of excelling in academia (which I kinda did) and being a prodigal master of musical instruments (which I kinda was), but the operative word here is “kinda.” Though I was smart, I wasn’t Ivy League. Though I was musically talented, I wasn’t extraordinarily gifted. When society creates a Model Minority, it automatically disadvantages not only other ethnic groups by comparison, but also the comprising members of that exemplary group. I never knew how to respond when asked, “You can’t get a B, you’re Asian!” What was probably intended as some sort of convoluted compliment is still a racist statement connoting that I failed to adhere to a marginalized stereotype of intelligence and hard work. Even though those stereotypes are positive and commendable, they’re still stereotypes are they not? And how does it reflect on me when I fail to live up to these exemplary standards?

I also want to discuss another troubling subject pertaining to “Discreet Racism” based on two opposing views from two Asian-American women who have strong opinions regarding the boys who they date and the color of their skin. I understand where both of these ladies are coming from and acknowledge some truth in their arguments, but ultimately, they’re both equally oversimplified, ignorant and frankly, shallow:

Girl 1: Jenny An posits that she refuses to date Asian guys for a slew of reasons; she even shares data showing the high volume of Asians who marry people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. But her reasoning for not dating Asians is a personal one – she identifies more with Western culture and I can relate to that. I was born in Texas, my Spanish is better than my Chinese and my strongest (and arguably only) connection to Asian-American culture is a biological one – the fact that I am an Asian-American. Her arguments about wearing J. Crew and cooking non-Asian foods are more a result of personal preference and taste and have nothing to do with how white-washed she is – but ultimately, I experienced a similar identity crisis in my formative years when I realized that my genetic makeup was the only reason I was Asian-American and not just American.

I, however, strongly disagree with her complete refusal to date Asian men. Her arguments aren’t just self-admittedly racist; they’re sexist too. Who’s to say that there aren’t just as many Asian-American men who were born and raised in the U.S. who can’t speak Mandarin and struggle with the same Westernized identity crises that we do? Do Asian-American men not wear J. Crew and eat Mexican food? Plus, if the idea of “Model Minorities” grosses her out, how does exclusively dating people of the race who created that stereotype solve anything? It doesn’t.

Girl 2: Clarissa Wei argues that her Asian boyfriend is superior to everyone else’s boyfriends for equally shallow reasons, but her reasoning is more material. Her boyfriend happens to be smart, rich, successful and kind of a square. He doesn’t stay out and get trashed on weekends; instead, he showers her in gifts and tells her when she’s getting fat. I don’t understand how that behavior is indicative of Asians considering there are plenty of unemployed, freelancing and dare I say, dumb Asian-American men just like there are plenty of smart, rich, successful and square men of other ethnic backgrounds. Ultimately, Wei doesn’t really have an argument – she just has a compatible boyfriend who happens to meet her shallow needs and happens to be Asian. He’s obviously patient and tolerant if he puts up with her idiocy and vapid personality, but he’s also kind of a dick for telling her she’s fat. But just because her boyfriend is a good guy (by her ass backwards standards) and happens to be Asian, it certainly doesn’t make him superior to the rest of mankind. Her idea of superiority isn’t only shallow, it’s subjective. In my opinion, a superior boyfriend is sweet, creative, funny and interesting. I’d also rather have a boyfriend who stays out and parties and has fun on weekends than say a lucrative, but cold, rude, dickbrain of a guy. It’s also important to note that none of these character traits are mutually exclusive to Asian-American men or any type of guy.

These case studies exemplify what I consider “Unintentional Racism” – Girl 2 champions our race, Girl 1 dismisses it because our bloodlines shouldn’t matter and define who we date. But Jenny An and Clarissa Wei are still missing the point – It doesn’t fucking matter. I commend Jen of Disgrasian for shitting on both of these girls’ weak, close-minded arguments. Asian-American shouldn’t have to justify why they do or do not date certain people and they certainly are doing a disservice to themselves and our entire culture by marginalizing themselves and describing the pros and cons of dating a certain ethnic group.

Sometimes, I find the issue of “Unintentional Racism” a slippery one. When I’m asked “Where are you from?” and when I respond “Texas” and when the follow-up question is almost always “Well, I meant where are you from?” I know the questions are motivated by general curiosity, not derogatory or offensive intent. But by politely answering the question without correcting these harmless, well-intentioned people, I’m essentially okaying the general assumption that Asian and Asian-American are mutually exclusive words. Just because people are tolerant, doesn’t mean they’re right and I’m disheartened that this probably won’t change in my lifetime.

But just to set the record straight, when I do meet that special someone, I’ll date whoever the fuck he is for who he is and not the color of his skin and I certainly won’t write a blog post about why my decision was the right one.

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