“Where do you come from?!” a little girl confusedly asked me one day in the middle of class.
“I come from Virginia, just like you.”
“But why do you look like you come from China?”
“My parents grew up in Asia, but I was born here in America. People like that are called Asian Americans.”
As she pranced away, I thought about how this tiny preschooler had been alive no more than 4 years and already had the conception that only white people were from America. Granted, Charlottesville is largely a white city in Virginia, but there were still a good handful of Asian American, African American, and other ethnicities of children at the school as well.
While substitute teaching at different schools in the city, I regularly hear little white children spurt out all sorts of misguided questions and comments including: “Are you adopted?” and “Maybe you’re supposed to be in China or Japan where you belong.”
Even more curious was a conversation I had with a half white and half Chinese American boy who told me he was born in the United States but was actually from China because his family went on a trip there for two weeks when he was a baby.
So what’s going on here? It is possible that these children’s parents are brazen racists indoctrinating their offspring with white supremacist dogma? Most likely not. I would argue that it has to do with micro-aggressions, defined by psychologist Derald Wing Sue as, “… everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”
The following are a few common micro-agressions heard on a regular basis along with alternative ways to avoid them.
1) Where do you come from?
Message: You couldn’t have lived in America your entire life and/or be an American citizen because of the way you look. Only white people are from America. (READ: Where are you from?)
Alternatives: What is your ethnicity/ethnic background? What do you identify as? The classic question possibly every non-white American loves to complain about. People who ask this are usually trying to get to know you a little better and don’t realize how it can be insulting. Any question asking about ethnic identity rather than country of origin is much more appropriate because it can be chosen to an extent by the individual, thus putting the power of identity in their hands instead of the asker’s.
2) Calling yourself a “Twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside)
Message: The American culture that you grew up with, all the things you love to watch, eat, and experience are not rightfully yours to claim as someone with Asian ancestry. The culture that made you who you are really belongs to “whiteness.”
Alternatives: Asian American, Filipino American, multicultural, etc.
As a teenager I used to call myself a “Twinkie” all the time. Looking back, I realized that I associated being Asian with strange and foreign, and claiming “whiteness” made me more relatable to my friends. Even at the beginning of college I chose not to join the Fil-Am student organization for fear of being branded as an Asian girl who only hangs out with Asians. Calling myself a “Twinkie” was just a funny way to say that I was ashamed of my background and was ultimately disempowering.
3) Emphasizing that someone is Asian even though their ethnicity is completely irrelevant to what you’re talking about
Message: White is normal and anyone who is different needs to identified as such.
Alternatives: Don’t do it. Be more aware of your descriptions of people.
I don’ t know how many times I’ve heard people say something like, “So I was talking to this Asian guy and he told me that a new burger place opened up nearby,” and then think to myself, “What does him being Asian have to do with anything?” If the person you were talking about were white, you’d most likely just refer to them as “that guy” since white people are often perceived to not have ethnicity. Pointing out someone’s ethnicity for no reason only further reinforces marginalized groups as not normal.
4) Just Asian without the American
Message: Asian Americans are considered perpetual foreigners who haven’t earned their American labels even as United States citizens.
Alternatives: Asian American, Filipino American, etc.
I admit it may sound awkward tacking on “American” all the time, but it’s just something that takes getting used to. In fact, the term “African-American” only became popularized after Jesse Jackson held a news conference urging its usage in 1988. Today it would feel awkward calling someone simply “African” if they were a native-born citizen. The name Asian American acts as a unifying statement that demonstrates pride in Asian cultural heritage and American citizenship at the same time.
Is using these types of language outwardly racist? No. Do I think they reflect current race relations in America and have a role in imprinting certain prejudiced beliefs even on young children? Yes. These microagressions are one reason that Asian Americans are still not perceived as truly belonging despite being part of the United States since the 1850s. As a consequence, the Asian American community lacks presence in politics and popular media, and its level of cultural understanding barely goes beyond Kung Fu and geisha stereotypes. DeAngelis writes that psychological research on microaggressions suggest they may also “erode people’s mental health, job performance and the quality of social experience.”
If you happen to let these phrases slip from time to time, no one blames you. It’s just what we’ve all become used to hearing and saying. But next time, think about what your words really mean and use them in a way that embraces all backgrounds and the people in front of them. – Rappler.com
“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.”—note to self (via youngfolksociety)
what's extreme is people like you not realizing that sometimes diversity can go too far. When characters are made black or disabled or gay for no reason it hurts the story and it hurts the cause of the people who are supposedly being represented.
I like how you sent me an ask claiming that no one says a thing except people rhetorically making fun of the position that no one actually holds, and then you send me an ask clarifying that you hold exactly the same position.
I’m kind tempted to just not address anything else you said and just marvel in the perfection of that.
What’s the reason for making a character white? What’s the reason for making a character straight? What’s the reason for making a character abled or neurotypical or cis?
When you assume that making a character Other relative to yourself weakens the narrative, you’re revealing a terrible thing about yourself: that you can’t imagine that those people have backstories and inner lives the way that you do.
Every single person in a fictional narrative is ultimately there because a writer decided they needed to be there, but when the person looks like you and matches your expectations, you accept that this person who was made up for the plot had a life full of events that led them to the point where they’re appearing on the screen or page.
But when your expectations aren’t met, you start saying it’s forced. You can’t accept that events led them here because you don’t grant them the kind of life that you know you have. Your empathy does not extend to them.
Look at how many white people think they can relate to a little girl in an industrial orphanage who falls in with a capitalist robber baron during the Great Depression more than they can relate to a little girl in the foster system in modern New York who falls in with a career politician, all because of a difference of race. The original Annie’s situation and world were only slightly less alien to us than the Victorian period, but making her white somehow makes her relatable in a way that a little girl who clearly exists in our world isn’t.
The fact is, empathy is linked to imagination and we can (and do!) relate to people who are literally alien beings in literally alien worlds. The choice not to relate to Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie—or a Black or gay or female or trans video game character—is a choice to shut off both imagination and empathy.
The failing is not with the narrative, it’s with you.
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”—Ellen Goodman (via leuitate)
1. father of influence ft. jori 1:41 [co prod jolin ras]
2. day brake 6:04 [prod. by the architect]
3. blah 10:37 [prod. by a.s.s.]
4. god save the villain ft. childish gambino 11:27 [prod. by the architect]
5. ma 14:54 [prod. by the architect]
6. ericks room 16:07 [prod. by the architect]
7. swamp fever [prod by the remedy] 19:33
8. themakeupbreakup 22.29 [prod. by the architect]
9. taxi cab ft. kaya 27:50 [prod. by the architect]
tired of the average getting abnormal undeserved praise. I’m tired of the youth not being the tastemakers,I’m tired of old people, tired of niggas with no plans or skill set expecting to make it. I’m tired of people telling me I made it. Tired of people’s such low standards of “making it”. I’m…