Tag Archives: identity

Coloring Whiteness: POC Community Building and Mistaken Racial Identity

by Former Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Nina Garcia

I can count the days following Fashion Week on two hands, the same abacus I could use to count the women of color featured on its runways. Despite constant cries from communities of color, models, the press, and even many designers to increase diversity on the catwalk, progress is slower than the careful steps taken in a pair of Alexander McQueen heels. The fashion world is working at a snail’s pace to color its image, and even then, only by way of appeasement, tiny bits to the masses so that they are temporarily satisfied. But among those scraps, people become desperate, sometimes seeing glimmers that hope that are far from it, and yearning for some acknowledgment from those who have little connection to their plight despite presumed allegiance.

To cite a specific example, one need look no further than the coverage of one of the most poignant protests of fashion’s alienation and exclusion of black fashion editors (and, not-so-tangentially, models and designers) on the opening day of Fashion Week. One of the participants noted that the only prominent woman of color in the business and publishing side of the fashion industry was Marie Claire Fashion Director and Project Runway judge Nina Garcia (pictured, at top).

I stopped reading for a moment. Since when is Nina Garcia a woman of color? Continue reading

Quoted: Anna on Mixed Race and Filipina Identity/Lulu on Shared Struggles

Lulu Carpenter

It seems we don’t talk a lot about it, but to be sure, there are distinct pains, complexities and privileges associated with mixed heritage people. And I’m realizing that these distinctions can be quite fruitful to discussions of race and gender. For I realized that mixed heritage families are a perfect example of “families on the fault lines.” In other words, mixed families undergo a unique experience that may reflect and deify notions of privilege and hierarchy. At the same time, they hold vast potential to resist narratives of the normalized body.

In my case, I’ve experienced both privilege and oppression with my identity and family background. For instance, while folks in the Filipino community might easily classify me as one of them, this isn’t the case for those outside this community. Filipinos are so underrepresented in the media and other forms of public representation that people don’t seem to understand what it means to be a dark-skinned Asian. They seem to only think of East Asia when they hear “Asian” (as if the region of Southeast Asia doesn’t exist!). I’ve gotten Latino, Chinese, Indian–you name it. (And to be fair, I’ve inherited some of my father’s bi-racial characteristics which further confounds people.) There’s a sort of erasure and concomitant exotification that occurs just by virtue of being Filipino or any other underrepresented ethnic group.

On the other hand, there is a distancing from this Otherness that happens through my last name. I’m clearly not white, but my name–Anna Sterling–sure does sound white. It never fails as a conversation starter; by rote I explain that my paternal grandfather was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines during WWII. My father was bi-racial, hence the last name. I know for a fact that this last name has conferred privileges onto me throughout time–everywhere from fitting in with my white suburban friends a little bit more than those with more traditional names like Magpantay or Danganan to perhaps having eyes linger on my resume in job searches a few seconds longer. Continue reading

Black AND Asian (and Jewish?)

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils

I meant to write this post a long time ago – kept saying that I would – but it just didn’t happen, finally fell on the back-burner. Recently, however, I read another post (here) that addressed this topic, but in a manner that felt – to me – to retain the very same “Us vs. Them” theme that’s gotten us here in the first place. The angle taken, the examples given, some of the comments, etc. allow for a dangerous misunderstanding to continue (not the author’s intention, but nonetheless . . .). So I felt it’s time. Let’s do this.

A while back, I was talking to a friend of mine (a black female, which is relevant) – we’ll call her “W.” She’s telling me about this guy she ran into at some store; this Vietnamese guy (“or Chinese or Korean or something”) comes over and starts chatting her up, hitting on her, trying to get her number and all that. She’s not feeling it. She gets irritated on a number of levels. But her primary annoyance is that she feels like he’s just messing with her, so she ends up telling him “give me a break, you don’t date black women,” and (tamely) telling him about how racist Asian guys are.

She finishes her story, looks at me, and, laughing, says “can you believe that?”

I give a one-word response. “Yes.”

But my mind was reeling – because there was so much going on in this one interaction (sort of two interactions, including the re-telling) that just sum up the state of oppression-related affairs in the U.S. First, there’s a (black) woman getting hit on by some random guy, which always carries a tinge of objectification, dominance, etc. In this case, it’s an Asian guy – so we’re bringing together two notoriously “undesirable” race/gender combinations in this country. Then there’s her confusion over the exact ethnicity of this Asian dude. Then there’s her belief (based on real past experience) that he’s not really interested in dating her; that he’s more or less mocking her, because – as an Asian man – he’s probably crazy-racist against black people. And, finally, the beauty of it all – she’s casually relating this story to me, her friend – an Asian (okay, mixed-Asian) male.

And it all made perfect sense to me. Because, you see, I happen to be a sort of connoisseur of the black-Asian interracial experience, and everything that happened in that story follows the confusing, tense narrative of a relationship that has been being shaped for the last couple-hundred (maybe far more) years. It’s a long story – with a lot of loops and twists – but it’s one worth reading, so I hope y’all follow me to the end.

Prologue – “Setting it Straight” (aka “Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown”)

We “all know” that there’s this big rivalry between Asian and black folks. The “opposites” of the PoC spectrum, there just is no bridging the divide. I’ve heard it a million times (from both sides).

And so the look of shock on the faces of this one particular group of Asian folks I was with shouldn’t have surprised me when I asked what should have been a stupid question: “You all realize that there are black Asian people, right?”
Continue reading


by Guest Contributor Brandann R. Hill-Mann ( OuyangDan)

I grew up a happy, well loved child. I spent my summers resisting shoes and with water-logged skin, insisting I wasn’t cold, even when my lips were purple. My world was a moose’s walk from Canada where I straddled two worlds, never knowing it because I was blissfully unaware until I was much older that I was any different than the other people around me.

One world was that of my Mother’s family. Just off of a Reservation, humid and sweltering in the summer and man-high piles of snow and ice in the winter. We built houses with doors on the second floor, and two mailboxes to make sure you could reach one in the winter. A Northern Michigan Tribe with roots shared in Southern Canada’s First Nations, we were just emerging from that place where it was embarrassing to be ‘injun’. A Native fishing family, we were not exactly well off, but we had floors in our houses and indoor plumbing in an area where owning your own septic system was a sign of great privilege. My grandparents were well respected in our community for being fair and honest, if my Grandfather had a bit of a reputation for a temper if you were trying to be unfair to someone less fortunate than he was.

My mom met my dad when they were very young, and the stories varied depending on who did the telling – and I can’t ask him anymore since he’s been passed away ten years, but I know that my mom was about ten or so. She was about thirteen when they snuck smokes together, and I don’t know how old they were when they realized that they were dating. I do know that they spent about a year apart after my mom graduated high school, and when she showed up with me in her arms, my dad didn’t flinch, and adopted me straight away. Biological or adopted, I was fathered by a white man of European descent.

My Dad’s family was another world. His parents were first generation immigrants — depending on who did the defining — with my grandfather an unexpected surprise to his parents who had just immigrated from Italy, and my grandmother of Dutch parentage. My dad grew up in a privileged white world to a smart businessman of a father who ran a fair business in beer distribution. Every one owed my grandfather,or Papa Joe, a favor at one point or another, even if he had a bit of a temper if you were trying to be unfair. This family loved and doted on me, and I never knew that I was not of their blood until I was a much older child in need of a full medical history. My grandfather even created a unique nickname for me: wopajo. Continue reading

Searching for My Pakistani Identity

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic

It started off funny. I was at the mall buying a birthday gift for a friend of mine and, as usual, the store manager was friendly and conversational. After she took a good look at my gift, the following conversation took place:

    MANAGER: Aww, is this for your girlfriend?

    ME: She’s not my girlfriend.

    MANAGER: That’s an awful lot of money for just a friend.

    ME: (smiles) Well, maybe you can lower the price for me.

She laughed as she scanned the item through. Another customer approached the counter and waited patiently. She decided to chime in:

    CUSTOMER: Ooh, you’re buying gifts!

    ME: (smiles) Yeah, it’s for my friend’s birthday.

    CUSTOMER: Aww, that’s so romantic, your girlfriend is going to Love it.

    ME: She’s not my girlfriend.

    CUSTOMER: Hmm, maybe she’s a special friend!

I laughed at how both of them were teasing me while I waited for the manager to package the gift. The manager was really helpful that day, so I asked her if there was a number I could call to give her an “outstanding” customer service rating. She showed me the number on the receipt and thanked me for asking. As the manager wrote her name on the receipt, the customer waiting in line caught me off guard with an unexpected question:

“What country are you from?”

For some reason, the question struck me in an odd way, as if it triggered an alarm in my head and sprung forth countless things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few weeks. It wasn’t a new question at all. I have brown skin; it’s easy to notice, so I understood. People ask me where I’m from all the time, but it was different now.

Almost immediately, I thought about the current crisis in Pakistan, I thought about the corrupt Pakistani president Asif Zardari, I thought about the Taliban taking control of Swat Valley – a beautiful place that I visited once – and I thought about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and my sheer frustration with Obama’s foreign policy. Even though it only took me about two seconds to respond, I still had more thoughts and feelings swell inside me. I feared that disclosing my nationality would disrupt the friendly interaction I had with the manager and customer. I worried that their response would be offensive or ignorant and that I would go home feeling like an “outsider.” It was too late for that. And it wasn’t their fault.

“Pakistan,” I said slowly with an unfamiliar discomfort in my voice.

I was shocked at the way I responded, it sounded like I was ashamed of it. I noticed the shift in her body language when she replied with a simple, “Oh.” It was the typical response I usually get after I tell people I’m Muslim. An awkward silence followed before she politely said, “cool.” Again, it was nothing new to me, but when I nodded and forced a weak smile, I suddenly felt the urge to leave. I left quickly after the manager handed me the gift. “It’s ok” I told myself as I heard the fast paced rhythm of my shoes walking on the marble floor, “they didn’t say anything wrong.” I thought about the possible conversation that took place behind me. Maybe they said something ignorant. Maybe they didn’t say anything at all. Maybe they had negative thoughts about Pakistan, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they wondered where it was on the map. Whatever they said or thought didn’t matter. What mattered were the countless thoughts that surfaced in my mind. Continue reading

Russell Peters: Still Got It?

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

A little over half a year ago, I wrote a fawning article about Russell Peters, trying to justify why I love him in spite of the fact that he could easily be criticised for making racist comedy.

I said that I loved Peters because his comedy is (unintentionally?) subversive: it highlights the relationships communities of colour have with each other instead of speaking to, or centering the experiences of white folks. And many commenters on my original piece pointed out, Peters often talks about his sibling communities of colour with fondness rather than ridicule. But then the other night I sat down and watched Red, White and Brown, Peters’ 2008 DVD.

Russell, you cut me deep.

So what’s wrong with Red, White and Brown? Last year Latoya posted an excerpt from a Kate Rigg interview, where Rigg explained very eloquently what makes racist comedy racist:

I’m offended when I see comics get onstage going “…and then I went to the Laundromat. Ching-chong, ching-chong, ching-chong!” Then I’m fucking offended. When someone tells a joke about Asian people and there’s no actual joke – the joke is the Asian people. The joke is [racist-comic voice] the funny way they talkie-talkie! “They don’t use proper diction! Only verb and noun! Verb and noun!” I just heard a comic that I respect doing that fucking joke the other night. An Asian comic. And I was like, “Dude! Write a punch line or you’re just being racist!”

Peters’ seems to have lost his punchline. There’s lots of different things you could criticise in Red, White and Brown. Peters throws in some shallow Michael Moore style criticism of the war in Iraq that still manages to be Arab/Islamophobic. Sepia Mutiny has an interesting analysis of Peters’ jabs at deaf people. Red, White and Brown gave me a lot to think about, and I’d like to address Peters’ “hatred” for deaf people and his comments about Indian authenticity in a later post. But right now I’m gonna focus on that stupid “Chinky” accent.

Peters opens Red, White and Brown with five minutes of his Chinese accent. And hey, I guess people love his Chinese accent. But where it once highlighted a very funny bit about the way Indian and Chinese people do business together, it’s now become the joke. When the only thing Peters is doing is talking Chinky, it’s not a joke anymore.

He starts by pointing to random Chinese-looking people in his audience, and talking in his Chinese voice. But chances are at least one (if not all) of the Chinese people in the front five rows of his New York audience are Chinese Americans. As in, they don’t talk like that. They’re Americans, you jerk.

But you know what? There is a Chinese American accent. Just like there is an African American accent. There’s a WASP accent: I think Dave Chappelle is famous for having perfected it. So why can’t Peters learn the Chinese American accent, and then do that? That would be bringing it back to the arena that Peters once did so well – giving us something in mainstream comedy that we can relate to.

Continue reading

Binary Soul

by Guest Contributor John Jihoon Chang

I often feel as though I’m two men living one life. Many of my peers and contemporaries from an immigrant background have learned how to blend their twin heritages, their cultures passed down from their parents and their cultures locally acquired and somehow become a coherent whole. In my case, an Asian American or more specifically, a Corean American. I won’t say this is true for everyone or even most people, but many have navigated this tricky path or perhaps have chosen one culture to adhere closely to in neglect or abandonment of the other.

Growing up, I was one who had never nurtured the Corean in me, rather concentrating on the present reality that I faced as a young person growing up with almost entirely white American peers. There was little value in my Coreanness, especially as it served to distance me from the only society I’d known. It was an inescapable part of my identity, as my genes had mapped my Asian roots upon my face, but it provided little to no advantages in my daily life, rather often distancing me as a “stranger”, though the life I’d known was, outside of food, language and minor household traditions, largely the same as my peers. Nevertheless, the appearance of difference combined with the few elements that my household practiced always seemed to divide, even as each white American household, I found, had different sets of cuisine, traditions and even occasionally the use of language.

As such, I was an all-American type, as it proved the path of least resistance. My sister naively would label me as “whitewashed” or a “banana”, claiming my abandonment of my Corean heritage while she, all the same adopted the similarly American “AZN” identity, one of the Asian American subcultures defined by heavy adoption of urban mainstream American media tied together with that of a mainstream Asian media as well.
Such a moment left me defensive at the time, but to some extent, she was correct.

Back to that later.

After high school, I’d move on to college and discover my Asian American identity. I found myself socializing a lot more with other Asian Americans, built upon the shared experiences of being differentiated from mainstream white America and often (but not always) upon the shared upbringing by immigrant parents. It’s certainly a comfortable place, where those around you don’t expect you to be different and share the same racial angst as you. And it also created a space for a new part of me to grow: the Corean me. Continue reading

Losing My Religion

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading