I’ve discovered the most racist people are the ones who truly believe that they have no such prejudices. Even the self-proclaimed “bleeding-heart-liberal” white Americans are visibly, incurably uncomfortable with race.
I am biracial. I am of an opinion that this gives me license to speak passionately about both my Caucasian and my Asian heritage in a way that makes cocktail party conversations turn uneasy. When I tried to explain this to my Chinese mother, she made a face and advised me to “figure out my identity issues before I have children.”
What she doesn’t understand – and I have yet to encounter a single mono-racial person who has understood – is that being multi-racial means that I don’t have to choose. I am one or the other, both, and neither. I am on the outside, but not uncomfortable and certainly not alone. I don’t have to choose sides and this has given me empathy. It has given me perspective.
I was in a meeting today where I was able to gush about a book featuring a biracial main character. Growing up, I would buy every single Amy Tan book the day it published. In hardcover. I had found a sense of relief, of understanding, like taking a huge breath after emerging from underwater. Books featuring American-born women and their Chinese mothers were a rarity in the publishing world back then.
And yet eighteen years later, I’m still hearing earnest cries for more diversity. And yet in this meeting, when speaking about a book that embodies diversity in the most modern, complex, personal form, I was met with uncomfortable shifts in seats. How can a company sell a book featuring diversity when the only non-white person in the room (including half of me), was a Hong Kong-born woman who has received complaints for “having an accent” and for being “too soft-spoken”? More importantly, how can we showcase diversity in the publishing industry if we aren’t willing to covet and cultivate regularly and unapologetically?
One (white) woman in the meeting complained that the character’s immigrant grandparents didn’t seem authentic enough but, she said, “it could just be that I’m a white girl.” Is it necessary to have had immigrant relatives in order to identify with someone who has? I am having a difficult time comprehending this incapacity for empathy simply because she has not experienced it first-hand.
I don’t look like my mother, but she is my heart, my everything. Every time someone cocks their head at me and asks why I don’t look Asian, I bristle. It feels like they are questioning the very bond between my mother and me. I asked a white woman who married a white man and had two white children if she could imagine someone questioning whether or not her son was her son simply because he did not look like her. She responded quite quickly that no, she could not imagine that. But, she gave me a sheepish look as she continued, she could easily see how someone could make an assumption about race, about family, based on physical appearance.
I’ve discovered that it is not my own identity that I am at war with, but how the people around me are responding to it. In this era of modernity and global access, how have we not figured out how to identify with people who are not exactly like us?
Photo by Robert Swier on flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Mallory is a California-native and bibliophile. She has found New York to be the best place to observe and write about people in her spare time.