The Racialicious post, Talking About The Things We Do To Each Other, is an important intra-POC conversation about tensions between black people and (East) Asian people (or rather between non-Asian black people and non-black Asian people). This is an incredibly complex topic, and I will have to respond to this issue through multiple posts.
Firstly, however, I must strongly disagree with Thea Lim’s characterization of East Asians:
I had a long convo with my friend L about this last week, where he said that East Asian students always gravitate towards white students, whereas African American students will usually stick together. The more we talked about it, the more I realised that he thought East Asian students do that because they aspire to whiteness, and because they can – economic privilege or light skin privilege allows them to do so. I was surprised to realise that he didn’t get it – East Asian students gravitate towards white students as a means of protection from the particular kind of racism that East Asians experience; where they are always made to feel as if they are from somewhere else.
Not only does this not apply to me as a (non-black) Chinese Canadian, but this whole situation does not apply to the schools I attended growing up. Perhaps it is a class difference and/or regional demographic difference, but the situation that Thea describes would be impossible at the public schools I attended.
From Kindergarten to my last year of high school, white people were the minority, and most of these white people were immigrants themselves or had immigrant parents. White people and whiteness were best represented by our teachers, as well as the curriculum and the media. It was impossible for me to identify with whiteness, because I did not have the institutional power I associated with whiteness, and it was the institution of whiteness that oppressed me.
In primary school, the black kids were at the top of the food chain. Blackness was cool, while yellowness and brownness were associated with ridiculousness and comic relief. Blackness was the hip hop we listened to, while yellowness and brownness were those FOBs who embarrassed us with their thick accents and pants-waists pulled high like Steve Urkel (except Asian, which was worse). For children in public school, high status is conferred by coolness over dorkiness, and by the power of the media’s racial stereotypes, black people were by default high status and Asians were by default low status.
Because of this, I didn’t really identify as “Chinese”, which I internalized as being equivalent to ching-chong chinaman with slit eyes and buck teeth. Because I didn’t identify with ching-chong chinaman (= Chinese) or white people (= the grown-ups we were always trying to subvert), I thought of myself as a black person trapped in a yellow person’s body for some ignorant time during my childhood. (Still, once, when I was in high school, an East Asian person asked if I was part-black, probably because of the way that I dressed. I thought that his apparent thought process was absurd and I expressed this, but inside, I was secretly happy.)
As a child, I was taught that racism was something that only black people suffered. When we learned stories of black people being racially oppressed, on top of the literal reading, I interpreted them as analogies for my own racial oppression, like a young trans girl who understands The Little Mermaid to be a story about Ariel transitioning into the body she truly belonged:
This sort of read of pop culture is a staple for members of marginalized communities who see ourselves so rarely at the center of mainstream art that we read our own experiences into those stories.
In this sense, I identified with black people. When black people voiced their experiences of being racially stereotyped and Othered, I saw analogies to my own experiences, which I didn’t understand back then to be racism, since I thought racism was only a black problem (instead of a white problem).
At the same time, I believed I was uniquely unlucky and cursed with unique problem, which was that who I was inside—a person—did not match with the body I was born into—a chink. A FOB-lookalike. I was not like those people. I just resembled them superficially.
Although I preferred blackness to yellowness, I was still inundated with implicit curricular and media messages of white supremacy, which I resisted by supporting the bits of black resistance sprinkled throughout the curricula and media. After all, according to the black-versus-white binary, the only way to resist whiteness is through blackness.