Auto-exoticism is Asians performing Chinese New Year for a non-Asian classroom.

Once a year, dmp and her mom performed Chinese New Year for her 98% non-Asian elementary class. Afterward, she went to her grandparents’ house and celebrated Têt, the real New Year’s.

dmp writes:

I learned a new word today. Auto-exoticism (n.): the idea in which the minority culture accepts and internalizes perceptions of itself from the dominant culture. It is performance intended for consumption, it is a sign given to minorities to express their minority status. It is touting Chinese take-out (that isn’t really Chinese) over your family’s home cooking and tossing around fortune cookies (and those weren’t actually Chinese either) and associating yourself with being “Chinese” (even though you aren’t) because it made you more understandable, and calling your family’s most important holiday Chinese New Year because it’s a catch-phrase that everyone understands.

Link: At Home We Called it Têt

(via Who I am When I’m (not) With You)

White people’s family roots are deeper than those of ethnic minorities.

Another example of white privilege and othering is when white people assume that racialized people have deeper roots and stronger family ties than white people. The othering is based on the notion that “non-white” people are foreign people, and that “non-white” people have a stronger ethnic identity because we are more homogeneous and monolithic in ways of thought. White privilege allows white people to ignore the ways in which a white-majority society encourages only white families to lay down their roots and blossom, while historically, it enacted laws to extinguish and suppress “non-white” and racialized families.

White Americans envy African Americans for having “roots” in “Africa”, while ignoring the fact that Africa is a heterogeneous continent (like Europe), and that most African Americans cannot trace their African ancestry precisely because of white racism and slavery. It is no accident that African Americans are more likely to find documents attesting to the existence of their white ancestors. White Americans whose ancestors have been in the United States for multiple generations are the ones with the deepest roots, the ones whose histories were allowed to be recorded, the ones who own property passed down from generations, when all this was denied to non-white people.

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People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance.

We are multifaceted.

And stories in which we neither suffer nor resist are just as authentic. They are a part of our daily lives.

(Click on “View subtitles” to turn on the subtitles.)

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British employers racially discriminate against job applicants with African and Asian names.

Undercover job hunters reveal huge race bias in Britain’s workplaces (18 October 2009):

A government sting operation targeting hundreds of employers across Britain has uncovered widespread racial discrimination against workers with African and Asian names.

Researchers sent nearly 3,000 job applications under false identities in an attempt to discover if employers were discriminating against jobseekers with foreign names. Using names recognisably from three different communities – Nazia Mahmood, Mariam Namagembe and Alison Taylor – false identities were created with similar experience and qualifications. Every false applicant had British education and work histories.

They found that an applicant who appeared to be white would send nine applications before receiving a positive response of either an invitation to an interview or an encouraging telephone call. Minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response.

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On the Internet, I can pass as white, but at a cost.

Even now, when I am part of the anti-racist blogosphere with supposed anti-racist allies, I avoid mentioning my ethnicity on the Internet, because I don’t want people to use that knowledge to guess where I’m coming from, even empathetically. Because they would guess wrong.

A few months ago, I browsed the submissions of the first Asian Women Blog Carnival, and in a post titled On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re Chinese, aozhoux articulated how I used to feel, and still feel (emphasis mine):

Because there are, in my opinion, possible downsides to owning my Asian-ness. I worry – accurately or inaccurately – that people’s impressions of me might change should they be confronted with the realisation that I am, after all, not white. That anything I say or do may henceforth be conveniently attributed to my Chinese-ness, especially if any of my personal quirks should happen to fall into certain common stereotypes (and oh, some of them do *g*). Even worse, people might go so far as to start projecting their language biases onto me, and then I’d start getting the equivalent of “but you write so well (considering your ethnicity, never mind the fact that you grew up exclusively in white-dominated, English-speaking countries)”, and then I’d… have to kill them.

Perhaps this last point sounds a little absurd, but let’s just say it isn’t coming out of nowhere. I’ve seen a milder variation of this kind of language assumption happen right in front of me on lj, and while the corrections and apologies were gracious all around, it still kind of hurt. And in my personal experience many people, of all ethnicities, still seem to have problems with the idea that someone with Asian features and language ability could possibly be a competent, educated, native speaker of English. While I do understand the balance of probabilities backing that assumption, I’d really rather not have to prove myself every time I attempt to construct a sentence.

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Feynman was asked to join an anti-Semitic club.

In Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chapter The Dignified Professor, one of Feynman’s memories of his early days as a professor at Cornell University included the following:

Then another guy came into my office. He wanted to talk to me about philosophy, and I can’t really quite remember what he said, but he wanted me to join some kind of a club of professors. The club was some sort of anti-Semitic club that thought the Nazis weren’t so bad. He tried to explain to me how there were too many Jews doing this and that — some crazy thing. So I waited until he got all finished, and said to him, “You know, you made a big mistake: I was brought up in a Jewish family.” He went out, and that was the beginning of my loss of respect for some of the professors in the humanities, and other areas, at Cornell University.

Feynman was an avowed atheist, and here he even described himself as being “brought up in a Jewish family” instead of being “Jewish”. Being Jewish was not an important part of his identity, except in cases where he experienced discrimination.

Experiences of discrimination, not one’s culture, is the most powerful reinforcement of one’s ethnic identity, one’s identity as the Other. Regardless, people of the ethnic majority continue to believe that ethnic minorities identify with their ethnicity due to some perceived cultural staticism.


Related post:

People of colour are not born with racial identities.

Some white people appear to think that non-white people have a strong ethnic or racial identity by default. They may think that if a non-white person is unaware of her race or ethnicity, it is a result of white interference. However, ethnic and racial identities are socially constructed, not genetically inherited.

Infants of colour, for example, are born without knowing their race, their ethnicity, their culture, or their history. These things are learned. Learning culture may involve learning skills, learning history may involve learning knowledge, but learning racial and ethnic identity often involves the internalization of social categories of difference and otherness.

Perhaps white adults have a weak sense ethnic and racial identity—if they have any at all—because they have not had the same experiences with being othered and being different.

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