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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Stuff POC do: restrain ourselves

When I checked Stuff White People Do and saw a post originally titled, “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at Asian English”, I felt racism fatigue, and responded with a half-hearted and uninspired, “I am offended at your post,” followed with a description. I fully expected to be accused of looking for racism again by some commenter in a comment that closely followed mine, which has become almost a tradition at Stuff White People Do. (Sometimes this commenter is Macon D himself.)

Unsurprisingly, I was accused of “looking for something to pounce on Macon for” by a commenter named “haley” half an hour later. Surprisingly, however, the normally-defensive Macon D took my complaint seriously and tried to think of alternative ways of phrasing the title. In the end, Macon D actually took my suggestion seriously and changed the post’s title to “Stuff White People Do: Laugh at “Engrish”.”*

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but perhaps my uncharacteristic comment, which left me vulnerable to the accusation of oversensitivity, didn’t trigger a defensive reaction on the part of Macon D.

Normally, I almost never criticize racism with “I am offended” or “I take offense”, because when racism is framed as “something that offends people”, then accusations of racism are portrayed as “political correctness” catering to the hypersensitivities of minorities who supposedly always force the majority to accommodate them. Even when I almost never use the terms “offense”, “offended”, or “offensive”, people have told me that I was oversensitive about racism, that I need to grow up, that I cannot always break down and cry every time someone is not sensitive to my feelings.

The people who say these things appear to think that racism occurs rarely, and that when a non-white person complains about allegedly “trivial” instances of racism, it means that she is like a young child who hasn’t yet learned that not everyone in the world is obligated to be nice to her. In reality, however, I have experienced racial microaggressions since childhood, and I am well aware that the world is not a safe space for people of colour with respect to race. I point out racism not because I’m noticing it for the first time, but because I want to bring it to the attention of others who have grown up shielded from the daily realities that people of colour have to endure. I point out racism because I want to point out injustice, not because I am some selfish oversensitive child who wants the world to revolve around me and my feelings.

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