An Asian Confronting Her False White Identity

Asian woman holding her finger to hush. Clouds and trees in background.

Shhhhhhhhhh.

It’s not the time.

It’s not the place.

It’s too controversial.

It’s too political.

It’s not relevant here.

Let’s not go down the rabbit hole.

I already took a class on it.

I already did my part.

I already understand it.

I’m tired of hearing about this.

…. Says white fragility.

These words from fellow community members and women entrepreneur leaders who have been my mentors for years shocked me. They happened to be white. They were shutting down conversations started among hurting community members, many of whom were women of colour, around the racially motivated murder of George Floyd earlier in the week. Salt on the freshly re-gouged chronic wound of racism. Select comments were allowed but most were deleted. How could they not understand how relevant and important this was? Why were they being so defensive and dismissive about it? I immediately unfollowed Marie Forleo and Laura Belgray. Should I stay in the B School community to remain part of the conversation or will I get censored again and witness the racism discussion continue to be manipulated or shut down?

Understanding their reactions required me to look at myself. Why did I feel so betrayed? I’m not black and I’m not white. I am Asian. I looked around at my own circles and noticed that most of my social and business communities are predominantly white. I’ve always felt like I stood out in a subtle way and was missing a relating piece but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

When I discovered Rachel Rodgers’ community of mostly black women along with some other women of colour and conscious white women, I felt like I walked into a whole new world that I could relate with in a way I couldn’t before. Now, I still feel like I don’t quite fit in since I’m not black, and am one of a small number of Asian people there (story of my life), but being able to talk about racial inequalities and empowerment in business and in life so openly has been incredibly refreshing. Witnessing members of this community crying out “no more”, “stop killing black people”, and worrying about the safety of the black men and babies in their lives, has begun to shake me awake. I see their anguish and pain. I don’t have these worries in my daily life. I realized that I have white privilege.

As a Chinese Canadian, I straddle the line of having white privilege and experiencing racial discrimination. Many Asian Canadians/ Americans forget that we are not white until someone white reminds us. We have been raised with unspoken white supremacy interwoven into social and institutional systems. Asians are not white but many of us unconsciously aspire to be because we’ve been raised to believe that our worthiness is tied to how Caucasian we can “become”. I realize this will offend many white and Asian people. People don’t like to address ugly unconscious truths. It needs to be confronted. It’s wrong. We need to fix it.

I have experienced and witnessed racism throughout my life. It has always been painful, buried and rarely discussed. Often times it’s an inkling that I’m being treated differently or held back due to my skin colour. It started in school with our teachers denigrating immigrants openly and covertly, continued into workplaces and is pervasive in daily life. I’ve spent most of my life hesitant to share my very ethnic sounding name and visibly ethnic face because there are unspoken social rules that not appearing Caucasian-enough could influence decisions negatively. Whiteness is the subliminal worthiness bar and this is wrong.

Woman facing up into sunlight, holding hair out of face, thinking deeply.

This weekend, I asked a group of my Asian friends how they are teaching their kids about racism. One of their 12-year old children thought one of us was white (we are all 100% Asian Canadians). I’ve rarely talked to any white friends about racism because I’ve never wanted to make them feel uncomfortable. I was once describing a situation where I felt discriminated against and was met with a “oh yeah, pull the race card” response. What’s a race card? It’s not like I could put my yellow skin card back into the hand and pull out another card… my hand is yellow.

I’ve started questioning the propaganda I grew up with. Propaganda in North America? Nah, that only happens in communist countries. Guess what? We have anti-communist China propaganda in North America. The distrust of communist governments is often mixed up with distrust of the people under their rule.

In our daily lives, “Made in China” has become a derogatory term. Why do I feel a twinge of pain when I hear people scoff at products made in China? I’m not “made in China”. I was born in Canada and lived here my whole life but I am connected to China through my Chinese ancestry. I have come across many Asian Canadians who have shunned their ancestry. Was it conscious or unconscious?

I was in a trade show booth of a Chinese immigrant business woman and her white sales rep. A group of white women entered and after admiring the products they asked the sales rep where the products were made. She said they’re “made in China”. The women said, “Oh no no no, we don’t want that trash”. I saw the Chinese business owner slink away behind the booth. I instantly felt her pain and shame. She likely invested tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars and blood, sweat and tears, to settle in Canada with her family and create a business and use her connections in China to get the manufacturing price down so the products could be affordable for customers here. Here she was running her business and being shamed and discriminated against. I suspect it wasn’t the first time she’s dealt with this. Race is a factor in business.

I had to question the hurt I felt and my argumentative tone when my husband started binge watching Coronavirus conspiracy theories linked with China. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the anti-China propaganda in North America has turned into anti-Chinese-Anything-Including-People sentiment. I have seen hateful anti-Chinese comments all over social media seemingly magnified in the past few months. I often wonder if there is any truth to rumours that there have been a record number of Asian Americans purchasing firearms to defend themselves as they are being scapegoated in the pandemic. Who knows how much longer our white privilege will last.

In our pandemic world, we are taking apart the broken parts of society. Systemic racial discrimination against Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) has been one of humanity’s oldest problems… brought to you by the pervasive white supremacy of colonialism.

The racism conversation must be had over and over again until there is meaningful change. Injustice against humanity is always relevant. Yes, we will have to go down the rabbit hole. There are several streams of long ancestral histories and systemic issues to unravel. Pain and rage have been pent up for centuries. The skeletons are about to burst through the closet.

Questioning my own reactions and reflecting on my own experiences, I can start to understand why white people, leaders included, could feel so threatened by the discussion. It forces us to confront shameful long-denied parts of ourselves and our society. Who would abdicate their throne without resistance?

The healing starts when the white community pauses to allow un-curated raw honest dialogue. You don’t get to tell people how they feel or how to express themselves. By listening without defensiveness, truly seeking understanding, reflecting, and researching deeper into the topic, the dots will start connecting for you.

Addressing racism is not a one-time effort. I have much work to do, myself, on facing my own false whiteness and embracing my Asian being as part of my humanity.

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