Just as I thought it was going alright
I found out I’m wrong, when I thought I was right
It’s always the same
It’s just a shame
I could say day
And you would say night
Tell me it’s black when I know that it’s white
Always the same
It’s just a shame
— “That’s All” by Genesis
In December (2013), I was contacted by Asian Fortune Magazine to be interviewed for an article on what they called H.A.P.A. “half Asian Pacific American” (a mostly unused acronym in the mixed race Asian community). I immediately said yes because exploring multiracial Asian identity and giving that exploration a voice is centrally what I do. I was excited at the chance to speak and be heard. But the experience quickly deteriorated into a racial nightmare, and one that just wouldn’t leave me alone. On my blog I wrote about the saga twice. First about the red flags I saw, how I sabotaged my own inclusion and tried to warn editor Jenny Chen. Then when I saw the published result which was awfully titled “Growing Up Asian Half Asian American: Curse or Gift?” used divisive/dichotomous language, did not include non-white mixes, expressed white ownership of multiraciality (via lookism and white/non-white framing) and perpetuated harmful multiracial Asian stereotypes, I felt as a multiracial community advocate I had to say something and wrote a rebuttal. Many activists and multiracials online resonated with my words and rallied around my critique. But Asian Fortune offered only an empty apology so I got ready to walk away. I felt at that point whatever work could be done, had been done.
But then this weekend I received a hateful email from the piece’s original writer, Tamara Treichel. After positioning herself as a very serious, accomplished writer, she then accused me of “clowning around,” “making a fool of myself,” being “unprofessional” and someone she didn’t have time for. She informed me my “talk about race” was “just an excuse” because I was miffed at not being included, pointed at reverse racism, that she’d written a complaint to her publisher/editor and never wanted to work with me again. The harshness in her message was very palpable. In my view, she leveraged all her power as a white woman, published author and professional journalist to imply I was lesser than herself and to attempt to lower my self-worth. This is the very essence of race which leaves some feeling entitled and others voiceless or punishable for voicing dissent. Perhaps Treichel doesn’t realize the dominant overtones of her choice not to listen, but even that in and of itself is a hallmark of white privilege.
I sat with Treichel’s email for a good 48 hours waiting for it all to just go away. But again, it just wouldn’t leave me alone. And as I found myself in rutted in ongoing rumination I realized why it continued to be a thorn in my side — because it speaks to something so much larger. This woman’s damaging way of looking at race through an uninterrogated white lens has been published and is potentially about to be published again (she is currently working on a book about her expat experiences in China). She has the distinct opportunity to be heard. And yet, while she seems to consider herself somewhat of an authority on cross-cultural issues, when challenged by a multiracial person of color who embodies crossed cultures and races, she was unreceptive and became aggressively defensive. Meanwhile voices of color and their stories continue to be marginalized and go widely unheard ranging from the infantilizing/silencing of adult transracial adoptees to the shocking underrpresentation of color in children’s literature. This stark juxtaposition of easy volume versus forced quiet is one of the cornerstones of inequity in this nation.
I am less interested in this specific writer and more interested in what I see here as some profound truths. One is the necessary acknowledgement that racism continues to minimize people of color but now in a contemporary way that is often veiled and covert. For instance, I was very struck by Treichel’s choice to abrasively criticize me in private instead of engaging in a space where others could weigh in. Especially considering the original piece was public and that she has the freedom of many choices in today’s digital world. Community conversations and debate can be so powerful and yet she chose one-on-one. Also, I think this experience shows so painfully how mixed race people are not transcending nor breaking down race as many believe. “Just because race has become more subtle and clever does not mean that it is less significant,” writes mixed race scholar Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain in her 2006 book Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants, “The mixed-race body then does not destroy race, but leads to a repoliticization and problematization of race” (Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain. Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print. p.22).
While multiracials may fly under the radar or seem to have access to certain advantages, in fact such “privileges” are only honorarily given and may be swept out from under our feet at any point if we step out of line. For instance, as Laura Kina & Wei Ming Dariotis point out in their new 2013 book War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian Art, mixed race itself “implies that there are separable ‘races’” and it is because and within this context that we need to form a “critical multiraciality” as part of an “anti-racist struggle” (Laura Kina & Wei Ming Dariotis. War Baby / Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. Print. p.xv.).
Age-old race thinking persists and until we can really deconstruct it, things may only shift and not change as much as we hope. I make a call here for continued group dialogue critically dissecting race concepts that continue to intrude upon our thinking and a perpetual reminder that even those of us who straddle color lines need to be included.
~ Guest blogger Sharon H Chang writes at the MultiAsianFamilies blog.