I work within Ethnic Studies, so a lot I have to work with are the perceptions on race and racism. There are a lot of papers and articles there talking about the Millennials and racism. The biggest ones (here and here) talk about the “colorblindness effect” of racism, where if we don’t talk about it, it’ll go away.
If I don’t talk about my ethnic make up, I can’t make it go away. If I ignore my multi-racial heritage, I’m still multi-racial.
The other thing that I come across are students who have the whole, “there’s not such thing as reverse racism but all racism is racism!” Bless your little heart. While I appreciate the sentiment, you’re missing out on something here. There’s power involved. Let’s talk about systematization. We are lead to believe things, it’s systemized and institutionalized.
Examples of systemized thoughts: “boys wear blue, girls wear pink,” (despite the fact that pink was originally associated with men as a diluted version of red—it wasn’t until WWII and Hitler’s use of the pink triangles for homosexuality, that pink was deemed effeminate), “women belong in the kitchen,” “boys will be boys,” these are things we excuse because “that’s how it’s always been” when really, no. It hasn’t been that way.
I’ve talked about why “reverse racism” doesn’t work in a previous entry, but here’s a follow up. Millennials claim not to “see race” and that they’re “post-racial” but race qualifies many things. Race and culture are exoticized. “Ooooh, I have to buy these chilies, they’re from ARGENTINA!” Let me look at how my sweet little idiots also qualify race. I talk to my students about the “Asian F” (which depending on who you ask is an A- or a B). I tell them if they’ve heard of “Asian F” (which made a resurgence as an episode title for the TV show Glee). They tell me about it and laugh. They even pull up the “Disappointed Asian Dad” internet meme.
So for the last few semesters, I’ve told them about something from where I grew up in Southern CA, the “Mexican A” where a “B” is seen as an “A” in Mexican households. Those who don’t identify as Latino will laugh or nod their heads. I’ll notice that my Latino students will either jump in and laugh and smile at that phrase or shift in their seats. I ask them to talk about what makes an “Asian F” and a “Mexican A” when they are the same thing and how things are problematic.
We qualify Latino students as “slackers” or unintelligent because if a B is the best they can do (hence calling it a “Mexican A”) then we systemize and internalize this viewpoint of Latinos. We are telling them that their value will always be “lesser.” This happens with the “Asian F” that this “high standard” means that they will always be “lesser.” I then tell my students 2 things:
1. I have Filipino (Asian) and Mexican heritage. So if I get a B, what does it make it? Do I have an A or do I have an F?
Answer: I have a B. Why qualify it?
- There’s no such thing as the “Mexican A.” I made it up. But because it qualifies something, they bought it right away, because we are so willing to qualify experiences with race.
The other thing that the sweet little idiots do is that they say, “gay or straight! Black or white! Cis or trans! We’re all the same!!!!”
Nice, and again I appreciate the sentiment, but we can also, I dunno, accept the fact that we’re different and that we all have different experiences, and that’s ok too. There’s no oppression Olympics nor is there a ranking of hierarchy with identity.
We talk about race and racism and our experiences because we are so used to being erased and our experiences ignored. Here’s an example: what race are the Simpsons from the cartoon? Most people say white. Why? They’re yellow and Marge has blue hair. What is “white” about that? That’s why some otaku Japanophiles will claim that the Japanese have an obsession with white people because all the characters are white in their anime. If you ask someone who is Japanese what the ethnic identity of some cartoon characters are, they’ll say Japanese. We are so used to centering our POV on a white (usually straight and male) perspective. People see the Simpsons as white because *they* themselves are white.
Another way to see this.
I will put a name down:
Write a list of the characteristics you think would go with Alex Thompson. What’s Alex’s race? Identity? Gender? Socioeconomic class?
What if I told you Alex is short for Alexis and that she goes by Alex because she knows that online, she will be taken more seriously because people will assume she is male. Alexis Thompson could be a black woman but again, we see this example as white.
I talk about race to not make people feel “white guilt,” I talk about race because I am so tired of experiencing racism and microaggressions (ooh, you’re boyfriend’s white? He has Yellow Fever! Yeah, because the only way my partner would be attracted to me is if you qualify it as an illness or fetish. Not because, I dunno, he’s attracted to me, because wow, why would a white person like someone not white? And on top of that, I’m HALF Asian). I talk about race and my experiences because I am tired of not seeing/feeling/experiencing a sense of belonging because of my skin tone, I am always set apart.
I’ve been with friends who say, “Oh yeah, you’re Asian” after I talk about things. I’ve been told that as an Asian person, I speak “quite well” even though I’m a fucking PhD student in English. In not seeing race and seeing only “whiteness” or seeing “colorblindness” you are negating my life and taking out the things that make you uncomfortable. So my sweet little idiots, don’t say you “don’t see race.” Because once you stop, then I’ll stop calling you my sweet little idiots.