“Are your boys proud to be mixed? Or they haven’t noticed any difference…”
The WhatsApp message flashed there on my screen and I stared it.
I read it again. I looked away.
I sighed and put my fingers on the QWERTY keyboard of the laptop as a thousand voices exploded in my head (voices representing shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and repression), but I managed to type out my answer to her within the acceptable real-time 10-second response time: “I think I’ve downplayed their Chineseness in my own eagerness to escape it. And I’ve unconsciously tried to be white.”
Per usual, this exchange triggered something pretty deep inside of me.
For most of my life, I’ve tried to be more white (American, really) in order to reduce friction and to survive in this world. I’ve had more than one colleague say “Oh, I totally forget that you’re Chinese.” It’s the way I talk, my accent, my body language, the pop culture I actively absorbed and regurgitated for small talk. It’s like I’m walking this tightrope and hedging my bets. Yes, I know I’m Chinese, but if I downplay that enough, maybe I’ll be accepted into the inner circle where I can compete with the others for coveted roles. I’m also just weird enough not to get caught up in political dramas, because I’m an outsider. My ‘keep your head down and just work harder’ and ‘don’t bring attention to yourself’ attitude was coming through. I’ve also dealt with a lot of fear and uncertainty of my own identity of being a “Chinese person” “from” “Taiwan”. So I chose to be Canadian. But I’m not really.
Like some Canadians, I thought that we lived in a classless, non-racist country. My naïve assumptions were wrong at so many levels. I got called out one day years ago by a friend in the US who scoffed at my post about how glad I was that Canada was not racist compared to our southern cousins. She DM’d me and proceeded to open my eyes to the race issues we faced in Canada, long before it became an open topic. It was a wow moment for sure. It was after that incident that I realized I had to actively learn more about this issue that I thought was not an issue.
Since they were born, I unconsciously taught my kids to be Canadian with a side of Taiwan Chineseness – the Tiger side. They know they are half Chinese with a mom from Taiwan and they are half Caucasian with a dad from small town Ontario. We didn’t raise them to be proud of their heritage or proud of their history. In my mind, I was escaping the Chinese side, which can actually be quite racist, sexist, ageist, etc.
And now, there’s a strong movement of Chinese-Americans who have been incredibly vocal about supporting Black Lives Matter. They aggressively encourage us to understand that our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters have suffered generations of injustice that live on in their memories, genes, family history, and communities. They have put out their call to arms about how we need to right this. They remind us that while we fight for THEIR cause, it doesn’t take away from our cause. They amplify the message: It is not enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. And we have to do this together.
The first time I read this, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to voice my opinions or fight for injustice. But 2020 has been all about all of us challenging our beliefs and standing up for what is needed to build an equitable and safe world for the future.
Currently, I am in the process of learning what that means, what my voice is, how to teach my children, and what to do when having a discussion with someone who disagrees with me. I’m exploring my stance, voice, and ability to defend what I say… to myself, to my children, to anyone really.
Earlier this year, a colleague told my boss I was racist. Around the same time, I had colleagues who were being very racist towards Chinese wearing masks or asking to work from home at the beginning of COVID-19. One of my best friends, hearing me agonize over these issues responded “I thought you said you were a good manager?” And I realized that in order to be a good manager, a good mother, a good friend, I really needed to clarify and live my stance about racism. It was a defining moment that broke me a little, but we are just resetting a bone that wasn’t growing right. It will be straight and strong. In the meantime, it’s a journey.
How is your journey going? Has that impacted your relationships with friends? Is your child proud of their ethnic background?