It was one of those hall bonding meetings, intended to bring the halls together and foster community between the all-boys and all-girls floor. Innocent enough, right? Except that as part of our bonding, my hall counselor asked everyone to bring three objects that told a story about our culture and our background. It was like a first grade show and tell, but we weren’t in first grade. We were in college, and God forbid if this “sharing and caring” session didn’t have some ulterior motive to it.
Nevertheless, I came, and came prepared. Our hall counselor went around the room, asking people to share their objects. One of my friends shared his Ramen noodles. Another shared his Bible. I loved both, obviously, but I had something different prepared. The first thing I pulled out was my Redskins cap, signed by future Hall of Famer cornerback Josh Norman. “I wanted to share with you this cap because football is a huge part of my identity,” I said. “The Redskins are in my blood.”
“Interesting,” my hall counselor said. “Do you feel that the name should be changed?”
“No. Not at all. There’s a Washington Post study that says 9 out of 10 Native Americans are fine with the name.”
She seemed rather unamused, but I continued anyway. The second thing I shared was one of the paper targets that I had shot at the local shooting range. “I love shooting,” I said. “The rednecks at the range, they are some of the friendliest people I know.”
Then she cut me off. “Rednecks? Friendly? Ha.” Now everyone in the room could tell she was not enjoying this presentation of my ‘culture’. But I kept rolling anyways. The last object I had was a Constitution. “This is my pocket Constitution,” I said. “It represents my identity as an American, and the country that I love. This is the greatest country in the world, and I’m proud of it.”
This was the moment my hall counselor lost her cool. “I think we all need to have a discussion,” she said in an extremely passive-aggressive tone of voice, “about the intersection of race and American values, which is basically White values, and how the POC (People of Color) experience may not align so much with this belief in American greatness.”
“Hold on,” I said. “American values are not White values. I’m an Asian-American, and I believe as much in American principles as any White man in this country.”
“Well, there’s a discussion worth having about some people thinking that Asian-Americans being White, and…”
Guys, this is an actual conversation spoken by actual people. I’m not making this up. You can ask anyone who was there. My point was that, as an Asian-American, I believe in America just as much as any White person, and her conclusion – elegantly put in the “some people think” disclaimer to avoid attaching herself to it – was that therefore I must be White.
I also duly acknowledge that I had guessed the nature of the event even before it started, and wanted to do something different, to buck the stereotype of Asian people. But nothing I showed was a lie. I do love the Redskins to my core. And I really identify with gun culture. And I am proud to be an American. They were perfectly legitimate objects to show in a presentation about background and culture – and she should’ve responded with due approbation. Rather, she responded with contempt.
Since that incident, I’ve taken a lot of thought to her comment about me being, for her purposes, White. It’s why I’ve waited nearly two months to publicly comment on it. But the key word you should recognize here is the term “for her purposes”.
What you should understand is that in her narrative, I have to be White.
The POC identity narrative, as propagated in college campuses all over the nation, is founded upon the premise that there are two sides, White people, and POC people, and that they are mutually exclusive. White people hold a set of beliefs about America, such as that America is exceptional, guns are great, and that the Redskins name is not offensive, while POC people believe America is deeply flawed, guns are devices for White supremacy, and the Redskins name has more triggers my pastor’s gun closet. But in order for this narrative to exist, everyone has to fall in line. So when an Asian-American (or Hispanic-American, or African-American, etc.) declares that he or she (zhe?) loves America, they must be White, or infected with Whiteness. They must have grown up in privilege with White people smiling at them. Therefore, they are nothing more than a caddy for the White agenda. This makes them, effectively, White.
As some of y’all may have read, I have myself experienced a deep and personal struggle with the desire to be White. So when I decided to embrace my Asian-ness and be proud of who I am as a yellow man, I’m not looking to go back to trying to be ‘White’ again. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my principles. Or that I still love football. And shooting things.
I’m not offended. I’m not even fake offended. I understand how critical it is in her worldview for me to necessarily be White, to the point where she can convince herself that I, essentially, am. But make no mistake: if you don’t think the POC narrative has just as much, if not more, of racist stereotyping and typecasting and tokenizing as liberals claim the Trumpian narrative has, then you’re living in delusion. We need an alternative to both. Our obsession with the privilege/oppression framework is not the answer to the reality of a heterogenous society. In fact, it’s the problem.
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