Today a guy came up to me as I was preparing to exit the metro and get onto my bike and said, “What part Asian are you?”
I said, “Excuse me?”
He said, “You’re Asian, right? What part of you is Asian?” This has happened to me so many times before (though this was probably the first time the person dropped the “Hi, come here often” preamble and just went right into it) and so many times I’ve either been left going “uhhh” or been dragged into an epic conversation about the kind, efficient subservience of the Japanese, so I knew I needed a comeback, fast.
“What part of me is Asian? All parts,” I said. It was the first thing I could think of. “Why, are you?” I continued, even though it was fairly clear that he wasn’t, or at least not directly. (That, by the way, was part 2 of my comeback.)
And he went into something about how “Asian chicks really get my blood going” and asked if I’d ever watched Naruto. I told him I hadn’t, and got out of there as fast as possible.
I really hate that strangers hitting on me with “I like your face, what is your ethnic background” is a Thing I Just Have to Deal With for the Rest of my Life. Whenever I share stories like this I get told that I’m “being oversensitive”, that the other person is “just trying to be friendly” and start a conversation, and even that if I don’t like answering questions like that to strangers, it means I’m not proud of my heritage. And I know that I, personally, have often wanted to start a conversation with the only other Asian-looking person at a party by bringing up the thing we have in common besides being at the same party. (I never have, because I don’t want to be a big ol’ hypocrite.) But I can’t help but find it irritating. Maybe I’m vain, but I want to be found attractive because I look uniquely pretty or have charisma or seem smart, not because I had a Chinese dad and a Korean mom and that gets someone’s blood going.
One thing’s for sure: I need better comebacks. Suggestions?
엘루이즈 (Eloise), “진심을 너에게” (Are You Honest). Let’s talk about some non-pop Korean music for a sec. These guys sound like Phoenix + post-punk and I like it. Gonna start checking out Pastel Music’s roster.
I love this meme because it gets the weird hypocrisies of art school dead-on. I hate this meme because one of the staple jokes is “Golly gee, there are a lot of Korean people at my North American art school!” (“And none of them speak English!”)
Here’s how the game goes: Someone makes a music video, or a piece of art, a remark, or anything, really, that invokes imagery that could be construed as culturally offensive. If you are playing the game, you make a comment (usually on a website, in response to someone’s posting it) that contains your opinion about and evaluation of the quasi-offensive object.
Your opinion can only fall into one of two categories: either you are Offended, or you are Not Offended. There is no middle ground. Being Offended includes any reaction that happens to mention disapproval of or discomfort with the cultural insensitivity present in the work. By default, it is also considered to be an attack on the artists themselves. Reactions of the Not Offended range from simply ignoring the offensive part to outright denying it (usually phrased as “I don’t see what’s offensive about this”).
The winner, according to who fights the hardest and most indefatigably, will always be those who are Not Offended. Rarely are these people marked as ignorant or containing discriminatory biases themselves; instead, they are seen as having “risen above” the possibly offensive content and able to enjoy the work itself, therefore possessing a more refined level of artistic/cultural appreciation. The Offended, on the other hand, get trapped in their own need to argue convincingly and bogged down in trying to communicate in terms the other side will understand, and are ultimately defeated as soon as someone utters the words: “Don’t be so offended.”
Being Offended is the worst! It means you are over-thinking simple cultural entertainment, or being negative, or - worst of all - being too sensitive. Indifference is the key to survival nowadays, and it is the only state that guarantees that you will win every time. (Note that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, indifference is one of the few ways to win against a bully, whether of the schoolyard or Internet troll variety.)
The game is a paradox: it is born out of the ambiguity of potentially offensive content (in order to divide the sides), but its whole purpose is to defeat ambiguity in order to decide, objectively, whether something is Offensive or Not Offensive. It doesn’t work, for example, with anything pertaining to the Holocaust. It is very hard to say “I think you’re making a way bigger deal out of this than it has to be” about the Holocaust. (Though I’m sure it’s pretty possible in 4chan-type circles, where people usually instigate the Do You Find This Offensive game rather than just play it in response to something.) (Hitler, on the other hand, seems to be fair game.)
Though I hardly think I’m an objective viewpoint, I think that there are people who take the wrong approach on both “sides”. (Obviously I’m closer to one side than the other - take a guess at which it is.) Overall, I think that the game is pretty much pointless. Instead, what needs to happen is dialogue. Both sides need to be able to communicate with each other and share their opinions. (In the past I’ve used my authority to take away spaces for people to have dialogue and discussion, and I very much regret doing this.) Instead of trying to “win” by having the last word and silencing each other, it should be seen that ambiguity is just that, and more than one opinion or point of view is possible. But this also doesn’t mean everyone should just state their piece and be done with it. By sharing opinions, who knows? Maybe some of the Offended people will be less quick to blow the whistle on everything, and the Not Offended will be okay with acknowledging feelings of discomfort with something that might not sit right with them.
I don’t really have much to say about thatMacleans article - you know, the one in which my pursuit of higher education causes certain [white] people to recoil in horror. But then, the borderline inflammatory way the article is phrased is not particularly inviting of the dialogue and further discussion it was perhaps intended to prompt. As it is, you either agree with it or you disagree (as most I’ve heard from do). Of the varying public responses in disagreement, Jeet Heer’s is probably the most clear-cut, insofar as it puts the racism of the article in terms people who otherwise don’t see it can understand.
The only part that I have something to say about that I haven’t seen discussed as much is this “fact”, at the top of page 2:
Asian-Canadian students are far more likely to talk about and assert their ethnic identities than white students.
The moment I got to that part, I wanted to stop reading. OF COURSE Asian-Canadian students are more likely to talk about their ethnic identities, when articles are being written about them that question their presence in Canadian universities based on their ethnicity (and behaviours assumed to be tied to their ethnicity)! If “Canadian” is assumed to equal “white” unless preceded by an ethnic marker (i.e. “Asian-“, “Chinese-“, “African-“), then OF COURSE white students aren’t going to assert their ethnic identities, because what do they have to assert? As far as they have been taught, they are the status quo, the cultural majority, and all they have to do is go around pointing out the difference of others. How many Canadians of Asian descent have been asked by a white person, “What’s your background?” (thus being PROMPTED to assert their ethnic identity by a white person), only to respond in kind and be told by the other person, “I’m Canadian”? Not having to think about your identity is the definition of privilege. This is not something that should be used to point out the difference between Asian-Canadians and white Euro-Canadians, or at least not in the way it’s presented.
Other things that went through my head, but which I don’t want to expand upon right now due to the probability of rage clouding my ability to be articulate: why the ethnic person has to be accommodating of the white person’s expectations and not the other way around; how associating behaviours with ethnicity obviously leads to racism; why for the first half of the article, Asian-Canadians interviewed are given full names, first (not-ethnic) and last (ethnic) but the white women interviewed at the beginning have protected identities; why this article subtly infers that meritocracy is letting in too many undesirables, when the whole argument against affirmative action is that meritocracy is superior; etc., etc.