Monday, July 31, 2017

Lessons in Whiteness: The Fragile Oppressor

It becomes increasingly difficult in the current sociopolitical environment to not feel acutely sentient of all that I have lost to Whiteness.

I read an article recently about Mike Vick criticizing Colin Kaepernick for his activism. Kaepernick happens to be a transracial, biracial adoptee, but nonetheless is perceived as Black. As a transracial adoptee, he was raised by White parents, and yet he has become an unapologetic activist for the rights of Black Americans and all people of color.

As I read the article, it dawned on me that I could relate to Kaepernick, not only as a transracial adoptee, but also as an activist--specifically, that my activism is in part a reclamation of my Asian identity and a reprehension of the Whiteness forced upon me.

As an Asian person adopted into White America, I spent the first 30+ years of my life erased by Whiteness. Drowned by Whiteness.

And now in my early 40s, as a wife and a mother, even though I am struggling to re-emerge and embrace fully my Asianness, I am all the more determined to do so. At times, I wrestle with feeling as though I do not deserve to claim my Asianness. That I will be called out as an impostor. That somehow my Asianness is irretrievable, due to the fact that I was involuntarily (severed from my Korean family and origins to be sent away to what was, at that moment, a foreign country and foreign people that I could be) raised by White people. As a result of this imposed Whiteness, I often feel as though I have lost my rights to my inherited Asianness.

Whiteness will do that to you.

It will demand that you abandon who you are for the sake of its comfort and security. It will make you feel guilty and wrong for wanting to claim your skin, your origins, your very DNA. If you venture to deviate even slightly from the omnipotent and ubiquitous standard of Whiteness, it will be sure to convince you that you are unworthy and defective. It will do all it can to fill you with uncertainty. It will ensure that you question your very existence and that you doubt you have any right to claim who you know you are.

Whiteness refuses to let you escape. It wants to convert you fully, transform you wholly. Until you are irretrievable. Whiteness wants to consummately colonize you, dissolve you. Wants nothing left of you. The only way to please Whiteness is to erase every trace of you that offends or challenges Whiteness. You can retain only those parts of your identity that do not threaten it or make Whiteness feel bad about itself. Whiteness requires that you coddle it. Whiteness requires that you make yourself smaller, dumber, quieter for its sake. It cannot handle the unedited, complete, whole you.

Whiteness is like a spell, a trance, a hypnosis that can be nearly impossible to undo.

Whiteness will make you feel unsound or deficient for walking away from it, for criticizing it, for seeking the truth.

Whiteness will accuse you.

It will accuse you of betrayal, of ingratitude, of selfishness for speaking aloud your truth. It will accuse you of violence simply for stating your reality. It will weep and gnash its teeth at you if you try to question it. It will claim victimhood and assault if you try to correct it.

Whiteness expects only compassion from you but patronizes and diminishes your suffering. Whiteness demands that you adore it, congratulate it, admire it, praise it, that you think nothing but good thoughts about it. Anything less, and it will accuse you of “reverse racism.”

Whiteness expects you to submit to it, because ultimately it thinks that it is better than you, that it knows better than you, that it deserves better than you. Should you dare to think differently, it will accuse you of radicalism. Whiteness expects you to trust its version of history, its position as savior. Should you dare to know the whole of history, to dismantle its self-proclaimed martyrdom, it will accuse you of being unpatriotic.

Whiteness cannot bear complexity. You are either in or out.

This is what my experience as an Asian transracial adoptee growing up in White America has taught me. This is what my daily life as an Asian woman, wife, and mother living in White America has shown me.

Whiteness will accept nothing that will not constantly affirm and uphold it.

Whiteness is so delicate that it turns to rage when faced with anything but adulation, and despair when presented with anything but commendation. It can only perceive itself as messiah, as bringer of all that is civilized and good and right. Its supremacy cannot be rejected or protested, lest you reveal the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the darkness that has always been masquerading as light.

Whiteness forgives all its own evils, while it will sentence you to death for nothing more than attempting to live outside of the expectations and demands of Whiteness.

Whiteness insists that it has the God-given right to protect itself, but should you try to protect your own body or proclaim your own mind, Whiteness will criminalize and demonize you as a traitor, a heretic, a threat to its way of life.
Whiteness cannot coexist alongside. It must exist above. Supreme. Demi-Divine. Should you attempt to stand on level ground with Whiteness, should you affirm and validate your own skin and origins, Whiteness will retaliate.

Whiteness justifies its own brutality as self-preservation and evangelism of the savage, while demanding that you relinquish and submit the whole of who you are peacefully and gratefully, lest it gain all the more justification to brutalize and torment you further. Should you attempt to retain your self and your people, should you come to believe that you do not need the evangelism brought by the White Savior, Whiteness will wage war against you until you are either conquered or obliterated.

Whiteness stands atop the mountain peak, its boot firmly planted upon your head, digging into your back, proclaiming discovery and triumph. Should you request recognition for your contributions, should you attempt to throw off the boot to take ownership of your collective and cooperative efforts, Whiteness will kick you down the mountain, bury you in the ground, and then march off to find another that will gratify and accommodate its fragile ego, which cannot bear being anywhere but at the center of the universe.

Whiteness does not enjoy sharing. Anything. But it will demand that you share your everything with it. Otherwise, Whiteness will accuse you of being lazy and weak. Whiteness will take everything from you and claim it all as its own.

This is what I have learned about Whiteness as I have been raised by them and lived among them, as I have always been expected to behave and think as one of them but never considered to be one of them.

I do not hate Whiteness, although at times, I am tempted to do so. Rather, I hate what Whiteness has done, what Whiteness continues to do to those who live and exist outside of Whiteness, those who strive and endure not only to take hold of who they know they are but to dream beyond who they are told they are supposed to be.

Whiteness is not beyond redemption. But redemption requires that one sees its need for it. Whiteness does have good in it. But while it is good to help extinguish the fire that you set ablaze, it is not good to act as though the fire never happened, in particular, if the fire continues to consume and destroy.

Daily I am expected to excuse and justify the oppression and brutality inflicted by Whiteness. Yet Whiteness refuses to extend the same grace and exception to those who have done nothing but stretch and bend the frail threads of Whiteness--not out of malice or cruelty, but simply by trying to exist as who we know we are.

We who have escaped Whiteness, we who have thrown off the boot, we who now know proudly who we are--we will never be satisfied with a world in which Whiteness demands us to be less that it may be more. It is not that we desire the obliteration of Whiteness. Rather, it is that we expect equality in humanity and worth. It is simply yet unequivocally that we believe our skin, our bodies, our minds possess infinite and superlative beauty, power, and brilliance equivalent to that of which Whiteness has for far too long claimed a monopoly.

It is that we will no longer shrink ourselves that Whiteness will be the only giant. It is that we will no longer silence ourselves that Whiteness will be the only voice. It is that we will no longer hide ourselves that Whiteness will be the only ones permitted a seat at the table.


We will grow that we may be giants. We will shout that our voices will rise to the highest place. We will emerge that our significance will be seen by everyone.

Because our bodies, our voices, our worth have always mattered, have always deserved a place at the table.

We built this world.

And from this moment forth, as it should have been then, as it should be now, we will claim what has always been ours.

No longer will Whiteness be permitted to hoard the world for itself, nor will it tell us who we are.

We know who we are.

And the world belongs to all of us.