Tag Archives: racism

Explaining the Face of My American Boyfriend

In the past five years, I’ve lived a life different from the life of a typical Montenegrin. I’ve traveled, succeeded academically and professionally, and grown to be an opinionated and loud individual. I did all of this on my own – which might be the most non-Montenegrin thing – to be able to preserve your integrity, and still do well. However, I wouldn’t have become who I am if it wasn’t for the assistance of many individuals who have entered my life, and those who have affected it indirectly. One of these people is my partner, an intelligent, beautiful, hard-working American man who supports and challenges me in ways I can only try my best to repay. He also happens to be of East Asian descent.

This is a very difficult topic for me to write about, not because of the reception of those who are uninterested in it – I am used to eye rolls whenever I try to engage people in a conversation about race and ethnicity, or social issues in general. What makes this daunting and intimidating is that I might not be able to fully translate what I feel into words, and my understanding of the issue at hand might be limited and warped by my own experiences. It is also very unfortunate that my partner’s colorful personality has to be reduced to his race and ethnicity in this article, but both of us feel that it is crucial for us to contribute to this conversation.

I was born in Montenegro, a small country in the southeast of Europe, where perceivably white people make up well over 95% of the population (I am part of this population). Race is barely discussed here, and when it is, it’s rarely pretty. Small communities of Montenegrins of color are disregarded, or regarded in most inhumane ways. It might be naïve to expect white Montenegrins (this sounds a bit redundant, but I use this phrase because Montenegrins of color do exist) to be critical of issues of race and ethnicity, and it’s understandable why we sometimes don’t. After all, our existence here has been reduced to a very simple life, where no improvement or progress seem possible in the sea of corruption, ignorance, and complacency. I digress, though.

About four years ago, I came back to Montenegro after spending nine months in the US. Many things about me were different, but as things go here, what stood out the most was the fact that I’ve “succeeded in life” by starting a relationship. Usually, finding an American boyfriend is regarded as a huge accomplishment here, but it seemed to me that many of my friends, acquaintances, and family members were very confused by my choice. It wasn’t only Montenegrins, it was a huge amount of whites I happen to know, both American and non-American alike, who seemed to not really understand that one can be a person of color, and also be American. What’s most disappointing, though, is that most of these individuals don’t think this is an issue – because, to them, everyone is responsible for creating and nurturing their own identity. But it is easy to be of this opinion when your identity is rarely questioned.

I have heard many comments and I have been asked many questions regarding my boyfriend’s race and ethnicity (for a lot of Europeans, race, ethnicity, and nationality are interchangeable and synonymous). A friend of mine once told me that “he’s good-looking, he doesn’t look Asian at all!”, as if you can’t be good-looking and Asian at the same time; a member of my family laughed when looking at a picture of my partner and I, asking what I’d do if my children “looked like that”; after I went back to the US again, a rumor was started that I “went to America to marry a Chinese man”. Once I got into a conversation with a friend about being in Montenegro and finding a job, to which I was given advice to leave Montenegro and marry in Taiwan. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I immediately knew what she meant, but after I asked why Taiwan, she went on to question my young man’s Americanness – by claiming he might be born in America, but that that doesn’t make him American if his parents emigrated from Asia. I tried to explain how being American works, only to be laughed off and told that I take things too seriously. Another friend randomly remembered that she had never asked me where my boyfriend’s parents were from, I’m guessing because of the ignorant perception that, to too many, being American means being white. Maybe one day, those like her will understand that, when someone immigrates into the US at the age of 20, and spends the majority of their life in the US, they are American and they say they are from the US. Someone else told me that my boyfriend would probably get mad at her if he knew she couldn’t tell the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese. A girl from a country near Montenegro once pulled her eyes back when asking about his parents. These comments and actions imply that racism against Asians and those of Asian descent is so commonplace and normalized, especially in European nations, to the point where speaking up against it is seen as overly sensitive and unfounded, regardless of how offensive it is. In some of these instances, I tried to have moderately calm and productive discussions, but it feels that most of the time, my attempts are in vain when trying to explain that one doesn’t have to only be white (or black) to be American. The only thing that I managed to do is create this false sense of respect and understanding by these people, but what does that do when their idea of a true American is so inaccurate? Why is it that when people see my partner and I together, they are more likely to think that I’m the American one, and he’s the non-American one? Why is he the one being asked where he’s really from, and I can pass as an American when my accent doesn’t show?

It’s also important to mention that a lot of these comments are new and shocking to my partner. He grew up on Long Island, which I hear was very different from the Midwest where we met, and Montenegro where I grew up. He only knows of a diverse society, he’s traveled to more places than many people know of, and his life is rich with experience and unparalleled intelligence. He also happens to be the most patriotic American I know. So it kinda sucks that his belonging to the American nation is questioned by random Europeans whose lives are so simple it hurts, or by some American whites who so obviously should move back to Europe where their hearts truly belong.

What makes this all very ironic is that I sometimes complain about how difficult this is for me, how I’m tired of the anxious anticipation I feel when people are about to ask me about my partner’s or his parents’ citizenship, how these comments frustrate me, and how infuriating it is that I’m still learning how to react properly and productively in these situations. In reality, these comments don’t put me at any disadvantage, but they do affect people dear to me, and countless Americans I don’t know. But what is the best approach? If I were to deny that he can speak Mandarin, or that someone in his family has at some point in the past immigrated into the US from Asia, just like many other Americans did, that would just fuel people’s belief that he’s just a citizen of an East Asian country living in the US. But I don’t want to deny these things, because they are what makes his experience as an American unique and American. It is unfair that he has to choose between being American and e.g. Chinese or Taiwanese, as if it’s mutually exclusive to be American and to be Asian, when in reality, the US nation encompasses countless world cultures and those cultures are the essence of being American.

P.S. Many of the points I’m making in this article were brought up by my boyfriend in our conversations and discussions. I’d like to thank him for always being willing and understanding enough to talk to me about this stuff.

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Homogeny is dangerous

What’s similar between Europe and Asia? Very little, you say? I propose that there’s actualy a lot in common.

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time, and it probably crosses over with other posts. It’s organized from my own experiences as an American, and citizen of the New World, living abroad.

  1. West vs East
    • This concept is the original inspiration for posting this; also Tina
    • Europe and Asia constantly talk about how different the East and West are, respectively
    • Why is there a need to draw this line with some much in common in terms of mentality?
    • Even in American literature, more antiquated terms, like “Far East” have been purged because of the Eurocentric geopolitical discourse in which such terms were used
  2. Idea of nationality
    • This ties heavily with homogeny. China is a big culprit of this concept of nationality, but European countries also exhibit this quality
    • “You can look Chinese, look Spanish, or look American”. Except one can’t look American, unless you’re Native American
  3. No problem of “race”
    • From several conversations I’ve heard from Europeans (namely Spanish) and Asians (namely Chinese), they say “Look at the US and their huge problem of race. We don’t have that here.” My ass.
    • What race? Any other ‘race’ is effectively ostracized, deported, or “taken care of” if there’s separatist sentiment in Asia and Europe. They would be lucky to have any discussion at all…
  4. Determination of identity
    • Individual identity is often determined by others and skin color (and features), as evidenced by their idea of nationality in Europe and Asia
    • It’s tough to say that appearances aren’t indicative of our identies because, in many ways, they are. However, these are factors we have choices about, such as body modification, clothing, religion, and even spoken languages
    • Most importantly, however, is our ability and right to self-identify, and I believe that isn’t the case in the countries I’ve been. “I’m Chinese because my family has been in China for several generations.” By this logic, there would be very few Americans left in the US.
    • Gender and sexuality. I’m so tired of hearing you shouldn’t do something because you’re a man or woman. “There are people throwing away their femininity because they cut their hair short”. “I can tell he’s gay by the way he moves his hands when he’s talking.” Oh dear Moses…
  5. Homogeny
    • I’ve come to the conclusion that homogenous societies foster detrimental or false beliefs about the “outside” world
    • Homegeny is easier to control because of stronger forces of groupthink. Think of communism and censorship in China and how it stifles free thinking
    • I was told by a friend that Asians and Europeans often ask about “origins” because they want to feel at ease with you. That scares me a bit… Are they unable to sympathize or get along with people who they perceive as different before even getting to know them?
    • Even Americans from more homogenous regions in the US don’t realize that the media misrepresents reality and occasionally (often) lies. Representation of people of color, anyone?

Here are some Americans for you

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Cost of diversity

Foreigners are the cause of racism.

Now before I get more into that, I want to say that I’m not a xenophobe. I am a descendant of immigrants, as are most Americans, believe it or not. One would think that the US couldn’t possibly be a place of xenophobia and racism then, right? Think again.

For a long time, I have viewed racism as something that didn’t apply to me. After all, I’m a New Yorker, born in a beacon of diversity. However it soon dawned on me that true equality is a very difficult thing to come by, especially because the differences between people are so observable. A friend of mine noted there is such socioeconomic disparity here. In the US, there is a structural division between racial groups, but there are also so many exceptions to this system. Every day, Americans of all colors are crossing racial lines, but in homogeneous countries, these lines are being reinforced because of limited exposure. I have spent some time wondering if racism exists in a country without diversity. The answer, in my humble opinion, is yes.

What is racism? It’s stereotyping based on perceived racial features, such as skin color. Stereotyping is prejudging people as more different or similar to a group than they actually are. Here’s a typical example: thinking somebody is troublemaker because of her/his attire and brown skin. Now think about an atypical example: believing somebody isn’t American because he/she has dark hair and yellow skin.

I would say that being abroad only solidifies the notion that being American also means being white; I’ll refer to this as the notion of “white American”. My theory is that it’s comfortable to conform to “white American” because it’s a bother to explain to each and every person, especially if you happen to be white. One very valid and common point is that in countries rearing “white American”, there is a lack of frame of reference and exposure to the outside world except through mainstream media. But what if it’s because there isn’t a good representation of Americans going abroad? What if you’re an American who believes the same?

I’m not sure how many people worldwide actually realize this but the US is an immigrant nation. Since this is true, one cannot truly have an American ethnicity. Often times, countries like China view anyone of Chinese (even East Asian) descent as Chinese, not American or Peruvian, etc. Famous examples include Gary Locke, Bruce Lee, Alberto Fujimori, Jeremy Lin, etc. I’ve met many international students who, after spending a year or more in the US, realized that “white American” is a myth (even while staying in homogenous areas, such as the Midwest). However, after returning to their home countries, they’ve also found it too tedious to convey it to their peers. Because the “white American” notion is fostered, new Americans will always continue the trend of immigrant-become-xenophobe. I hear older generations refer to white Americans as ‘foreigners’ (or a similar translation) as if they are speaking from their birth country’s point of view, and I think to myself, “You and your children are Americans!”. Either accept everyone or accept no one.

While diversity is rampant in the US, there are obviously some regions that are quite homogeneous. As a US American, I have the right to racial ambiguity. Many individuals of color may often hear the question, “What are you?” Can anyone tell me what the frick-on-a-stick that really means? As a black American, nobody is asking you if you’re from Kenya or Nigeria, or even labeling you African. As a yellow American, nobody should be asking where you’re from and labeling you Asian, while completely neglecting fellow brown Americans. I’ve rarely heard the term “European” when referring to a white American.

Here is an exemplar exchange:
A: We should toss the disc again. Let me get your number.
B: It’s <320-690-6589>.
A: My name’s <Noam>. What’s your name again?
B: I’m <Chad>. Just call or text my phone now so I know it’s you.
A: Nice meeting you, <Chad>. Maybe next time we’ll play ultimate.
B: Yeh. Sounds good. So where are you from?
A: Oh, I’m from <New York>.
B: New York! Why did you come all the way here?
A: I go to school here.
B: I study here too, but I live 20 minutes away. Were you born here?
A: No, I was born in Manhattan. I’m from New York, remember?
B: Oh right, but like, where are your parents from?
A: They’re from New York.
B: And what are they?
A: What do you mean? Like their nationality? They’re also American, but my dad’s father is Taiwanese.
B: I see. Okay so you’re Taiwanese.
A: Where are you from?
B: Oh, I’m American, don’t you know?
A: Oh yeh? You’re Native American?
B: No…

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white feminism

I’m Not Okay With Lily Allen’s Racist New Video: When Satire Crosses The Line

According to this video, Lily Allen doesn’t need to shake her ass for anyone because she’s an intellectual but unfortunately black girls are not so smart… Since when is it okay to fight sexism with racism and cultural appropriation? When Beyoncé said bitch in Bow Down, white feminists flipped shit but now they’re all like “omg Lily is doing so much for feminism!!!!! I DON’T NEED TO SHAKE MY ASS CUZ I’M SMART!!!! IT’S HARD OUT HERE FOR A BITCH!!!” How are we going to fight gender inequality if we as women don’t think of each other as equal? This reminds me of a conversation we had in our English literature class a couple of days ago. We were talking about Wuthering Heights, and somehow we ended up talking about sexism and feminism. One of my classmates expressed her frustration with double standards and said that she believes that we’ll never reach gender equality. That somehow led to our professor mentioning Middle Eastern women who “have no rights and have to wear hijabs”. At this point I got really mad and frustrated so I told her that Middle Eastern women or Muslim women in general choose to wear hijabs because they’re freaking religious (and I mentioned Saudi girls I met in the US who I talked to about this), to which she replied with “I have a friend who works in Saudi Arabia and I went there and they told me that I can’t wear shorts so you can’t tell me they have rights to choose, they just HAVE to dress that way”, and then she added “if someone told you that they don’t have to wear hijabs, they lied to you and tried to sell you that story because you come from a place that is westernized.” A bunch of my classmates agreed with my professor, of course, because god forbid you don’t kiss your professor’s ass and have your own opinion, right? They all agreed that western women have rights to choose, to which I said that we still have to wear makeup to work if we want people to take us seriously and we can’t dye our hair blue or green or other “crazy colors” if we want to get a decent job. I also pointed out that in order for us to achieve equality, we need to stop slut shaming (which is something that is really popular here in Montenegro), and it’s funny how they all agreed even though that they themselves slut shame all day every day. Despite all my attempts to prove my point, they just didn’t get it. So, basically, how women here feel about this issue is: “oh wow I have a right to dress down or dress up but I choose to dress up because I’m an intelligent woman I’m not a slut hahah but poor Muslim women who don’t get to show off their skin…………” Isn’t this painfully sad and ridiculous?

Oh, also, I decided to watch a little TV in the past two days because I rarely watch it anymore, and I had the privilege to see Serbian guys in blackface, while other Serbians spoke made up Chinese. Can I seek an asylum in another country on account of I’m surrounded by idiots?

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Children’s culture

I was recently watching the video of American children’s reactions of the “controversial” Cheerios commercial, and I realized a key difference between Chinese children and American children. First off, American children are way more diverse and open, but that’s besides the point.

The second is how much children of a collectivist society are the same, and it doesn’t even bother them one bit. I had an activity in the English school here in Jingjiang where I use their homework responses as answers for Jeopardy. When they handed in their responses, I noticed they were almost identical. Now as far as I know, most children would go out of their way to use an opportunity like this simple homework assignment to truly express themselves and distinguish themselves from the rest. However I found the opposite. The kids all answered: coffee (favorite drink), Tiny Times (favorite movie), and swimming (favorite sport).

Don’t even get me started on the gender equality…

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