Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Child Is Asian?

To all the beautiful people in my life that identify as Asian, I am so sorry but I have failed you...So I think my eight year old might be a racist? I am only half kidding.

My eight year old daughter and her 16 year old brother have a recurring argument. He calls her a little white girl and then she says "I am NOT white I am biracial...your just mad because your ASIAN." Really?

I am particularly concerned about the racial infighting between my offspring. I recognize that the boys are jealous of Morgan's aesthetic. I think they are also trying to make sure she doesn't claim whiteness by negatively engaging her in this way. When I try to ask them about it, they simply shrug and walk away. Interestingly, there isn't a huge difference in the actual color of their skin. The boys, however, would never be "mistaken" for white. All three of them self-identify as mixed race; but I think internally they feel their racial identities are not the same or perhaps not equal. Again I realize that these are observations that come from the amount of time I spend thinking about race both as a scholar and as a parent, but what the hell?

I can remember a time when the boys were younger when the older one identified the younger one as being "whiter". The 16 year old has softer hair probably from his Italian ancestry. The 18 year old is me, with fairer skin and a far worse attitude. My 8 year old seems to be a direct descendant of my mother in law. Regardless, I am their mother and my husband their father, doesn't or shouldn't this make us all the same?

So back to being Asian for a minute. On the first day of class this semester, one of my students announced that there were only two races: Black and White. I asked him where indigenous people fell; he said black. Then I asked him where he located Asian people; he said white. I am sure this says something about me; but I understood his location of indigenous populations. I totally didn't understand how Asians could be considered white. I don't even know how to start thinking about a question that could possibly produce an answer to that question. What was truly odd about the whole thing is that this was around the same time that my daughter started calling her brother Asian. Did I miss some media phenomenon concerning the Asian identity?

My husband says they are just being siblings and fighting. I get that, kind of. My sister used to call me adopted which would send me running to my mother in tears. What my sister actually would say was that she was going to look for my receipt so they could send me back; something I felt was a distinct possibility. I would retaliate by calling her fat. Clearly these are equal things. Despite how cruel we both were, the insults made sense or at least were relevant to who we were. My daughter pulling Asian out of nowhere really concerns me. It suggests to me that a) she clearly is prioritizing being Asian as being less valuable than being white or mixed race; and b) my eight year old understands or is imitating some kind of performance of racial trumphing. I hate that she is devaluing Asians. I hate to think she is learning this at home either through her exchange with her brothers or somehow from my husband and I. Lastly, I don't understand why she is choosing something that doesn't relate to her brother in any way; certainly she has a billion other things she could swing back with. How did she come up with Asian.

Between the two situations I started to wonder about how we locate Asians on the racial landscape in America. Are there particular populations that are so peripheral to our own location that we don't consider them? I think about theorists who talk about reflected identities or knowing the self by recognizing the other. In my student's case, the other is white not Asian and he doesn't see himself reflected or contrasted with or against an Asian identity. In my daughter's case there is a clear devaluing of an Asian identity. Somehow her sense of "being Asian" seems more insulting to her own identity than her brothers' accusations of being white. Sadly, both identities are objectionable to her. The good news is that people who identify with those identities, white and Asian, are a big and welcome part of her life. She never even mentions race outside our house. Thank God, who knows who would be Asian then.

Not willing to allow my daughter to behave this way and having gained NO ground with her brothers, I engage her regularly about this. Her eight year old sensibility INSISTS that her brother is Asian. I started to believe that she really thought he WAS Asian until yesterday. The 18 year old irritated her and I told her to ignore him. My child looked me dead in the face and said "it doesn't matter, he's Asian too". Really? Do I start punishing her for this. I gave her a long lecture about how inappropriate her saying this is and she defended herself by saying "well, he calls me white".

Nothing gained... Finally I wonder if the way i reacted by the first time I heard it made Asian the insult that it has become in my house. Perhaps if I had ignored it, it would not have become useful. I am pretty sure I am guilty of a similar error when the boys started calling their sister white. Perhaps yelling "SHE IS NOT! DON'T CALL HER THAT!" was the wrong choice. I simply don't know what to do. And, so I write...

More soon...

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