On White Privilege and Losing It

As a child I was never taught white privilege and thus was never able to verbally recognise it. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t feel it.

 

On trips to Japan, I’d be revered and awed at for my ability to speak English. My Japanese is fluent but conversational at best, primary-school-level at worst. So these same family members, friends, general members of the Japanese public, would be praising and fawning over my English, holding this particular skill in a level of regard I never quite understood, when I knew that this same ability to speak poorer Japanese was one that would not bring the same awe, and one that I thus hid from English-speaking peers without understanding why.

 

In Japan, I was doted on and constantly complimented by family, friends and strangers, told how tall and beautiful I was. Despite the fact that in western society I am of incredibly average height and do not receive such compliments. The same features that marked me as negatively different among my western peers and family marked me as special. The global infiltration of white beauty standards meant that with half of my genes, I could be brought closer to this idealised beauty. But what I did not understand as a child, is that it is my proximity to whiteness that elicited these positive reactions.

 

In that same vein, this proximity also caused difficulty. In Japan, I would be asked in a tone of reverence, if I was hāfu in a tone of reverence, when conversations with western friends only reached such a point if they saw my white father and couldn’t piece together that he had supplied half my gene pool. Despite my Japanese mother being my primary caregiver, I compulsively tried to hide her from sight in some vague hope that they may have seen my dad and view me as white only. I knew that to be seen as equal, I needed to be seen as the same, as white. I did not realise that this was because of the privilege assigned to whiteness that my peers and I had been raised into.

 

It is this same proximity that confounded me the first several times I was asked if I identify as a person of colour. It was this proximity to whiteness that caused me in simultaneous waves of white guilt and internalised racism to answer no multiple times to this question. But it was my distance from whiteness that led me to ask friends for a second opinion, and that when asking western friends how I should answer, resulted in them responding that I’m not “Asian Asian” and given anecdotes about racism inflicted upon their other peers who were ‘truer’ people of colour.

 

Embarrassingly recently, I have been able to learn of constructs such as white privilege and the broader definition of a person of colour. I have been able to learn and find for myself these ideas and understandings that eluded me as a child and caused me twenty years of never knowing why I always felt like I was on the outskirts not knowing what category I fit into, even when no one else thought they were asking me that.

 

Being biracial, with the key element of half of that mix being white, is confusing at best and emotionally damaging at worst. Realising you are treated differently in different places but not having the vocabulary or ideological structures to actually explain or understand why is alienating and painful.

Growing up in a way that causes you to accidentally and unknowingly internalise constant doublethink and boundary crossing leaves you with questions in its aftermath.

 

Education can help ease so many of these pressures on individuals in a society that shows no signs of changing soon. Education can help us combat the indoctrination of these ideals globally, and it can help parents better assist their children in navigating these worlds that they cannot escape, so that they do not have to feel alone.

 

Being biracial often includes being white adjacent and this needs to be understood. But with your white privilege waxing and waning with the whiteness of those around you, it is not something I can afford to keep ignoring.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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