Yep, I just yelled “fuck you” at some blow job who said “ni hao” to me in the park.
My good friend Phoenix, posted this Facebook status a few weeks ago that turned into this interesting hotbed of resentful Western White male privilege.
Not only did this guy, Luke, brazenly display an incredibly condescending whitesplaining, mansplaining attitude, but he demanded that my friend, a woman of color, explain to him why the behavior that this man displayed while yelling at my friend in the park was harassment.
I hope I do not need to explain how utterly ridiculous and entitled of him it is to tell a Chinese-American woman to “present [him] with depth” and prove to him why it’s unacceptable for some dude to approach strangers in the park, saying “ni hao” at them. I hope it’s evident as to how absolutely arrogant it is for a White man to defend some stranger he’s only ever heard about rather than believe a woman of color when her life experiences deem this encounter to come from a point of racism/sexism. As obvious as how presumptuous Luke’s entitled reaction may be, I would like to make it clear that White men injecting themselves, uninvited, into conversations women and people of color are having about oppression happens all the time.
All. The. Time.
And worse than White men assuming their opinions are welcome in this place, White men believe their opinions should be valued above all others’, for theirs are the only ones that are “un-biased”. Notice the silencing tactics Luke uses. Women of color who are upset by racist/sexist remarks made to them in public who dare to react to those violations are “angry”, “irrational”, and not deserving of this White man’s Facebook friend list. Welcome to Gaslighting 101, everyone! Racist, sexist, privileged, arrogant gaslighting.
However, I don’t want to write about awful gaslighting today. I actually want to write about something else this privileged White dude brought up, being White in China vs. being Chinese* in the U.S.
[…] and for the record, I’ve had numerous similar experiences as being the ‘white guy’ in China for the past decade. I never reacted like that but then I don’t think this is about race as much as it is about Phoenix […]
First of all, way to be an asshole, Luke, by again dismissing the validity of Phoenix’s experiences and her assessment of the situation that she was in and you were nowhere near.
Second of all—and I want White people to understand this so—YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WHITE PERSON IN AN ASIAN COUNTRY IS NOT THE SAME NOR AT ALL “SIMILAR” TO MY EXPERIENCE OR THE EXPERIENCE OF FELLOW ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDER PEOPLES IN THE UNITED STATES. Got it?
But, “why, Kathy?” you may ask. “Why can’t I just swap out different races/ethnicities in any scenario and the end result be the same?”
Really? Why? Because read a fucking history book—preferably one not crafted by the hegemonic White Western discourse.
The same people who think saying “ni hao” or “konnichiwa” to an Asian person in the U.S. is the same as an Asian person saying “hello” to a white person in an Asian country are the same people who think “reverse racism” is a thing. Guess what? Reverse racism isn’t real and those two situations are not at all the same thing.
Let’s just start with demographics. We all know that race is a social construct, but for simplicity purposes, let’s use it.
Population of China: 1.35 billion
Population of the U.S.: 316 million
Percentage White in the U.S.: 72.4%
Percentage Asian in the U.S.: 4.8%
Percentage Asian in China: 99.x%
Percentage White in China: <1% (the number of White people in China is so insignificant compared to the entire population, it hasn’t been properly documented)
Wow! There is a significantly smaller percentage of the Chinese population that is White compared to the American population that is Asian! Who would’ve thought?
Okay. That shouldn’t be a shock, right? The United States is a “land of immigrants” (even if certain states and politicians seem to spit on that fact). Being non-White in the U.S. isn’t supposed to be a novelty, it’s a truth. The U.S. census estimates that in 30 years, non-Hispanic/Latin@ Whites will make up less than half of the population. So seeing a non-White person really shouldn’t be a shock in the U.S. in 2013. And considering Phoenix works in Boston, and not middle-of-nowhere, Maine, she shouldn’t be treated as an anomaly walking through a park.
Approaching a random person of color or any person you do not definitively know the ethnicity of and saying “ni hao”, “hola”, or “jambo” at this person (particularly if you do not speak Chinese, Spanish, or Swahili) is not only obnoxious, but it is othering. The effect (regardless of whether it’s intentional or not) of this action on the person of color is to point out that they are somehow different from the White person (and legitimate American) speaking to them while transmitting the message “you are not welcome here”. API peoples constantly receive this message. From “where are you from?” to “what language do you speak?” to “what does your name mean?”, White people are consistently reminding us that because we are not White, we are not American.
So when some stranger says “ni hao” to my Chinese-American friend in the park, it is absolutely not to be “friendly”, it is to invade her space and remind her that no matter what her birth certificate, voting record, or life experiences are, she will never be considered American and she will never be welcome because her hair isn’t blonde and her last name isn’t Smith.
People of color built this country. They did so despite political, economic, and social barriers erected to prevent them from prospering. The first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in the 1800s, brought over to work on the transcontinental railroad as cheap labor at wages. Chinese workers were paid $27-$30 a month, compared to Irish workers, who were paid $35 a month and provided with living arrangements. Not only were the Chinese paid less than the Whites, they were also treated terribly. The White construction crews would order Chinese workers to enter caves where not all the dynamite had gone off, killing dozens of Chinese men. These men were forced to risk their lives, placed in to baskets and lowered over cliffs or into mines to drill holes and place dynamite, staking their luck and their lives on how quickly their fellow workers were able to pull them up. The term “Chinaman’s chance”? This practice is one of it’s origins. Over 1,200 Chinese workers died building the Central Pacific Railroad alone.
And what did the U.S. do to repay these Chinese immigrants for building such an extensive railroad system in this country? They passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to prevent Chinese immigration and then passed the Geary Act to extend the exclusion and placed new requirements on existing Chinese residents of the U.S. Among these requirements was a law that Chinese residents must carry proof of their residency at all time or risk a year of hard labor or deportation. Sound familiar? The Geary Act also forbade Chinese residents from bearing witness in a court of law and denied Chinese bail in habeas corpus proceedings.
For a country so proud of its immigrant-roots, its laws speak differently. Or are only White, Anglo-looking people allowed to claim this country as their own and all people of color must simply accept that we can never call the United States our homeland?
Let’s just step back a minute. Many Chinese families have been in the United States just as long or even longer than your European ancestors. Chinese workers played a big part in building this country. Yet, Chinese-Americans are being treated like they don’t belong in this country daily. Yes, even in the 21st century.
So don’t you dare fucking compare how you as a White man are treated in China to how a Chinese-American woman is treated in the United States. I haven’t even started exploring the rampant sexism that’s entwined with White men fetishizing API women as submissive and exotic. This view is a stereotype. It is a stereotype largely rooted in a history of Western colonialism and the geo-political dynamics between American soldiers and local women in the various wars and military aggressions of the late 20th century waged in East Asia and the Pacific, a stereotype that’s been perpetuated by Western, White, male-dominated mainstream media.
If you are a White person in China, you are most likely a tourist, or your job has located you there and you make significantly more money than the average Chinese worker (~$9k/yr). If a Chinese stranger approaches you and says “hello”, that might be annoying, but it doesn’t come with any of the same history and implications as a White stranger saying “ni hao” to an Asian person in the U.S., regardless of whether that person is Chinese. Considering the fact that British and U.S. imperialism has made English the default official language for multinational organizations and the forced lingua franca of many states in the Global South, the power differential between the White person and the Asian person in both of these situations favors the White person.
To Luke and every other White asshole who doesn’t “think about race”:
Your experience as a “minority” in an Asian country is not comparable to Phoenix’s experience as a Minority (Capital M for all of the historical, political, social baggage of that word) in the United States.
So sit down and shut up.
*You can apply this same theory to Japanese-, Korean-, and other API peoples in the U.S., in so much as noting that being White in Japan is nothing like being Japanese in the U.S. (or Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, etc.). However, remember that although API peoples have a shared identity, the histories of each ethnic group’s legacies in the U.S. are different and the geo-political histories of the U.S.’s respective relationships (and wars and imperialism, etc.) are also distinct. It is ludicrous to assume that all 17.3 million Asian-Americans have the same histories and that nations with a combined population of 4 billion people have the same diplomatic relationship with the U.S. It is not only irresponsible, it is also racist.