you are racist against yourself

posted by ellephanta/Celine

This very interesting stereotype about asian parents unwilling to let their offsprings date or associate with white people (or any other race besides their own), I think suggests in subtle ways that “well, asians are racists too”.

But of course. Asians are capable of doing and saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. Or did you think that they were objects that are incapable of thinking, screwing up, changing, learning?

My race certainly doesn’t immune me from being racist towards my own race or any other race. It’s our actions, not our identities themselves that are either racist or not. I certainly run into a lot of racism (against white people, black people, etc.) in, for example, the Korean first generation immigrants community in Toronto (the one I’m most familiar with), especially in our parents’ generation (people of our generation are often just as bad, but in a subtler and different ways than our parents’, something I hope to write about at one point in the future) that remain thoroughly uninformed on race theory and the marginalized status of racialized people in our community.

But consider this: Most of those in Toronto’s Korean community with language barriers separating them from anybody who is not a Korean-speaking Korean are effectively segregated from the rest of Toronto, like a bubble in the middle of a bustling metropolis. I think this has real negative consequences. This certainly does not aid them in dispelling their messed up preconceptions about whole races of people — which, by the way, was first conceived by them through messed up representations in media, their one of very few source of contact with non-Koreans — and instead, as a small town might, intensifies xenophobia and other in-group out-group attitudes.

My parents have lived here for ten years and they do not have a single friend who is an English-speaking white person. This is not closed-mindedness on their part, but simply a refusal to take shit from people. They rightfully don’t want to be patronized because they’re grown-ass adults of remarkable intelligence and insight, but every encounter they have had with white people, they were patronized. They don’t want to be treated like “an identity” and they don’t want their failure to speak fluent English to mean that people can treat them like children – but every encounter they have had with white people in Toronto, they felt like they were in kindergarten – so they got fed up and quit. I’m not sure if I condone them quitting, but at the very least I understand it.

My parents have always been committed to feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-ablism, anti-nationalism, pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, anti-classism, anti-war, free speech, and freedom of religion (yes, even before they moved here and were “enlightened” by the flourishing “multiculturalism” in Toronto) as all of their friends back in Korea have been. They’re brilliant and kind and wise and in love with humanity and I love them very much, even though they’re super flawed as we all are and we fight often (my dad sometimes gets weirdly nationalistic when his masculinity is threatened but then my mom calls him on it), they are way more open and caring than a lot of young people I met at Queen’s University.

They’ve always been critical of bigotry in South Korea, and now of what they find in Canada and the U.S., as they obviously should and would be, given that they’re sane — just as a sane white person would be of their community if it is racist, anti-feminist, etc. My parents and their friends don’t give a crap about the race of the people their offsprings date as long as they’re cool and awesome, as they should. As white people should too. As any sane people should. They’re not exceptions to the rule (“asians have racist beliefs, and Celine’s parents are exceptions”) because there is no rule. One just think there is because they just love putting a whole race of people in an imaginary group and generalizing about them.


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8 responses to “you are racist against yourself

  1. Your use of the words racism/racist caught my attention, and reminded me of what I read recently – that people of colour in fact cannot be racist. This is not to say that people of colour do not have prejudices, far from it. But in order for prejudices to be racist, a person holding such views have to be in a position of superiority that institutionalizes those prejudiced views and affect others.

    It probably appears like a silly semantics debate, but I’ve come to realize that this distinction is very important, because when people say “everybody is a little bit racist” it is often to condone white supremacy (or alleviate white guilt) to say “see? It’s not THAT big a deal because everybody stereotypes and has prejudices.” Yes, that might be true, but in a Eurocentric, white supremacist societies, the only prejudices that can influence policies and laws are those of the white majority. For a better thought-out version of what I’ve been talking about, see here and here.

    • Celine

      Cool! I think I understand what you mean and I definitely don’t think it’s a silly semantics debate! I will read up on that stuff and see how I feel afterwards.

      But what about when someone panders to institutionalized, white supremacy amongst those in a position of superiority?

      • I think it would depend on whether that person was in a position of power. For example: if I got yelled at by another person of colour for being an Asian woman, it would be terrible, but it would not have the same kind of impact as my being denied a job interview because a(n often white employer) assuming my English skills are insufficient based on my last name. The sad truth is that policies or institutionalized racism emanating from those in power who are dominantly white, to this day. I don’t want to victimize all people of colour or construct a black and white relationship where people of colour are always socially and economically inferior, but largely speaking it is still the case I think.

        Of course, it’s still very complicated – I was reminded of the Rodney King incident and the subsequent riots that broke out in L.A. that not only affected African-Americans but destroyed many Korean-American people and businesses. That is an incident where one racist act (white police officers targeting a black man, beating him senseless and getting away with it) rippled out, which not only destroyed African-Americans but put Korean-Americans as the ultimate subalterns who were the most silenced. In that case, would I call the African American rioters racist? I’m not sure, but the line seems gray-er than usual.

    • Celine


      After reading some stuff, I now agree with you 100% on this. I want to edit this post — do you think I should just go ahead and do it?

      • Hey, I did not see this until now! I think you can either edit this post, or just write an update. The blog could use some new content anyway ;) But really, it’s your writing and you are free to do what you feel like.

  2. djtrishna

    I agree with Rosel re: power is important with understanding how racism functions, but the statement that POC can never be racist is inaccurate. What I would say IS accurate is that POC can never be racist towards WHITE people as that power dynamic is what we are talking about here.

    We can however be racist to each other, case in point POC as settlers on Indigenous lands. We participate in the theft and occupation of Indigenous territory and in so doing assist in the processes of genocide, exclusion and oppression of Indigenous peoples.

    We need to be accountable to each other and honest in our experiences of power. Yes, we are all less powerful than white people, but we hold power over each other in very different ways and can and do exert racism onto each other constantly.

    • Celine

      I think I agree with djtrishna on this, though I definitely see what Rosel is talking about and see the discussion she’s pointing out is real.

      Now I’m wondering, do you think we might be able to say, “POC holding racist beliefs” or “POC doing something racist” instead of “POC is racist”? There is difference in the nuance here, I think. A system or a system of thought, can be “racist” but a person, a changing, learning being, cannot be “racist”, but can only “hold racist beliefs” or “do racist things” (prescribe to racist system or a system of thought)?

      Am I making any sense?

  3. Pingback: let’s talk about racism « the invazn

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