Friday, August 12, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Pride

Throughout my life, white people have asked me why members and racial groups needed to have affinity groups, celebrations and organizations. There are no Caucasian affinity groups except for the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis which are universally treated with disdain in our society, so why do racial and ethnic groups get money and resources?

It’s about pride.

Pride in one’s race is a positive connection to one’s racial identity that is constructed through a feeling of belonging, and positive associations.

When people are asked to list what groups they identify with some choose gender, other choose their career and other’s strongly identify through sports or the arts (e.g. “I’m a Cub’s fan).

For most people of color, race is high up on that list. A person can choose to shed their love of the Cubs, and let that identity go, but people of color cannot let our race go. Whether we like it or not, for people of color, race is part of our identity that society does not let us forget.

Many of the reminders of racial identification are positive. When an Asian-American student asks me about my heritage, I feel a wonderful connection with the student. When I eat Chinese food with my family, I feel at home, and when my son asks me to read a book that feature Asian characters, it warms my heart. Unfortunately, many of the reminders that I’m Asian come from awkward conversations, ignorant action, and racist comments.

When you have this part of your identity, that you do not choose, that you cannot hide, taking pride in it is an act of spiritual self-preservation. When people of color do not have pride in their racial identity, it manifest in problems that affect all of society and our shared greater humanity.

A little Asian boy who is ashamed of the shape of his eyes because of jokes other students make, may develop internalized self-hatred. This could manifest into something as innocuous as spending all of his weekend playing videos games or as destructions act lashing out through violence at others.

It is a complex and difficult thing to develop pride in one’s race. While I was never ashamed of being Asian, it wasn’t until I was in college that I felt a true sense of pride (I’ll get into this more next week).

To have pride in one’s race as a person of color is to embrace the part of your identity that for so long in American history was a mark worse than a Scarlet letter. It is this history and our present racial struggles that require deliberate and thoughtful actions.

It's hard for me to fully understand the need for affinity groups to help build racial pride.  It's a very complicated issue with many different layers, so I understand my Caucasians friends and colleagues who don't get it.

So here's what I got for my white allies:  People of color meetings and racial pride activities aren't including you because we don't like you.  There are conversations that help us build pride and feel supported that cannot happen when you are in the room (this is not something we blame you for, don't feel bad).  The more we can do this, the better we can feel about our racial identity and the more open we can be to having conversations with you and building deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Be supportive of our racial pride.  This isn't a reflection of racism, this is about us learning how to love ourselves.  If none of this makes sense to you, that's okay.  I still don't understand cottage cheese.  The effort you make to understand and your trust is meaningful.


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