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[identity crisis] On Race, or Privilege, Or Just Being Human
SPIKE smoking
karanguni wrote in bromatheon
A few musings on things; probably the first and last time I'm going to mention Racefail and other samesuch related issues. A feeler; it's really just my own personal mind-wandering.



I didn't see much of Racefail - I avoided it, actually, skimming only through posts by and from people on my flist. The general idea floated through: there was an anger and a dissatisfaction and a discomfort on so many fronts. I won't even think to try to understand or summarise it; I'm not sure anyone fully can. But there have been a few conversations I've had with people, and thoughts that I've percolated over reading a few things here and there --

1. East is East / West is West --

I know a couple of people on my flist who are (open-inverted-commas) "Asian", a grouping which I fail to even understand at the best of times, and dislike using in any situation. When I was 15, I think, I remember going to a school conference. The topic at hand was does South-East Asia really exist? We had a nice keynote speaker who discussed ASEAN and its colonial roots, talking about how SEA really was a construct more than an identity, and I always found that sensible, rather than revolutionary.

South-East Asia, my home-territory. What a messed up bundle of nations we are. :D Like any other bundle of nations, really - we share some common geography, a few seas and straits, a few religions, a few ethnic and racial mixes. Fanning out from my own country of Singapore, we have Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, so on. We brush up into China. ASEAN exists, but is relatively powerless. What do we have in common? A history of colonialism, maybe, at best - the Dutch landed Java and its regions, the British spread out over the Peninsula, the French were in Indochina. Sometimes there was juggling back and forth. Communism, democracy, tyranny, revolution. Racial riots. The creeping stains of Western wars.

Malaysia's less than 30 kilometres away from where I'm sitting right now, but I couldn't go to that country and feel anywhere even close to being at home. Singapore's racial distribution is predominantly Chinese, whereas Malaysia's mainly, uh, Malay. But that's not the only thing: in spite of sharing a history of politics, water disputes, colonial masters and a rough-and-tumble series of governments, we've grown in completely different ways. We speak differently, we act differently, we think differently.

I'm a Singaporean Chinese, lucky enough to have had good schooling and a happy home and a tonne of other privileges and entitlements that are so often brought up, and I don't even know what that means, or what I'm meant to be other than who I think I am --

It's always seemed funny, to me, that in my multinational country, I'm forced to always declare my ethnicity and/or race on all official forms. I'm Singaporean, god damn it. Does it matter, other than for some random statistical measure, what colour or background I come in? I grew up in a city of skyscrapers and tar roads. I speak English because that was what was taught to me in schools. My mind is a mishmash of housewife-tale Chinese lore and Enid Blyton and British English and American television programmes and I don't really know what Confucius said or why people in the West like to mention Confucian theory, or why my government brings up Asian Values (TM) as if they come pre-packaged and individually labelled.

I did know, growing up, that I didn't want to be racist. Nor did I want to be elitist, or fascist, or other kinds of -ists. Mainly I wanted to be good to people, which I found a very good virtue extolled to me from young by my parents: be good to others. Don't be proud. Be humble. And be hard working. Don't hurt other people.

That was pretty much how my brain started operating, and pretty much how I operated for a very long time (and mostly how I continue to operate).



The internet was probably the biggest eye-opener for me, and the best. You don't really think about what you are and where you grow up until you meet something completely antithetical to it, I guess, and that was what most of the internet was. I didn't hate homosexuality or anything when I first started writing - I didn't even know what it was, except that there were things on ff.net labelled "slash" - and one day I put a disclaimer on one of my fics saying that this is not slash - ick!, and the next thing I knew I was a 9 year old with a series of extremely angry and vulgar reviews in my inbox.

Within the context of recent discussions, I sit back and wonder, was that 9 year old me being... entitled? Acting... privileged? And I end up thinking, no, mostly it was ignorance - maybe it's all just linguistic theory, but the words "entitlement" and "privilege" when applied with a broad stroke ping my senses oddly.

Entitlement you don't know you've got shares space with ignorance. If there's failure going on, it's a failure to recognise - or maybe a failure to have lived, or been human enough. When people start using words like entitlement and privilege and failure around, there's an air of defensiveness/offensiveness, of abruptly born guilt and damage done intentionally, a martyrdom for someone's inability to be everyone and everything at the same time.



A key thing taught to me by older and better people is that I can't look after other people and their interests if I'm not good myself. I can't, by means of loathing myself and what I am composed of, produce joy in someone else. Joy is progressive, movement forward, a growth.


A year or two back, aged 17 and a lot more cautious about sex, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and generalities, the concept of structure versus agency was brought up in class. Structure being the social phenomenon of something greater than an individual - a school, a race, a gender, a class, a bank, an flist - while agency was the individual, unique and capable of thought. And I thought to myself:

I'm an agent that shares a whole bunch of structures. Yeah, I'm Chinese. And Singaporean, and female, and this-or-that-age, and liberal and conservative and so on. But I don't inherit every part of those structures, and I don't have to. I can't possibly. I'm just one being, unable of comprehending 3000 years of Chinese history and how it distilled down to the four-word-sayings written down in my textbook, much less the abbreviated version of 60 years of frantic political scrambling set amidst a growing, planned city, much less a wealth of different viewpoints about what my gender/sex/thing is and was and should be and may be treated, much less what right or left means beyond the directions I take on a road.

Sometime during Racefail, I sat back and wondered, are there really things that are, honest to nature, part of a race? Do "Asians" really study more by nature? Are certain races more inclined towards certain occupations? It's the most common racist household feature around here, after all - this race is always _______, &c.

And then it came a bit full circle. I've got a few "Asian" friends on my flist, but does-SEA-really-exist: it all depends on where we're brought up, how we're brought up. I can't even pretend to comprehend how an American-born Chinese-or-equivalent person would view the world vis-a-vis how I would, and I really don't care how many chromosomal pairs we might share. Some structures supercede others, but it all depends on the self, doesn't it? If I choose to let my femaleness matter more to me than my race, or my sexual identity, or one of a trillion, quadrillion, googleplex of things that makes me - and everyone else - a human being.

I can't, won't try to count and enumerate and evaluate the ways in which I am privileged, entitled, prone to discriminate. I probably don't know about 99% of them. And if I sailed halfway across the world from where I am, those 99% of things would invert upon themselves, inverse and reverse and get reapplied to whole new different culture. All I can do is to be aware --- be not proud, be humble. Not just of who I am and what I have as a result of that, but of how those values and circumstances evolve depending on where I am.



A guy I'm working with, a very friendly Spanish dude who's currently located in Thailand, comes down here every once in a while for work. We commiserate over our editor and coffee. Recently, he leaned back in his chair and said, "I'm trying to understand more about Asia. About Singapore, really."

I asked, "Why are you in Thailand, then? So much of your work is here."

He shrugged. "People in Thailand are freer. They know how to enjoy life. You know here in Singapore, I've never even got close to a girl? I think I've never kissed a single woman here! Maybe once, at most. Why is that? Do they look at me and say, eew, I'm Spanish, and automatically disqualify me?"

And it went on, bantering back and forth. He's a good 20 years older than I am, jokes often that I'm just an eggchick, but he treats me like a grown adult and that's good enough for me. It gets earnest - I try to explain, stumbling because I hardly share most of the values myself, that women down here don't usually go for one-night stands, but then again some do, I mean --- we, we're a lot -- about family? We-- we want stability? Or some of us do???

Contrasting answers, until he leaned in and said, "Stability? But are you happy? It's like all of you - not just women - are like slaves. And coming from a Western country, I find that honestly, truly sad that you can't be who you want to be. Because of the patriarchy, it controls -- family is like a cage --"

If I tried to explain it it would've taken me a few dictionaries, a few travel adventures, and probably most of my sanity. I don't know how to describe to someone who has no conception, no 17 years of exposure to "Eastern" television and art and music and culture the same way I've received, via however horrible proxies, "Western" definitions, what an "Eastern" viewpoint is. There's an overarching, traditionalist structure there. But it dissipates, and everyone has different ideas of what is right, appropriate, good. But I know this much - it's a lot more common down here to not talk about rights.

Rights, I guess, equals entitlement, equals a demand for privilege. It's hard for me to think of a right to be free when I've grown up in a family and a society where my family members - and country members - have sacrificed everything they are (in "Western terms") for their family. Their time, all their income, every inch of their soul and being, in family. Their children are their assets, their stability is their bedrock. Whatever right one has to be something less than practical, to leave the family home, that right gets overwhelmed by other desires. Same as freedom. The desire to see parents happy, or the wish for a smooth life, even in exchange for doing what one loves.

I don't know. I'll never know. So much of it is ingrained, unspoken, territorial, subconscious, natural. I look at the world and accept it without trying to pick it apart, because how can I? How could I ever explain to my Spanish friend that I think that sometimes breaking my heart in exchange for not breaking my parents' is valid? That I would give up what I love for income? That I would avoid an argument against my values in favour of maintaining a relationship? And that those things complete me rather than break me, make me who I am instead of making me downtrodden, dis-entitled, discriminated, underprivileged? That it is, in some ways, something I give away in exchange for something I receive?



My brain ticks overtime sometimes, because there are always two parallel brands of logic running back and forth all over the tracks of the questions of race and sex and gender and everything. Part of it "Eastern", part of it "Western", swapping out "selfishness" in one case for "self-actualisation" in another, zig-zagging in and out and undefinable and unsimplifiable. How do you summarise God into a paper cup? Or how could you digitise a soul?

I'm not in favour from running from the responsibility of knowing where I stand, or what I'm lucky to have that others don't, or how I should try to equalise, re-negate. But at the same time, I don't think that the sands are ever still enough for me to know how and in which direction negation and equalisation can happen. We're all so different. We're all unique. We all choose and pick and balance our own equations based on the variables available to us, and that equilibrium within us that makes us truly happy is not -- not -- not ever reducible.

That's why we're human, and why we're gifted with the faculty of emotion, of love, of language and of an odd, burning desire to transcend. To reach out in the dark, out to something we don't know and are somewhat afraid of and can't understand, and to trace each other out - whether it's a loved one we've known all our lives or a stranger two seas away - to find and discover.

That's a responsibility I can understand. To be good to others. To not be afraid. To not be proud. To be humble. To be hard working. Above and beyond formulae, or rationality; and that's all I can ever hope to be, I think, but that's good enough a goal for me.

  • 1
I have all sorts of thinky thoughts on this, but it is 4am in the morning and I'd probably end up sounding like a wildly ignorant dilettante. ;)

So instead, I'll just mention my own wacky story from early fandom days. I was like you - absolutely no experience with homosexuality, no opinion, that I knew of, it quite simply hadn't factored into my life. When I saw this term 'slash' in summaries, I had absolutely no idea what it meant, so I avoided it at first. Then I would shrug and click, and I'd be reading this awesome story, with incredible characterization and tension, that was so much better than what I'd been reading, then all of a sudden OMGWTFBBQ?BOY!KISSING?!?!?!?!

Snap. Quick cut to the back button and fade to black. I was shocked. I just didn't know what to do with that. So I avoided it. Then, eventually, I shrugged, and read some more. Because it was good. Not the porn, which I tended to skip over, and still often do, not boys kissing, just the fact that the writing was good, the characters drew me in. The slash was just a side effect, not a bonus, or a focus, it just was. And eventually I branched out into other things, not on purpose, just ... as it happened. Threesomes. Femslash. Genderswap. Whatever. Because, goddamn, I love to read, and I love to read good stuff, regardless of slash or het or gen or whatever.

And I thank fandom everyday for making non-heteronormative activity seem so natural to me.

FANDOM SAVES LIVES is all I can say, rather than the rl ZOMG FANDOM MAKES PERVS or w/e omg pimp it is 3am here, bed, for srz, *sleeps*

FANDOM MAKES PERVS WHO SAVE LIVES :DDDD

Edited at 2009-04-18 03:45 (UTC)

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

/LOVES YOUR ICON ALL OVER THE FLOOR, THE TABLE, THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR

I SAW IT AND PRACTICALLY FELL OFF MY CHAIR.

...

I LOVE THAT WE HAVE DEGRADED TO RBR STYLES OF COMMUNICATION. IT APPEARS TO BE OUR DEFAULT.

ANYONE CAN TALK SRZ BZNZ SRZLY. IT TAKES SOME SKILL TO DO IT IN CAPSLOCK WITH TONY STARK AND DICK GRAYSON. RESPECT, DAMN IT.

DICK GRAYSON?! ... I ... I

LMFAO.

YOU'RE SECRET NINJA AGENT WITH SKYNET LEVELS OF AWARENESS OF YOU GODDAMN STRUCTURES WHICH GETS YOU TO AT LEAST BATMAN LEVELS OF AWESOME SELF-DETERMINATION AND GROWTH WITHIN A CANNIBALISTIC (AND BY THAT, I MEAN SELF-CONSUMING, SELF-SUSTAINING) ETHNIC SPHERE IN WHICH YOU MOVE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE LIKE YOU OWN A MOTHERFUCKING TARDIS; WILLINGLY, BUT WITH SOME UNINTENDED BUMPS AND INVOLUNTARY DIRECTIONS ALONG THE WAY, BUT THROUGH IT ALL, YOU FUCK SOME PATRIARCHY SHIT UP.

..

See? SRS BZNS + capslock + unintelligible fandom/superhero references = My drunk Tony Stark impression.

Err, I just kinda reread that, and please keep in mind that I've just woken up. *puppy eyes*

I've been doing a lot of reading about privilege lately - in terms of gender, more than race. But what I'm saying is this isn't a new topic for me, and I have no clue what you're saying or trying to say here. I know it's your own personal thoughts on the subject and you don't need a thesis or a firm conclusion. . . but you seem to start by saying that any concept of "Asian" identity has no meaning to you and then the second half of your entry is about how you can't make a Western person understand your values?

You also seem to be saying that you shouldn't be feeling guilty for being privileged (true) and that all you can do is follow your morals.

Within the context of recent discussions, I sit back and wonder, was that 9 year old me being... entitled? Acting... privileged? And I end up thinking, no, mostly it was ignorance - maybe it's all just linguistic theory, but the words "entitlement" and "privilege" when applied with a broad stroke ping my senses oddly.

Entitlement you don't know you've got shares space with ignorance. If there's failure going on, it's a failure to recognise - or maybe a failure to have lived, or been human enough. When people start using words like entitlement and privilege and failure around, there's an air of defensiveness/offensiveness, of abruptly born guilt and damage done intentionally, a martyrdom for someone's inability to be everyone and everything at the same time.


I'm not sure about your linguistic issues. . . I think the primary manifestation of privilege is the ability to be ignorant. Maybe we're defining ignorance. . . differently? But I think most people who use the word "privilege" aren't expecting the privileged to have experienced life as the unprivileged, which is what it seems like you're saying? I. . . maybe it's not? I'm just. . . confused.

I'm just not getting anything from this entry, and maybe I'm not supposed to be, but since you put it in your community. . . I dunno.


EDIT: the reason I'm being all wtf on this is that I'd love to get your perspective on this and think about it and stuff! So I'm trying to hopefully get further insight. Or something.

Edited at 2009-04-17 20:05 (UTC)

Bit of a drive-by comment here, but some clarification on the word privilege (as used in the context of RaceFail): privilege is largely defined by a negative space, i.e. what you don't see, or think about, or experience. There are plenty of RaceFail links (rydra_wong has the most extensive list) in which people discuss it, among other related topics.

Also, I don't know you, and explaining further- or not- is naturally entirely up to K, but one of the central theme and variations in RaceFail was white people/people outside the specific sociocultural backgrounds of PoCs asking them to assume the burden of enlightening them (and in many cases, subsequently not listening). As far as I can see, K's post is her perspective, and it isn't her responsibility to put forward the very complex sets and subsets of Asian identities/values that are often not fully articulable by Asian people, let alone by outsiders. I don't mean to be antagonistic, but as an Asian person who put forth her opinion in many RaceFail conversations, the wording of some of your statements put me on edge a bit.

OK, that's pretty much how I define privilege too.

No, it's not K's responsibility to enlighten me. But since she seemed to be trying to write something that shared how she felt with the world, and I was unable to glean any sense of how she felt from it, I was hoping that she might provide some clarification.

It's really, phrases like this "That's why we're human, and why we're gifted with the faculty of emotion, of love, of language and of an odd, burning desire to transcend," that I don't understand - especially in this context. It's a stylistic problem, I think - but in this case I notice it more because I'd like to be able to glean something.

I guess I felt that K was writing in an elevated style that was obscuring some of the meaning for me and I was hoping she could dumb it down for me.

*g* I guess that was what I was trying to do, re:elevation. I don't think, in a lot of ways, that race and all its many, many subset issues is something that can be taken apart and analysed the way part of your comment necessitates being done - ergo that idea of being human and feeling it out rather than thinking it out.

\o I mean, I don't want to be antagonistic about anything, or even technical -- glass_icarus has it a bit right, that the idea that you have no clue about it sets me a bit on edge because then I don't know what parts aren't clear -- but it's sorta like Wittgenstein-in-the-beginning, who wrote a whole book about language philosophy just to explain that language wasn't capable of explaining something so complex and unmappable, ergo forcing himself to end the book with HI GUYS IF YOU GOT WHAT I MEANT THEN THIS WHOLE BOOK WAS A LIE, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. UM, THEREOF WE CANNOT SPEAK WHEREOF WE MUST PASS OVER IN SILENCE!1!!

I just got back from a subway trip where I was thinking about this and I did want to say that most of my confusion was about what you say about privilege - not what you say about being Asian. Except for the seeming contradiction - which I thank you for getting into.

But yeah, all the stuff that you related about your conversations with your Spanish friend, none of that was what I was confused about (or if I was, I was aware that it was due to my difference in perspective and isn't what I was asking about).

I also realized that I phrased my original comment really poorly! So, sorry about that!

What I was trying to get a better idea of (apart from the seeming contradiction thing!) was your ideas about privilege, which seems to be a main part of what you were exploring, and it also seemed like you were exploring them from the position of someone in a place of racial privilege, which IS something I can speak to. XD I guess I was hoping to better understand how you deal with your privilege so I can think about it in terms of how I deal with my privilege.

Edit; But I have recently been thinking about the ability and extent to which men can say anything relevant in discussions of women's issues, so I want you to know that I am going to think about what I said and how I said it to see if I crossed any of my own boundaries. I do think that I mostly phrased myself poorly, though (ironic and embarrassing).

Edited at 2009-04-17 22:56 (UTC)

*g* I had a super huge problem even creating a name for this post, because it's sorta-kinda about privilege but not really, sorta-kinda about race but not really, so I gave up and called it "identity crisis" and then went to sleep. 2am K for the win!

*rubs chin* I guess "exploring it from a position of someone in a place of racial privilege" is a nutshell way of thinking things - it's been a lot on my mind, recently, since I'm going to be heading out to NY for university soon and (finally!!) will not be part of a racial majority. What this post needs is another post re: me + Singapore in its totality, though, because I've always been a little half-on and half-off my own ethnic train in this country. I'm very much for scrapping the idea of mandatory declaration of race &c. on our things - I mean, I'm Singaporean. That's my nationality. I'm two generations departed from being what I'm declaring on my paper, and though it still does make up a huge part of who I am, it's distilled in a way that's local, that I think many Singaporeans regardless of their ethnic background share.

So many times this country has been so awesome about race that, when Racefail happened and I tried to think of how or if I was better off being a racial majority, in a huge everyday sense I couldn't find a way of saying yes to this, in spite of coming from a hugely Chinese-dominant school. And I wondered, was this my huge ignorance coming up again? And then I puttered about wondering about how I was never happier than when I'm in hugely racially mixed groups, as I've had the joy of being recently now that I'm out of school, when I realised again that it wasn't the racial mix that made me happy, it was the mix that made me happy, and that finding parity wasn't so difficult there at all, on a personal level.

*g* Don't worry about it - a lot of this is local-centric, and lord knows I didn't speak much about context at all. Everything's filter over filter over filter, and I think there's usually huge stumbling blocks of differences between the way different people use and think about these things anyway. *flop!*

since I'm going to be heading out to NY for university soon and (finally!!) will not be part of a racial majority.

Even though when I studied in England, I was still part of the racial majority and spoke the language and everything, I still felt more outsider-y and it was a really interesting and helpful experience. I felt a lot more conspicuously Jewish, as well, so I guess i was kind of not part of the racial majority. But in general I felt like I looked different and people could pretty immediately tell I wasn't different. . . it was interesting.

Have you read the (american-centric) article on "unpacking white privilege"? It's here. Some of them are definitely in contrast to how people of color are often treated in America so they won't apply, I don't know what the relationships are between different ethnicities in Singapore. In fact, if none of them apply, then it's probably a good sign that you're not experiencing your racial privilege in the same way (if at all) as was probably the assumption of a lot of the Racefail discussions. (from what I've seen, which is just basic summaries)

Yeah, right - re: the part of a racial majority! I don't speak much Chinese when, like, um, 99.9999999999% of the rest of my race here does, so I get really OH SHIT moments when I go out and people talk to me in super fast/fluent Chinese - especially when they see my uniform. xD'' I get called out a lot on the way I speak English, &c &c.

I remember reading that article, it was one of the first I did flip through! I think a huge source of my ? there was in part practicality versus privilege versus government involvement.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race. -- I can understand why some of this is privilege, but it also seems a matter of demographics, and how racially minded the "person in charge" is!

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. -- this one I think is very reliant on governance, and their policy, and how racist or racially aware a government is. Down here, sometimes foreigners are given priority over all Singaporeans, while at other times all 4 races are so evenly represented it's hilariously obvious that something is being fixed!


So again, it broils down to me as something - like a lot of other things in life - that a person's got to be aware about, read widely about, be openly involved and make links back and forth across more than just race about. :D I'll probably never be able to write an article like that, because I'd digress all over the place since I can't think or operate on a formulaic method or list -- there's so many places that are grey, and so many places that flip around when you change the nationality of the author or the place the article's going to be read. \o It's an amazingly huge, diverse and important subject - so I wrote this one post about it, and I don't think I'll be able to write another, because then I'd probably never be able to stop without being unfair to someone or something. 8D

24 and 7 might just be more true here than they are there. 7 really is much less variable. Minorities that live in the US, and have lived there for generations, are not learning about people who "look like them" when they learn about history, etc. Hopefully it will change, and we'll hear other narratives, but the Founding Fathers, all our presidents.. . it's a pretty powerful image that we're gonna have a hard time getting away from.

24 isn't true all the time, but it's true in many, many situations here. I work for the government, and the workplace demographics - especially at my previous government job - were pretty mixed compared to many places, but the higher up you got, the less black people there were, same for other minorities. I'm privileged in that I don't have to think, if I have to speak to someone in a position of authority, that they might be prejudiced against me because of the color of my skin - whether they are or not!

I guess this is out of "privilege as ignorance" thing and into "privilege as unearned benefit" thing.

Slightly off-topic, but another example of my white privilege operating in the workplace - my curly-haired, jewish, female boss with glasses hired a curly-hair jewish woman with glasses - me - and no one said anything about it. But people do talk about how the minority head of another unit tends to hire minority women. My boss and I are privileged - lucky that people aren't questioning her decisions and my suitability for the job. (Of course, I'm awesome at my job!)

*nods* You're right on all counts - I've been qualifying things in the other direction, but there really is a line there where some things really just are unfair. Afterwards I guess it becomes whether it's a product of demographics turned into unearned benefit turned into abused benefit - and our responsibility to try to keep it to the first and be aware of the second and not do the third. \o

*yawns* Sleepiness+

Thou shalt not write late at night? *g*

Yeah, I think it does come down to a lot of differences in perspective here -

1. re: not getting Asian, and then not getting how to get a Western person to understand Asian --

It's kind of nail on the head here, when you say you're confused over Asian identity having no meaning to me and then a seeming contradiction when I come back and say I don't know how to get a non-Asian to see Asian-ly -- I don't know. Part of me thinks quite strongly that the concept "Asian" is too wide, general, sweeping, nebulous, mainly because I think you can't just group a huge section of the world into "East" any more than you could group the rest of the world into "West".

Yet at the same time there are - like how I flail about describing a different world view to my friend - some identities shared by, semantic-terminology-fail-here, a sort of Asian structure that, i guess I was trying to say, agents in said structure share, leading to :


And it went on, bantering back and forth. He's a good 20 years older than I am, jokes often that I'm just an eggchick, but he treats me like a grown adult and that's good enough for me. It gets earnest - I try to explain, stumbling because I hardly share most of the values myself, that women down here don't usually go for one-night stands, but then again some do, I mean --- we, we're a lot -- about family? We-- we want stability? Or some of us do???


A mishmash of another point being:


Sometime during Racefail, I sat back and wondered, are there really things that are, honest to nature, part of a race? Do "Asians" really study more by nature? Are certain races more inclined towards certain occupations? It's the most common racist household feature around here, after all - this race is always _______, &c.



Which is just how I view things. \o Where does the line between being yourself and being very much culturally/racially influenced begin?



2.


I'm not sure about your linguistic issues. . . I think the primary manifestation of privilege is the ability to be ignorant. Maybe we're defining ignorance. . . differently? But I think most people who use the word "privilege" aren't expecting the privileged to have experienced life as the unprivileged, which is what it seems like you're saying? I. . . maybe it's not? I'm just. . . confused.


Bingo - I'm confused too, I guess! When you say "the primary manifestation of privilege is the ability to be ignorant", that's a lot of what my head can't wrap around - sometimes when I read things, especially things that have people getting really down on themselves for not-knowing-what-they-couldn't-know re: different privileges and entitlements, I feel like the ability to be ignorant ends up feeling like a wilful ignorance - a sort of, I've-been-privileged-such-that-I-never-tried-to-find-out-ways-in-which-I-am. It's just a vibe I get every now and then, and I am v. sure that the way in which people mean things is v. different from what eventually ends up in my percolator -- which all just kind of swirls down to, feelings of entitlement/privilege are complex because everyone defines those terms differently and has a different degree of severity when dealing with and using them.


*yawns* Just got up and v. sleepy, but maybe more sense will come later. I hope I managed to snag some of your confusion; I'm v. bad at getting technical over these things because it's something very base-layer to me, and I don't know how much of my own base-layer is universal. \o ♥

Re: *yawns* Sleepiness+

Where does the line between being yourself and being very much culturally/racially influenced begin?

Ahhhh, see, I kind of didn't really get that that was one of the things you were thinking about here. I totally see it now.

Re; your answer to #2 - I guess. . . it seems like you're feeling a lot of pressure to feel guilty about the privilege that you've experienced? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but that's sort of what I'm getting out of this. Like, that you're seeing people feeling guilty about their privilege - and their "not knowing" and it doesn't quite feel right?

If that's a complete mischaracterization of what you're trying to express, then I'm sorry! But if it's not, this might be relevant (all my examples are about feminism) - I was reading a blog entry by a male feminist, and he was talking about blame and guilt and how he always sees men in feminist discussions, when they are sympathetic and willing to express the arguments, just wallowing in guilt and self-hatred. And the guy was like "I think it's unproductive, and it alienates men from being involved in the movement cos they just feel guilty all the time". And in the comments, a lot of women were like "NO. MEN SHOULD FEEL GUILTY." And man, I get my "aaaaaargh" moments (see today's entry, where, haha, I talk about people speaking about things they can't understand in an insensitive way) but you've gotta just get past it, because - feeling guilty doesn't help anyone!

Which might be the conclusion you come to in the entry, actually.

But I guess I do feel like there's a responsibility to at least try to be aware of one's privilege (slap me if I'm not doing so now - your racial privilege seems vaguely analogous to my own so I thought it wouldn't be wholly unproductive or out of line to share my thoughts on how I've coped with it) when it's possible.

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Re #2: I spent a while during Racefail looking for reasons and questioning whether I was racist in ways I didn't see - because there were a few posts I'd read going around where people, no joke, seriously beat themselves up about it to a point where I thought it was !!!! and really damaging for no good effect. And yep, it didn't quite feel right. It's not as if people were going, "I WAS BORN WITH IT DON'T BLAME ME! 8D", it went right out to a "SORRY I WAS BORN OH GOD I AM SORRY".

*g* Your paragraph on male feminists gets the point perfectly. The two kind of polar-attitude camps, and the slightly WARG MILITANT FORWARD MARCH idea, those things get under my skin. It's a responsibility of everyone to try to be aware of who they are and what they are; privileges and identities just seem to change and morph all the time regardless of whether you're in a majority or a minority. The moment you're someone else, which I kinda think we always are, I think we have a due responsibility to not try and flatten people under a lens of the bigger structures they belong to, and to find out how much they draw from whatever pots of privilege/tradition/current affairs/etc and compose themselves. :D

Maybe this came up as going around a mental cul-de-sac for me after reading a lot of formulaic posts on How Not To Be Racist (not that they weren't good posts!) and How To Identify Privilege - all of which was extremely important, but also sometimes to my brain very tunnelled in. Like, um, when thinking about race and privilege you have to flip this switch or focus on that topic absolutely. Whereas I guess, looking at this entry and what I was trying to say, I think I look at it more as an integral, automatically-there part of being a human: that you look at what another person is like, and you balance the factors - only some of which are race and privilege and all the other things put up here - before you venture forth with what you say or do. :D \o

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I guess, though, at the place where I am in feminism right now I'm definitely in more of a "you have to be aware of your privilege" place (but definitely not feel guilty about it). Although in America, because of our racial history, you often do have to be aware of racial privilege in order to do as you say - treat people like individuals. It's like the Avenue Q song says, "Everyone's a little bit racist". Cos if I'm not thinking about it, I will be making assumptions about someone based on their race, sadly, and it's only by exerting a mental effort that I can not do so. Until I get to know them, of course.

But yeah, as you say above, maybe it's a really localized thing, cos we have so much crazy race history.

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*g* We have less of a crazy race history, but there's a lot of cross-cultural racism -- Chinese people of the elder generation, as an example, (my generation's usually been beaten/bashed/willingly led into thinking so much about racism that we don't even want to talk about; people get called out all the time if they do something stupid) seem somewhat fixated with being suspicious of members of the other races here in Singapore. Cross-racial marriages are getting common only in my generation.

Everyone knows that everyone's a little racist, I think - or maybe they should! *g* Maybe that's why I'm a bit *___* about it - a lot of what gets written and explicitly brought up are things I think are internal; to see a whole host of it at once was sort of like seeing articles on how to brush your teeth or how to be polite. \o

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Ahh, yeah. Here it's like. . . it's talked about, but there's still a lot of people who think race problems don't exist. Or it used to be talked about but now people are like "look, obama, problem solved I'm not gonna think about it anymore." So we still need the articles. :(

(On the other hand, at least people are asserting that race is still a problem so other people can say "no it's not!" . . . I'd never even heard those arguments about women's issues until recently.)

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It's always either/both uplifting and enlightening to read new things from new places that just add up, y'know? Sometimes you think, racism's a little bit more dead! And other times you feel, oh god it's back! And then more times there's the, help me cultural barrier impeding discussion! Or, I Want To Shoot All Linguistic Philosophy In The Head! But at the end of the day it's a few steps forwards, backwards, sideways, and being part of a nice, big, diverse place that we live in. \o I try not to dwell too much on the hurt; I'm all for learning and thinking and going on. :D

[edit-y edit] And thanks a huge bunch for discussing all of this with me, ♥ I mean, this post was all WHEE 2AM BRAINLESSNESS and then WHEE 6AM MORNING REPLIES and you were still hugely patient and considerate even and especially when putting across points I didn't quite get at first readthrough. :D :D

Edited at 2009-04-18 03:05 (UTC)

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Or, I Want To Shoot All Linguistic Philosophy In The Head!

I think we've all been there. XD

Ahh, thank you for discussing it with me! And sorry for making sleepy early morning you get into it. XD And for expanding on things and everything. ^_^

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Nah, it's all cool. ♥ I don't know why I was up that late/early myself! :D

... so I was initially going to respond with a definition of "privilege" as it's used in RaceFail here, but I posted the bare bones of it in the thread above instead. (Bare bones because it's easier to see in context rather than as described in one sentence.) There's a definite difference in "privilege" as in having rights and privileges and "privilege" as in being privileged-- which is what everyone is talking about in RaceFail. Anyway, I'm glad you avoided most of the crossfire! You spared yourself a lot of potential scars and blood pressure fluctuation. *g*

Also, I love this kind of a lot-- especially the bits about the conversation with the Spanish guy, because man, even though that situation kind of burns, this:

How could I ever explain to my Spanish friend that I think that sometimes breaking my heart in exchange for not breaking my parents' is valid? That I would give up what I love for income? That I would avoid an argument against my values in favour of maintaining a relationship? And that those things complete me rather than break me, make me who I am instead of making me downtrodden, dis-entitled, discriminated, underprivileged? That it is, in some ways, something I give away in exchange for something I receive?

is fucking gorgeous. &hearts Also, everything you've said about the variations in "Asian" identity & the difference between race/ethnicity and culture made me gleeface like this--> :D :D :DDDD I am sort of incoherent right now, but will most likely have more thinky thoughts on this later.

♥ Re: definitions, that's kind of the thing - there are so many ways in which it's defined and treated, academically or not, that I sort of get what some people say when they say that the whole world can be one linguistic phillosophy debte.


are there really things that are, honest to nature, part of a race?

More of culture and conditioning, really

Came here to wave at you, really :) :) rather than discuss deep and heavy *Wave*

♥ S'what I think too.

Thankee!

Over from oyceter's Asian Women Carnival post. I have to say this is one of the most beautiful LJ posts I have ever read. Thank you.

♥ Nah, thank you for reading through my internal blabber and finding some worth in it. ♥!

This is an incredible post - thank you for it. I have much to think about.

How could I ever explain to my Spanish friend that I think that sometimes breaking my heart in exchange for not breaking my parents' is valid? That I would give up what I love for income? That I would avoid an argument against my values in favour of maintaining a relationship? And that those things complete me rather than break me, make me who I am instead of making me downtrodden, dis-entitled, discriminated, underprivileged? That it is, in some ways, something I give away in exchange for something I receive?

This was the crux of a conversation my best friend and I had for many years. As someone who's been made to feel shame and guilt over not being the perfect product of other people's sacrifice, it was, even though I was born and bred in that environment, wholly incomprehensible to me, especially after I moved out of Malaysia.

I've attempted to revise my position, over and over, wondering if it was some lack on my part to understand what the sacrifice was worth to my parents, wondering if I was incapable of it myself. I still don't have the answers.

*hugs and nods* I think at the end of the day there's never going to be any good answer(s), but it's good to try and make peace with our own heads and try to be good people no matter the case.

Here via the Asian Women Carnival

Thank you for making me think in new ways.

Re: Here via the Asian Women Carnival

♥ Thank you!

This is very beautiful, and thank you.

And oh, man, am I glad I had no Internet when I was nine. Or nineteen, some days.

♥ Thank you!

I don't know what kind of a human being I'd be without the Internet. 8D It mentally moved landscapes, but for the best, I think! 8D 8D NOT WITHOUT SOME FUN TRAUMA IN BETWEEN, but what's a little hilarity between lifetimes?

This carnival was pretty much the best thing ever and I really enjoyed your entries.

Good point! Hahah. I don't know what I would've done without it when I first got on and I was alone all night (hubby worked the night shift) wondering where the hell I was going to get myself some friends.

I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for sharing this, but *especially* this:

"I look at the world and accept it without trying to pick it apart, because how can I?...that those things complete me rather than break me, make me who I am instead of making me downtrodden, dis-entitled, discriminated, underprivileged?"

I don't know how many times I've had this conversation and been so completely flustered that I'd just clam up and find a way out of it as fast as possible. To hear my feelings so eloquently expressed by you--it means a lot. (Agh, my poor communication skills...)

♥ I'm glad that my words are useful for something! 8D 8D

This is really, really wonderful.

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