I am a Chinese American young woman raised in Oakland California and have attended college an hour north near Napa. The cultural difference was more than I expected. In November 2018 I was racially assaulted by a peer. I know a young gentlemen who is notoriously opinionated. He doesn’t share his defensive and socially conservative opinions on controversial topics, he preaches them. And to myself and other strong minded women, he would “egg us on” with comments and opinions knowing full well we would be offended or disagree. It was not a surprise when this individual who we’ll call Roland Weary, came into the space I was in and started talking with the other male in the room. He said how “chopsticks are a useless utensil, outdated and it’s stupid to continue using them”. Although finding this offensive, I minded my own business still.
They moved on to talking about the use of chopsticks while eating sushi “was good”. At this more positive remark I chimed in with “well if Asian people eat sushi, then it makes sense for them to use chopsticks. It is also a cultural thing”. To which Roland Weary then said to me directly,
“What do you know about it culturally? You’re just as white as me”.
I’d like to break this statement down. With the second sentence, he equated us both culturally and racially. This assumes he had the right to do so in the first place, which of course he does not. No person has the right to determine the race, culture or ethnicity of another. In order to discredit the opinion I stated, he had to make us of equal standpoint, or as if we were speaking from the same position racially. He stripped me of my heritage in order to invalidate my opinion which challenged his, which is the only world he as a cis western white straight male has ever known.
I would also like to note that one does not to be a person of color to point out what I pointed out. Anyone in that room could have said that chopsticks are not simply an aspect of utility, but culturally relevant.
I, although there never need be a reason for me to have to explain my race, culture and ethnicity to another person, proceeded to explain to Roland Weary how I am not all white(and certainly not culturally in the way that he is), but that I am half Chinese.
I explained how due to this I know about the culture, because it is my culture. He said the following racist and insensitive statements to me.
“You have no right to talk about Chinese culture because you weren’t born in China and don’t activity live there. Is doesn’t make sense.”
You have no right. Yes, another human being, a peer, a cis western white straight male told me I had no right to what is mine. A person may never deny the right of another to their race, culture or ethnicity. Such a belief is simply not rooted in reality. To even say those words implies that there is a right that can and can’t be denied at all. This was an attempt to invalidate me as a proper representative of my culture, for which there is no valid or invalid, there is only valid and not applicable. There is only you are born to this group and therefore into the race, culture and ethnicity and that individual alone may do what they wish with to express them, or not, but there is no point of invalidity. That does not exist, and his statement implies both that it does and that he may do it to me. He perpetuated the historical culture of western white people stripping others of their identity for their own gain and at the cost of Othering that group. Roland Weary did to me what the history of white America has done to people of color forever.
He continued to tell me.
“It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t logical.” For me to speak about Asian culture.
“It doesn’t matter.” When I explained my mom, grandparents and family are Chinese. Many have come from China, and they have taught me about my culture which is regularly practices in my household since birth.
“You don’t get to talk about it”. And that I was not a worthy representative.
For the cultural validity to depend on a person’s birthplace and geological residence is absurd. Culture simply doesn’t work that way. Traditions, practices and beliefs have been passed down through my family to me by family who came from China and who came from Berkeley. Some families practice traditional culture more than others, and culture can be adopted to certain degrees under some circumstances. But my people’s culture has been practiced and passed down by my family and I have gladly taken it on as my own. Others may choose to not practice or simply were never taught elements of their culture, but they can never lose the right to it or be denied it.
The role Roland Weary played in this incident is apart of his “culture”. The day before this incident occurred my Chinese side had a family reunion. It was wonderful. I met family I never had before, reconnected with others, and learned more about the history of our family. I learned about how our family has a debt of gratitude towards a Christian church in San Francisco Chinatown because they helped us have our babies there. We had to have our babies there because stepping a foot outside of Chinatown and into western white America was life threatening; because Roland Weary was waiting for us.
This conversation was an ignorant attack on my race and ethnicity and it showed me a whole new face of reality. It was an isolated incident of racist western Otherness that has changed my life forever. So much else was reflected in this use of speech. I ask, What has happened in our society to uphold these opinions and ideologies? What has reinforced them to the point Roland Weary felt comfortable enough to articulate them to my face? What has allowed these inherently racist ideologies to fester for so long in someone my age? Racism is not just burned crosses on peoples’ lawns. It’s the subtle but hateful fog that grows and creeps around us without a sound, and looks at others as less than human nonetheless. It is time we start calling that out too.
To those wondering how I didn’t hit Roland Weary in the moment, I did, without hesitation, but rather in the confusing heat of the moment ask him “what are you talking about you uncultured f*ck?”.