Recently, a white person imitated something I said in my local dialect (to someone else). They were not a close friend nor do we really share a bond resembling friendship (at least to me) and our only exchanges were either in passing or from sitting at the same table during meal times — hardly a testimony to affirm a kinship. However, seeing as we share a similar experience (apparently) of being “white” or “westernised” in their minds, since I am Eurasian, they have assumed I’d naturally choose to align myself with them. That didn’t happen.
Although this mockery may not have meant any “harm”, what it does is display an underlying issue of insecurity. There had been previous attempts by this individual in closing the gap between them and myself, but I’ve made them deeply uneasy by my chosen affinity with more “ethnic” peers. It strikes a chord that despite historic perceptions of white people as being superior that remain staunchly prevalent today, there is also a growing sense of animosity towards them in contrast, as other communities recognise the harm white people as a race have done in the world and aren’t afraid to vocalise that.
Over recent years, I’ve noticed how much white people really don’t like their race being brought to their attention. There are so many nestled in their privilege, to the point they can’t even place a finger or slap the harsh, cruel truth on it (as in, they be racist), that they would rely on comically pitiful pejoratives, be it making fun of an accent or sweeping statements in jest of an entire race and their attitudes or commenting on exotic cuisines of a… stronger scent.
One of the many nuanced experiences I endure in being biracial, particularly with having one white parent, is that my choices are acutely judged as they’re seemingly demonstrative of the ethnicity I’ve “sided” with. White folks who struggle with grasping my preference for non-white company or tenets attempt to subtly condescend me, whether it’s in what they say, how they say it or their behaviour around me. This has entailed commentary on appearing more “Asian” because of how my makeup is done (as if that matters?) or raised eyebrows in perplexity that I hold so much disdain from living in the UK in due part to the racism that continues to prevail there (I’ve written a post on this previously if you wish to read here) as well as many more. It’s a whole lotta baggage I don’t have much patience for carrying.
I’d like to disclaim first, I am a biracial womxn of Malay-English roots and by nationality a Malaysian. Much of our civilisation, government policies and state-official sectors are influenced if not completely inherited from Britain’s architecture of politics. My education orbited around the UK curriculum, as it was a British international school, and I was taught through the lens of the apparently most crucial perspective, Europe.(Any other culture is secondary or too inferior to even consider seriously.) An extra point to consider for context, I was born into the advent of the internet, pop culture and Hollywood entertainment, hence exposed to a predominantly western gaze.
Insofar it would only be natural to assume that with all the abundance of European and western culture I’ve been drowned in throughout my formative development years as a child and teen, I’d be so inclined to be white leaning or aspiring. The startling truth is, no I am not.
With the rise of international news inundating our feed across the multiplex of social media platforms, we collectively — especially younger generations — cannot totally escape from engaging in politics and human welfare more critically and constantly. The majority of my friends are not white, not out of choice but more so that I am not perceived as white (except to the Asian eye of many — a fairly jarring phenomenon to those I impart this detail to, as I am branded white by Asians and Asian by whites) levelling us and tingling an unspoken connection we don’t really elaborate on but intrinsically understand based on our exclusion of white spaces and company. I’ve never detached myself from my Malaysian roots despite my close proximity to whiteness.
It was never a motive of mine to reject or distance myself from the white part of my identity but for some reason, the universal think tank is crippled by an illusion of the binary — that if we are one thing, we cannot be the other. As is evinced here, if I am more sentimental about my Malaysian side, then I must be totally removed from anything English, or so convinces some people. Our framework has been constructed by the West’s practical approach with the regimented application of labels to define (and often, in turn, treat) what we otherwise cannot explain, which leaves little room for ambiguity and, furthermore, freedom. Look at gender and its classification of merely two types indoctrinated by the masses, eschewing any consideration that we could expand beyond man/woman, as one example. Or perhaps ponder on the rudiments of good/bad and how we might either identify people as good or bad based on our own personal curation of carefully selected qualities of said people. It discredits contradictory facets of certain individuals that would otherwise invite uncomfortable truths to surface and thus absolve them of accountability of doing “bad” things in spite of being a “good” person or vice versa.
I have never loosened my grip on the liberalism and philosophies that the west has taught me and I’ll admit, I owe a great debt to western socialist, communist and feminist pioneers, but as I’ve grown older, my rose-tinted glasses fading more into translucency, I’ve both unconsciously and consciously attempted severing my connection with whiteness.
Ironic, isn’t it? That the very foundations of my edifices and views of the world were influenced by the west and yet it is the west that I have become fiercely critical of.
It hasn’t stopped some white people I meet from feeling bewildered, though, and wondering why exactly would I opt to hang out with Asians over them. It rattles them, posits them in a most awkward plight that I, a fluent English-speaking biracial person of English descent, would prefer to be friends with anyone who isn’t white. To them, it seems only fair that if I have noticeably adopted western colloquialisms, habits and languages, I should want to surround myself with peers like them. This is not the case, so when these specific white people are forced to grapple with that reality, their projections of self-doubt show up in remarkably petty ways.
The contrary is notably staggering whereby if these same white people and I are in an environment of primarily other white people, I would not even come close to entering their social periphery. If I were to mock anything pertaining to their white or western attributes, it would not be espousing the same calibre of degradation as it would towards a Asian or Black person, given the racialised dynamics we currently exist in.
It may seem I’m clutching at the invisible lint of applying race in my analyses of my social interaction with white people but allow me to assert I do not speak for all white people I meet. It takes a unique set of circumstances for me to notice this type of behaviour, such as work environments or social settings like a party involving a manifold of people (and, to be fair, I am not frequently in the vicinity of both white and Asian bodies simultaneously unless they’re long-term friends already).
I don’t deliberately go out of my way to avoid white people as friends but it can’t be surprising that I am a little more guarded around them. My experience with white people and whiteness has been smeared catastrophically by the ways I’ve seen, first-hand, white people treat PoC alongside all the myriad microaggressions I’ve personally received by them. Not to mention all the gaslighting or dismissals when I address their whiteness, shaking any grounding to indulge in honest conversation and detract from any possibility for affirmative action. It’s further submerged me into a pool of distrust and cynicism when engaging with it and them at all.
My penchant for PoC in western spaces is there’s often a shared, non-verbalised understanding that we are not white and therefore cannot access the bounty of privileges that is granted from being white, and that we do not really belong. We don’t necessarily need to state this explicitly but it’s there. Alternatively, in an environment where the ‘minority’ is the majority, I will almost always find solace in certain individuals who emulate qualities and interests akin to mine. It may not always have to be identity politics, yet there’s no denying that can play a significant role. Oftentimes I find white people in this latter context are either 1 of 2 types: they assimilate with the people around them, regardless of race, or they do not integrate at all. A slight crossover may occur by way of circumstances (such as being seated together or mingling at a gathering) but you can certainly pick up on who some white people create allegiance with comparatively to the superficial or hollow ways they engage with non-white folks.
The thing is, a lot of white people aren’t exposed to engaging with other ethnicities, nor do they need to be, seeing as many nations and cultures have implemented starkly western elements into their own with the effects of globalisation and colonialism. Naturally this allows white people to navigate in this world quite smoothly without much obstruction. They don’t learn to really adapt the same way PoC are expected to when we find ourselves in white-dominant circumstances since they have almost no incentive to.
It hardly helps that other ethnic groups, such as numerous Asiatic and African cultures, are so besotted with whiteness and the connotations it has (success, attractiveness, models of idolatry — I mean, look at mainstream Jesus) that they feed into the white supremacy narrative. The only approach to legitimise anything, whether it’s beauty standards or polities or education or anything else, is its congruency to whiteness and Eurocentrism. The more analogous to Eurocentrism and everything it embodies, the more cogent it is. We can’t be surprised when we find the thinly veiled arrogance in white people conveyed in either obstinate or infuriating habits and tendencies, such as mocking an accent.
As I’ve touched on in previous posts, the colonial history that has been perennially censored and venerated to appease white people is a detriment to the cultural attitudes towards PoC by everyone, including PoC themselves. Too frequently we see reflections of self-loathing with not being white. Until we start thoroughly unpacking the empire’s wrongdoings and deplorable acts of colonisation, in lieu adding merit to our own cultures and histories, white people will eternally feel entitled that we, the rest of the world, owe it to them for the supposedly progressive society we live in.
I’m seeing more often these days the stark discomfort from white people feeling excluded from social settings, and it is more palpable when they have grown to feel so familiar with the reassurance that any space they wander into is one that they’re granted indisputable access to. We have seen hints of this with the age-old incessant desire to argue over why they can’t use the “n” word. Times are changing, and a lot of us who have been repeatedly oppressed by colonial infrastructure and systems are done with catering our behaviours and livelihoods to and for white people.
So, if you’re a white person, either get used to dealing with the reality that PoC are challenging the false erroneous epitome of excellence you’ve set yourself up to be, or move on because the truth is, until you start confronting your whiteness and the privileges it bestows you, we don’t wanna hang out with you.