IDing as poc and being white passing
September 10, 2012
I have a question. I’m half Chinese, half white, but I’m definitely white passing. I know this means that I’m privileged, but when people learn about my being Chinese, they sometimes treat me differently. Would it be wrong of me to refer to myself as a WOC, since I’m so often perceived as white, despite the fact that I’m half Chinese? In addition, I identify as genderqueer–would it be wrong of me to participate in a dialogue that covered the intersection of race and gender identity?
(con’t.) I just don’t want to be That White (Passing) Person Who Invades the Safe Space of People of Color, but at the same time, I’d really like to be in an environment where I can sit and chat about what my racial identity means to me. I’m really sorry if this is ignorant or offensive to any WOC who might read this. Thank you for your time.
There is a lot going on here. And I don’t have any definitive thoughts/feelings on the matter yet, since I’m still sorting through a whole bunch of different stuff. MMM’s response (the last link) to the the whole questions is good and nuanced (so is the rest of the discussion but in a different way). The other discussions are also good but are somewhat different because the history and cases of Indigenous people and white passing is a very different matter than people like you and I who are half-Asian but white passing.
The first thing I’ll say is that no one can tell you how to ID. This is your own business. The blackgirldangerous article that kind of spawned off a lot of the recent discussion about this was really focused on people with a grandparent or great grandparent who was a poc and acting as if they have a right to act as if they are poc in the same way as, say dark-skinned Black people.
At the end of the day, you’ll always be Chinese. No one, not a single person ever, can take this away from you. Person (or woman) of colour is a political organizing umbrella meant for solidarity. So, in asking whether or not you should ID this way, perhaps ask yourself these questions (questions I’m still internally debated and thinking over): what do I hope to accomplish by IDing this way? What does it mean for me to be a WoC? If I ID in this fashion am I going to be complicit in the oppression of others? In IDing this way, am I taking away or diverting attention/resources from other people?
This later question is what I’m hung up on and really the point of the rest of your ask re: safe spaces. And this is where us white passing people, regardless if you ID as a poc or not, need to be really careful. Because, you probably (as much as I do) do crave whiteness free environments. they just are important and can do a lot for allowing a little bit of space for healing, etc.
For myself, I’m developing the following guidelines: was I invited? As in, people who know me and know I’m white passing, did they invite me? Yes? Then it is a space I’ll enter. If it is more public thing, like I don’t know a support group or whatever, then maybe be prepared to explain your presence in the space. And, this is what I’m going to start to do, let everyone know that if they are either triggered or feel unsafe by your presence, that you’ll leave, no questions asked and no debate. And find some way for them to let you know anonymously.
The important thing, at least for me, is knowing that people who experience the worst and most overt kinds of racism (and this is on a colour based scale) have access to shit they need. And ensuring I stay out of the way. Note that none of this is about whether or not I ID as a poc, because that doesn’t really matter. And a lot of this is simply about checking your white passing/light skin privilege.
Another important thing re: participating in dialogues about race and gender, is that you are allowed to speak about your own experiences always. But ensure that you speak about your experiences and don’t appropriate the experiences of others. Like maybe your experience with racism is mostly institutional or the result of colonization or something (this is mostly me these days, which is why I mostly approach it from this angle).
You also have to be ready to take a seat and listen and centre the darker-skinned people who might be talking/sharing/or whatever. This is massively important. They gotta know and feel like they are centred, because it is as it should be. Let them be leaders, offer support and other stuff as needed.
I’m gonna finish writing by iterating something I said earlier: who are who you are. And no one can take this from you. You’ll always be Asian/Chinese. You’ll always be gq (unless you decide otherwise). You’ll never be white (regardless of how much you pass). Whether or not you ID as a WoC or PoC, isn’t quite the important part, since it is really more of a political vs. personal thing (because not even darker-skinned people need call themselves PoC and there may be some who do not for whatever reason).
You are, and always should be, allowed to voice and express your experiences as determined by your particular subjectivity and intersection of IDs. How and where you voice it may depend on your position relative to other people on a situational basis. But if your experiences include racism (as they likely do if you are half-Chinese and since it is also institutional), then speak about them.
You are always able to speak your truth. Always. Never, ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
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