“Wow, you speak such good English!”

I work in retail.  This means that I am constantly interacting with a large variety of people and making small talk with people who hold a wide range of beliefs, views and opinions.  Though most of these chats are superficial and consist of little more than simple careless exchanges of “how are you?” “good, how are you?” “good!” … “have a good day” “thanks, you too!”, I sometimes have more in-depth conversations — though often superficial conversations — with customers who typically have no where to go.  I can’t complain too much because I must admit, I enjoy these short conversations with strangers who sometimes make me giggle, sometimes make me happy, sometimes make me think, or even rarely make me angry.  My favorite is when these “stranger conversations” make me think.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a person say to me, “Wow, you speak such good English!”  I always cringe a little as a small piece of me dies inside when I hear this, but I am not at all surprised.  It’s the curse of being an Asian American (or a Latino/a American) — that is, the curse of being seen by the general majority (read: White Americans) as the Perpetual Foreigner.  Because I look “different”, I am automatically deemed as an alien, or as a foreigner, in the eyes of those who look like the idea of the White American.  I am seen as someone who must have immigrated or relocated to the United States from some sort of second class society or third world country in search of a better life.  I am seen as someone who must be fluent in my “native language” and who is struggling to quickly learn English for easier assimilation into American society.  This Perpetual Foreigner view instills into the minds of White Americans that I, along with all other brown skinned Americans, must be from somewhere outside of the United States, and thus, must speak English with some sort of accent.  This is why it surprises White people that I “speak English so well!”.

The United States is a country built on immigrants.  Its citizens are a blend of people of a myriad of differing ethnicities who have ancestry tracing back to a vast number of nationalities.  Unfortunately, very early on in the process of settling and establishing the United States, the concept of race was invented by those who deemed themselves “Whites” (and therefore better than those who were deemed “Non-Whites”), thus beginning the institution of systemic racism.  This invention proved to be extremely beneficial to “Whites” — they were able to control and hold power over every aspect of the development of the United States at the expense of those “Non-Whites”, or “Others”.  This invention grew as the institution of it forcefully expanded, creating what we know today as the United States of America.

What does all this have to do with me being seen as the Perpetual Foreigner?  What does it have to do with White people proclaiming to me “Wow, you speak such good English!”?  The fact is, within this framework, when a White American looks at a person of color and immediately thinks to him or herself, that person must be an immigrant or i wonder where that person is from, this White American is subconsciously thinking American is White.  Within this frame of thought, there is no room for people of color in the United States, and there is absolutely no room for racism to die.


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On the claim “Racism will go away if we stop talking about it”

As a woman of color who is passionate about racism studies and teaching anti-racism, I cannot recall how many times I have heard people say, “Racism will go away if we stop talking about it.”  Though this claim is nothing new to me, it never ceases to leave me almost dumbfounded at how someone could possibly believe in it.  It’s like saying, if we all pretend we’re rich, and stop talking about being poor…that one day, we will all be rich!  Or, if we stop talking about the economic depression, the Swine Flu, AIDS, and homosexuality…it will all magically go away!  If things were that simple, and if erasing racism were that simple, wouldn’t you think we’d already be living in the ideal world? 

I recently had a conversation with a woman I work with.  We chatted about various intelligent things, such as sexism in the retail industry, and things were going quite smoothly.  That is, until this woman (who we shall call Jan), brought up the fact that she is sick and tired of “President Obama and the lefties playing the race card”.  Intrigued by this statement of hers, I asked Jan to be more specific, and to elaborate on what she meant.  She went on and on about her sheer disgust at “the liberal agenda” and the “accusations of all whites as racists”.  She concluded her rant with the classic line, “Racism will go away if we just stop talking about it!” 

Racism is already like the big ol’ pink elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  It’s a touchy subject that often can end up causing accusations, offenses, and the like.  So how are we supposed to address the issue?  By not talking about it, we are all guilty of passively perpetuating it and of giving a free pass to those who spew racism, or who benefit from institutions built on racism.  But by talking about it, we are making ourselves vulnerable to being blamed for somehow actively perpetuating racism, or even worse, being labelled as trouble makers or racists ourselves.  Seems like a catch 22 either way.

Discussing racism and racist remarks, attitudes and beliefs is not about creating a dichotomy of racist/non-racist.  It’s not about placing blame or pointing fingers, but more about taking the opportunity to learn and educate.  Racism is a huge, complex problem because it matters.  It affects all the social institutions around us.  It affects the quality of life we can expect. Racism matters, and no one should be able to say “Oh, it will just go away if we stop talking about it”.  So what if it makes a few people uncomfortable?  We need to address racism when we see it and do it in an effective, educational way.  That is the only way to really help racism on its way out for good.

The bottom line is, racism was created by humans.  It was and is being perpetuated by humans every day, everywhere.  If racism was created by humans and continues to thrive because of humans, we as humans are responsible for progressively talking about it, just as we are able to erase it.

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Starting Anew.

Facebook blogging can only get one so far as a serious blogger.  That being the case, I will be starting anew as a WordPress blogger, and will be importing (edited) relevant stories from Facebook to this new home of mine within the next few days, as well as adding more anti-racist musings.  To keep up, bookmark this:


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