Are white names worth more than black names? That’s the question for Unemployed Black Woman Pretends to be White, Job Offers Suddenly Skyrocket, Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, and black names and white ridicule. Two different questions emerge when this is framed in terms of institutionalized racism:
First, the economic ramifications. Does having a “white sounding” name make you more employable? Yes. Undoubtedly. A white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. That’s some serious economic inequality. How does that affect the accumulation of wealth across generations? Especially now, how does that effect unemployment during our economic recovery? I’ll let you guess that answers to those questions.
Second, the emotional ramifications. Does social ridicule of unique black names mean more than social ridicule of unique rich names (Moon Unit, Apple, Diva Muffin)? One might argue that ridicule is ridicule and therefore the effect is equal regardless of the cause. One might also argue that the stigma of being African American is greater than the stigma of being rich, and therefore the internalized racism and self hate that might develop through the former has a greater negative effect than the latter.
These are both interesting and important things to consider. You know what’s missing from this conversation though? An Asian American perspective! Specifically, mine. I’ve got a pretty white sounding name. Even my middle name, which is Chinese, is a homonym/homophone for a traditional white name. There’s often a moment of disconnect when people meet me in person, after connecting with me via phone or email. Sometimes it’s slight — a pause or a smile — and sometimes its downright ridiculous — people who walk straight up to a white coworker instead or say “NO, I’m looking for [WHITE LAST NAME].” Are these reactions their attempts to take back the white privilege they were ready to assign? That’s certainly an argument for the validity of hypodescent.
Do these personal slights make up for the advantages I might gain from having a white persona on paper? It’s impossible to prove where I might be if my name were different. Or where I’d be if I chose to not represent my commitment to racial representation and equality on my resume.
Do women who marry into white names deal with this?
Those Beautiful Children
As a member of the mixed race club, I deal with people’s reactions to my appearance all the time. When I came across Callahan’s ruminations on rude/insensitive/ignorant remarks from a parent’s perspective, I thought “How wonderful it is to know that parents think about these things. That they want to help their children navigate their racial identity with honesty and self affirmation.
Here comes the big however.
A study (1) published in the June issue of the Journal of Asian American Studies suggests that the racial identity of children carried more weight/worry for Asian American mothers of mixed race children than it does for white fathers. It’s a small-sample, qualitative study of dual-professional mixed marriages. I’d love to read more about different permutations of interracial marriages, across class lines, and with a wider geographic dispersion. Because its an interesting conversation. Let’s continue that conversation, asking questions like:
How does my personal racial identity affect my choice of life partners?
How does my personal racial identity, and that of my partner, affect my children’s identity?
What are the compounding factors that make this conversation even more complex?
1. Chong, K. H.(2013). Relevance of Race: Children and the Shifting Engagement with Racial/Ethnic Identity among Second-Generation Interracially Married Asian Americans. Journal of Asian American Studies 16(2), 189-221. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
It’s the start of a new quarter. Just like in undergrad, us graduate students are busy meeting new people in all our classes, including written introductions for classes where many students are online.
That in itself is cool. Knowing people’s professional aspirations and existing skills makes picking project partners and study buddies much easier. My professional goals read something like this: I believe that our identities (racial, gender, socio-economics, sexuality, locale, etc.) have a gigantic impact on our worldview and the ways that people interact with us. I’m interested in the ways that digital technology can make information more accessible and increase social justice. My goal is to work with Asian American collections, historical and contemporary, to increase the visibility of and knowledge available about Asian American communities.
Too bad writing my professional goals makes me nervous. What I mean is I’m an Asian American, and my mixed-race heritage is important to me. I want to use my career to make sure that stories, poems, photos, etc. by and about Asian Americans are preserved and made available to anyone who wants them. I think this will help people build connections with each other and love their themselves more.
What I’m afraid people read is I’m an angry, self righteous person who loves Asian Americans best. If you disagree with me I will pick a fight that gets really personal and really uncomfortable incredibly quickly. Then no one will want to be my buddy, for studying or otherwise. But I write the truth anyway, because can’t let my own overactive imagination control me.
Number one question received in Japan: but where are you REALLY from?
Apparently, the global expectation for what-Americans-look-like is not me. I was asked by a Japanese man on the train. By Italian tourists at a sushi counter. By people in big cities and in smaller cities.
Happily, the American couple I met on Mt. Fuji believed that I was American right off the bat.
And oddly, the question bothered me less while abroad than it usually does in the US. Maybe it’s because vacation is too relaxing to get worked up over anything. And because I expect more from people who have spent their whole lives in a multicultural context. If you live in the United States, you should be familiar with the many types of people who make up the United States population. But if you’re used to living in an ethnically homogenous context, and your image of the US is based on TV shows and movies, then maybe I’ll cut you some slack. Because you’ve never encountered a mixed-race American in TV shows or movies and you’re understandably confused.
The inauthentic Negro is not only estranged from whites– he is also estranged from his own group and from himself. Since his companions are a mirror in which he sees himself as ugly, he must reject them; and since his own self is mainly a tension between an accusation and a denial, he can hardly find it, much less live in it… He is adrift without a role in a world predicated on roles.
— Anatole Broyard
Broyard himself was black, and passed for white in New York City after WWII. He wanted to be a writer, not a “Negro writer” and at least in those days, he felt that meant leaving behind his “Negro self”. It meant marrying a white woman, raising white children, and cutting off their contact with his family. He’s not writing about himself here, but maybe he is.
But have things changed since then? Is race more complicated now, or less?
A friend of mine reblogged this post (http://jasonandtjpoon.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/my-ethnical-dilemma/) and I have to say, it ruined my morning. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around a response for some time now. The short summary is that this guy hoped that his mixed race daughter would look white because it would make her life easier , even though he wants her to embrace both sides of her heritage, Asian and white. I felt quite literally sick as I tried to wrap my head around the implications of the post– did he think that the racism and prejudice that she faces as an Asian American aren’t worth the awesomeness of being Asian American? Or does he want her to pass, but only outside of her home?
I don’t want to vomit up a bunch of nonsensical ramblings. But I don’t want to put up nothing for the next week because I’m wrestling with this. This is what I know so far:
Reading the post hurt me on a personal level. I don’t know the guy who wrote it, I’m sure he’s very well meaning and nice, but it brought up so many bad memories for me. Of trying to convince people that I am Asian and I am white. And having people decide my identity for me, based on how I look. I’m not white looking enough to pass for white, but from other friends’ experiences I know that its an uphill battle trying to convince people you’re not white when you look white. Passing may spare you the pain of being a person of color, but it’s at the price of all the good things that come with being a person of color, like a sense of community and belonging.
Not sharing race with your parents hurts. I have always very much wanted to look like my parents. I think if you look close enough, you can see the resemblance. But that doesn’t stop some people from from assuming that we’re strangers. Questions like “which one is your dad?” take on extra importance. It negates a sense of belonging.
Being mixed is a unique consciousness, one that varies a lot depending on how people treat you. And how people treat you depends on how you look. As a grown woman, with the ability to make my own decisions, I can clearly say that I would never want to pass. Not for fully Asian, not for fully white. Standing on the boundaries means taking some dirt and hurt from both communities, but to negate that experience would make me a different person. And I don’t think that person would be better.
And if I have a child, I don’t want them to be able to pass for something they’re not. The answer isn’t hiding. The answer is something like recognizing prejudice and doing something about it. And certainly not letting it control you.
It had never occurred to me that my race shouldn’t change. Up until now, I’ve filled out the “race” bubble depending on my mood– I choose white when I feel white and Asian American when I feel Asian American. Occasionally I choose Other. When the form allows I check all three. And it didn’t occur to me until today that it might matter.
Today, I went down to the police station to fill out a background check for a new job. they want to make sure I’m not a serial killer or shoplifter. I had to fill in my race, weight, height, hair color, and eye color, all my identifying characteristics. It should have been easy, but there were no convenient codes that listed out acceptable answers. So I got back up to the counter and the counter lady says, “You left race blank. What race are you?”
And like a genius I said “…Umm. What are my choices?”
Hair, brown. Eyes, brown. Race, umm.
When I got home, I realized that some poor civil servant somewhere may try to reconcile records where I’m listed as white with records where I’m Asian American and be bothered by my lack of continuity. Maybe people are smart enough to put two and two together. Or maybe I look like a liar. That would be unfortunate. My race isn’t changing, just the normalized classification of it.