As children, our father used to take my siblings and I to the annual Dayton African American Cultural Festival (DAACF). I remember buying my first Africa-inspired jewelry... a red, black and green continent of Africa on a black leather cord. I think it had beads. I also remember being timid about wearing it in public. I longed to own a "100% Black Queen" t-shirt or a variation that I spotted at the festival, but I was worried that I would be called out as a poser or a fraud. It was the "100%" that troubled me as a child of a Black man and a Korean woman. My young mind couldn't reconcile what I believed was the exclusion of my Korean heritage from the celebration of my Black pride. Our father taught us that we were Black, regardless of what society labeled us. And though I secretly wished that I was 100% Black, the Africa-necklace stayed in my jewelry box and I never asked my daddy to buy me the "100% Black Queen" t-shirt.
My story is not unique. In elementary school, when taking standardized tests, I was sometimes forced to choose a race or instructed to "check all that apply." When I did have to choose one, my teachers and my parents said I had to choose Black. When I was teased by other children, it was because of my "slanty eyes", so Black felt safe...it felt strong. By the time I got to college, I was more militant than mild, to the point that my dad asked that I "tone it down," at least in public. Another layered lesson.
Years later, with the rise of social media, it became easy to connect with others who shared a similar heritage. At first, it was exciting to connect and swap stories of our bi-racial, bi-cultural experiences. It was a bittersweet mix of experiences... of immigrant parents worried their children wouldn't assimilate and find success in America... shame from not being able to speak our Mother tongue... unique blends of soul/seoul food at family meals... the embracing of our labels of "half" or "hapa"... Then I noticed how some of my fellow "Blasians" felt that by being "mixed" they were somehow the envy of all others. Just enough drops of Black, but not too much cause good hair and all.
Well, damn. Should I spoil the party and tell them that the "hateration" they feel may not be because of jealousy but due to their anti-blackness and self-hatred? That being called "exotic" was not necessarily the compliment they thought it was...? I did not want to confront the anti-blackness of my Black friends, regardless of their percentage of Blackness. I was not equipped and I was tired, so I pulled back.
Fortunately, I've discovered some thought-leaders who are working hard to combat anti-blackness and white supremacy in the Asian community, among other battles:
- Ranier Maningding, Writer, Love Life of an Asian Guy (LLAG)
- Alice Wong, Founder of the Disability Visibility Project
- David Shih, Professor, professorshih.blogspot.com
- Kathy Khang, Writer, Speaker, Coffee Drinker, kathykhang.com
- Jason Fong, Student, Writer, @jasonfongwrites
- Asians4BlackLives, a4bl.tumblr.com
If you have more to add, please let me know via twitter @onjena
So, what have I learned? I am not required to choose. I am 100% human.
And... I can say it loud. You don't have to be Black to celebrate Blackness. What the hell is 100% Black anyway? No, seriously, is there a test? Do we get a certificate? Is that what the race card is for? Or maybe, the 100% is about keeping it real.
FUTURE TOPICS: Celebrating vs Appropriating Blackness. Queen/King/Monarchy/Imperialist/Colonial shit must end.
~ Onjena Yo