Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

You may remember friend of SP Mean Asian Girl from her previous guest post, The Fantasy of Being White. We loved that post so much that we asked her to weigh in on that most vexing of seemingly innocuous little internet games: the Facebook celebrity twin meme. Thanks, MAG! — Sweet Machine

Oh? No!

Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

By Mean Asian Girl

(with a little help from the SP crew)

When I first heard about the Facebook celebrity doppelganger meme, my first thought was, “Where do I find a picture of [Asian woman most recently and/or frequently seen by whomever I’m speaking to]?”

See, because I’ve been told I look like several different people, the most recent being Sandra Oh. Most of you don’t know what I look like, but suffice it to say, not like Sandra Oh. My friend Charles, who is black*, and happens to think Sandra Oh is hot, doesn’t see any resemblance at all. Then again, Charles’ opinion of Oh may be in the minority.

OK, let me digress for a moment. I googled Sandra Oh, expecting the first thing to pop up would be her IMDB profile. Before I finished typing, the first suggestion that popped up was “Sandra Oh ugly.” Which was where I found that Asian Bite website. So maybe the whole idea of anyone trying to pay me a compliment is not the case. I am tempted to start a discussion of whether people think Oh’s very Korean-ness is what makes her ugly. Maybe some other time. I’m a bit too stunned at the moment.

But anyway, years and years ago, someone told me I looked just like the girl in “Karate Kid II,” who, if you notice, does not look very much like Sandra Oh. In fairness, I probably look more like Sandra Oh than like Tamlyn Tomita.

As it turned out, the very cool women here at Shapely Prose were having their own discussion of the racial/ethnic-fail aspects of the doppelganger meme and were kind enough to invite me to join in.

Eventually, we touched on how Janet Jackson and Kristy McNichol have the same face, Elvin from the Cosby Show, the appropriate celebrity doppelganger for Kate’s husband Al, and a staged reading of The Big Lebowski, but prior to that, we made some more serious observations about white privilege and doppelgangers.

And first, we agreed that I look nothing like Sandra Oh.

“This seems like one of those Facebook exercises that’s mostly about a certain kind of girl getting to wank about how hot she is without looking conceited,” Kate said. But fair enough, I guess. If someone told you you looked like Anne Hathaway, or Blake Lively, or, for that matter, Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry, wouldn’t you want to tell people?

Problem is, if we’re talking about Hollywood stars, or even prominent women known by most U.S. residents in general, the pool gets awfully shallow if you’re not white. Kate told me, “I can think of like four Asian-American actresses off the top of my head, and none of them, except possibly Keiko Agena**, have characteristics I could see as part of a recipe for you.”

Part of a recipe. Sure. But we can’t do collage profile pictures. Or at least I can’t. So I have to settle for what other people think. Because, really, what most people see when they look at me is that I’m Asian, I have epicanthic folds over my eyelids, flattish face, black hair, etc. And what do you know? Sandra Oh also has epicanthic eyelids, a flattish face and black hair! So does Tamlyn Tomita! Though, actually, based on the Tamlyn Tomita comparison, they’re not even paying particularly close attention to my hair.

At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” I once worked at a news service with two African-American women, Robin and Debbie. Robin was probably 5-2, close-cropped hair, round face and very loud and outgoing. Debbie was 5-6, longer hair, thin face and quiet. They did not start working there anywhere near the same time, nor did they cover the same beat. Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones. Any of you who do not have similar stories have either never worked with more than one minority or have worked in remarkably enlightened workplaces.

Of course, it’s not just about skin color and ethnicity. Kate knows a couple of dark-haired fat women who wanted to go as Pat Benatar for Halloween, but didn’t because everyone would assume they were Beth Ditto. I mean, you’re fat, you’re a rock chick … duh. Fillyjonk mentioned how people told her she looked like Kate Winslet when Winslet was in her relatively fat*** state

I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow. I’m just saying, well, maybe I should point you all to Sepia Mutiny for a little more perspective. If I may digress a bit, the line “If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,” is horrifying. But maybe I’m still hung up on the “Ugly Sandra Oh” issue.

If you don’t feel like reading through that whole post, try Fillyjonk, who puts the matter pretty succinctly for a privileged white girl:

“Getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color and body type is bad enough,” she said. “But getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color, period, elides your actual features even more.”

To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

*I mention this for no reason other than to wonder if perhaps this is a white thing. I’m not sure any person of color has told me I look like Sandra Oh, including, obviously, anyone Asian.

**Though I had seen “Gilmore Girls” once or twice, I had no idea who Keiko Agena was until Kate mentioned her. I am old compared to the SP crew, esp. when you consider that I saw “Karate Kid II” when it came out in theaters.

***i.e., Hollywood fat

“but who can distinguish one human voice amid such choruses of desire”

America lost a great voice this weekend: the poet Lucille Clifton died. She was 73 years old.

Clifton wrote wonderful, poignant, witty poems whose formal simplicity belies their emotional and political depth. She wrote of the realities of living in a large, black, female body in a racist, sexist culture; she survived cancer and wrote of the joys of the body in the face of mortality. I hope all Shapelings have run across the marvelous, body-loving “homage to my hips“:

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.

Read the rest here.

From “scar” (in The Terrible Stories, which has a section on breast cancer):

we will learn
to live together.

i will call you
ribbon of hunger
and desire
empty pocket flap
edge of before and after.

You can find a longer collection of Clifton’s poems, as well as an introductory essay to her work, at the Poetry Foundation. Warning: tissues may be needed. Clifton’s poems touch on abortion, whiteness, hate crimes, war, menstruation, grief, and so many other “terrible stories;” yet they vibrate with such compassion and clarity of vision that it’s easy to forget how tough and nervy they are. Blessing the Boats, her selected poems from 2000, is an excellent entry point for new readers, and a powerful testament to the importance of Clifton’s voice to our culture.

I’ll let Lucille Clifton end this post herself, with a video of her reading in 2008.

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton. Thank you for being one human voice.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember transgender victims of violence. Here’s a list of the people we’re remembering in 2009. Please take a moment to read their names and stories — what is known of them — and think about these people, mostly young women, who suffered often exceptionally brutal violence for their gender identity or presentation.

But don’t stop there. It’s important to have a day to remember the dead, who are often in danger of being ignored, but there are victims of anti-trans bigotry every day, and that bigotry is also ignored or glossed over or made light of or even lauded. Liss at Shakesville wrote about how TDOR is about remembering the victims of discrimination and indifference as well as the victims of anti-trans violent crime:

Lacking federal employment protections, transgender men and women are at higher risk for lack of insurance, adding to the difficulty of securing routine medical care from welcoming practitioners. Transmen, for example, frequently have trouble locating accommodating gynecological services for annual pap smears, risking undiagnosed cervical cancer. The great 2001 documentary Southern Comfort spans the last year in the life of Robert Eads, who died of ovarian cancer after two dozen doctors refused him treatment.

That’s the kind of hate crime that doesn’t make headlines. Or even federal hate crimes statistics.

We remember all the victims of violence and apathy today.

Kate wrote about TDOR at Broadsheet, and highlighted the fact that many of the violence victims were members of multiple oppressed groups — not only were they trans, but most were women and many of those with photos seem to be people of color. She quotes Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia, who writes:

So it seems to me that to unite all trans people under one banner ignores the specifics of death – sex (the majority are trans women), race (Latina and black), class and occupation (sex work) are as important factors as transness.  Appropriating those deaths for political work seems dubious to me at best.

Queen Emily goes on to say, though, that while transphobia may not be the only contributing factor in these murders, it adds an element of silencing that TDOR is designed to counteract:

So what I want to acknowledge is that there’s a paradox, that no trans person can truly witness for the murdered–especially those we’ve never met.  And yet, with due caution, I think we should.  Not to further our own goals, not to get legislation passed that protects only the already-privileged or to wallow in self-pity, but to honour the memories of every single trans person murdered this year, and to acknowledge the violence that our community lives with as a whole.  To acknowledge that even in death, transphobia and cissexism mean that the murdered are not properly remembered, not even by the correct names and pronouns–and those people should be remembered as the right sex.

I’d add, for our cissexual readers, that the prevalence of intersecting oppressions in murders of transgender people, while it in no way lessens the need for transgender victims to have their own dedicated day of remembrance, should also remind us that standing for social justice means standing together, even (especially) with groups who are often still being relentlessly othered even by progressives.

I want to close with a link to Gudbuytjane’s terrific post about her struggle to come to terms with TDOR, because I basically just want to quote the whole thing:

I used to distance myself from the Trans Day of Remembrance. It made me angry, and in ways I couldn’t discuss with my mostly cisgender community (as some of that anger was directed at them, inevitably). … So I kept away, head down and earphones in as November 20th snuck past my peripheral vision, exhaling only when it was gone for another year. Still, on my own I found myself on the internet, reading the stories of the dozens of trans women who are brutally murdered every year. I learned their names and their faces, and soon this cisgender dominance began to slip. I felt myself reclaiming my own experience of the day, my relationship to these women who died, and ultimately my responsibility to them. …

In the face of a cisdominant culture that enforces false narratives to keep trans women marginalized, it is imperative we make our voices heard. I’ve written about this before, and I believe it is an essential process for dismantling cissupremacy. The most important voices to be heard are our dead, and the responsibility for those voices lies with those of us who are still alive. Not for cis culture to consume, not even for ourselves, but for these women who are no longer with us; By giving them dignity we give ourselves dignity, and demand it from a culture which withholds it from us. Even if it is only knowing their name or a tiny bit of their story, it gives back to them some of the humanity their killers took.

Although cisdominant media inevitably focuses on the murders of these women, pieces of the stories of their lives nonetheless get through. This is how she died is supplanted for brief moments by This is how she lived. Amplify that. Know the stories of their lives, and tell the stories of your own. Not just on November 20th, but every day.

Cissexual readers, please let this Transgender Day of Remembrance be a day of transgender awareness, not only of how transgender men and women die but also of how they live, and the silencing and othering they face in both. For trans readers, of course, every day is a day of transgender awareness, but please know we’re with you.

ETA: Just saw a post from Meloukhia that does a better job of what I was saying in my last paragraph than I did.

High five a gay kid today

There’s a really wonderful article in the NYT magazine this week about queer teenagers and how cultural changes have made it safer (in many but not all areas of the US) to come out in middle school. The gist of the article is that the increased visibility of queer people in the culture at large has made it easier for kids to identify and articulate their own sexual identities, and it makes their peers more likely to accept them. Overall, despite the fact that anti-gay bullying is still widespread, many middle schools have become less like sex-and-gender torture systems and more like safe spaces. I cannot even tell you how delighted I am to hear this.

The angle I want to discuss here is not just about happy gay kids (though it cannot be repeated enough: happy gay kids! omg!), but about a word that never appears in the article but which underlies the whole thing: normativity. In this article specifically, the main cultural shift appears to be a weaking of heteronormativity. Kids these days know there are people who are not straight, and that those people aren’t doomed to lovelessness or criminality. Part of how they know this is because of pop culture, and part is this here series of tubes we’re all on. Take the case of a 12-year-old bi girl named Kera:

Kera says she was 10 when she realized she was interested in both sexes. “It was confusing for a while, because for some reason I thought that you had to be straight or gay, and that you couldn’t be both,” she told me at the coffee shop. “So I thought about it a lot, like I do about everything, and I went online and looked up bisexuality to read more about it. I realized that was me.”

This story, in its very simplicity, just about kills me, because I was Kera as a teen. My diaries from elementary school are filled with “I love so-and-so” hearts with both boys’ and girls’ names in them; my middle school days were spent furtively staring at both the widening shoulders of boys and the widening hips of girls. But I had no word for it back then, and I didn’t have Professor Google, so I just felt… well, weird. The first time I heard the word “bisexual” used in a casual way (as in, not as an insult or in a tone of disgust), it was electrifying. It was like something woke up inside of me; something in myself stood in recognition. I was 15, and a lot of my friends were dating, but I wasn’t — I was too busy having super-intense friendships with sexual tension that couldn’t be talked about because I was too busy trying to wish it away. I literally cannot imagine how different my adolescence would have been if I, like Kera, could have just looked it up and found other people like me.

The adults featured in this article are not, generally, as quick to accept this less heteronormative world as their kids are. Many of them doubt their queer children, wondering how they can possibly “know” when they’re so young, or before they’re sexually active. As the author points out, straight kids are not doubted when they have sexual or romantic feelings at the same age; many of them, in fact, are encouraged. Kera is lucky to have a mom who sees right through the fog of heteronormativity to accept what her daughter tells her:

“My first reaction to the poem [in which Kera came out], which she slipped under my bedroom door before going to hide in her room, was that she seemed really worked up about this,” her mother recalled. “But I knew I was interested in boys when I was her age, so it didn’t strike me as unusual that Kera might know she’s interested in boys and girls, put two and two together and call herself bisexual. Kids just know what those words mean a lot earlier than when I was growing up.”

You rock, Kera’s mom! Kera’s mom has passed Empathy and Cultural Diversity 101: she thinks of herself and her own experiences, compares them to her daughter’s, and acknowledges that while different, they are just variations in standard human behavior. Kera’s mom had crushes and sexual fantasies as a teenager, so she gets that Kera does, too — and she knows that if she definitely liked boys, it makes sense that her daughter would be definite about who she likes too, even if it’s different from her own desires.

Kera’s mom,* could you please adopt every queer kid in the country? Kthx!

I know this is my week for tortured analogies here, but I think that there’s something to be said for FA here, too. When we depathologize states of being that are considered abnormal, we can reveal the normative structures that propped up our pathologizing in the first place. When we accept that the categories we’re accustomed to are not best described as X and not-X (straight and not straight, thin and not-thin, etc.) but as X and Y and probably Z too, we see that X was only considered “normal” because it was important to people who are X to view it that way. When we look from a standpoint of celebrating human diversity, it seems bizarre to think of Z as abnormal or the “opposite” of X: Z is its own way of being. Thin people and straight people aren’t required to explain away their bodies and desires; they’re not asked “How do you know you’re straight?” or “Have you ever thought about trying not to be thin?” Social justice movements aren’t simply trying to flip things around and make it so that those questions do get asked of “normal” people, too; they’re trying to get rid of these demeaning, eliminationist questions in the first place.

And for some lucky kids and their cool friends and understanding teachers and awesome moms, that seems to be working.

*Or, as I probably would have called her when I was 12, Mrs Kera.

Quote of the day: Normal

I take the war on terror personally because the war on terror is really a war on difference, because my body strikes terror in the hearts of other Americans.

My body and the bodies of the people I love are the most intimate sites of American imperialism. Because our sex anatomy isn’t normal, they operate on us without our consent. Because who we have sex with isn’t normal, they won’t let us get married. Because our gender isn’t normal, they don’t give us jobs, health care, or housing. We work, we pay rent, we pay taxes, but because we’re not normal, we don’t get the same freedoms other Americans enjoy, the same freedoms American soldiers are murdering to protect.

Normal is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s just as deadly, and just like those weapons, it’ll never be found.

— Thea Hillman, Intersex (for lack of a better word), 2008

I very highly recommend this book: it’s fascinating and moving.

“This is what happens to black men in America”

Alternate title: Jesus H., Fellow White People, Shut Your Mouths and Use Your Brains for Five Minutes, Would You?

So, I can’t stop thinking about Henry Louis Gates, Jr., being arrested at his own home last week. Very short version: He got home from a trip to China, found his front door jammed, let himself in the back, and then worked with his driver (also a black man) to open the front door. A white neighbor* witnessed their efforts to unjam the door and called the police to report a suspected break-in. Cops showed up when Gates was already inside the house, and well, details are hazy — not surprisingly, the police report differs substantially from Gates’s statement — but basically, Gates produced i.d. proving it was his house, he and the cop argued, argument moved outside, and Gates got arrested on his front porch for disorderly conduct. (The charges were dropped today.)

Here’s the thing: Even if every word of the police report is gospel truth — up to and including Gates using the words “yo momma” — the man did not commit a fucking crime. And why was the officer even there long enough for the argument to escalate? How is there any possible response to proof that the resident is the man accused of “breaking in” other than, “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding, sir. Just being cautious. Have a nice day”? That’s even if the guy is being a belligerent prick about it — because I’m sorry, who wouldn’t be a belligerent prick after getting off a long flight, coming home to a jammed door, then finding a cop in your living room accusing you of trying to steal your own shit? I sure would.

There are so many layers to this story and so much we don’t know, which means lots of people are trying to be all devil’s advocatey about it and suggest that Gates bears responsibility for making matters worse. But, even without knowing all the details, I just cannot imagine a scenario in which it was legal or ethical to arrest the man. It seems to me that at the very worst, Gates acted like an asshole, which is not illegal in any state. And I simply cannot imagine how a middle-aged, academic white man in a polo shirt would have ended up in the back of a fucking squad car, short of actually taking a swing at the cop. That’s the issue here. Compare Gates to a white man of the same age, wealth and accomplishments — i.e., someone who would be viewed, without question, as having more power in this society than a white uniformed police officer  — and the idea of the cops arguing with and eventually arresting him for expressing anger at being accused of burgling his own fucking home is simply asinine.

Pam Spaulding offers a few questions for discussion:

  • Would a white professor have been subject to the same suspicion by the woman who called in the report of a break-in?
  • While a white prof wouldn’t have yelled “I’m a black man in America”, say he had said something to the effect of “is there some reason you’re standing in front of my home?” and proceeded to engage angrily in the same manner. Would he be arrested?
  • Would a white prof react as strongly to the police officer’s initial inquiry since he would not be a victim of racial profiling?
  • Did Dr. Gates’s explosion of anger in his own home warrant an arrest? Is this a manifestation of the “angry black man” phenomenon, where the lower threshold of public anger by black men is seen as more threatening than it would be for a white man?
  • Was the fact that Gates threw down the “don’t you know who I am?” card a mitigating factor?

Let’s take those one by one.

1) Maybe, maybe not, in this particular instance. This woman could be a stone cold racist or she could be a watchful neighbor who only wanted to do Gates a good turn, or anywhere in between — perhaps not consciously racist but steeped in the same racist society we all are, so she reacted more strongly to the sight of two black men trying to force the door than she would have if they’d been white. It’s possible that she only had a clear view of the driver, not Gates, and that’s why she didn’t recognize her neighbor. It’s possible she would have done the exact same thing if he had been white. It’s possible she’s already been by his house with a big plate of cookies and a heartfelt apology, and Gates has assured her it wasn’t her fault. Even if all that were true of this one woman, though, it’s hardly evidence that we live in a post-racial society — yet people keep arguing as if it matters to the big picture whether she’s a white supremacist or just Gladys Kravitz. It doesn’t. It’s really not hard to believe these two things at once: She did not necessarily do anything wrong or overtly racist, and yet we live in a racist society where white people call the cops on black people for being black all the goddamned time, which is relevant to this conversation regardless of what’s in this one person’s heart. Why are people so concerned with defending her, to the exclusion of acknowledging that Gates was a victim of racist bullying and a bullshit arrest either way?

2) No. See what I said above. I’m picturing my dad 15 years ago here — not an academic (in fact a high school drop-out), but a successful white businessman, short, medium-build, same age. Now, my dad in particular probably wouldn’t have gone ballistic — he pisses himself talking to customs agents at the U.S./Canada border — but let’s say he did. Let’s say he reacted the way, oh, his youngest daughter — who goes apeshit when asked to produce a receipt on her way out of Best Buy and would end up on a no-fly list if she were ever stupid enough to say what goes through her head while enduring the uselessly invasive pageantry of airport security  — probably would. As in, “What the fuck is this? You’re in my house with a gun, demanding to see i.d.? And now I’ve shown you i.d., and you’re still fucking treating me like a criminal instead of apologizing and getting the fuck out of MY HOUSE? I want your name and badge number. This is BULLSHIT. GET OUT.” My cute little white dad would totally not get arrested for that. The cops might not like it — nobody likes getting yelled at — but even if they wanted to put him in his place, they would think twice about the kind of connections wealthy, middle-aged white men often have, about what would happen if he sued, about whose side their superiors would be on. They would be operating in a culture where wealthy, middle-aged white men who yell a lot and berate people just trying to do their jobs are feared and fucking respected, even when they don’t have good reason for it. Which, in this case — if the officer said anything other than, “Sorry about the misunderstanding” after i.d. was produced — our imaginary white man actually would.

3) Probably not. I mean, as I indicated above, I am a white person who has big, big problems with the attitude that “If you’re not doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t mind being [searched/questioned/asked to show i.d./otherwise treated like a possible criminal].” I can rant for an hour straight about having to show i.d. to buy cough medicine. But then again, I do it. And personally, I’ve never had an unsettling encounter with a police officer — which is a function of both luck and white privilege, as well as my generally law-abiding nature — so I wouldn’t be primed to assume the worst.

So if a cop showed up in my house, I imagine I’d mostly be bewildered. As a woman, if I were alone, I’d be wondering whether he was really a cop and if I was about to be attacked by a strange man in my home. If he had his gun drawn, I’d be scared shitless. But once he explained why he was there, and it became clear that there was no physical threat, I would cease to be frightened. And that part is pure white privilege — I have no reason to be frightened of an actual cop who is actually there doing his job (as opposed to actual cops who drop by to rape you), when I’m not actually accused of anything. This is simply not true for people of color. They have a damned good reason to remain anxious, just as all women have a damned good reason to be anxious when strange men show up at their door — not because all cops are violent racists or all men are rapists, but because enough are that you can’t fucking afford to assume there’s no potential risk to your safety and/or liberty.

But given that I would indeed cease to be frightened once I realized what was going on — oh, somebody thought I was breaking into my own place, I get it — chances are, my good-hostess conditioning would overwhelm the righteous civil libertarian in me, and I’d get my i.d. without a fuss. If the officer did respond with, “OK, sorry about the misunderstanding, ma’am,” I would probably even get fucking solicitous. Oh, no problem, I understand, you’re doing your job! Better safe than sorry! This is because, as a white person, I would have no reason to assume there was anything going on beyond a simple misunderstanding. If someone called 911 because she thought I was breaking into my own place, there would be zero doubt that the color of my skin was not a factor. And if I handed the officer an i.d. showing that I’m a resident at this address, it is highly unlikely that he would push the matter any further, because one i.d. is more than enough proof for most white people to trust that this other white person is who she says she is. If it were a simple matter of a cop doing his job, based on a neighbor’s unfortunate misunderstanding, it would be over in five fucking minutes for a white person.

And if it weren’t, well, that brings us to Pam’s next question.

4) No, it did not warrant an arrest (see answer to question 1), and yes, the “Angry Black Man” phenomenon is certainly at play. And here is where a bunch of white commenters, even at blogs where I expect people to get it, are really making my head explode. As Shark-Fu puts it:

Now, here’s what always happens when a charge of racial profiling-based ig’nance is made – folks will talk about giving the officers involved the benefit of the doubt even though they didn’t give Professor Gates an inch even after he produced two forms of identification in his own damn house proving that they were all standing in his motherfucking house…other folks will blame Professor Gates for getting testy while being accused of breaking into his own damn house even though he was being hassled about whether or not he had the right to be in his own damn house which he proved was his house when he produced two forms of identification whilst standing in his own damn house…and still others will defend the officers involved no matter what evidence is revealed because they think Professor Gates was acting uppity and uppity negroes deserve the wrath of the law when they let themselves get uppity about being harassed in their own damn houses and since when do they let black folk have houses, don’t they know that makes them uppity?!?

The problem (well, one of them) is, too many white people imagine the scenario going pretty much as I described in answer 3. Cop says, “Neighbor thought you were breaking in,” you say, “Oh, ha, it’s my own house, here’s my i.d.!” and the cop apologizes and goes away. Because A) that actually is how it would be likely to happen for us, and B) the words “a neighbor thought you were breaking in” would not, in themselves, be loaded. Your first thought might be, “That’s weird,” or “Maybe she didn’t recognize me because I was wearing a hat,” or “Wow, what a fucking busybody!” But your first thought would not be, “Oh, of course she saw a white person forcing the door and assumed it was a crime in progress. Jesus Christ. Welcome home.” That would, in fact, be a completely unreasonable response for a white person, on account of how NOBODY EVER ASSUMES WHITE PEOPLE ARE CRIMINALS JUST BECAUSE WE’RE WHITE.

But if I were a black person, especially a man? You’re damn right I’d hear “Someone thought you were breaking in” differently; from the word go, the entire exchange would have a different tenor to it. And it is entirely possible I’d go from zero to righteously pissed off in that instant, the same way I do when somebody hits an anti-feminist bingo square and then gets all, “What? Why are you so angry, when all I said was [B3]?” White people need to acknowledge that even if we wouldn’t get immediately testy in that situation, there are some very good reasons why a black man would. And then we need to acknowledge that this culture routinely casts black men as criminals, as apes, as ready to kick ass or kill at a moment’s notice — so when a black man does get testy, white people will often perceive it as a direct threat and (over)react accordingly. Which, you know, doesn’t help the situation. “I would act differently, so if he got that angry that fast, he brought it on himself” is not a sufficient fucking analysis here. You would act differently because you have been treated differently your whole life.

And even if you did act like an arrogant jerk for no good reason in your own home, you would probably not get arrested for it, because that right there is part of the different treatment. This is not rocket science.

5) This one depends on whether Pam’s asking if it actually mitigated the cop’s behavior (no) or merely blurs people’s perception of who’s to blame (yes). I mean, “Do you know who I am?” is always an asshole statement, but A) if anyone’s earned the right to say it, surely it’s Professor Gates; B) as I said earlier, being an asshole is legal; and C) go back to that scenario featuring my dad in the role of the falsely accused. When we look at fiftysomething white guys in very nice houses and very nice clothes, surrounded by very nice things, we see power — or at least, potential power. We see the likelihood of friends in high places, of golfing buddies who are cutthroat lawyers, of his kid going to private school with a senator’s kid. We see entitlement. Which means we see a guy who could fuck us up — legally and financially, not physically — if we gave him reason. Gates, as it turns out, is pretty much that kind of guy — the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to arrest without a reeeeally good reason. But because he’s black, this cop didn’t think, “Hmm, I wonder if he’ll have a disproportionately  good lawyer, and this will end up all over the papers, and it’ll all be a total clusterfuck that’s so not worth the satisfaction of cuffing him to show who’s boss right this second.” However dickishly, Gates was pretty much warning him of just that outcome — an outcome anyone with half a brain could have envisioned if he did, in fact, know who the professor was. Or if the professor had been white.

Gates gave an interview to the Washington Post today that’s well worth a read. “There are one million black men in jail in this country and last Thursday I was one of them,” he says, continuing:

This is outrageous and that this is how poor black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It’s one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it. [Major snip.] I think that poor people in general and black people in general are vulnerable to the whims of rogue cops, and we all have to fight to protect the weakest among us. No matter how bad it was going to get, I knew that sooner or later I would get to a phone and one of my friends would be there to help.

That’s the thing that’s different about this story. Gates knew it was utter bullshit, knew his rights, and knew the right people to get himself out of there and make a huge stink about it. But this sort of crap and much worse happens again and again and again to black men who also know it’s bullshit but don’t have the power to do anything about it. And on the relatively rare occasion when it gets media attention, my fellow white people cling to the just world theory and scramble to explain what the guy did wrong, how he brought it on himself, how different choices would have led to a different outcome, how it’s not a matter of institutionalized racism but individual behavior.

You’d hope that this sort of example would be a wake-up call, but you’d be wrong. If I see one more person saying, “Well, if he’d just X instead of Y, none of this would have happened,” I am going to fucking lose it. A 58-year-old man who’s accomplished more than most of us could hope to in three lifetimes was arrested at his own home for being angry that a police officer walked in there and treated him like a criminal. And even liberal white people respond by saying, “Hey, it happens to us, too,” and Monday morning quarterbacking this specific instance out the wazoo, instead of acknowledging that this kind of bullying — let alone brutality — by the police is fucked up, and it waaaay disproportionately hurts people of color. The people who think “He should know better than to talk back to cops” is an appropriate response here remind me of people who insist the solution to rape is self-defense courses for women. Yeah, it’s nice to know, in theory, how to defend yourself, but the real problem is rapists — and a culture that doesn’t do nearly enough to discourage them — not victims’ lack of preparation. Here, the problem is racism and a culture that willfully ignores how deeply embedded it is in our institutions, in our expectations, and in our analysis of how just this world really is, not individuals getting angry with police officers. And every time we try to reduce an instance of police racism to an isolated incident in which “fairness” and “objectivity” somehow demand that we blame the victim, we’re contributing to that very fucking culture.

*Found out after this went up that she wasn’t a neighbor.

Guest Post: The Fantasy of Being White

By Mean Asian Girl

I’m a friend, neighbor and grad-school classmate of Kate’s, but while I’m a faithful reader, I’m not much of a commenter. Every once in a while, however, here is a post that resonates with me to the point that I really have to say something. This was one of them.

Me and everybody else, right? So why do I get my own special guest post — a year late, no less? For starters, read that first part again. But secondly, and more importantly, as someone who has spent a lifetime passing for thin-to-average – and I say passing because, for what it’s worth, I weigh much more than people think I do — my perspective on the issue of self-acceptance is a little different.

First, a little background: as the name indicates, I am Asian-American, specifically Korean-American, and both my parents were immigrants. I grew up in a small city in the greater Detroit area that for most of my childhood was about 70 percent white, 29 percent black, the Gonzaleses, the Yamauchis and us. The Yamauchi girls each graduated high school in three years – partly because they were smart, but I think mostly because they were not enjoying high school so much that they really needed to stick around for prom. Let’s just say that while our community was diverse, it wasn’t exactly multicultural.

I hated myself for being Asian. I hated having a weird name. I hated having parents who ate kimchi and pronounced things funny. I hated my black hair and my bowl haircut.* I, who was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, hated being asked “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” In kindergarten, I drew pictures of myself with blue eyes and blond hair.

Since self-hatred is a pretty difficult concept for a five-year-old to grasp, I boiled down all of these feelings into an intense dislike of one feature: my eyes. They were the problem. If I had different eyes, life would be better. I’d be pretty. I’d be popular. At the very least, I figured, kids on the playground would no longer be able to make fun of me by pulling their eyes into slants and pretending to spout “Chinese” gibberish. What I really meant was, if I had different eyes, kids wouldn’t be mean to me.

I was lucky. I got older, I got smarter, I got nicer friends. And unlike the Yamauchis, I had a pretty good time in high school. I got good grades. I participated in various activities I enjoyed. I had male friends – I was especially popular when it came time to study for exams – who would occasionally turn to me for a sympathetic ear about how some girl wasn’t interested in them. But I, the weird kid, the “Chinese” girl, was clearly not date material.

I graduated from high school in 1986, well before the archetype of the “hot Asian chick.” There was no Lucy Liu. There was no … well, damn. I guess even today there aren’t a lot of specific “hot Asian chicks” who capture the collective imagination. But back then it was Farrah Fawcett, Christie Brinkley and the like. Needless to say, I fell very, very far outside that ideal.

And sure, maybe it wasn’t all about race. But honestly? I think part of it was. Again, this was long before we had a biracial president. I knew very few black-white couples, let alone white-Asian or black-Asian. It was not for nothing that I had to mark “Other” for the racial-ethnic category on standardized tests.

While I was smart enough to recognize that anyone who would refuse to be my friend simply because I was Asian was a racist asshole not worthy of me, I was incapable of applying the same logic to boys I was interested in. Clearly, it wasn’t their attitudes that needed to change. I mean, we all knew Asian girls just weren’t as attractive, right? With the eyes and all?

It was around this time that I found out there was surgery to de-slant eyes. Heavenly choirs started singing, people. I’d have this surgery, and I’d be pretty. It was so simple.

But of course, it wasn’t. My “Fantasy of Being White” wasn’t exactly the same as the “Fantasy of Being Thin.” Even if I could change all of my physical features**, I would’ve had to change my name and my family members and make up an entirely new cultural background for myself. Not that that wasn’t tempting at times.

Ultimately, I started to question what my fantasy really was, and what was driving it. Did I really want to be white, or at least non-Asian? Or did I just want people to like me? Was it worth it if they liked a version of me that had been doctored significantly to meet some cultural standard of beauty?

Those of us who are fat, or use a wheelchair, or have teeth that aren’t white, or skin that isn’t either, or slanted eyes, or hair where we shouldn’t, or not enough hair where we should, or a variety of other characteristics or combinations thereof, would have to do a lot of erasing and adding and subtracting to reach some kind of beauty ideal. If we don’t, or sometimes even if we do, at some point someone in this society will tell us we’re ugly. We hear it enough and we start to believe it. That sucks, and it’s hard to overcome. Despite my own efforts, I certainly haven’t managed to do it. But self-hatred is a lot of work, too.

What I have managed to do is find friends, a husband, a career – a couple of careers, actually – and some happiness here and there “despite” having slanted eyes. I also have a daughter – she’s “Whasian,” so her eyes aren’t totally slanted – whom I hope to raise with slightly more self-esteem than I had or have.

It would be a great world if we all loved ourselves as we are. But if we don’t, or we can’t, we can at least be aware that the version of ourselves that we’re so eager to change is worth a second look.

*I am willing to embrace the various physical and cultural attributes of my ethnicity, but I draw the line at the bowl cut, which I think to some extent is some westerner’s idea of what Asian children should look like. So long as I have control over my daughter’s hair, I will have eyelid surgery before I allow her to get a bowl cut.

**Fay Weldon has a great book about a woman – not Asian, but fat, actually – who did exactly that.