PLEASE COME BACK AFTER A FEW DAYS (AS OF 7/29/20), FOR THIS ENTRY IS NOT FINISHED.
A white-guy who for years had considered the expression “All Asians look the same” to be a bit calloused, too superficial, and rather inaccurate (though never quite racist, but damn close), I’ve decided to reveal this all-too-quirky tidbit of human nature to put it all into perspective, to reveal that sensitive-to-such-stuff, left-leaning liberals like myself get it wrong at times!
The Background: In 1991, I moved from a relatively provincial town in Upstate, NY to a mid-sized Midwestern city, a place where a decent amount of diversity exists (e.g., the largest Somali and Hmong communities outside of those ethnic groups’ homelands), and along with my newfound locale came a bit more open-mindedness, greater exposure to cultural curiosities, and a trifle extra liberal and broadminded thinking than I’d been exposed to in high school.
Upon relocating, I welcomed the opportunities for a peppering of personal growth that was begotten simply by living in a more cosmopolitan location with access to different communities, and, without a doubt, I did, both intentionally and unintentionally, evolve.
In tutoring ESL (English as a Second Language) in the very early 90s, working with students from Somalia one-on-one, volunteer teaching classes for Latino adults in a community center, I came across more diversity than I’d been accustomed to the years I’d lived in Warwick, NY or even Virginia Beach, VA, where I did 1.5 years of HS (the latter surely had more diversity back then, in comparison to the former–but in the surfer/skateboarding social circle I’d been in, I didn’t really live it).
Having attended said high school Upstate, one that was unfortunately not diverse in those days (at least the 2.5 years of the requisite amount that transpired there in Warwick), also coming from a relatively small graduating class of some 170 people, of whom perhaps 2% were minorities, I had never had many chances to interact with folks from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Truly ’twas was pure vanilla.
However, upon starting up residence in Minneapolis, my heart was opened more, thankfully, as were my eyes, not all at once, since most of us typically evolve slowly. Yet the geographical change got the ball rolling on being a bit more left-leaning than I had been, theretofore.
I’d like to think that my formative years continued even long after middle/high school because of the learning that took place simply by then inhabiting a more urban setting (no, Minneapolis is no LA, NY or Chicago, yet it does have more ethnic mixing than my ‘home town’, that’s for sure).
Without a doubt, one way which I had changed over time during my years in the Mini-Apple was in my leaning towards the left, an inclination that was perhaps always there.
Now, years later, I’ve finally realized why, when people used to ask, “How’s it hanging, Mike?” I would respond, “To the left.”
Funny how that tendency for such a quip then was such a harbinger.
Thus, through my extended-stay in university, I had been given a chance to develop more so (though, admittedly, never too far left of center).
I’d just needed a little nudge in that direction, I suppose.
With that being said, with developing a more-liberal-than-not perspective, lifestyle, and mindset, I readily admit, however, that sometimes liberals go a bit too far without first actually thinking, oft jumping to judgments that contain a hint of overkill and intolerance.
Did I just say that?
Indeed, I did.
Should I have?
Indeed, I should’ve.
Have I before?
I didn’t want to stir the bucket, hitherto.
Times have changed, however, for voicing our thoughts is increasingly more important so that we can all somehow affect change in this all-too-tumultuous current climate of ours–or perhaps to clarify that we need to get a better grip on things.
But a knock against the left… where I’ve long stood?
Yes, I’m looking in the mirror, so that’s, consequently, a knock against myself, along with anyone else who does this from time to time.
Throughout my left-of-center set of experiences since first opening up to such a “way of life” in the early 90s, if you will, after first developing a greater sense of where I stood on issues, I have always tried to see things not just from a left-versus-right viewpoint, but rather to examine each issue that’s been presented in order to have a real feel for what my heart and logic both say, equally, trying to do so before jumping on the bandwagon of a particular stance on a topic.
Too many people do jump to judge, much too quickly–and we need to check ourselves.
The one area that jumps out at me, at least for me personally, however, about my needing a bit more understanding about the greater world (before reacting sensitively) relates to how white liberals here in the USA oft take on a haughtier-than-thou perspective in judging others who may not be as “woke” or as openminded (which is in and of itself a sign of hypocritical narrow-mindedness, isn’t it?).
To illustrate an example of this quick-to-react haughtiness, I present… well, my former self.
Though there are other examples of this propensity, one way that the liberally-tolerant-yet-intolerant-in-itself mindset manifests itself is in reacting to the all-too-ubiquitous expression “All Asians look the same.”
Undoubtedly, some 25-plus years ago, I recall hearing someone state such a thing–and then getting my panties in a bunch, promptly. And that happened more than once in the 90s, I am certain.
“Hey, you can’t say that! That’s not true!” I would dramatically utter, sure of myself that I was right (though left).
“But they do,” whoever that ‘less-enlightened’ soul retorted.
I was incredulous that someone could be… well, so narrow, that they, as a White person couldn’t label others so casually!
So I continued, “Oh, come on! If you really look at Asians, you can actually detect both large and subtle differences. Such silly preconceptions about a whole group of people… well, that is really close to being racist behavior!”
Trying to be “deep” in my outlook, I was proud to defend against such wicked generalizations, zealously hoping we white people would be more tolerant of other races, ethnicities, appearances, and nationalities.
As a white guy, however, quick to (supposedly) discern when people’s judgments were (allegedly) wrong or superficial, I may have been too high on my liberally-minded high horse, folks.
Instead of being full of cultivated thinking, I simply may have been full of it.
Now many moons later, I find three aspects of my own former reactions to this “All-Asians-look-the-same” statement to be entirely faulty, and such an example is just one of many to illuminate that (we) liberals sometimes need to check our own egos (and reactions and beliefs) at the door when we are on PC-patrol.
So how does this statement NOT imply racism nor intolerance by white people?
For one, other Asians have their own challenges in picking out where another Asian is from; thus, it isn’t solely a “fault” of white people for making such generalizations, nor is it racist by stating it (though I might consider it ignorant, still).
Two, it isn’t just white people who pass such hasty judgments, for Asians are also doing it in reverse, which may be a new revelation to some in the States.
And, three, slighty-connected (but somewhat not), it is just dumb to say such a thing. Asia is such a broad continent that even categorizing Asians as “looking Asian” is full of faultiness, for there are Asians who look entirely different from others–and you’d be a fool to think that they “all” do in the first place.
“I’m so sorry, but I don’t speak Korean,” incredulously stated my Taiwanese ex-wife repeatedly throughout our one-week ski-vacation stay. Everywhere we ventured, both in Seoul and out in the countryside, local folks instantly presumed and mistook her for being Korean.
The Koreans we met must have assumed Asians all look… Korean?
“I don’t speak Chinese. I’m Korean-American and I speak English only,” incessantly retorted my Couchsurfing guest as I toured her around Taiwan’s second biggest city for a day trip. Local Taiwanese couldn’t tell she was not from Taiwan–yet automatically speculated that she was.
The Taiwanese we came across must have assumed Asians all look… Taiwanese?
“Sorry, but I do not speak Japanese. I’m American,” similarly employed my teacher replacement as I brought her around northern Japan for a few days before leaving my English-teaching post there. Of Korean-decent, herself, she spoke not a lick of Japanese; however, the Japanese we came across in stores, restaurants and the like had no clue, promptly concluding, erroneously so, that she was from there.
The Japanese we encountered must have assumed Asians all look… Japanese?
You get the picture, right?
What’s most astonishing about these seemingly universal assumptions about another’s identity, nationality, and appearance (and these examples were not the only times I’d come across them during my 13 years of living in East Asia)–is, in hindsight, that those various locals were not acting nor making statements that could be deemed racist, not in and of themselves by any means.
Thus, how could I so hastily call someone out in the USA for being racist if they made such assumptions about Asians, in where someone is from, or in saying they all look the same?
I wouldn’t have even thought those people in those countries were being intolerant of others (though, believe me, nationalism and racism very well exist in those aforementioned places).
Yet, back in the States, why, in my allegedly-liberated thinking, did I become defensive with people who so loosely employed that expression about Asians looking the same? Back then, I somehow felt–as a liberal–that I had the liberty to think those who did say such things were somehow less open-minded, that I was more progressive in my mindset about the world.
In reality, with so many examples of Asians not even being able to differentiate where other Asians are from, how can I claim those Americans who cannot either (or other nationalities who employ the phrase–and others do, for sure) are “wrong” for claiming so? I’ve heard Blacks and Latinos in America also say it.
If a Latino, Black or White person throws it about in conversation, it is oft deemed sooooo wrong, yet what is it when another Asian assumes someone is Japanese, Taiwanese or Korean (yes, those three examples are from my personal experience living in East Asia)?
An honest mistake?
Granted, perhaps the world would benefit from practicing a let-me-get-to-know-you-first-before-I-judge-you approach, but I cannot now scoff at an American (writing from that perspective as a citizen of said country), nor anyone else*, with the same incredulousness as I once did in my ostensibly forward-thinking stance.
*Sidenote: While living in Germany, I’d heard the expression uttered a few times, as I did while living in Costa Rica and traveling extensively in Central America.
The upshot? Maybe the usage of this statement should be modified, perhaps my stating, “I have a hard time determining where some Asians are from,” instead of the generalization that it immediately conveys. Moreover, and more importantly, my liberal brethren who might get offended by it need to step back a bit.
Because of my aforementioned experiences in seeing, firsthand, the confusions Asians can display* regarding their own discernments of others’ origins, I’m stepping down from my high horse on this topic.
*Sidenote: Now, although I don’t want this blog to digress much, it is important to highlight that in personal discussions with Taiwanese or Japanese friends, colleagues, and students (especially adult students I had private tutoring), it is CLEAR to me that “Asians” can certainly categorize, judge, and express prejudice against other Asians. For example, some 40-something students told me that when they see Japanese tourists in Taiwan, they’ll say, “Japanese,” and the same with “Koreans”, but other Asians, like those from Laos or Pakistan are called “Foreigners”. Or that any Caucasian in Taiwan is assumed to be “American”, but a Black person is just called “hēi rén” (or black person).
The list could go on.
The second faultiness of my own erstwhile panties-in-a-bunch “liberated” reactions was that, while living in Japan and Taiwan, denizens of said places often said to me, oft jokingly, “White people all look the same!”
The first few times I’d heard this, my panties tightened up, admittedly.
Hence, I would jump at the chance to debate with those folks that if you stop and take a look to absorb the characteristics of individual (White) people, that you might be able to distinguish everyone’s differences, citing long faces versus more rounded ones, nose shapes, eye placement, hair texture, etc., using those same differentiation techniques to also add that that’s what I was always trying to do with my students and friends there, for, in fact, each and every person has traits that set you apart from the crowd.
Yet they would then expand the concept that drove their saying that all White people look the same to state that it was hard (or impossible) to tell different nationalities apart.
“If I see a Caucasian here, I cannot tell if they are French, Canadian, Spanish, or American,” I had heard a number of times.
However, over a total of 13 years, I started to feel that my