By Dyske January 7th, 2014
A friend asked me what I thought about this essay written by a Korean American college student, entitled “Transformed Into White Gods: What Happens in America Without Love”. This is a relatively common sentiment among Asian Americans. I heard plenty of it when I went to speak about AllLookSame.com to a community of Asian American students and alumni at Harvard back in 2002. I can certainly understand the pain, but I cannot relate to it. Not that I’ve never had this type of feelings, but that I cannot justify thinking about those feelings in this way.
I believe this way of thinking about race reinforces the idea of white supremacy. We humans exhibit this type of love and hate only when we have a deeply psychological attachment to something. Just think of anyone addicted to anything. We allow our objects of attachment to have power over us by being in that relationship. Drug addicts either love or hate their drugs; they have no choice of being neutral.
Also, this type of sentiment can come only from those who grew up assuming that life should be fair. You might say, “But life SHOULD BE fair!” But there is a big difference between thinking that it would be ideal if life were fair, and expecting that life has to be fair.
Imagine what it would be like to be born with a genetic disease that cripples you, and gets increasingly worse over time. With a handicap like that, you cannot expect your life to be fair. Just because other college kids are walking around the town with their friends to various bars and having fun, it does not mean that you should be able to. Yes, it would be amazing, if you could, but unfortunately it’s not possible for you. If you were to insist that life should be fair, you would need to demand that other people stop walking and stop going to bars and have fun. You would just become increasingly bitter about your own predicament. And, furthermore, unlike Asian vs White, there is no easy conceptual target to attack and blame your misfortune on.
Even among whites, we have people who look like George Costanza on one hand and George Clooney on the other. People who look like Clooney have a significant advantage over those who look like Costanza. Unfortunately, that is the reality we have today. There are plenty of white people who look even uglier or more pathetic than Costanza. It’s hard to say if being an Asian man who look like Jet Lee is better or worse. Race is just one of many factors that makes life unfair. And, it’s an easier form of unfairness to cope with because it is a conceptual framework that is easily understood by everyone and is already culturally recognized as a factor that contributes to unfairness in life. So, getting sympathy for it is a lot easier than, say, for some obscure genetic disease.
It would be great if life was fair, but it’s not. This does not mean that we should all accept the unfairness and do nothing about it. We should strive to make our society fairer, but the key question is our expectations.
From time to time, all of us have probably wished we looked better, and felt envious of our friends who are better looking than we are. If you were to expect that you should look as good as your best looking friend, you would naturally feel bitter, and your friendship would probably fall apart. Your great looking friend didn’t do anything to you. He too was just born that way. It’s not like he cheated somehow to get the better looking genes. So, expecting that you should look as good as he does has negative impacts, not only on the society but also on yourself. This is what happens generally when you fight against anything out of anger. It’s not that you have no justification for fighting; the real problem is that your efforts only make the situation worse, not just for others, but for yourself also.
To fight racism effectively, you need to be able to detach yourself from the concept of race first. If you are helplessly attached to it, you wouldn’t be able to fight it effectively. You might just spiral down the vicious circle of love and hate, like many drug addicts do.