Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Being More Other than Other

Recently, the subject of racial hierarchies has been on my mind. At "Mixed Race America," Jennifer posted about Asian racism in regards to interracial dating. At the same time, I was having a conversation with a mixed (black/white) friend of mine about hanging with her relatives, and the different styles of ignorance that comes out depending on which side she's with. Not too long before that, I had some conversations with my mother (Chinese) about her dating mostly white guys growing up, and her exposure to black folks (and culture). Add to that all the forms of bigoted Halloween costumes and what that says about people's respect for other races and cultures, I haven't been able to avoid thinking about it.

So I think it's time to lay down an obvious fact (but one few people acknowledge or talk about): EVERYBODY ranks the races in some way. Some may be more conscious about it all, but EVERYBODY does it. And so I thought I'd put forth a list of my perceived racial rankings, from the point of view of people of differing racial backgrounds.

Now, the rest of this post is going to be based purely on observation and experience, so I don't have statistical data for those that want cold, hard, facts. However, I think a lot of it is just common sense - but anywhere where I am just plain wrong, I welcome my readers to set me straight.

So here comes the CVT's Hierarchy of Race:

Let's start with white America.
There are a few different sub-sections here, dependent on economic class, geography (in terms of the likelihood of being exposed to different races), and self-proclaimed "liberal-ness" or "conservative-ness." But, to cut to the quick - white folks are on top. They are in a literal, power-structure sense, but they are also on top in a sub-conscious understanding sort of way to white folks. And this transcends other variables, mostly due to the power of the media. No matter what a white American professes, the vast majority of them understand that being white is "normal" while anything else is not. And with that "normality" comes a sense of superiority. Because even "liberals" have a gut-level belief that other races are inferior enough that they need "white saviors" to come swoop down to save them. At best, these saviors poor pity on other races - using the numbers of "minorities" to demonstrate the level of difficulty this "saving" takes (i.e. more non-white people = "tougher" school/neighborhood, etc.). I don't need to talk about the more overt levels.

Now, the rankings for white folks after number one differs dramatically by the situation. If we're talking about academic success or raw intelligence, white folks will stick to the stereotypes of Asians being number one (while putting black and Latino at the bottom). However, athletic ability will have black folks at the top, followed by Latino, then "others" and Asians at the bottom. In terms of just raw "coolness," black and Latino are at the top, again with Asian at the bottom.

So the question is: what about all the other races? Why am I not ranking Arab, Native American, Pacific Islander, or other more specific ethnicities in the white racial hierarchy? Because, mostly, they don't exist in the hierarchy. They just get lumped into a category of a race that has the most similar skin-tone or eyes (unless we're talking about "terrorists," of course).

So what about Asians?
Asian-Americans are a hugely diverse population of people, but the basic hierarchies remain the same. Depending on the ethnicity, Asian folks (and right now, I'm drawing more on Chinese experience, as I know less about other Asian cultures, directly) would have white and Asian in the first two places. Some Asian folks in America will set white as the bar to reach, while others (and my grandmother was definitely on this list) hold to the superiority of the homeland and their own race.

And then it falls out much like with white folks. Black folks are seen to be the most "dangerous" and "unacceptable" in terms of dating and the like (I would say, in many cases, even MORE so than with white folks these days). Other brown folks would come in second (even Asian-Indians have a clear preference for lighter-skinned folks within their own "race"). But again, in terms of "coolness," many Asian youth tend to emulate "black" youth culture and music. In many cases, Latino folks aren't as low on the list as with white folks, though - which might be due to the shared immigrant experience, as it's less likely to revile the "foreigner," when you yourself are almost as often seen in that light.

Now my experience runs less strongly with the rest (since it's not my background), but I can hazard some general guesses.

Sadly, black folks - as a whole - do NOT put themselves at the top of the list. The media and constant barrage of negative stereotypes and set-backs have been too strong for that. So white people make the top of this list, as well. Similar to Asian-Indian culture, lighter skin, straighter hair, etc. too often become a standard of "better than," as opposed to more strongly black-associated features.

And, in some ways, I don't even know if - on a very general level - the black community would put themselves second on a racial hierarchy. So much encouragement to fight and hold down EACH OTHER comes down through media messaging, that I often see my kids thinking more highly of other races (other than white) over themselves. Asians seem to have a different standing in much of generalized "black" culture - seen more often as the goofy, non-English-speaking "foreigner." Latinos are also often lumped into the "foreign" category, as if white and black are the only actual "American" races (this mirrors white hierarchies, as well).

This is hugely dependent on country of origin and immigration status (similar to Asian culture). This makes it hard for me to make claims, since I'm less involved with this widespread community. However, I would say that on a very superficial level, white still makes the top of the list.

American Indian:
This would parallel other indigenous cultures and the system of self-hate that has been beat into them from the days of the colonization. It's a combination of pride and defeat that holds white as far below on a scale of nobility, but simultaneously on top in terms of success and power. In my experience, I have not come across another group that so clearly holds contempt for the white race while also standing them on a pillar. It makes sense, given the history, but it's an interesting (and frustrating) dichotomy.

And I'm going to stop here because I've been slowly treading into the land of blind conjecture, and I don't feel like making any more blanket stereotypes with even less personal experience to back me. In the end, this is my particular perspective based on my particular experience as an ethnically-ambiguous Chinese/white mix who has found himself mixing it up with a lot of different racial cultures. I'm sure I've been far too broadly general, but I would love to hear folks' more personal takes on my claims - to set the record straight, as well as let me know where I'm accurate.

After I see some outside opinions on the matter, I'll follow up with a more thorough treatment of WHY and HOW this all happens, and what I think we should do about it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I had actually contacted Mixed Race America about doing an entry regarding races dating each other, as I have been struggling with the overt prejudice of Asians dating Blacks. I've been trying to understand it, and the further I delve into this subject, the less I understand about it.

You did say one thing that I want to modify:

"Some Asian folks in America will set white as the bar to reach, while others (and my grandmother was definitely on this list) hold to the superiority of the homeland and their own race. "

I had a conversation with my mom about this topic, because she is from Hong Kong (notoriously Western-influenced) and came to America and married my white father. She said that when she goes back "home" she is simultaneously revered AND looked down upon because she married a white man. It's a contradiction that she couldn't quite explain, but it was very interesting.

Ms. Sis said...

I don’t think I ever wrote about my takes on interracial dating dynamics-
as a product of an interracial marriage that was initially shunned on both sides I have a clear awareness of the potential disruption possible.
Here are some of my insights:

- Mom’s side aka the “white” side of the family
My mom’s brother threatened my dad with a shotgun and, my mom’s teenaged sisters were banned from attending the wedding by their father/the family patriarch. My great grandma Emma, (who my mother was named after and my daughter is named after both) was the only one who came from my mom’s side. She visited with us too throughout. My mom’s uncle wouldn’t look at my brother when he was born cause he thought he was going to be spotted or striped. We were generally outcasted and opted out of contact with a lot of that side of the family for years.

I put “white” in quotes because that may be a temporary condition in a lot of ways. My youngest aunt married and had a child by a Black man. The middle sister married/ divorced an Irish man and then her only daughter has a toddler- a mixed daughter by a Black (and possibly part Native American) man. Then there is me, my mother’s only living child. Then there’s my uncle, the eldest sibling, whose two oldest daughters are fully white, but whose youngest two youngest daughters, from a later marriage, are half Native American. So brown is definitely winning out with the young generation if we continue to choose melanin possessing mates….

- Dad’s side aka the “Black” side of the family
They weren’t initially exuberant about my Dad marrying a white woman. My great grandma Baby sewed the wedding dress extra large insinuating it must be a question of taking responsibility for a pregnancy and not “love”. (My mom wasn’t pregnant btw.) I talk with my Dad’s cousin about how that was to see her brothers and male cousins choose to be with white women almost exclusively. However my grandparents and the preceding generations might have felt about their children’s choices in regards to partners, they loved us grandchildren and didn’t disrespect our mothers, at least not in our presence. My Dad’s family loved my mother, and they still do. They never disrespected us or treated us in any off way, because of our mixed heritage. But they also had the history of violence around inter-racial relationships, whether assumed or real, in their lifetimes. So there is just a lot of general fear that must be accounted for when folks have been getting lynched in the name of insuring that the mere thought of dating a white woman, or the accusation of anything related to a white woman whether real, imagined, or falsely stated equaled death.

I put “Black” in quotes, because a large percentage of this side of my family have chosen to have children with white women and men. Myself (1/2), my children (3/4 Black) and my youngest sister (my dad was remarried to and then divorced a Black woman from Nigeria) are the exceptions. All the cousins in my generation are mixed like me then they had children by white men/women, so did my aunt… so depending on how the teens and youth decide to choose their partners we may see an erasure of melanin throughout many branches.

It is not easy being a black woman. I am bi-racial, but I generally identify as Black as a political choice. If your female mate, as defined by patriarchal assumptions and accepted blindly and intentionally by many, is supposed to be a trophy, a sign of prestige and status- then stuff is stacked WAY against Black women. We’ve been described as the antithesis of feminine in past ideals of submissiveness, dependence, and working solely in the home compared to our realities of working outside of the home since our forced arrival and having to be fiercely strong to sustain self and others in order to survive. Prevailing beauty myths, standards and narrow boxes of what is widely perceived and accepted as beautiful, also don’t really support Black women. Couple that with being outnumbered drastically in a city like Portland, and it makes for tough travels.

Most white men I dated (high school early college) did not usually invite me to meet their parents and often were not pursuing a “relationship” in any way, with one exception, 2 if you count my 5th grade boyfriend who I used to ride dirt bikes with and we held hands like once- he was actually my longest relationship with a white male, I think it was 6 months. I basically stopped “seeing” white men fairly young and once I had options, then I really haven’t been inclined in that direction.

Other men of color that I “kicked it” with (Asian, Mexican, Native American) were basically more “encounters” where they were friends/acquaintances that wanted to kick it for a few days, or a week, as more than friends, but with no real intention of a “relationship”. So the meeting the parents question doesn’t really fit here, but clearly also rare.

Black men- surely different drama accompanies every relationship, but the majority of actual relationships, whether “seeing” somebody, or longer-term have been with black men. I am most likely to have met their parents/ families and hung out with their friends as well.

Now when it comes to art, organizing and work, I have really quality working friendship relationships across the board with men and women of all backgrounds. Of course not all of them are perfect or fabulous, but there are a lot of quality examples, which prove coalition is possible and well worth the effort with women and men of all walks. But in regards to inter-racial intimate relationships, my experience shows that the hierarchy which places white women on the top of the hetero-normative marriage material top spot and black women in the bottom slot, is alive and well and really F@#*& up.

L. said...

"Latinos are also often lumped into the "foreign" category, as if white and black are the only actual "American" races (this mirrors white hierarchies, as well)."

In my experience, and of course I can't speak for all Blacks, this part is a little off regarding your African-American section. From what I've seen and heard, Blacks (in general) have a very complex relationship regarding Latinos. For the most part, we have a sort of kinship with them-- almost like racial "cousins"-- when we have been in close proximity with them (i.e., the hood). But, this is largely contingent upon their acceptance of us.* However, when they are actually immigrants or have been somewhat accepted by the dominant (white) culture, we see them as either "foreigners" (and the negative stereotypes that go along with that) or as thinking they're better than us. But there is def. an acknowledgment of them regarding race in America, even if we do stick to talking about the black experience for the most part. I've also noticed this weird obsession with Puerto Ricans among some blacks.

Unfortunately, I can't really disagree with the rest of your post under the African-American section. There's just too much out there keeping us from growing healthy self-esteems and a since of genuine pride. While I don't wake up everyday and think about the displeasure I have with myself (b/c quite frankly whatever I'm not pleased with has nothing to do with my skin color), there is at least one daily occurrence that makes me stop and think about how lowly everyone else thinks of me. Gets a little depressing.

And by the way, I am of the ignorant belief that all Asians hate black people. Reading your blog has done a little to help that, though.

*I have noticed that for the most part, black people tend to accept anyone who's accepting of us. I think it reflects the desire for a lot of us to just want some sort of allegiance and acknowledgment as decent people. However, I think we should start the process with self-validation before reaching out to other people. Now that I've made myself uncomfortable with all the generalizing....

L. said...

"as if white and black are the only actual "American" races (this mirrors white hierarchies, as well)."

Ah, I re-read that part. I see what you mean.

mthgk said...

I live in NM and have grown-up with mostly Whites and Latinos. Most of my upper-middle class, middle-class Latino friends went out of their way to assert that they were Spanish rather than Mexican (i.e. had no Indigenous ancestry). Many were outright racist against African-Americans resulting in me having many confrontations them as well as some terminated friendships. I would say, back then, there was a decisive worship of White culture in that demographic of Latinos.

However, my friends from less well-off households tended to have more of a rebellious attitude. At the high school I attended, Whites were in the minority and frequently picked on by cholas.

The point I am trying to make, based on my limited experience, is that race relations and valuations are intimately linked to socioeconomic factors. I think trying to establish a hierarchy based just on race ignores how important social status is in determining how much and what type of racism people manifest.

Of course, I am half Asian, half White and that side of my experience is a whole other story!

CVT said...

Thanks for the comments. Obviously, with such a short treatment for each racial category, I made some vast generalizations that can't possibly be right for all situations, but I just wanted to put some of it into words.

And mthgk - I ABSOLUTELY agree that socioeconomic status changes things to a vast degree in this conversation. My post on Friday addresses that, so I hope you read and comment on that one.

Lisa J said...

This is an interesting post. I remember hearing or reading about a study almost 20 years ago as a teen about how different racial groups see each other and their comfort levels. I think it was done by Gallup with an Ivy Leauge school or some organizations of that caliber. The conclusions said that as a group whites felt most close to blacks! Blacks felt closest to Latinos and Latinos and Asians felt closest to whites. It suprised me a bit that whites picked blacks but I guess we (I'm black) have been here for so long and up until recently there were more of us than anyone else, so they are used to us and most of us are native born so we are less foreign and "almost" Americans. I wasn't suprised that blacks felt close to Latinos since so many Latinos have partial black ancestry and they have had a hard road like we have and they are often brown too and wind up in many of the same underserved areas. I wasn't too suprised that Asians felt closest to whites but I was a little suprised and disappointed that Latinos felt closest to whites. Once I thought about it I assumed that maybe it was more of a factor of white being what many Latinos's aspired to be like in terms of success and some hope to blend in so that made some sense to a degree. I also thought that, except for dating, Latinos and Asians don't really accept (as a group- big generalization) the level of dislike and hatred that whites have for them. I kind of figured though (some) whites hate us (blacks) but not as much as those "foreigners" I realize that there is a long tradition of Asians (from China more than anywhere else) being in the US and Latinos, particularly in the west but since blacks have been so widely spread in the nation for so long in some ways we are more familiar to whites than anyone else. NOw this was 20 years ago but I based on my observations, it still seems pretty accurate.

Any thoughts CVT?