Thursday, September 15, 2016

Racial Identity...

Racial identity is a funny thing. In 2014 there was a study that found millions of American change their racial identity on occasions, particularly many hispanic individuals began reporting themselves as white. And we can't forget NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal who was quite genealogically white, yet identified as black (and fooled others to believe she was black for quite some time as well).

In our family, race is understandably a bit, black and white. I guess you could say we put the "asian" in "caucasian." While I know that I am as white as sunscreen on cream cheese, I can't help but feel that we are a predominantly Asian family. My wife is Vietnamese, and our kids are 50/50, so we as a family unit are as caucasian as we are Asian. But in our family traditions, diet, and other ways we align with the Asian culture more than our neighbors. I still have difficulty keeping my shoes on when I visit the homes of friends.

What got me thinking about this subject today was something I observed in my three-year-old, Benji. Anna has been endeavoring to keep the apps on his hand-me-down iPad educational rather than solely for entertainment. So, when adding and inspecting an app for Benji, she chose an avatar for him. This app has a set number of choices. Anna chose the young asian boy avatar for Benji, since that is the closest approximation she could see.

Then later, I was watching Benji play with that app. He found the settings and when browsing the avatar choices, changed his likeness to a boy of the same age, but white. It was clear to me, that Benji currently sees himself more like that boy than the one Anna had selected for him. It's interesting to know how your children see themselves. I wonder if we had stayed in Guam with a more diverse culture if he would see himself more like the Asian avatar or still as the white one.

I have yet to ask Maia how she sees herself. I'm sure this is an issue that will come into play more as our children grow up.

Although I am spending time to blog about this, I don't really understand the big issue with racial identity. It used to frustrate me how much we hear about and debate on race issues in our media and culture, and now I'm just burned out on the subject.

I miss Guam in that way; we were all of a different (and often mixed) race. That consistent diversity kept us all feeling a bit more equal in a way. Sure we acknowledge cultural differences and would have some racial clicks, but our forced proximity and volume of diversity make the subject a non-issue. I remember someone visiting me at work one day and observing that I was the only white guy in my office. I hadn't even noticed it until that point. I was. And it didn't matter. And it was great.

Now back in the racially heated contiguous 48, I feel like there is no escape from the constant onslaught of these biases and issues.  I'm not pointing fingers or blaming anyone. It is the way it is. And I wish it could be different.

I wish we could all just see that we are all of some mixed-race of some kind and we all come from diverse backgrounds. At some point in our past we all share common ancestors. I would like to think we could keep that in mind when we interact with each other, but I'm not naive enough to think that will happen any time soon.

At any rate, my point is that this is all a matter of perspective. If we could be more empathetic and identify with some aspect of other ethnicities, we could be more understanding of each other. That's not to say I support the deception of Rachel Dolezal. We should also be true to who we really are. But if we could learn to identify with other races, in some way, we could let the little unintentional gafs go and start the healing.

I'm not an Asian, and no, I don't play one on TV. But after the experiences I've had over the past decade of my life, I can understand how one would start to feel as if their cultural, and even racial, identity can drift. Our little blended family can't even agree on our race. But we still do now and always will love each other for who we are. And that is enough.