I was exchanging some ideas on racism with a Chinese-American e-pal and after rereading it, I thought it would be interesting to see what other people think of it, so... here it is. - LHS
Re: "I don't know that you and I mean the same thing by "race-conscious". By that, I don't always mean overt racism in particular, but rather, a recognition that the way I grew up as an Asian person in the U.S. is markedly different from the experiences you grew up with in the U.S. as a white person, and the fact that those experiences shape us in different ways."
Yeah - I do know what you mean. I didn't know for the first 23 years of my life though. I thought I was cool, open minded, fair, and not racist. That's what I thought, that's what I believed, and then I began dating a Japanese-American woman and I saw smiling white people with the small hairs on the backs of their necks standing up - and I began to think about those smiling faces with normal words coming from their mouths but very strange broadcasts coming from their subconscious minds. I was to see that over and over - there was the restaurant guitarist who smiled at me when I complimented his music (by the cash register as I and my Japanese girlfriend were leaving the restaurant) but then he caught sight of the Asian woman by me... the smile stayed on his face, but he seemed to stiffen. On the positive side, I found - for the most part - that African-Americans seemed much more friendly when I was with my Japanese-American friend than when I was alone.
And that was just the first step. Then I emigrated to Japan and WHAM!!! I was given (to date) a 21-and-a-half-year intensive course in what racism is when you're a member of a minority and not the majority.
Sigh... I feel like I should focus and write about the things that have happened to me over here, but I suddenly feel tired and not up to it. Just I want to tell you - I DO understand, I really do! I'm a bloody minority my own self, how could I not understand after being a minority for over 21 years? Among the many-many things I learned about being a minority is that you don't get used to it - you get touchier and touchier and more and more sick of it. Thus what I saw before as being overly touchy African-Americans I now see as people who have had about all that they can stand of bloody racism!
Re: "I apologize if I don't know how to explain myself very well, because this is always so hard to talk about. I'm also, for the purposes of this discussion, just talking about race in America, which is probably much different from race in Japan."
No. It's the same thing at the core. Yes, there are drastic surface differences (people here are more subtle about it, but it's no less real), but it's the exact same disease of the heart. Shut down the mechanical words and *feel* the situation and - I'm telling you - it's the same issue.
Re: "When another American person meets me face-to-face, there are a bunch of assumptions that s/he makes because of the way I look - Asian. I can't tell you how many times that I've been asked if I have an accent, or how long I've been living in the U.S., even though I was born in San Francisco and speak and act like a typical American person."
Yeah, I know! It's the same thing over here! Okay, the questions are different, but the issue of the heart is the same. The type of thing I get is "Oh! You can use chop-sticks!" (It takes at least 10 years of strenuous exercise to use them; it should be an Olympic event [said with extreme sarcasm of course - they're bloody easy to use]), or "Your Japanese is so good " (often said in insulting English). But never mind the specifics - the real issue is mental broadcasts that you feel as the victim, and those defy words and thus discussion just spins like a top with no progress towards understanding. Anyway, there are different kinds of racism - there's "attack-dog racism", "ignore racism", "insult racism", "standing-neck-hairs racism", "barely-tolerated racism" etc. etc. I try to draw the line between people who are trying to be human and those who relish inflicting damage....
Re: "I don't think it's necessarily racist of other people to think that way; it's just that they, because of the way they've been raised, have been trained (whether they realize it or not) to make those assumptions about me and people who look like me."
Not so much "trained" as formed by circumstances and example. Actually, a huge issue here is the English language, and I don't mean whether it's spoken well or not, I mean its horrible deficiency when it comes to putting fuzzy concepts into words. The English language contributes to people's sophistry and stupidity when it comes to issues like this because it doesn't include proper vocabulary for feelings and so it's nearly impossible to put so much of the human experience into words with it! English as a first language countries really should put more effort into teaching *everyone* in the country (to some degree) a foreign language. Being mono-lingual is bad enough, but with an ice-cold language like English, it's a disaster when it comes to pre-word thinking. The words stop people from thinking and when it's over-discussed, it spins into a vicious cycle where the more words are spoken, the deeper the mystery and misunderstanding becomes....
Re: "So that's what I mean by race-conscious. I hope I explained myself okay."
Back to the term "race-conscious". If what you mean by not being race-conscious is the typical blindness and insensitivity of the majority and you wonder how that feels.... Well... I would honestly have to say that it feels good - in an "ignorance is bliss" kind of way! It feels like your way is the right way - the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and the only real and correct culture is your own. "When are those whacky foreigners going to wake up and convert to the only correct way to live?" is in the back of people's minds.
So... there is a huge difference between you and I in that regard. You were born into racial intolerance, whereas I was born into religious intolerance (I was unlucky enough to be born in a city with a cult-religion majority). After moving to cities without a cult-religion majority, I was able to partake of the "joys" of being a part of the racial majority (my high school was 99% Caucasian), but man - it was boring! I felt like San Francisco was some kind of beautiful (if initially scary) oasis after living in a desert for far too long!
Anyway, I'm telling you... really... I do understand racism! I'm a victim of it myself. I may have had a few years of ignorant bliss as a high school student, but I think you're lucky to have been born into the Bay Area! If it isn't one thing, it's another! Ah! I just remembered something! I used to do this thing after meeting a particularly vicious racist - I would imagine their face and think to myself "Alright... you're feeling damaged and like a victim, but how would you like to look in a mirror and have that racist's face look back at you?" - which would cause me to recoil in horror and realize that the real victim was the victimizer.... (Me too of course, but even more so the blind fool.)