Mom Was a Brown-Skinned Asian Migrant. She Was Also Racist. Now What?
The dirty little secret of my New American family
Both sides of my family, the white one but especially the Southeast Asian one, are going to freak when they see that title. However, since my mom went to the great Gucci outlet in the sky a few years ago, there is no one here to throw a massage sandal at my head and verbally assault me for an hour in response. And my dad barely does email, let alone read blogs, so let’s continue.
The title of my story is the great unspoken truth for many of us North Americans “of color.” I have heard my mom say, “Send them back!” in various political and casual conversations concerning various ethnic groups — including her own.
I want to issue one caveat here, which is that my mom was a super-duper nice, racist person. A fun one. A friendly one. A fashionable one. A cool one. A “some of my best friends are black, or Latino, or Polish, or whatever… ” kind of racist. It hurts my heart to even write “racist” because I loved my mom. And it’s ugly and shameful, especially when you have internalized it from your parents. But I am not gonna sugarcoat it for you here. Not now. Not in 2019. Not while we are careening into the abyss as our racist immigrant parents do mall walks in their Nikes wearing MAGA hats (kicks and hats hand-sewn by tiny children in third-world, indentured-labor camps). My mother would swat her hand at me and sharp exhale, “BAH!” when I said things like that. Sidebar: They make Nike products in Indonesia, where she was from.
People familiar with my comedy and music shows know about the “my mother tried to buy me a blonde wig to help me be more successful” stories, paired with constant pushes for body modification and white culture assimilation training. And the niggling comments throughout childhood: “Why can’t you be more like Gwyneth Paltrow?” “Too bad you can’t be more like Pamela Anderson? Don’t you think?” (And BT dubs, when that kind of criticism is phrased as a question, you get a double whammy of the actual put-down plus the helplessness of not being agile enough to come up with a clever answer.) Frustration chases shame. I now know the answer is “because they are white.”