I’ve personally debated writing about this for a while. Racism is a difficult topic to discuss, however I’d like to write some of my thoughts regarding racism which are relevant to some personal conversations I’ve had.
Note also that Charles was not expressing a personal opinion. He merely communicated a commonly held belief.
United Airlines and Charles
Days ago I had a short conversation with a brilliant peer, Charles. I was captivated by the popularity in which the now infamous United Airlines incident became viral in China, so I posed a few of my questions to Charles, who is Chinese, so as to understand why the United Airlines incident seemed so noteworthy to the average Chinese person.
Charles, who I respect beyond belief and wish I could talk to more, replied that the inherent interest in the story to Chinese people was due to perceived racism. United Airlines had a passenger who is Asian violently removed from the plane by police due to overbooking. Perhaps police targeted this older Asian doctor because of his race.
Racism? I was floored. How could that be? By any meaningful measure, Asians are the most successful ethnic group in the West- more so than whites. The St. Louis Fed has this report about ethnic groups and wealth in America. It is a fact that the median family income of Asians is the highest of all ethnic groups, higher than whites, and that Asians have had the greatest growth rates in wealth.
Chinese people make-up the largest immigrant group to America. Asians receive more higher education than any ethnic group- more than whites.
As Charles sent me messages, my mind was racing. By what meaningful measure was ‘the West’ (whatever that means) racist? What measure was I missing? How could I not know of a problem that is so serious? Charles then sent me some snapshots from Twitter.
Asians may be the wealthiest, most educated, and measurably the most successful, however they are looked down upon. Asians are belittled. I confessed to Charles that I couldn’t quite understand. I grew up in a racially diverse setting. I went to public school. I never saw Asians looked down upon. Then, the most important message.
Charles’ point here is that I couldn’t understand racism. I couldn’t understand the difficulty of being Asian, because I’m a white man.
To assume an idea to a class of people assumes that ideas and identity are the same thing. This, of course, is a text book definition of racism.
The Elephant in the Room
“People from Hong Kong sometimes look down on mainland Chinese people. Sometimes they feel we are less than human.”
In my short experience in China, large groups of Chinese people have complained of feeling inferior or looked down upon. When pressed to explore these feelings, every single Chinese person has refused to acknowledge any underlying reasons other than inherent racism in foreigners. Every important but fruitless conversation starts with China’s century of humiliation and ends in racism. Foreign attitudes are equally if not more absurd and untenable as the Chinese reaction. Foreign reactions to inferior personhood go from acknowledgement to disregard in a few seconds, and the ultimate emotive response for most foreigners seems to be to ignore the Chinese sentiments altogether. There exists a mutual misunderstanding to a real problem, the elephant in the room for our international relationship.
Well let me dispel some myths for you, dear reader. There is a serious problem of oppression in the world, however you may not be able to accept the reality and how it applies to you. The reality is this:
Of course Chinese people are oppressed. Everyone is oppressed.
Let’s look at a case study.
LGB and everyone Else
Do you know the acronym LGB? LGB was used in the mid-late 1980s to replace the word ‘gay.’ The acronym initially meant lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and allowed easy designation of sexually oppressed people. In 1996 the term expanded to include Q (queer or questioning). Where does the phrase stand now? The current phrase is LGBTIQ+. It is no coincidence that the amount of oppressed people who feel the need to be designated of oppression may only be satisfied by adding a plus sign. A plus sign. The amount of people who feel oppressed in America has grown so large that a plus sign is needed to infinently add to the acronym.
I have news for everyone: everyone is oppressed and life isn’t fair. There are infinite factors that could lead to your oppression. Do you know, across the globe, what the greatest predictor of success will be? Your intelligence quotient (IQ). Perhaps you’re not as smart as your peers. Perhaps you don’t have the raw mental processing power to have a good job or happy life. Perhaps you’re short. Perhaps you’re ugly. Perhaps you smell bad. Perhaps you were born into a poor family. Perhaps you’re jewish. Perhaps you’re gay. Perhaps a family emergency caused you to fall into deep depression during high school, fail your college entrance exams, and forever lose the chance to have a good job. Perhaps you sexually identify as an attack helicopter.
Every individual is a multiplicity, and there must exist some, if not many, multiplicities that are marginalized. There exists a grave threat to society when we define people and their reality as an individual by grouping them according to their marginalization, assigning them identities (who assigns and how do we decide identities?).
The young man that posted to Twitter about being bullied was oppressed; that must be acknowledged. However, what child doesn’t encounter bullying in their life? Don’t misunderstand; I don’t think it is acceptable to downplay his difficult past. What is absolutely unacceptable is for us to group his past and current interaction based on race, and define how other classes of people, based on race, interact with him- Charles’ insistence that I couldn’t comprehend his plight. Identifying classes of people as having particular ideas, problems, and interactions is absolutely absurd. Ideas and identity are not the same thing. Some Asians may think differently from some white people: some don’t; the overlap is substantive; the differences between the individuals is always far greater than the groups.
The Meaning of Life
Nothing can travel faster through a vacuum of space than light, but did you know that the speed in which the universe expands is faster than the speed of light? The fastest measure for our reality can’t match the forever expanding universe we live in. We are but a speck in an endlessly complex world, infinite in knowledge, that we cannot measure due to the greatness of it’s size. How does our mind, with limited cognitive, emotional, and physiological resources, handle this? We organize ourselves into structures that give us beliefs and value systems.
You don’t create your own values. Most values are given to you from your cultural structure. Most people can’t stop smoking, eat healthy, or exercise regularly because they cannot control their own values. Furthermore, your values and beliefs are more complex than you know. Most people with mental incapacity need a professional psychiatrist to help them realize their insufficiency.
When Charles told me, ‘you can’t understand racism against Asians,’ he is envisioning a structure in which classes of people, based on race, are separated in experience and expression. I reject that. I refuse to acknowledge classes of people according to race. I refuse to reduce complex issues of individuals to racial divides. I refuse to compete and compare with other individuals according to our respective marginalization.
What I do believe in is speaking the truth. If you believe, for example, Asians have a particular difficult experience abroad, we must have a dialogue about this issue. Dividing the world according to race and dictating who can have a racial dialogue is not a tenable solution. Do not dictate who you believe has the right speak based on race. Be a person that creates order and structure from chaos through speech. If you’re searching for something to live for, the purpose of life, look no further than joining the dialogue that defines our cultural structures. Take individual responsibility for learning the facts and truths of life, and speak these truths to others. This is a difficult idea. It is mentally simple to see someone’s skin color and pronounce their marginalized or oppressed status. However, mankind only advances through the process of speaking, communication. This means that to really help the issue, people must be educated enough to communicate and willing to listen to the ideas of others. A person must avoid the temptation to nihilistically roll their eyes at the horrors of the world as defined by their perceived ranking of oppression. To have a productive dialogue, a person must be willing to learn and not reduce issues. A person must work to do this infinitely for an infinite reality.
Take responsibility for your life, be a better version of yourself, and have open dialogues with the exchange of ideas within your structures. Carrying the responsibility of dialogue is how we create a better world. It is an idea worth living for.