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Hidden Heritage > White Fragility

Hidden Heritage > White Fragility July 10, 2021

I went to Boston for a couple of weeks to visit family (hence the noticeable lack of blogging), and I got to spend a lot of time around my niece. As a general rule of thumb, I am not fond of children: They’re noisy and they’re sticky and they break things, and you’re not allowed to scream at them in public if they’re not yours. (Or at least, I’m not allowed to. Anymore.) My niece, however, is pretty much a long-suffering thirtysomething trapped in an 11-year-old’s body, so we get along just fine.

In addition to a wildly entertaining obsession with correcting grammar, my niece loves Percy Jackson and Greek mythology (her favorite Goddess is Artemis), and she once decided to draw a deck of cards that she could use to “tell stories.”

Definitely not an adolescent, DIY Tarot deck.

At this point, I’m just waiting for the inevitable call from my brother that’s going to be all, “She’s asking about Wicca. Maybe you could handle this one?”

With pleasure, my good sibling. With mighty pleasure indeed.

Oh, but also, I almost got my guncle privileges revoked, on account of I offered to buy her a new name. She was complaining about her middle name — it’s Thai, and she likes it, but she’s also partial to a particular British name that a lot of the women on the paternal side of her family have — and she asked why she couldn’t have two middle names.

“Oh, you can totally have two middle names,” I said, without permission from anyone. “You can call yourself whatever you want, regardless of what your legal name happens to be.”

“Wait,” she said. “It wouldn’t be legal?”

And suddenly it was ten minutes later, and we were googling “How much does it cost to change your name in Massachusetts if you’re under 18,” and I was like, “Wow, that’s very reasonable. Would you like an extra middle name for your birthday?”

“Yes, please,” she replied.

Two middle names for everyone!

I told my dad about this conversation as we were driving to the airport, and he was like, “Hmm. Maybe check with the kid’s mother before you rename her?” So I called my sister-in-law when I got back to Houston, and she was like, “Your dad is correct.”

We’re negotiating. In the meantime, I want to tell you about my niece’s memoir, which she had to write for a school project. She told me I could share it, so here are some excerpts:

My family had always focused on being European. Following and practicing European traditions, always visiting our cousins of European descent. In this case, my dad’s side of the family. I had always been aware that I was Asian as well, but my parents didn’t acknowledge it too much. We did the occasional trip to the Thai temple, or the once or twice a year Facetime with my Chinese and Thai cousins. I feel like they weren’t trying to keep me from celebrating it, but since there weren’t many chances we could, we didn’t.

As I had expected, I had my share of discrimination. I just kind of knew that because of the way I looked, people would hate me. I just accepted it as a fact and moved on.

The memoir goes on to describe, in painful detail, the racism my niece has experienced, beginning with second-grade bullies and moving through 2020, when COVID-19 hit:

More frequently, I heard about this so-called “Chinese disease.”

“China Virus.”

“Go back to your country!”

“You aren’t really American.”

“Eww, get out of here, terrorist!”

“Oh my god! The Asian pig is going to give us the Chinese virus!”

I mean, sure, it’s a global pandemic, but let’s go ahead and put all the blame on a random child in New England. (Image via Pixabay.)

I hid everything about me that made me look Asian. I’d pull my mask close to my eyes, to the point you could barely distinguish the color. I put hats on to hide my thick black hair. I even bundled up so you couldn’t see my skin.

I’d get weird stares as I walked down the street, although my parents didn’t notice. I would just keep walking and stare at my feet, but it didn’t block out the whispers.

My dad and I had a really good talk about this part of the memoir. He didn’t really have a grasp on the concept of privilege, but it made sense to him when he thought about it in terms of how his granddaughter had been treated based on her ethnicity, versus not having had that same experience himself. So it was a solid teachable moment, and he’s committing himself to more awareness, which is kind of amazing to see happen.

There was also a heartening turn towards the end of the memoir, where my niece discussed how encouraged she felt by the growing Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate campaign:

Many people called it the Stop Asian Hate movement, but I called it a lifesaver. It brought me into the spotlight, but in a good way. I was finally able to be myself.

Even after all the things I went through, I’m as proud of my heritage as ever. I’ve started to celebrate it and take pride in who I am. I’m planning to go to Thailand and China, to meet my family. My family is helping me plan trips to the Thai temple and celebrating Songkran, as well as Chinese New Year. I can’t wait to do these things after the pandemic is officially over.

 I’m pretty damn proud of her, too, as is my dad, who sent the essay to a bunch of his friends. For the most part, the feedback was positive — lots of coos over her impressive vocabulary and poetic writing style, plus various expressions of support and solidarity. Although one of his old business colleagues had some less than sympathetic thoughts and felt compelled to share them.

I can’t explain why, exactly, but I feel like this picture sums him up perfectly. (Image via Pixabay.)

“Extremely mature for her age!” he wrote. “You never really know what the other person is going through. Being an old white male, I feel more discriminated against and vilified every day for working hard and being successful. I’m only learning now that is racist? Who knew that multiple college degrees, public service, entrepreneurship, and sound financial planning would be considered racist (and deplorable).”

Personally, I can’t imagine reading about an 11-year-old’s experiences with racism and thinking, “Well, I’m discriminated against, too! By poor people!” But that’s white fragility for you: This dude was confronted with the fact that someone of a different ethnicity has to deal with racism, and instead of checking his privilege or deciding to make the world a better place, he took the opportunity to make it all about himself and how terribly persecuted he is.

Which I’m sure makes him feel better. As only stepping on a marginalized voice can.

My dad wondered if the guy was maybe joking, but no, he really wasn’t. He truly believes himself to be the victim of racism, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a captain of industry, and therefore anything my niece has been through is cancelled out. And it really, really sucks to know that my niece is going to have to deal with more and more people like him — along with louder and less apologetic racists — the older she gets.

But ultimately, I know she’s going to be okay. Even as a pre-teen, she has a profound sense of who she is, and she understands that racism is an institutionalized issue that does not define her self-worth. As she stated in the last lines of her memoir:

Through all of my experiences, I have truly discovered that it is important to always be proud of who you are, because you are valid no matter what.

Check and mate, old white man. Check and mate.

The best lesson I can teach as a guncle is the importance of good backlighting.

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About Thumper
Thumper Marjorie Splitfoot Forge is a Gardnerian High Priest, an initiate of the Minoan Brotherhood, an Episkopos of the Dorothy Clutterbuck Memorial Cabal of Laverna Discordia, a recovering alcoholic, and a notary public from Houston, TX. You can read more about the author here.

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One response to “Hidden Heritage > White Fragility”

  1. I have two middle names, they are both on my birth certificate. Out of six kids in our family my parents gave the of us two middle names and three have only one middle name. Why? Who knows, I never thought to ask.
    So if she wants a second middle name, where is the harm in it? And it is a common family name, too? Saying no seems a bit silly, if she resonates with that name then let her make a legal part of her identity is what I would say.

    As for descrimation and white privilege…. the town O grew up in had no racial minorities, but protestants were the minority. I had stones thrown at me, my bicycle and me thrown in the lake, called awful names. Etc. People seem to pick on anyone who is different, they will pick on other whites if there is no one else.

    One wonders when this need to bully others will ever stop.

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