Friday, February 28, 2014

On the Inside

So, according to a piece on NPR, an opinion piece in the China News referred to outgoing Ambassador Gary Locke, as a "yellow-skinned, white-hearted banana man." (Not being able to read Chinese, I'm taking their word for it.) This was a new one on me. I'm told that Asian Americans refer to people they consider "yellow on the outside, but white on the inside" as "Twinkies." I hear that for Hispanics, their version of the term is "coconut." And for African Americans, the term is "Oreo." But "banana," was novel.

All of this raises an interesting question for me: Do white people even have a term for this sort of thing? Do they call one another out for being white only on the outside? Supposedly, they use the term "inside out Oreo" for someone who's "black on the inside," but that sounds iffy to me, if only because it's so long. "Wigger" comes close, but it's not quite the same connotation.

I suspect, that as with many such things, that white Americans aren't really that invested in the idea that their "whiteness" must be more than "skin deep" in the way that other groups come across as being. Of course, I can only speak to African Americans as a matter of personal experience, and we seem to have a remarkably strong need to define ourselves as "not white." This tends to cause problems for us - especially when being well-educated is considered a mark of "whiteness."

Hardeman, 16, participates in a Los Angeles-based college-preparatory weekend program started by the 100 Black Men organization. Early on, his parents filled his head with thoughts of scholarly achievement. And that has led some to question his racial bona fides. On one occasion, "I was jumped after school for answering too many questions," recalled Hardeman. His dad gave him some hip-hop clothes to help him fit in. "That made it worse," he said. "People hated me." Even his music--the likes of Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys--got him into trouble. Bullies shattered one of his CDs at a school function, and one told him, "Dude, you're whiter than they are."
Ellis Cose, "Does Cosby Help?"
Of course, this wasn't what the China News was complaining about, but there is a parallel. According to NPR, one of the things that riled up the China News writer was the fact that Ambassador Locke had been photographed "carrying his own backpack and buying his own coffee," which "was described as a ploy to embarrass less frugal Chinese officials."

The idea that it's somehow "un-Chinese" for a diplomat to act like a ordinary person (which, it should be noted, seemed to endear him to ordinary Chinese citizens) is just as strange, and insecure, as the idea that achieving in school should be understood as "un-Black." It's true that in many areas, the rules of virtue, as it were, were written by white people. And it's true that for some time, those rules were applied in such a way that benefited them as everyone else's expense. But a lot of the things that white people consider virtues are, well, virtues. And setting out to reject people who follow them as being "inauthentically" non-white (especially when the motivation seems to be avoiding shame or embarrassment over standards not reached) doesn't help anyone.

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