All white people are racist.
That was the cliffhanger the trainers left us with on a Saturday evening. We just spent eight hours together dissecting racism and its nuances. There were about 50 of us gathered in this room, mapping out the emotional versus the structural perceptions of racism. We attempted to define racism.
Maybe we succeeded. Maybe not.
• • •
I had an opportunity to participate in an undoing racism training last month, hosted by College Access Consortium of New York (CACNY) and its partners. It’s been about three weeks since the training and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I’m parsing through my notes. I’m reading, drafting essays in my head, and seeing my world in a much more critical way.
Never have I experienced identity and race in this way. Never have I felt so perplexed about race and my experiences and understanding of it. Never has it been on my mind with such intensity throughout my interactions with others.
I went through a questioning of identity about 10 years ago, when I moved to the U.S. for university. It was the first time I was directly confronted about my race and ethnicity. It was the first time I really had to think about my outward appearance and what it meant to be mixed-race in America.
This training resurfaced some of that agitation. Now I’m grappling with additional questions about racial cultures, araciality, and right to difference.
• • •
The dance I find myself doing—do I present as white or Japanese?—is exhausting. But I cannot turn it off.
It’s so much easier to just pass as white. At least as a white person, I can choose to ignore it all and not worry about the consequences. I can choose to not worry about much of anything, honestly. Of course, reality is unforgiving. One thing I quickly learned when I came to the U.S.: people can’t pin me down so they see me as an other. When I tell them that I’m half white, I see the tension leave their shoulders. But only slightly because I still don’t look quite white. It’s as though my “mixed” appearance is a cause for distrust. I’m suspicious. Whose side am I on? I imagine them thinking racist thoughts—however fleeting.
I’m pretty sure my saving grace is my white name. On paper, I’m white. In person, my name is a badge of whiteness. There’s something about a name that invites comfort and trust in white people. Like a relief that they don’t have to worry about mispronouncing my name were it Japanese, or Guyanese, or Arabic. (Though, people mispronounce my Scottish last name all the time so what does that say about anything?)