Pocket Thoughts – Life as a “White” Biracial

“I have become all things to all people” wrote the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, a phrase he used to describe cultural adaptation for the sake of furthering the Gospel.  Paul was a devout Jewish leader who used to murder Christian believers, but suddenly he found himself between two cultures and two religions.  He was part of both camps so he knew how to act and behave as well as what was expected from either one.  The fact that Paul belonged to two distinct people groups made him one of the most effective missionaries of his time and his evangelism is still marvelled at today.

While I am no Apostle Paul, I have also spent 29 years of my life vacillating between two different cultures.  It has at times been exhilarating, and at other times confusing.  I have given quite a bit of thought to it, but in recent months with the whole Black Lives Matter movement and talk of White Fragility, it is something that has been on my mind a whole lot more.

Throughout my life I have had some embarrassing (and perhaps even insulting moments) due to my race.  When I was in elementary school I did not like to eat bread and I hated sandwiches.  What do kids bring to school in their lunchboxes?  Usually sandwiches.  I used to take out the lunch meat eating it first and then roll my bread into little dough balls to eat.  Weird, absolutely, but all kids have such quirks.  One of my classmates looked over and scoffed “is that the way Asian people eat sandwiches?” she taunted.  I stuck the rest in my bag.  I had suddenly lost my appetite.  Also in elementary school I struggled with math.  To this day, I can barely even add or subtract and calculus and algebra may as well be Greek (oh wait, I did 3 semesters of Greek in seminary and it was certainly easier than this stuff!) Once again the whole “Aren’t all Chinese people good at math” came back to taunt me.  Perhaps many Asians are good with numbers, but many others prefer art, music, or drama to mathematical formulations. 

After elementary school, no one could guess my ethnicity.  Some of the most common ones people have suggested are: Hispanic, Latina, Jewish, Philippino, Italian, and Mexican. Once people hear that my nationality is Canadian they also tend to assume I am aboriginal. 

I realize that I have had a fairly easy life due to largely having white phenotypes and ironically my brother looks quite a bit more Asian than I do.  I have also chosen to self-identify as white for the majority of my life due to not only looking more white than Asian but also based on the fact that I don’t speak Chinese, know how to eat with chopsticks but rarely do, and grew up in a Western society.  However, I have been thinking recently that I have as much of a right to claim my ethnicity as Chinese as I do as being white/European.  That said, I’m sure if I did start introducing myself as Chinese I would probably get some rather odd looks from people within the Asian communities. 

I have been taking a course on Indigenous History in Canada.  The lecturer recently spoke about how many Canadians are trying to claim Native ancestry.  Some are interested in hopes they can get a status card which will give specific privileges, but many are simply curious.  When someone discovers they are perhaps one tenth Cree they then feel they can start saying they are Indigenous.  My lecturer, who is Native herself, disagrees with this stance.  She says being Native is not just about DNA, but it is also about being part of a complex history, culture, and decision making process.  She believes that someone is not Native by virtue of their DNA alone, but rather based on adapting to a certain lifestyle.  One line she said in her lecture was “you cannot claim to be part of a people group which has not claimed you.”

By virtue of being Canadian I have been claimed as white.  There have been moments as well when I have been claimed as Asian such as when I joined the Chinese Student Association on my university campus as their token “white person” or when I took a course in seminary entitled “Preaching in a Chinese Church” but there have been many other moments when I have not been claimed by the Chinese such as when I attempted to youth pastor a Chinese church a few years ago.  The kids realized right away I wasn’t one of them and became closed off to me.

I don’t think there are any easy answers here and perhaps this is all a bit of drivel, but it is a constant thought in my mind these days.  What if my genes would have shifted only slightly so that my face looks more Asian than white?  What if I decided to self-identify more as Asian?  What if it was my Dad rather than my Mum who was Asian and I grew up with an Asian last name?  These are perhaps all thoughts for another day, but one question for today still remains: what does White Fragility look like when you’re white but you don’t actually feel fragile?


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