White Asian?

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Stephen Quaye speak at the recently held Michigan College Personnel Association Annual Conference at Western Michigan University. Having heard him speak at the ACPA 2014 National Convention, I knew that he’d send out a few snippets which would make me sit and ponder for days. This time was no exception.

One of the power powerful points he made was: If we don’t talk about race with our children why should we expect them to talk about it when they reach college?

Now, this point alone could be an entire book, but I put a personal spin on it, and began thinking about racial identity and the struggle I’ve had with creating a racial/cultural identity for myself.

Courtesy of Brian D. Proffer
Courtesy of Brian D. Proffer

I was born in Seoul South Korea, and at a year old was adopted by two loving Americans. I traveled thousands of miles to Flushing, Michigan, where I was raised. Now, I wasn’t exposed to the Korean culture as I grew up. Rather I grew up as a conservative, small town, country music loving ruralite who appreciated a good old American hamburger.

I’ve always identified as Asian, because it’s how I looked on the outside. However, during my grad school days, my courses and conversations with #SAPros and my cohorts got me thinking on whether or not I really and truly identified as Asian or if I actually identified as white.

This was also the first time I’d heard of the phrase “white-washed”. It’s a buzzword which refers to when a minority child is raised by white identified people and raised in the white culture and not within their own racial or ethnic identity.

TANGENT: To me, most times “white-washing” a child is not a purposeful thing that parents “inflict” upon their children. Rather I think it’s a personal and unrealized struggle parents undertake, especially when they adopt a child from another race. I don’t blame my parents at all for the unintended “white washing” of my Asian-ness. They just did what they felt was right and what they knew. And I don’t think that anyone can judge those parents who just wish their children a happy and healthy life and try to make the best decisions they can to accomplish that goal. Interracial adoptions are complicated enough and all a parent can do is do their best and they should never be criticized for that. 

Return from Tangent: So, for the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out how I identify; how I want to and how I should. Now, this post doesn’t have any glorious “light bulb moment” ending, cause I’m still struggling. But Dr. Quaye’s talk at #MCPA14 really got me back to this as a main focus of my spare time ponderings.

So you might be wondering what kind of questions I’m pondering and struggling with, so let me share some of them with you:

Am I bi-racial? Am I multicultural? What am I when I have an exterior of one race, but a culture of another?

If my Asian/minority exterior gives me privileges, should I identify as Asian?

If my white culture gives me privileges, should I identify as White?

Is it appropriate for me two switch between them depending on the privilege one or the other give me in any specific situation?

Should I consider myself fortunate that I can identify with a majority population when I need to? Is it right to be able to have that privilege?

Should I identify as White Asian American?…Is there even such a label?

Do I even need a label?

And a stupid question: Why do I have to deal with almost every time I walk into an oriental restaurant, my server tries to size me up as to measure the authenticity of how Asian I am? (Believe me friends, the struggle is real…especially when they try to talk to me in Cantonese or Korean.)

So, there you have it. Yet another identity struggle I’m working on. I know that it seems every other post I write is about an identity struggle, but let’s face it…there’s no single or easy answer to how a person identifies, so why not share our struggles and help each other out? #IncluderPower

Until next time!

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: