Identity Politics

cherry blossomsSo. I have briefly blogged about a comment over at BJ that was directed at me by a commenter (woman, I think.  Ed. note: I think it’s a man now.  Which makes more sense as men, in general, have a more aggressive style of commenting) who was angry that I would dare mention my race and/or gender when discussing an issue.  Now, the issue was a paternalistic pat-on-the-head blog entry from a male to Sarah Palin, concern-trolling about her delicate woman parts and how she just can’t defend herself against her mean critics.  This blogger was an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter, and I don’t think he’s over it yet.

Anyway, he was saying how, like Clinton, Palin was pilliored by the press because she’s a woman.  We have to remember, he admonished, that she was once a little girl.  She’s someone’s mother, daughter, etc.

Excuse me what the fuck?  Did he say the same thing when Sanford was getting ridiculed for his escapade on the Appalachian Trail?  “Oh, be nice to the poor guy.  He used to be a little boy once.  He’s someone’s son and someone’s father.”  I would guess not.

I digress yet again!  Anyway, he went on to say that Clinton had been demonized.  Many commenters took him to task at his sexist tone and ‘there, there, little girl’ manner.  Some were women who mentioned that as feminists, they didn’t appreciate his trying to portray women as delicate flowers who need to be pillowed in soft, fluffy stuff so she won’t shatter.

I came along late as night (as I always do) and made a rather long post.  I started out by saying that as an Asian American woman, I had watched the primaries closely to see what kind of racism emerged and what kind of sexism emerged.  I posited that I thought there was more racism coming from Clinton’s team than there was sexism coming from Obama’s team.  In the end, I said, that’s why I went with Obama.

I went on to discuss other points of the media surrounding Palin, and none of it had to do with my race or gender.  In fact, I said much the same thing another commenter did at roughly the same time, and he thanked me for my perspective as an Asian American woman.  Imagine my surprise when I visited the thread the next day, and there was this woman (I think) asking when I went to college.  She said my post was grating and–something else.  I don’t remember.  Just because I was a woman of color, she informed me, and my victimhood in the past didn’t make my opinion any more valid.

She ranted further, but at that point, I was seeing red.  First of all, I am painfully aware that if I inject my race into a discussion (and I’m pretty sure it was my race that pissed her off.  Maybe not, but she didn’t call out the woman who talked about being women), then I run the risk of being told I’m playing the race card.  I was going to point out that I was just basically saying the same thing Sonia Sotomayor had said in her wise Latina remark, but I didn’t want to compare myself to her.  I’m not even half the woman she is.

I wrote back that during the primaries, media kept going on ad nauseam about whether women were voting for Clinton only because she’s a woman while also wondering if blacks were voting for Obama only because he’s black.  Race and gender were very much a part of the scenery, and no one addressed the question what those of us who are both female and of color would do.  I said my opinion isn’t more valid, but it’s an opinion that is different from the usual one.  I concluded by saying that if she that’s all she took from my post, then I wasn’t the one looking through a prejudiced lens.

It bothered me a great deal.  Not because I thought she was right in that context.  I didn’t.  It was pretty clear that I had touched a nerve in her and that she was lashing out.   Did it hurt and bother me?  Yeah.  Was I wrong in what I said?  I don’t think so.

No, what bothered me was, am I using my identity as a crutch?  Let me explain.  As many of you know, I use some variation of asiangrrl as my handle on various blogs.  I have been using it ever since I first got onto the intertoobz because I wanted to proclaim my identity upfront.  Being Asian and a being a woman is important to me.  My background does inform my personality and my being.  It’s just easier to have it out there.  I’ve gotten shit for it for a variety of reasons, but I have stuck to it throughout the years.

It’s served me well, but I’m wondering if I should change it.  Here’s why.  I’m afraid that I’m using my identity as a shield.  Let’s take the example of theatre.  I love it more than I love almost anything else in this world.  However, I haven’t gotten back into it since I moved back from the Bay Area to MN. I am a fat, middle-aged Asian woman.  There are no roles for me.

That’s my mindset.  Now, it’s true that there aren’t a plethora of roles for someone who looks like me.  Indeed, even in my youth, I often got cast in the matronly role because of my sturdy frame (I wasn’t fat at the time).  I once played the mother of a woman who in real life was twelve years older than I.  The sad thing is, I looked like I could be her mother.   So it’s fair to say that roles for someone who looks like me are limited.  However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any roles for me.  In addition, by unilaterally dismissing the issue like that, I don’t have to even audition and risk failing utterly.

One more example–politics.  I have wanted to run for awhile.  However, I’m a bi, agnostic, Asian American woman who isn’t married and who doesn’t have children.  There is no way I would get elected, right?  Probably.  It’s true that I would be a hard sell as a candidate, but who knows if I’m definitively un-electable?  Who can say that for sure if I don’t actually run?

So.  This has been what I’ve been chewing on for the past few days.  I have been aware of my Identity (yes, capital I) for many years.  It has shaped me and how I’ve been received in the world.  What I need to do now is to realize that yes, there are all these existing isms in the world that might make it more difficult for me to accomplish what I want to do, but that shouldn’t stop me from at least trying.  I can’t control what others think of me or act towards me, but I can certainly control what I think of myself and what I do in the world.

15 Responses to Identity Politics

  1. But you ARE asiangrrl!
    I understand what you mean, but you are what you are and changing your handle won’t change the fact that you are asiangrrl.
    I’ve always said I love your in your face attitude, however I don’t see your name as in your face. I see it more like transparency and full disclosure.
    I respect that you are so open, THAT takes guts. Calling someone out for being what they were born into, is fucked up.
    I can’t wait till people just fuck so much the color barrier vanishes and we all become like the Hawaiian race.
    “They” say it is happening, and it scares the shit out of white people.
    I had a great teacher pass this along.

    Last night I heard someone know use the N word. It started a heated “discussion” with us. When he said the hateful things he believes, everything I thought about him changed in an instant.
    People need to realize, if they are willing to speak hateful or ignorant things, they should be ready to accept how they will be seen by others.
    you ARE asiangrrl and no one has a right to approve or disapprove of it.
    That’s just my opinion though.

  2. And another thing!

    Don’t we both know someone who took a WHOLE LOT OF SHIT because she was an unknown blogger? Wasn’t someone we know outed for not disclosing enough of herself?
    Wasn’t her anonymity used against her and called into question?
    Now you on the other hand have supplied that information and some fuckwad is going to use it against you?
    Seems to me the message is, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    Tell her to have a Coke and a smile and to sit down and STFU.
    See, I can be childish too!

  3. It’s served me well, but I’m wondering if I should change it.

    Not that this is a democracy, but I’d beg you not to. I never — not once — got the sense you were using your identity as a shield. Never apologize for being who you are and proud of it.

    it’s fair to say that roles for someone who looks like me are limited. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any roles for me. In addition, by unilaterally dismissing the issue like that, I don’t have to even audition and risk failing utterly.

    Angela Lansbury was cast as Laurence Harvey’s mother in The Manchurian Candidate despite being only three years older than him. Gloria Swanson was only 51 when she starred in Sunset Boulvard. Sigourney Weaver catapulted to fame in Alien playing a role originally written for a man (similarly, the character of Ben in Night of the Living Dead was never written as “black;” Duane Jones just happened to be the best actor to audition.

    On top of that, some directors might have fun with casting against type. It’s true that auditioning presents some risks — I don’t doubt that you *will* get rejected simply because it happens to actors all the time — but if you love it you should do it, I think.

    One more example–politics. I have wanted to run for awhile. However, I’m a bi, agnostic, Asian American woman who isn’t married and who doesn’t have children. There is no way I would get elected, right? Probably.

    I really wish I could disagree with you there.

    It’s true that I would be a hard sell as a candidate, but who knows if I’m definitively un-electable? Who can say that for sure if I don’t actually run?

    Why not? And on top of that, it might be fun just to make your white Christian male opponents uncomfortable.

    (I covered the 1987 Kentucky gubernatorial race in while working at the college paper. Back then, the Democrats had such a lock on the Governor’s Mansion that the Republican candidate was almost a sacrificial position. The GOP candiate that year, John Harper, was a greasy, sleazy, corrupt Kentucky politician who was entertaining because 1) he made no bones about being a greasy, sleazy, corrupt Kentucky politician and b) knowing he’d never win, he made it his business to simply irritate the sleazy, corrupt Democratic candidate as much as possible.)

    Also, I second SillyWhabbit @ #2. If you were carefully anonymous, you’d be attacked for that too — “what are you hiding?! — because, as you may have noticed, intellectual honesty and consistency aren’t always valued in the blogosphere.

  4. I forgot to add — the fact that I am not confident of your chances in an election is not a criticism of you at all, but rather the sickness in our polity.

  5. Whabs, I agree that I will get shit no matter what I do. I just hate the fact that I’m waffling about this. One’s name and one’s handle should be, within limits, of course, up to the person who is doing the commenting. I like asiangrrl because it gives a shorthand for what I am. However, it’s a sticking point for many people. I know, I know, fuck ’em, but still. Then again, if I just used my name, it would have the same effect in a way because Hong is obviously Asian. I’m not so sure Minna is necessarily known as feminine, but still.

    I really like the White Privilege thing. I have long wished that people of the majority can be in a situation where they are the minority and have no power. It’s really not something you can explain to someone who’s never experienced it.

    You’re right that some of it is push-back because of the perceived ‘taking over’ of the brown/yellow/black people (but, alas, never the red). I am just discouraged how much crap comes from the left as well as the right.

    Gregory, yeah, I know that women are often cast as the mother of men who aren’t that much younger. The funniest case is when Sally Field played Tom Hanks’ mom in Forrest Gump–six years after she played his love interest in Punchline. Granted, she’s ten years older, but still.

    Oh, and I still can do one-woman performances if I choose that route. I just have to do it.

    As for politics, if I ever did run, I would have a blast because I wouldn’t care if I got elected or not. I could say whatever the hell I want to whomever I want. It would be fun. Except for the past-dragging-up shit. That would suck. Oh, I know your skepticism about me being elected is for the same reason I’m skeptical–our society is not ready for it.

    In the end, I do have to be me. I just wish I could feel not quite so apologetic about it.

  6. As you say, you must have touched a nerve. I’m always amazed at the generalities that fly around about any person based on race/sex/sexual preference/voting choices. Lots of assumptions out there, so I say the more specific info, the better.

    I got ripped at the ‘Flats once for being “pro-oil.” I guess that was based on my guest blog piece. I said (not verbatim, mind you, but along these lines) “wtf? I’m pro-JOBS and AGIA & oil taxes are eliminating both in Alaska!”

    And going door to door for Obama gave me an unhealthy glimpse into what has become of the Republican party. So many hateful fuckfaces talking shit to me based on my canvassing for Obama. They were not worth the time &/or effort it would have taken to explain to them that A)I was a registered Republican for TWENTY FUCKING YEARS UNTIL THAT DOUCHE MCCAIN PICKED PALIN FOR HIS V.P. RUNNING MATE, and B)Hey, bottom line is I’m just a person, like you, like the neighbor, like the guy down the street, like the protesters in Iran/China/wherever — I am busy raising my kids, doing laundry, dishes & other boring things, trying to find some humor & love in every day… It really left me with a “why so fucking bitter, Republicans?” taste in my mouth. Bring on that 3rd party headed up by Palin so we can weed the shit-for-brains Palin/Bush/Cheney supporters out of the GOP, send them wandering the desert for 20 years or so…

    Minna, that person is not worth the time & energy. He/She has baggage that you cannot comprehend and do not want to be ABLE to comprehend…

  7. SMR, that was very nicely said. Thank you for reminding me that other people’s issues are NOT my issues. In addition, I read that piece of yours. Fuck anyone who thought you were writing from a pro-oil point of view. It just goes to show that people all have their own perspectives. Those of us who have some modicum of self-awareness realize this while others (such as the fuckwads grilling Sonia Sotomayor on her supposed bias) merely project their shit on other people.

    You are right. If people can’t be bothered to see where I’m coming from, then fuck ’em. Thanks, you guys. I really appreciate the kick in the pants/tough love thing y’all have going on.

  8. Minna, you’ve experienced hatred and judgment from so many people who couldn’t see anything past your ‘race.’ You have every right to claim that identity and be in people’s faces about it. You also have an important perspective that has been informed by your experience. To speak from that without owning up to why you have the authority to do so would also invite attacks from people assuming you were a white man!

    Anyone who thinks that racism is ‘over’ is not paying attention, is perpetuating it, or both. You were right to do what you did, and you have my admiration and respect for being who you are, and for not backing down when someone essentially tells you to quit being so ‘uppity.’

  9. Choolie, very true. It really is a no-win situation. It just bums me out because I try so hard to be diplomatic whilst being in-your-face. I rarely make my statements personal (sometimes, I have to, though), and I try to put as much thought into my posts as possible. Except when I’m dominated by the thoughts of sex.

    I know racism isn’t over. I wish it were.

  10. Minna, you succeed in being diplomatic and direct! That attack was the other person’s problems being projected onto you. Kudos to SMR for voicing that correctly.

    I think that racism and sexism and all the other annoying isms will end when all humans evolve or become enlightened. In other words, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’ll do my part to not tolerate/perpetuate this ignorance.

  11. Minna, my examples probably weren’t the best, because my point was that the most interesting casting is often that which goes against expectations. 🙂

  12. Choolie, I try. It’s just natural for me to feel automatically guilty when things like this happen. I have worked on tamping that reflex, but it flares up from time to time.

    Gregory, that is true. If there ever is an all-female version of Jesus Christ Superstar, I would love to play Judas.

  13. Why all-female? I’ve always thought there’s a subtext of jealousy with Judas and Mary Magdalene, so having a woman as Judas might put an interesting spin on that idea.

    C’mon — you singing “I find it a strange thing myyyyyyyyyystifying” would rock!

  14. Gregory, hm. That’s true. It would be deliciously interesting. Ok, Only Judas (me) will have a gender change!