You don’t have to be mixed-race to have a mixed identity

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“Gosei” depicts Laura Kina’s daughter and is one of Kina’s five pieces at the new Wing Luke Museum exhibit, Under My Skin. (Photo via laurakina.com)

A new exhibit at the Wing Luke museum is part of a growing movement that says our identity is a personal choice, not a fact of birth.

Editor’s note: Laura Kina, who is quoted throughout this post, disagrees with the representation of her perspective here. You can read her response in the comments. On August 1st we published a response to this story by LeiLani Nishime.

“Aren’t you insulted by that?”

Michael Tenjoma, 23, set down the rolled-out slab of Japanese noodle dough and looks at the blackboard specials beside him in the Seattle restaurant.

“What?” asked the fifth-generation Japanese-American from Hawaii.

“That!” The irate customer pointed at the words “Jap. Satsuma Potato.”

Tenjoma let out a chuckle.

“It has a period after the word ‘Jap’. There’s nothing insulting about it.”

The customer stormed away, irate.

“I’m not Japanese,” Tenjoma said after telling this story. “Whenever I was in Japan, everyone kept asking me what I really was. But I’d just answer that I’m American. It seemed to bother everyone that I couldn’t give them a straight reply. But when I’m in Hawaii, I’m Japanese. It all really depends on where I am.”

In 2000 the U.S. Census allowed Americans to identify themselves as being two or more races for the first time. According to National Journal, people who identify themselves as multiracial have risen from 9.2 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2010.

Under My Skin” — a recently opened exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum — discusses the issues of race and identity through art. Each piece weaves an intricate story evoking introspection, whether through modern art installations or traditional oil paintings. It is a quiet place with all 26 artists’ emotions and perspectives prodding into each attendee as they view each display.

“Issei” a piece by Laura Kina depicts her Okinawan great-grandmother, who was a sugarcane farmer in Hawaii. This oil painting is a part of the Wing Luke Museum’s Under My Skin exhibit. (Photo via laurakina.com)

“Issei” a piece by Laura Kina depicts her Okinawan great-grandmother, who was a sugarcane farmer in Hawaii. This oil painting is a part of the Wing Luke Museum’s Under My Skin exhibit. (Photo via laurakina.com)

Laura Kina, a contributing artist to the exhibit, is mixed. Her father’s side of the family is from Okinawa, Japan and her mother is of mixed-European ancestry with origins in small town Washington.

Her contribution to the exhibit is a chronological set of five paintings showing five generations of her family as they begin to mix over time; ending with the fifth generation, her daughter. In the final painting (the one at the top of this post), it would be near impossible to guess her daughter’s race. Despite this, her daughter looks strikingly similar to her Okinawan great-grandmother in the paintings — there’s a subtle connection between their eyes.

Another part of the exhibit reaches out to the so-called “default category.”

On a white wall in the exhibit is a simple piece of paper with questions aimed at white people. One of the questions posed is: “When did you choose to be white?”

For me personally, the answer is that I did not.

I was called an “egg” for the first time when I was 16.

I had never heard the term used before but it was related to “twinkie” or “oreo.” I was white on the outside, yellow on the inside.

I became infatuated with Japanese culture when I was 8. Growing up in the southwest, I was like many white American youth, feeling “vanilla” and “boring” because I did not have a culture that was easily definable. So I found something else that appealed to me.

These days, my co-worker announces frequently that I am the most Japanese at the Japanese restaurant I work at. The restaurant owned by a Japanese man, and staffed by mostly Japanese-American workers. When a Japanese pop song comes on the radio that I admit I don’t recognize, or there’s a reference to an anime I don’t know, I’m teased for not living up to my Japanese-obsessed reputation.

Oddly, this experience reminds me a little of how my Asian and black friends in my predominately-white Arizona hometown would sometimes be asked, “Why don’t you act more Asian? Why don’t you speak more like a black person?”

Of course it’s different. They dealt with having to their identity tied to their race by force. I have the privilege of accepting a white identity and just blending in to the mainstream if I want to.

The author (center) pictured at age 20, during her exchange in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo courtesy Maggie Thorpe)

The author (center) pictured at age 20, during her exchange in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo courtesy Maggie Thorpe)

But that wasn’t so easy when I lived in Japan.

I wished people would stop staring at me. I wanted to melt into the subway crowd and disappear. When I was immersed in the Japanese countryside for a few weeks and dressed in traditional yukata for a local festival, I ignored the stares and imagined that I looked like everyone else.

I was not a big-nosed, green-eyed white girl, but a person who felt a belonging in that community. I was a part of them.

“Race is a social construct. In a certain context, it could mean that everyone is mixed,” said Kina, who is also an Art, Media and Design professor at DePaul University. “It’s not a fixed thing.”

Why should your race peg you into a hole of how to identify yourself?

“People are increasingly ethnically ambiguous,” Kina explained. “People can choose what they are. Race is not the primary indicator of identity. For me, I have chosen to be a part of the Japanese-American community.”

Some sociologists argue that, as more and more Americans are mixed race, they have options in choosing how they identify.

With this concept in mind, do you have to be mixed race to be mixed? Can a white person be considered mixed?

“Whiteness is considered the default category,” Kina said. “However, what is whiteness is an equally strange thing. If a white person identifies with the Japanese-American culture, then we do not care about their motive. We want them to participate. It’s all about supporting the community.”

Valerie Conklin was an English teacher in Kyoto, but has rethought her decision to live in Japan. (Photo by Maggie Thorpe)

Valerie Conklin was an English teacher in Kyoto, but has rethought her decision to live in Japan. (Photo by Maggie Thorpe)

Valerie Conklin, 22, is an English teacher in Kyoto, Japan. She finally reached her dream of living and working in Japan, but suddenly decided to cancel her contract.

“During adolescence I definitely saw Japan as the ‘true place’ for me,” Conklin said. “I loved that Japan was this safe, clean country, where people were polite and community-minded, and which put an emphasis on girls being cute instead of sexy. I often felt so out of place among my peers when it came to American fashion, celebrities…I didn’t see the appeal of most of it.”

After living in Japan for a year, she realized that there were aspects of American and Japanese culture that she liked and disliked, ultimately realizing that she identified more with her American culture.

“I can try to apply the things I like about the Japanese way of thinking into my own life philosophy, while still retaining the things I love about my own American way of thinking as well,” Conklin decided.

Conklin was one of my former classmates in my Japanese classes. She is one of many white Americans who are fascinated with Asian culture that I have met over my decade-long Japanese-learning career.

Frequently in my Japanese classes in high school and college, my non-Japanese classmates would try to prove how much more Japanese they were — whether by their pronunciation, how many “real” Japanese friends they have, or how they can perform a tea ceremony. For many of these white classmates, they felt they had to fill a void in their cultural identity with another’s.

However, race does not equal a cultural identity. It is who you surround yourself with and what you feel connected with that identifies who you are.

The author with her boyfriend at the University of Washington. (Photo courtesy Maggie Thorpe)

The author with her boyfriend at the University of Washington. (Photo courtesy Maggie Thorpe)

Realizing this, I considered my relationship with my half-Japanese, half-Vietnamese boyfriend. If I married him, our children would have a multitude of cultures to learn from. They would eventually have issues in their mixed identity — or would they?

“There are changes in how mixed or minorities are treated in school from the 70s and now,” Kina said. “In the 70s, people were really conscious about political correctness. According to my high school daughter, over half of her classmates are mixed or biracial. There is not a need to be careful with what you say, and not as much of a big deal to have lots of friends who are different and mixed ethnicities. It is how you socially identify yourself that defines you.”

While in Japan, I was glad to show my differences as a white American while trying to learn the Japanese way of life. While in America, I switch.

My identity is culturally mixed. Japanese and American.

And my identity — like everyone else’s — is my choice.

Like Kina says, “you can’t always tell on the outside.”

The Under My Skin exhibit runs until November 17. You can find more details at http://www.wingluke.org/exhibitions/special.htm.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Maggie Thorpe is a graduate student in Japan Studies at the University of Washington. She recently came back from her exchange at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. She loves to slurp down zaru udon, relax in hot springs, and play Japanese drums. You can check out more of her work at http://www.missmagpie.net

36 COMMENTS

  1. I feel that this isn’t about being mixed -race-, but being of mixed or multi-ethnic-.

    Race certainly does exist, and is coded into who we are. You are Caucasian, and 66% likely to find a bone marrow donor if you got cancer. I am mixed race, and more likely to win the lottery. Those odds suck, honestly.

    However, ethnically, you can be whatever you feel comfortable with. Plenty of expats do that: they travel to different countries, fall in love with the culture (and another person), and assimilate. There’s nothing wrong with that.

      • Ethnicity is the idea of being within a social group that has common cultural traditions. In your comment are you saying that I am unable to join a social group other than my own, taking part in their traditions? I come from Europe and moved to North America 12 years ago. Have I not become ethnically North American? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. Race and culture are not the same thing. Race is an immutable product of genetics. Culture is a malleable construct based on the environment of your upbringing. That said, malleable cultural identity does not imply fluid cultural identity. You cannot choose your culture, largely because you do not choose your parents, or your childhood. You can become intrested in other cultures, learn about them, live in them, but you will never change your identity. It’s like mixing milk and juice. You can add as much juice as you want to a glass of milk but in the end you can only ever have a juice-milk hybrid and never pure juice. You can watch all the anime in the world but the basis upon which you enjoy and parse the symbols and semiotic units will always be American or whatever. I personally am a Canadian born Chinese, and even though it is a part of my genetic makeup I will never in my entire life ever understand what it’s like to be a Chinese born Chinese, no matter how hard I try. Neither will I ever understand what it means to be a white Canadian. When it comes down to it cultural groups are only useful but imperfect approximations of a person’s culture which is highly individual. To think one can “learn” another “exotic” and “interesting” culture is oversimplifying the concept. I find the idea both ignorant and arrogant.

    • There is no such thing as race. There is not enough genetic variation amongst humans to have the requirement for different races.

      Gah. I hate the misuse of the term. Ethnicity is both your familial background and the societal background.

  3. I would like to clarify that I do not percceive it as a curse to never be able to understand Chinese-Chinese culture or white-Canadian culture. I am Chinese-Canadian and quite content with it. It has never caused me hardship and it’s p cool.

  4. So, you fetishized Japan like so many young white Americans, then when you decided it was too hard to assimilate, you went right back to being white? Loool. Race is not a social construct and it is harmful to oppressed minorities for white people to think so. Stop.

    • I agree with this comment. You might think you’re mixed Japanese, but you will never face any of the issues and difficulties that actual Japanese diaspora face. Stop pretending like you have anything other than white privilege and benefit from white supremacy both in the US and abroad–yes, even when you were in Japan. A lot of people staring at a fetishistic gaijin is not racism, and it’s nothing compared to what Japanese and other diaspora face in white-dominated countries.

  5. So, you fetishized Japan like so many young white Americans, then when you decided it was too hard to assimilate, you went right back to being white? Lol. Race is not a social construct and it is harmful to oppressed minorities for white people to think so. Stop.

  6. By all means, appreciate Japanese culture. Learn as much as you can, spread your knowledge, and teach your future children (as that is what you wish). Do not, however, identify as Japanese just because you love aspects the culture. That is harmful. You are a white American, and you will never have to put up with all of the prejudice that Japanese people (and all POC for that matter) have gone/are going through. Unless there is Japanese in your blood, you are not Japanese. Racial identity is not a choice, you get what you get.

  7. Describing your own culture as too ‘plain’ and ‘vanilla’ also says a lot about how you see other cultures (‘exotic’)… guess what… everyone’s own culture is plain and vanilla to them.

    You’re not Japanese even if you wish it so. That’s not the culture you grew up in, nor were you born into it… this silly idea that you can just hop into cultures and appropriate it to your liking… it doesn’t work that way.

    Really the article itself and especially the quotes says it all. And just because your co-workers say you’re ‘more Japanese’ doesn’t actually mean anything. Your Japanese-American co-workers probably feel more at ease with the American culture they’re accustomed to than the J-pop you immerse yourself with, and that sort of comment is just made when someone foreign to the culture emulates gestures and social customs of theirs, usually exaggerated or awkwardly.

    If you’re so inundated with the fact that you’re white is too plain for you, why not go to England or something and get in touch with your ancestor’s roots.. that’d be preferred over setting up reasons as to why you identify as Japanese..

  8. >and which put an emphasis on girls being cute instead of sexy.

    haha yeah, if there’s one country that knows how to treat its women, it’s japan.

  9. This article is so offensive.
    You are not a person of color. You will never understand the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the way the world treats us. You are not Japanese-American. You are an American with a deep affection for Japanese culture. There is nothing wrong with that. But that’s it.

  10. I think the main problem with being White and then saying you are Japanese is that you assume all the positive aspects(food, entertainment) of the culture without having to deal with the negatives (racism). That’s because racism is largely applied based upon race or what you look like. If you don’t look Japanese you won’t have to deal with it. Have you ever been stereotyped or experienced racism because you look Japanese? Were your grandparents imprisoned in internment camps in America? Have you ever experienced institutionalized racism in America? Because you don’t assume or have experienced the negative aspects of your identification, it makes others who have done so insulted. Culturally, I think you can be Japanese, but I don’t think it’s possible to be ethnically or racially Japanese.

    I find it interesting that you couldn’t identify American culture. McDonalds, drive ins, drive in movies, big ass cars, waste, rap, driving as far as the eye can see, and I I’ll go as far as saying racism are all things that come to my mind when I think of American culture. (I say racism because of the destruction of the Native Americans, enslavement of the Africans, persecution of the Chinese and Japanese, destruction of Native Hawaiians, racism towards Hispanics, and current institutionalized racism.) What I think you need to do is understand your ethnic group, America, before you go on to assume yourself Japanese. Putting a low amount of effort to understand your ethnic group is very insulting to those of your own ethnic group and to those who are ethnically and racially the identity you are assuming.

    • I really like your response. I’m half Japanese as well; the other half is White and mostly Swiss. Because I’ve grown up in Hawaii, I haven’t dealt with the Japanese version of being Japanese, where being full is the only way to go, but I have had my Japanese side completely ignored because people see me as White rather than Japanese. The majority of racism I have experienced was because I looked White, not Japanese.

      The idea of being hapa or mixed brings up another point. The author, by assuming two identities, White and Japanese, assumes to know the experience of us who are hapa(mixed). One’s background and interactions of being mixed whether in Japan or Hawaii is so complex, I believe it is very hard to understand from an outside perspective. Assuming you understand this is extremely insulting.

      Being hapa can be very tough and personally discovering my own identity is one of the biggest challenges I am facing. Jamie, I hope you have or will find peace in the discovery of your own identity.

  11. Oh, honey. Liking Japanese culture does not mean you are interrogating your own whiteness. It means you are enacting your own whiteness, hardcore, and also continuing the noble white tradition of fetishizing Asian cultures. And the fact that you haven’t realized this (and somehow lived in Japan without anyone smacking you in the face with this) just reveals how normalized white hegemony is.

    Feeling an affinity for another culture and/or feeling out of place in the culture you were born into is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from being required to construct a cultural identity from scratch because no ready-made socially normative identity exists for you to adopt. Repeat that a couple times.

    Being mixed in means constantly having outsider status forced upon you. In America it means being forced to choose between parts of yourself because society literally lacks language to refer to race as anything other than a binary. It means having not just your race but your humanity challenged every time someone asks “What are you?”

    But hey, this sounds like a really cool exhibit, and I bet all the contributing artists are horrified to see their work tied to an article like this.

  12. Appreciating/fetishizing Japanese culture doesn’t make you Japanese. Get it straight: you’re a white girl who latched onto an “exotic” culture because of some void you have inside. That doesn’t make you Japanese. I grew up around Puerto Rican & appreciate their culture, but I know that does not make me Puerto Rican.

    And I think that you either misunderstood or misquoted your professor source, because if she really meant that a person with no drop of Japanese blood can consider herself and call herself Japanese, then she should really get a refund fir her PhD. Most likely she was talking about people who are mixed and not just under the “default” (yet socially at the top of the race hierarchy) category.

    • Janice – yes, there are significant misquotes or edits here that have altered the meaning of what I intended. See my post below. I am also asking the editors to please remove all of my quotes and images from this article as this is not something I can support. That said, I do not want to discount the author’s experience of her own identity. I am just speaking for myself.

  13. Okay. Stop. Just stop.

    “I became infatuated with Japanese culture when I was 8. Growing up in the southwest, I was like many white American youth, feeling “vanilla” and “boring” because I did not have a culture that was easily definable. So I found something else that appealed to me.”

    Do you have any idea how this SOUNDS?

    “I have the privilege of accepting a white identity and just blending in to the mainstream if I want to.”

    You don’t understand. You don’t have the privilege of ‘accepting’ a white identity and blending in, you already HAVE a white identity and are blending in. Do you get called racial slurs that other Asians do? Do people give you dirty looks when you speak your native language with your family in white areas? Do you get discriminated against in the workplace, do you get paid less?

    Do you think ‘people giving you weird looks in Japan’ is in any way comparable to being a person of color in the United States and having the entire system work against you?

    You aren’t part of the culture. You’re a fan of the culture. You’re outside of it, you’re accessorizing it, you get to adopt the ‘cool’ parts of it and ignore all the uncool parts of it, like discrimination.

    You may pretend that being Japanese is part of your internal cultural identity (there is no such thing) but this entire article is so very white.

  14. While I appreciate the coverage of my art and the “Under My Skin exhibition” at the Wing Luke Museum, I would like to clarify a few of my quotes in this article by Maggie Thorpe as my quotes appear to be out of context and have come off as implying things I did not intend.
    “People are increasingly ethnically ambiguous,” Kina explained. For example:
    “People can choose what they are. Race is not the primary indicator of identity. For me, I have chosen to be a part of the Japanese-American community.”

    There were three threads of conversation here that have been collapsed into a statement that does not entirely make sense now. The missing parts had to do with notions of “post-race,” which I recall critiquing and also balancing with an explanation of the way racial ascription works – we can’t control how others perceive and treat us. Changing legal definitions of race also impact our individual and communal identities. Yes, it is true that I choose to be an active member of the Japanese American community in Chicago. That was a whole other conversation about cultural and ethnic identity and community activism, which is connected but different than race. I’m sure I talked to her about the difference between Okinawan identity and mainland Japanese identity and how geography, generational identity, class etc. impact even this ethnic identity. Since I remember I had this conversation while I was waiting for my daughter to get out of Hebrew school one Sunday, I am sure I also talked to her about being part of a Jewish community.

    Maggie Thorpe asks a provocative question, “With this concept in mind, do you have to be mixed race to be mixed? Can a white person be considered mixed?” I think she is trying to talk about her own sense of having a hybrid identity but the edited quote from me to support the affirmative answer about mixed race is also out of context: “Whiteness is considered the default category,” Kina said. “However, what is whiteness is an equally strange thing. If a white person identifies with the Japanese-American culture, then we do not care about their motive. We want them to participate. It’s all about supporting the community.”

    I remember Maggie asking me how I feel about “white people” attending Japanese American cultural events. The underlying implication seemed to be a question about how I feel about white people who are infatuated with Japanese culture. I did not answer that question directly but rather spoke about how many of our Japanese American cultural events are open to everyone to participate and enjoy and that includes Euro-Americans hence the “We want them to participate.” Being and consuming another culture is a different story. In regards to “whiteness is an equally strange thing”… I remember discussing how even this category is not fixed; not so long ago Italians, Irish, and Jews were not considered white. Min Zhou’s 2004 article “Are Asian Americans Becoming White?” is a great article to read in this regard. To talk about “whiteness” we have to talk about white privilege and anti-blackness and that’s not “vanilla and boring” but it can be very dangerous.

    I would encourage you all to go visit the “Under My Skin: Artists Explore Race in the 21st Century” exhibition at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and make your own assessment of the show. Maggie said the show is “is part of a growing movement that says our racial identity is a personal choice, not a fact of birth.” Here is how the Wing Luke describes the show on their website:

    In “Under My Skin,” 26 artists share their creative visions of race – the brutal realities of racism in the past and present, the ways race shapes the immigrant experience, and the hope that can be found in the complex realities of race in daily life. The exhibit invites visitors into a thoughtful conversation about race in the 21st century, and beyond. “Under My Skin” is on display at The Wing from May 10th through November 17, 2013.

    http://www.wingluke.org/exhibitions/special.htm

    • Hi Laura -Thanks for putting your comments back into their intended context. I would like to add something to the comment you made about the white category not being fixed. We talked briefly about that in the class at Northgate Elementary that created one of the youth art pieces for “Under My Skin”. I have had personal experience with the not so fixed category, and as a second generation American, witnessed or heard stories of blatant unlawful discrimination experienced by family members. I shared some of the stories with the class. The way to assimilate is to “anglicize”. Anyone with white skin can do that. For white immigrants, it is a choice that is unavaliable to others. However, the choice comes with a cost. It isn’t as simple as dropping the “mc’s, icz, unas, itus, etc., from the surnames to become a “Kent or Hugh”. To assimilate (into the world of white privlidge) also means that one has to have amnesia about family history. It also means that sometimes one feels social pressure to make jokes or disparaging comments about the culture of origin in order to make the dominant group trust that one is really more like the group, and ethnicity isn’t really a factor. I think that white immigrants have choices that people of color don’t have, but the choices come at a cost. I am idealistic enough to always hope that someday all people who live here will experience being treated as empowered, free, and fully American “as they are”, and that differences will be seen as strengths and contributions. They did a project about migration at the Chicago Art Institute that invited the public to share migration stories. I included my mom’s which was theraputic for me. http://theyseekacity.tumblr.com/post/48621382643/from- lithuania-to-chicago . I think that as more cultural institutions provide “story containers” (as does the Wing Luke), the more people will experience being valued here. That, I believe, will ultimately influence the “dominant culture” as it will, (I hope) absorb more into it which will bring change from the inside.

  15. Ms. Thorpe — if an African-American friend of yours chose to be white — what do you think would happen? Do you think they’d be granted that choice, even if they were of mixed black/white ancestry? Do you know what it means to “pass?” Have you read anything about the long history and consequences of passing for people of color?

    Your (perhaps unintended) arrogance is because of your whiteness. Because of your white privilege, you have the luxury of dabbling in other cultures/ethnicities/races, but that is not the same thing as claiming an identity.

    Before going any further down this path, I’m going to suggest that you seek some education about race/racism and white privilege in America. The People’s Institute in Seattle would be a good place to start.

  16. First of all, the only way that the term ‘mixed identity’ could be defined as you use it is the result of having a racial background that is not congruent with ones upbringing in a specific cultural setting. This is not the case for you, as you are a white girl born in the United States who has fetishized an asian culture. Racial experiences are not something you can choose. Also,race and culture are not the same thing.

    There’s a lot of discussion within mixed race circles about the privileges that come along with being ‘white perceived’. This can come along with all kinds of different outcomes, from people ‘pretending’ to be white, to having the tendency of not experiencing racial prejudice as a result of lighter skin, or having people say racist things in front of them without the racist realizing or caring that they are talking about a minority that the person is a part of. So, there are definitely a lot of unique racial experiences that come along with being mixed. Mixed race people having the option of choosing how they identify is entirely different than you appropriating aspects of a culture that have nothing to do with you. You are white. What you are doing is not being ‘mixed’, it is cultural appropriation.

    What you experienced in Japan, being stared at and feeling otherized, is the feeling that people of color have to deal with around the world, everyday. We can not turn our identity on and off when it benefits us to play the white role, as you do. Colorblind politics leave white as the default and don’t leave room for the discussion of the experiences of those who don’t benefit from white privilege.

  17. I’m a mixed race woman. I grew up in a predominantly white area with a family that is very clearly not white. My mother’s family is Japanese, Hawaiian, Samoan, Filipino, and black. I could never pass for white, and I was never treated as if I were white. You, the white author trying so hard to claim my identity as your own, know nothing about what it’s like to be mixed race.

    Have you ever been called a racial slur? Have you ever had kids in your class put knots in your “pretty and exotic” black hair? Have you ever been made fun of because of your inability to pass? Have you ever had men make lewd comments about your “asian” anatomy? Have you ever been condescended to by white people who are totally convinced they know more about your culture than you do?

    Learn our language. Learn our history. Be a part of our culture. That’s fine.

    But never presume to know what it’s like to be one of us. Because you don’t.

  18. Well I don’t quite think there is a void inherent by your own race. We all have our own roots, yours most likely in Europe, mine in Japan and Ireland and Italy.

    It’s important, imo to understand that our race isn’t chosen, we are what we all, but we can identify with other ones more so than our own, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. You probably shouldn’t say that you are Japanese though, since it entails more than just a few aspects. It’s like people saying they’re British when they aren’t, or saying their Argentinian or Korean.

    The funny thing is, had you not been White, the people on this thread probably wouldn’t have thought much about it. It’s important to understand the history behind all this, and I think there are points you can improve on, but some are still stuck in the past. They shoe-horn themselves into the categories others have set for them because of the past.

    I say don’t say you are Japanese, as I am not, say a Black man who can understand what black men go through, but it’s fine to relate to that culture.

  19. What a clusterf*ck of an article. You’re misinterpreting Kina’s quotes. Race is not a choice, but Kina is right, race is a social construct – read: SOCIAL. Ethnically, I am Chinese but can’t choose how I am perceived as an Asian. Trayvon Martin could not help how he was perceived as a Black male. The fact that it’s so easy for you to say you’re Japanese reveals your privilege as a white person. You rarely have to think about how your race affects you because you’re at an advantage compared to rest of us. Also, you can study the culture but even while you lived in Japan, you were merely an expat. You will never understand what it’s like to grow up Japanese and be perceived as Japanese.

    You’re using people to affirm your supposed “Japanese-ness” that you’re obviously so proud of. They’re not props. Also there is no such thing as “Asian culture”. Asian is an umbrella term for many diverse cultures, so you’ve done an additional insult by homogenizing them all into one culture. Though I suppose what binds Asian cultures is how “exotic” they are are compared to white American culture, right?

  20. Race relations are how someone treats you, not how you identify yourself. And that is the problem in a nutshell, people taking other people at ‘face value’ according to racial stereotypes, and it might just get you killed.

  21. I think that defining the terms race, ethnicity and culture would have gone a long way in refining the points that you tried to make in this piece, especially because you seem to use those terms interchangeably. Furthermore, you concluded by simply stating that your identity is mixed, but what kind of identity are you referring to? Racial? Cultural? Personal? Of course your personal identity is your choice but things like your race and the culture you were born into and raised in are not things that you have control over, just like how you cannot control how you are perceived by other people at face value. I’m half-Japanese and I have definitely received those same stares while in Japan (because I don’t look Japanese) but for you to assume that you know what it feels like to have others assume that you are a “foreigner” when in fact you have been deeply immersed in Japanese language and culture because you were raised by a Japanese parent is ignorant on your part and a bit insulting. There’s nothing wrong with having and interest in Japanese culture, but your cultural experience in Japan was likely similar to that of other white Americans who have an interest in Japanese culture. And it is definitely not the same experience that a half Japanese person would have in Japan.
    It seems like you are confusing your interest in Japanese culture with identifying as Japanese/part Japanese, which is far more complex of a cultural and racial identity than you seem to have a grasp on.

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