Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CONVERSATION ON COLOUR SHAME (AS AN ASIAN FEMME)

Hey all, I wrote the below in response to someone asking me to write about an aspect of my journey to anti-racist work... hope there is some value to you in reading this. Thanks heaps :-)

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So. Yesterday I was explaining to a white person about my choice to stay as tanned as possible. How it is a conscious decision on my part in response to the status given to pale Asian women. In Asia, there are heavily marketed whitening creams, lotions and operations, as there is a belief that paleness (or "whiteness") is connected to status and conventional ideals of beauty. Many advertising campaigns and films and other media will feature pale Asian women, or purposefully employ part-Anglo/Saxon/Celtic Asian women to feature in said media.
Darkness of skintone still plays into preconceived notions of savagery, primitivism, animalistic tendencies, and other exoticisms. Lightness of skin still suggests purity, pristine beauty, innocence, and thus, being appropriately feminine.
These are generalisations, from conversations with my educated, informed radical queer friends. These are associations people make, despite their reluctance to. In the last few years I have been called "Pocahontas", "Warrior queen", "Amazon woman", and "Tribal Priestess" from these friends. People have also guessed my nationality as Pacific Islander, South or Central American in initial interactions. I am 100% Vietnamese. I don't mean this to take away any burden of history from black or brown people in my community or reading this, and I am not expressing these anecdotes as complaints, merely observation for analysis. I also apologise if I come across as if I am appropriating any other struggles that are not my own.

In my conversation yesterday I explained to my white friend that my choice now to be as dark as possible was one choice of many that I have made over the last 20 or so years, of thinking about race, and in particular, my own journey with my racial identity. I am 31 years old. I explained that up until my early 20s I made a conscious effort to stay as pale as possible, I was a teenage goth, I stayed indoors in Summer, only went to the beach at night... and how that was a conscious denial of my Asianness. I was aware that I was disassociating or attempting to detach from my brownness, my other-ness - these conditions that brought me emotional and physical pain as a teenager growing up in the white oceanside suburbs of Sydney. I was ashamed to be Asian, and I tried to hide it in many ways. I am now trying to dismantle that shame.

My choice now, besides to get healthy doses of Vitamin D, to stay sunlit and brown, are a reply to the conversation I started as an 11 year old. I am now here and proud and fierce.

I have recently started to accept my skin and body as part of who I am, as I realised that I disconnected from these states as a child and teenager as both these physical attributes attracted physical, sexual and verbal abuse from those around me. I am attempting to reclaim my self.

I write this, aware that this is still the beginning of my epiphanies, processing, acceptance.
This is one example of many, many decisions I have made around my intentional anti-racist politics, decisions made from the age of 11. I could write about those decisions, but feel there are too many to recount. The main aspects is that I alternate between empowering People Of Colour in POC-only spaces (workshops, lectures, shows, activism, direct action, community work, refugee work, work in developing countries, journalism) and educating White People and White Spaces (social work, youth work, Critical Whiteness workshops, Privilege workshops, talks on Gentrification and Displacement, talks on Responsible Methodology for NGO refugee services, etc). I have spent years in POC-only countries doing work, and then return to Anglo-Saxon countries to do other work (and usually to save money to fund the other experiences and travel). There has been (exhausting, draining, alienating) years of serving a predominantly white community, and then making a conscious decision to take a break from that and serve intentional POC spaces. This is a continual ellipse, however the older I get, the more focussed I am on giving time to POC-only communities, to asylum-seekers, to immigration and workers' rights.
At this point I am writing a book for Asian-Australian teenagers, will go on another Race Riot zine tour later this year through the south of the States, and hope to seek more work supporting immigrant communities in some way.  I am living in a predominantly white country at the moment, with an almost entirely white radical queer and punk scene around me, which is an aspect I wrestle with daily.

*** I hope this has not offended anyone, as I understand talking about skin colour and shades as an Asian person expresses ALOT of the choice and privilege I have in society. I mostly hope that I have been able to contribute something to the reader. ***

Please contact me if you would like to discuss anything further - annavo@riseup.net

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