I’ve been watching the post-Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict drama unfold over the last few days. I’ve seen much of the African-American community absolutely flabbergasted that Zimmerman could be found innocent. I’ve seen much of the White community screaming and yelling that this trial was not about race, but about self-defense. I’ve seen posts on Facebook and Twitter and other social media supporting either Martin’s family or Zimmerman; demonizing one or the other.
If it weren’t so tragic; if a young man hadn’t lost his life; if another man hadn’t ruined his own life; if the underlying current of racism that still exists in this country wasn’t so clumsily exposed, I would find it all almost amusing – the media seems to.
I am not Trayvon Martin.
Nor am I George Zimmerman.
I am not African-American.
I am not White.
Nor am I Asian or Native American.
I have never had the privilege and comfort that White (Hispanic or otherwise), African-American or any other racial communities have long taken for granted – a true sense of community, of belonging, of “us”; one that goes to the very core of their being, of their identity.
I am a HAPA. You see, I am half-Japanese. My other half is mostly white with a sprinkling of Native American for good measure. I am both White and Asian, yet I am neither. I went to preschool, kindergarten and first grade in Japan – where I wasn’t nearly Japanese enough to be truly embraced into the culture or accepted by my peers. I finished my schooling in Miami and Seattle, where I wasn’t quite White enough to be part of that ethnic group either; again never truly fitting in with any of my peers.
All of my life I have never quite fit in to any group…except well, maybe my fraternity in college (we were truly the island of beer drinking misfit toys) but that is neither an ethnic nor racial group.
I’ve watched both Whites and African-Americans dig in their heels, point fingers, lay blame. If Zimmerman hadn’t… If Martin hadn’t… If only Zimmerman had… If only Martin had…
I’ve engaged some of the folks on both sides regarding the verdict. Nobody wants to listen to what the other has to say. They don’t want to know what they don’t know; they don’t want to understand what they don’t understand. They didn’t grow up in each other’s communities. They can’t possibly know the unfounded fear that each has of the other.
Now don’t get me wrong. A significant majority of my non African American friends seem to have fallen on the Trayvon Martin side of the argument, but even they seem unable to grasp what it means to be Black in America.
Jess recently wrote about finally understanding what a African American mother must goes through every time she sends her babies out into the world – the fear, the worry. I was somewhat surprised, in part, because growing up I felt like I was that baby no matter where I went. It didn’t matter if I was riding my bike through a White neighborhood, a Black neighborhood, a Latino one or an Asian one…no matter where I went, I was a stranger, I was different and therefore drew some underlying suspicion. The parents of the girls I dated were more often than not slightly uncomfortable at first, in part because they just were not sure “who” or “what” I was. Although I embraced the fact that I was half-Asian and half-White, publicly stating that I had the best of both worlds, internally I was constantly at sea, knowing that my ship could never dock permanently anywhere.
Ultimately though, I think my racial ambiguity has helped me develop the people skills I have to today. I was forced to figure out a way to connect with people without the luxury of either the unspoken racial connection I witness when two people of the same race meet or the racial recognition one has for someone of a distinctly different race.
My lack of race I think enables me to see the casual racism by both Whites and African Americans (and Asians for that matter) that others don’t see in themselves. This case exposed what still exists in this country – racial tensions that bubble beneath the surface, just low enough in some places that many people have learned or chosen to ignore it. We’ve come a long way in 60 years. We still have a long way to go.
My hope is that, as I have had to do all my life out of necessity, people will try to at least imagine walking in the shoes of someone who did not grow up in the same environment as themselves – imagine what it must be like when others assume you are a criminal; imagine what it is like when others assume you are a racist; imagine what it is like when others assume you are taking advantage of the system; imagine what it is like when others assume you are privileged.
We are more similar to each other than different; we all want personal happiness, we all want to see our parents live long and our children thrive. My hope is that people will recognize that these similarities should bond us together instead of letting our differences drive us apart. I envy the connection that people have to those within their own race, but I am grateful that my lack of race, my lack of belonging, my lack of “us” has forced me to simply see people for who they are.
Me and a fellow Hapa – not quite White…not quite Asian
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