A New Dialog about Race?


Living in Seattle has been a much more positive experience for my family over the years since we first arrived here in 1997 from Naples, Florida – a place I half-jokingly described to some of my friends as the ‘Richest White Town in America.’ Our journey sometimes had subtle but profound effects for my son and daughter. Not the least of which was a much more diverse population and culture.

Even so, as we’ve assimilated into the Pacific Northwest culture, there were also other more subtle things that I’ve noticed over recent years. My daughter and I have talked about some of her experiences from having lived in Vancouver BC for the past 7 years. We’re Chinese but we were born over here. My brothers and I were first-generation born in the 50’s after Mom finally arrived with our much-older sister who was born in China 17 years earlier. But GrandDad arrived in 1906 and he brought Dad over to Canada at the age of 9 in 1916. As I’ve written about earlier, Dad was the only Chinese boy in all of Halifax at that time and lived through years of harsh racism growing up in Canada.

It was also our family’s early arrival at the turn of the last century that has empowered me to stand up to ignorant racist trolls who somehow always tend to think that simply because I look different, I must have just gotten off the boat. Most of them quickly find out that I can cuss and swear with the best of them! But I always save my best for the last: All too many of these mostly white racist shut down very quickly after I asked them when their boat arrived with their ancestors (because our Grandfather arrived over a century ago in 1906!). Even more hilarious is when some people bring up their family history dating back to the pilgrims and I counter that I’ve been in possession of Dad’s incredibly detailed Lee Family Tree that dates back over 25 generations to 900 a.d. when our family’s village was first founded! Instant shut down!

But I digress. Much of what set me down this path was some news that came out on the Seattle Seahawks this week. Most of my friends know that I don’t follow professional sports at all – at least in the traditional sense (but that’s another story). Still, the Seahawks Super Bowl victory earlier this year was cause for year-long celebration in Seattle because it seems that it was more than just a football win: For once, the good guys won! A young, unproven team of good guys actually pulled ahead of the other 31 teams and won, led by a very young quarterback, Russell Wilson. And he’s a nice young man who harkens to the olden days of sports role models who set a good example on and off the field for young kids to follow. Anyway, the news broke last week that the Seahawks had quickly and quietly traded wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets. The speculation about his trade was rampant and finally ended up as a full story about how he didn’t get along with Russell Wilson in particular. The earlier gossip included locker room fights with other players but the headlines that have been garnering the most attention focused on the fact that “Russell Wilson wasn’t black enough!



Russell Wilson isn’t “Black Enough,” Seahawks Players Allegedly Say

By: Ryan Glasspiegel

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson • USA Today Sports

After Percy Harvin was traded to the Jets, the leaks began almost immediately. Harvin physically fought teammates. Harvin pulled himself out of games. Harvin may have been about to “launch a mutiny” against Russell Wilson. Though (presumably) Wilson’s camp spread word through ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Wilson wanted to keep Harvin aboard and help the troubled receiver through his “anger and trust” issues, it seemed, as someone watching from afar without inside access, that Harvin’s alleged issues with Wilson held the most efficacy in his ouster.

Today, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman shed some light on issues that Harvin had with Wilson, and seemed to back Mike Florio’s assertion that the Seahawks feared the receiver would not be alone in a coalition against Wilson:

Read the rest of the Russell Wilson story at USA Today – click HERE.

Anyway, that’s part of the inspiration for this post. Then earlier tonight, a friend posted a link on his Facebook page to a site call The Whiteness Project.

Whiteness ProjectFrom their About section:

“The Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.

“The project is conducting 1,000 interviews with white people from all walks of life and localities in which they are asked about their relationship to, and their understanding of, their own whiteness. It also includes data drawn from a variety of sources that highlights some quantitative aspects of what it means to be a white American.”

So this has me hopeful that we might finally be seeing an open dialog about racism. Within races.

Certainly growing up Chinese in a predominantly white culture has a profound effect on each of us who has been there. And for my black friends, they can certainly concur with me. But finally, we’re beginning to hear talk about Russell Wilson not being black enough which certainly resonates with me and my family. And I’ll add this to the discussion: I encounter the same problem (as I also alluded to my daughter living in Vancouver). Living in Seattle, we have a very large and spread out Chinese population. There are those from the Mainland, some from Hong Kong and Taiwan. A large number of these Chinese are wealthy new arrivals (new money is an appropriate term as well) who often bring a sense of entitlement with them from the old country. I didn’t even learn to speak English until I started school when I was nearly 6; although Dad had a lifetime of Western education complete with a full degree in Civil Engineering and spoke and wrote perfect English and Chinese, Mom never truly learned any English at all. So we spoke Chinese at home until we started school. Of course, I picked up English very quickly, eventually also learning several other languages as well like French and Spanish because I’d started with two very different languages at a young age. But my Chinese skills were very rudimentary as I soon discovered. Our family village was a tiny place of fewer than 300 people who spoke a unique and simple dialect which we learned and spoke at home because of our Mother. So my Chinese language skills are not particularly good. I was thrilled when I went back to our village during a business trip to China in 2000 and realized that I could actually understand and speak with the people in the village. But my Chinese skills are not particularly academic. I was also sad the first time I arrived in Hong Kong in 1985 on a business trip when I eventually realized that I truly didn’t feel at home there either.

Because of this, I’ve realized that many of the overseas Chinese often shun or look down on those of us who were born here and grew up over here. In fact, at times, it almost feels like outright… racism! I’m not “Chinese enough!” Which brings me back to Russell Wilson’s story of not being black enough. And this leads me back to the Whiteness Project and a question I’m going to submit to them: Surely this also has to be an issue among white people as well: “You’re not white enough!” So what would make someone more white than someone else? Or less white? Do you need to be British? Would Irish or Scottish be considered not white enough? How about other white Europeans? Or how about Southern rednecks? (LoL! I guess that’s a racist joke?)

So here’s a closing thought: Globally, Asians – including over 1.5 billion Chinese – make up more than one third of the world’s population today. And it’s now projected that white people will become a minority in America by 2043. Could it be this fact that has help kick off dialogs like the Whiteness Project?

Hoping some of my friends will continue this dialog in the Comments section.

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