Archive for January 15th, 2012

January 15, 2012

Racial Coding and Context

So… I recently moved to a different city. One thing I’ve been curious about, since moving, is how I’ll be coded racially here. Being light-skinned and mixed means that only three people my entire life have accurately identified me as Filipina. I’ve also noticed, as times goes on, that how I’m coded racially depends on my geographical location. It also changes as a function of time.

I grew up in a city in the prairies. Not too much diversity and most diversity was ghettoized to particular parts of the city. In this city, where I lived until I was 23, most people usually coded me as half-Chinese or half-Japanese. Basically, I was East Asian to them. I was taunted and teased for this (for the shape of my eyes, etc.). It also meant that dating was quite difficult once I was able to go to the bar… Since Asians are the least desirable guys in the gay world (at this point in time, I was more a part of the gay community and not so much the queer community). I spent my early years feeling massively unattractive while avoiding exploitative relationships with 40 year old men who wanted to fetishize me.

Anyway… I moved to a city on the West coast. Where sometimes I’d be coded as East Asian (in the early years, at least). But towards the end of my time in the city, I was sometime white passing. Where people sometimes didn’t know or recognize that I was Asian (much less Filipina). This often came up to bite me in the ass when trying to discuss anti-racist politics (because they would assume that because they coded me as white, everyone does, thus I could not have ever experienced racism). One thing that was interesting about being coded as white, was hearing all the racist shit people say when they think no PoC are around. Racism impacts you even when not specifically directed towards you.

So, now in my third city I appear to be back to coding as East Asian. Which is going to be interesting if this remains consistent, because I wonder if I’ll notice more overt experiences of racism, especially now that I’ve spent almost a year really educating myself about anti-racist politics.

In terms of other geographies… I always worry about going to most southern states in the US. Whenever I’ve been to California, Arizona, or Nevada (recently) I’ve been coded as Hispanic or Latino. This worries me because I’ve seen the statistics for police brutality against Brown people in those states. I’ve especially seen how the very xenophobic anti-immigrant policies of the States has impacted Latino/Hispanic communities. So, I end up getting super paranoid when I’m in those places because I’ve been privilege to (so far) live a life without police brutality or harassment.

Anyway… Ultimately the point of this post is to spend a moment remembering that, while self-identification matters, how other people perceive you has a direct impact on your life. It impacts how they treat you and how safely you can navigate through the world. This is something well-known to many a trans* person, to disability people, to fat people, to other racial groups, to queers, and to all those who have multiple sites of oppression. Above all, this is why we shouldn’t shame those people who pass to make their lives a little easier. Because choosing to allow yourself to be erased in order to survive is a terrible thing. Even more important, is to remember to support and stand with those people who do not get this choice, because they will never be able to take a break.