Growing up in Thailand, I was constantly reminded I was white.
“Your skin is so beautiful!”
“I wish I was pale like you!”
For me, Thailand was home. I spoke the language, devoured the food, and played with the rest of the neighborhood kids. But even though I was immersed, I was always held at a distance. As much as I tried to go unnoticed, I would never stop hearing the rude stage whisper of farang(foreigner) wherever I went.
When I first moved back to Texas for college, I was shocked to be surrounded by white faces instead of Asian ones. But I soon realized I no longer stood out. I wasn’t unusual for being tall, blonde, curvy. I didn’t have to buy 4XL jeans. I could unlearn the habit of slumping because I no longer towered over everyone I knew. And finally, no one was staring.
Then I started hearing the comments.
“I’m such a white girl, but…”
“White girls be like…”
Making fun of white girls was a national sport, so I quickly learned to play. Targets were easy enough to spot at a private Christian university in small town west Texas. The library Starbucks line was constantly swarming with skinny white girls sporting yoga pants, scarves, and oversized sweaters. But with every jab at them, I grew more defensive about my own perception.
I did everything I could to distance myself from the white girl image of being shallow and uninteresting by choosing instead to broadcast my Thai heritage. I naturally drifted toward friendships with international students, but shied away from potential white friends. Flashing the Asian peace sign in photos became more of a statement than a natural reflex. And to this day, I refuse to sample the notorious Pumpkin Spice Latte.
I finally knew my bias was out of control when I stopped listening.
Whenever a white girl decided to talk, I instantly checked out. I was discounting the voice and perspective of a fellow human being. But if I refused to listen to them, why should anyone listen to me?
I’m ashamed to say I bought into what could only be called a subtle form of racism. Disguised as humorous observation, the eye-rolling had devolved into a damaging prejudice — not only against people I knew but against a significant aspect of my own cultural identity.
I was desperate to prove I was more than just a white girl. But don’t we all transcend our demographic? It’s clear that a common category is comforting — something as simple as a stupid Buzzfeed quiz can create an incredible sense of belonging. (OMG me too!!)
But in the end, the categorization is constraining. It’s an oversimplification of wonderfully varied souls. And it’s exactly the kind of subtle stereotyping that ultimately lays the foundation for systematic racism.
I haven’t stopped grappling with my aversion to white American culture. I’m still defensive. But I’m learning to awkwardly embrace this part of my identity. So what if I listen to bands full of white guys? Maybe I’m slightly obsessed with chocolate and coffee. And I definitely can’t dance.
I’m a white girl. Blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin. Quintessential. But I am not to be overlooked. I’ve been much too harsh on myself and others.