Friday, January 18, 2019

Sex Osmosis is Not Real

I can no longer remember what season it was, but there was a contestant on "Top Chef" who was white.  He was white when it came to talking about hunting, hiking, and barbecuing.  But he had apparently traveled to parts of Asia, dated an Asian dude or two, and he had worked in an Asian restaurant.  He spoke of these things as having equal importance in his expertise and understanding of Asian cuisine.  Such that when an Asian American guest chef showed up and rated him badly, he commented on that chef not being able to truly understand his expertise. 
I thought of him again when I listened to the "This American Life" episode 663 - How I Read It.  One segment focuses on a student who is Chinese American looking at his Harvard admissions file and discovering his interviewer had asked around about his mom and noted that he did not have a "tiger mom".  When he talked to the interviewer, the interviewer chuckled and said, well, remember, I'm married to one. 
And then an Congressman from Hawaii said he was an Asian trapped in a white body. On discovering that did not go over well, he explained that his wife, says it. (His wife is Japanese American.)
So, it's become clear to me, that some people believe that sex osmosis is real.  Certainly the point of long term relationships is to get to know people intimately, to understand them better than perhaps even their friends and family do.  Certainly if you are white and/or otherwise privileged, this depth of knowledge might give you a peek into marginalizations that you had not previously been aw are of on a consistent level.  And I would imagine you would get to know their food in a different way too.  The things people cook at home in their own kitchen are different than restaurant food.  
I remember one of the "30 Days" documentaries, when the guy went back home to his family after being immersed in a different experience and showed his family the pictures, there were things that still seemed weird to them, because of course they hadn't had the immersive experience.  So I also get that this experience, means you are often surrounded by people who have not yet had this experience, who have no idea what the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is and don't think it matters that much even if they know there's a huge difference between Oklahoma and Kentucky.  
But, sex osmosis isn't real.  Your experience of being near, and possibly in, someone else, is still not the same as being them.  If you have discovered shared things, like your family likes taking their shoes off too, or likes to save and reuse plastic bags, that is wonderful.  But being Asian-adjacent does not make you Asian.  It just doesn't.  You cannot Rachel Dolezal your way into an identity that's not yours.  And more importantly, you don't need to.  In the case of the Congressman, he was at an event for Asian and Pacific Islander voters.  They invited him because they thought he had something useful to say, he didn't need to try to increase his credentials by claiming an identity that isn't his. You are allowed to have an incredible appreciation for culture or cultures that are not yours.  
I am not Latinx by any measure.  I can still like nachos.  
And more importantly, as much as people keep claiming no one wants to listen to white men (despite all evidence to the contrary), we do not need white men claiming fake marginalizations.  What we do need are white men who have taken the time to learn and appreciate experiences outside themselves while still lifting up and making space for the voices who can provide more depth to the discussion.  You can cook food of another culture, you can notate cultural norms that occur in your circle, you can be proud of representing a diverse district, you can do all of that and still be white.  In fact you should.