Dear Academia, Part 1

I’d better preface this post by briefly outlining my educational background, since educational experiences are far from universal. All of my academic education has taken place in the US, from preschool through college. I currently hold a Bachelor of Arts from a west coast liberal arts college. I have no plans at this time to pursue additional degrees. That’s probably all you need to know for the purposes of this post.*

Today, I’m back to wrestle with a question – or a series of questions – which I started to consider during college and to which I continue to seek satisfactory answers as I navigate post-academia life. While I think anyone with an interest or stake in the US education system might find this post worth a read (inasmuch as any of my posts are worth a read, ha), my questions will be directed primarily at professionals in US academia.

Until I reached college, I hadn’t thought much about the origins of the education system I was being put through. It was simply there, a seemingly eternal and immovable framework, meant to guide me from a state of not knowing to a state of knowing something. I didn’t consider who defined “not knowing” or “knowing something,” or how, when, and why they did it. When people I knew talked about volunteering overseas with their church groups, or teaching English in other countries, I accepted both as unquestionably “good” deeds. If “we” had resources and knowledge that “they” didn’t, it was only fair and right for us to share, wasn’t it? “We” would feel good about ourselves; “they” would feel grateful for the opportunities.

Sophomore year of college, those of us in my major were strongly advised to choose an area of specialty. I chose American Indian cultures and histories.** In keeping with the tenets of our methodology course, I sought out books, articles, interviews, oral histories, visual media, websites – basically anything tangible that was not a cultural artifact that I could get my hands on – for my research. I paid close attention to the creators of these source materials and tried to locate Native voices wherever possible, but it wasn’t until I shifted from materials generated BY academia FOR academia to materials generated by NON-academics that I started to question myself.

It was easiest to see in historical, primary accounts – things spoken (and transcribed) and written by people who had lived in eras far different from the one I knew. Sometimes it was how the passage of time was described, or a geographic location. Sometimes it was a cultural practice. Sometimes it was doing a side-by-side comparison of two accounts of the same battle, one from a Native perspective, one from a white perspective. As someone who grew up bilingual and often encountered questions about translation, I started to wonder how much was being distorted or lost in these primary accounts, especially when it was an English transcription of an oral account originally given in a Native language and filtered through an interpreter. If you’ve ever attempted live translation or a multilingual conversation involving parties who only know some of the languages being spoken, you know what a hassle it can be trying to communicate certain points in a way that everyone understands. While I can’t presume to map my personal experiences with translation onto the experiences of Native people who have had their words transcribed and/or translated, I did wonder if any of them had experiences similar to mine. And if they had, then – was there a chance this “primary” source I was analyzing so heavily wasn’t so “primary” after all?

We had, of course, been warned to review every source with a grain of salt, because people distort, omit, forget, embroider, or otherwise record things in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. But this felt different, somehow. Why?

I went back to my secondary sources and looked for material written by Native scholars. It didn’t take long to find answers.*** I quickly realized certain Native perspectives on colonization differed significantly from how the topic was covered in my classes. Discussions of land usage, reparations, historical trauma, artifact custodianship, tribal governments, reservation life, language preservation, and cultural appropriation (and more) drove home not only the extent to which colonization affected Native peoples, but the fact that it never ended.****

For the next two years, this notion of ongoing colonization floated around in my head. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to acknowledge I, too, was a colonist – for some reason, I never had the knee-jerk NO response to this that some people had when I tried to broach the subject with them – but rather the sense that my understanding of the concept was still missing giant chunks of vital information.

One of these giant chunks fell into place in my senior year, when I chose American Indian boarding schools as my thesis topic. These schools have been written about in-depth from both primary and secondary perspectives, so I won’t elaborate on them here, but suffice to say, it wasn’t a giant leap from looking at the assimilationist tactics used in these schools to looking at the US education system today and seeing some troubling parallels in the ideological frameworks governing both. Below is a partial list of examples:

  • Lessons taught in English
  • ESL lessons
  • Western-centric research methodologies
  • Western-centric academic evaluation standards
  • Western-centric behavioral standards
  • Western-centric “culture” of academia
  • Topics pertaining to nonwhite peoples/cultures taught by (white) outsiders
  • Non-English languages taught by (white) outsiders

If you aren’t sure why these things can be problematic, here are a few specifics. Recall my previous example of an oral account given in a Native language, translated by an interpreter, and transcribed in English. I’ll make a flowchart to illustrate.

Oral account (in Native language) –> oral account (in English) –> written account (in English)

At every transition in the flowchart, there are opportunities for distortion. The number and nature of opportunities also depends on the language level of everyone involved – for example, if the original speaker has some knowledge of English, they may correct the interpreter or the written account. Or, if the interpreter has a low understanding of English, the transcriber may end up omitting or improvising sections of the oral translation that are unclear. Or perhaps the speaker describes a cultural practice or belief system that has no parallel in the interpreter’s culture, so the interpreter makes an inaccurate cultural comparison to try to clarify things for the transcriber. And so on.

Here’s another example. A non-Japanese lecturer is teaching a lesson on Shinto in a US school. He draws a comparison between roadside Shinto shrines in Japan and Christian churches in the US. A student asks what kind of preparation he did for the lesson; he answers that he read Japanese textual sources on Shinto, interviewed Japanese Shinto practitioners, and visited several roadside Shinto shrines in Japan. Let’s do a flowchart.

Primary sources on Shinto – texts/interviews/shrines (in Japanese/Japan) –> lecturer’s translation/analysis of sources (in English) –> lecturer’s lesson (in English)

Again, there are opportunities for distortion at every transition in the flowchart. Did the lecturer correctly translate the Japanese texts? When interviewing Shinto practitioners, was he cognizant of his outsider status and how it might affect the answers he was given? When analyzing his findings, what kind of methodologies did he utilize? Did he account for the fact that western-centric ways of thought do not perfectly map onto all aspects of Japanese culture? How did he account for the resulting “gaps,” both in his analysis and in his accountability as a credible source for his students? What was his reasoning for comparing Shinto shrines to Christian churches?

I am not saying the lecturer in the above example is bad at his job. He could be outstandingly qualified to research and communicate academic information – from a western-centric perspective. The problem arises when he and his fellow academics attempt to fit the source materials to their methodology – and this is where I see fractures in the current US education system. For those of you who choose to work in (US) academia, I have a few questions.

  • What methodologies do you utilize in your research and/or when preparing lessons?
  • If someone challenges your methodology, how do you respond?
  • How do you feel about the methodologies you utilize? Are you satisfied with them? Do you find they fit your needs, or do you constantly reevaluate them?
  • If you are researching or teaching a subject from an outside perspective, how do you acknowledge your outsider status? How do you respond when insiders critique your approach and/or findings?
  • How do you feel about the current US education system? What changes would you like to see? Do you contribute to effecting these changes?

From what I’ve seen, if people in US academia are asking questions like these, they are doing it quietly, in places I mostly can’t seem to find.***** Very few of my college professors ever explicitly asked any of the above questions, at least in my hearing. Instead, we were given the tools to do the very best we could – within a western-centric academic framework. Marginalized perspectives were important – but ought to be evaluated by the same standards used for the “mainstream” narrative. If a source was not documented in a way considered “reliable” by our methodology, we were to consider it suspect. So.

I am not saying that western-centric academic frameworks are fundamentally “bad.” I am, however, saying that western-centric academic frameworks have, in the context of US academia, created a colonial institution designed primarily to favor the dominant (white) culture. The result is a kind of tunnel-vision, but one so thoroughly worked into the foundations of the US education system that many people fail to recognize it as such. All that talk about my college days wasn’t just narcissism – it’s a real-life example of how long it took me to get to where I am now, in terms of understanding both the legacies and ongoing issues of colonization in US academia. And I don’t assume I know it all.

If you’re thinking I hate the US education system – no, I don’t. I’m a product of that system and its effects on me, for better or worse. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post (I know, that was a lot of words ago), I have questions I haven’t found answers to yet. I’d like to know how many professional academics recognize the colonization inherent to US academia. I’d like to know how many professional academics acknowledge their role in this colonization. I’d like to know how many professional academics are actively trying to decolonize their institutions.

A final quick clarifier – I’ve used the term “colonization” broadly in this post, not just in the context of what was done/is being done to American Indian peoples and cultures, but also in reference to the ideologies that underlie the unquestioning (or insufficiently questioned) application of western-centric methodologies to non-western-centric information.******

Thanks for reading! Is it just me, or are these posts getting longer? Next time, I’ll have Part 2 of this series, where I reflect on the connections between what I wrote here and the world of fiction writing.

*In other words, this post will be written in the context of US academia, because it’s the only academia with which I have personal experience. Other people in other places on the internet have discussed their experiences in non-US academia – I highly recommend checking them out if this topic is of interest to you.

**There will be a post explaining this choice, sometime in the future. It’s a bit too long for a footnote or an in-text tangent.

***Unfortunately, I no longer recall the exact individuals whose work I read, but check out the Resources page for links to Native voices I’m currently following. Also, if you ARE researching Native issues from a western-centric standpoint, consider that some of the Native-produced sources you label as “secondary” might also be “primary,” depending on the circumstances. But before you do that, you might want to take a second look at your western-centric perspective to see if it’s really the “best fit” for the material you’re trying to cover. Is it something that might be more accurately represented by an insider perspective? Will there be “gaps” if you try to map your methodologies onto this topic?

****I’m not qualified to discuss these topics from anything other than a colonist’s perspective, so please read what Natives are saying about them.

*****I HAVE found a few, mostly through Twitter. But where are the others? Are they speaking up? Do they choose to stay silent? What motivates their choices?

******The colonization of indigenous peoples on this continent is not the same as the colonial experiences of nonwhite, non-indigenous peoples on this continent. Nonwhite people – both indigenous and non-indigenous – have written about their experiences with colonization on this continent at length in other places on the internet. Please look them up for firsthand accounts. This post is not comparing the colonial experiences of various groups; instead, it is a brief exploration of the colonizing nature of the current US education system, filtered through the lens of my personal experiences.

This Is Not For You

I’ve noticed most writers, though not all, have at least one post on their website/blog about why they write. I enjoy reading these posts, so I decided to do one of my own, in case anyone asks me the same question.

I started my first story when I was in fifth grade. The book that inspired me was Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, The First Adventure.* I loved many things about Alanna – her stubbornness, her work ethic, her no-nonsense approach to life – but at the end of the day, when I tried to imagine myself in her shoes, the only thing we had in common, appearance-wise, was height. No matter how hard I tried, I could only ever imagine being Alanna’s friend, not Alanna herself – and even when I imagined being her friend, I knew on some level I wouldn’t fit in with her world, where no one else looked like me. So, I came up with a solution: I’d create my own story, with a heroine I could imagine being, in a world filled with people who looked like me.

Thus began a story called “Magic,” about a warrior princess who lived in a world curiously similar to that of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.** I was still many years from having my own computer, so the first draft was written in pencil, on binder paper – all 100+ pages of it. I didn’t really think I could ever be a Real Author like Pierce, but I liked my characters and the world I created for them, and I wanted to see what would happen to them, so I kept writing.

Fast forward to today. “Magic” and its sequels and spinoffs have long since been shelved, but my reasons for writing haven’t changed much. My writing patterns are largely defined by the same parameters I used as a fifth-grader: I create some characters and a world, and stick with them until we’re done with each other. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the “how” of writing, including research, cultural context and representations (both my own and that of others), publishing and querying processes, reviews, and writing communities. At the end of the day, though, my belief in a story is what keeps me writing. As long as I feel I have something to say, I will continue finding ways to say it. As long as my characters and worlds hold my interest, I will continue to invest time and effort in them. As selfish as it may sound, at the end of the day, I write my stories for me.

But, you say, what about all the social justice-esque, activist-esque posts on this blog? Don’t you care about #ownvoices and resolving inequities for marginalized writers and tackling issues of representation?

Yes, of course I do. And this blog (and sometimes Twitter) is where I express my opinions on these topics. You may notice I don’t post excerpts from my WIP on here. This is deliberate. My fiction writing should not be conflated with my activist-esque writing. Don’t get me wrong, I fully stand behind the views I express on this blog. You may have read the series I posted on writing about Japan from various perspectives – I hold myself to the same standards. But I also believe not all writing by marginalized writers needs to be written with the intention of advocacy – and telling marginalized writers otherwise is merely another form of marginalization. My fiction writing is not a mouthpiece for my activist-esque views. It is informed by my views, but it does not exist to disseminate them to the world. It exists because I enjoy doing it – because I like trying, over and over, from different angles, incorporating different types of information, to write my own story.

I realize my reasons for writing may set me outside mainstream publishing parameters. This is ok. Given the current state of the US publishing industry, I’m not confident it contains spaces for writers like me. I’ll still do what I can to effect change so that marginalized writers who do want to go the mainstream publishing route will have better chances of achieving their goals. I’ll also do what I can to effect change so that marginalized writers who opt out of the mainstream publishing route will have better chances of achieving their goals. These are voices worth hearing, and it doesn’t matter to me how they choose to get heard.

Well, ok, you say, but assuming you ever get an agent and/or publisher, someone will probably ask you about the intended audience for your book. What will you say?

The honest answer is, there is no intended audience, unless you count me, but I’ve always felt being the author of a work puts one in a different space from being a reader of a work, even if one is reading one’s own work. To me, the idea of an “intended audience” requires some expectation on the author’s part that their work will be of value to someone else. Coming from a writing-for-myself-perspective, it’s difficult, if not hypocritical, for me to presume my work will mean something to anyone other than myself. I’m not trying to create windows or mirrors for readers; I’m not trying to convert people to my activist-esque views. Sure, I want readers to have windows and mirrors, and I think it’s past time for change in the areas I advocate for, but this is not why I write.

I’m not saying that if people read my work, they won’t find windows or mirrors, or notice echoes of what I write on this blog – I’m saying, this is not why I write. I don’t mind if people find these things in my writing. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. I just want to be clear on where I, the writer, am coming from.

On a final note, none of the above is meant to undercut writers who write for reasons other than themselves. Although I’m always interested to learn why someone writes, the reason won’t necessarily affect my opinion of their writing.*** People write for all kinds of reasons beyond themselves. I’m not saying writing for yourself is inherently better than writing for other reasons. Just look at the spectrum of writers out there and you’ll see it’s impossible to make any such generalization.

Thanks for reading! Check out the Resources page (links in progress), for additional perspectives on why people write.

*Although in retrospect, I have noticed some problematic cultural representations in Pierce’s books, I still enjoy her work. Other people have written about how to be a fan of problematic things – go check them out if you’re confused by what I said. And yes, I am breaking my general habit of not naming specific authors or books on this blog.

**Full disclosure: she ended up looking nothing like me – instead, she looked the way I would want to look if I was a member of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon cast trying out for the movie version of Alanna. (I didn’t know the term “fanfiction” at this point, but safe to say I was headed in that general direction with regard to both works.) The story itself was not meant to be Chinese – even at that age, I had a vague sense that writing about things I didn’t really know about was somehow not good – so I created a fantasy world called Khasmai and tried to use non-culturally-specific names for everything. The result still looked a lot like China and I ended up stopping work on the series when I realized I was unwilling to do the required research. (Hint: If you’re writing about a culture different from your own, it’s ok to quit if you realize you’re not up to the task. In my opinion, it’s preferable to proceeding with a half-assed manuscript and then dealing with the backlash when you hurt people with your misrepresentations.)

***Notable exceptions include writers who jump into “diversity for diversity’s sake,” without considering the #ownvoices they are erasing, silencing, or obstructing. This is NOT an ok reason for writing.

On Japanese “American” Identity

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting via Twitter with a nonwhite, non-US-based writer whom I greatly admire. Among other things, we considered whether marginalized, US-based writers currently benefiting from the “diversity” hype in the US publishing industry should and/or do look beyond US borders to signal boost non-US-based marginalized writers. Our discussion* – specifically, the “Americentric” component – reminded me of the post I’d said I’d write about my thoughts on the term “Japanese American,” so here we are again.

If you self-identify as Japanese, Japanese American, or diaspora Japanese, and you are reading this, please know I’m fully aware what I’m about to say may offend and/or hurt some of you. My intention is not to harm any of you; nevertheless, if I do, I apologize in advance.** I am indebted to the Japanese people whose histories, achievements, cultures, and communities laid the foundation for the privileges their descendants (myself included) enjoy today.*** I have no desire to attack or diminish something to which I owe so much. Thank you for what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do. ありがとうございました。

That said, I’m here today because I want to ask questions – questions about assimilation, privilege, colorism, colonialism, and marginalization – but also, questions about solidarity, diaspora experiences, preservation, language, cultural practices, and ownership. I ask these questions not to make you angry, fellow Japanese, but to find out whether you see room for growth in the identities and spaces we create for ourselves. Below are my questions:

  • If you self-identify as Japanese American, what does the term “Japanese American” mean to you?

o   Does it mean more than place of birth/place where you grew up? If so, in what sense?

  • If you self-identify as Japanese American, what does the term “American” mean to you?

o   Does it mean more than place of birth/place where you grew up? If so, in what sense?

  • Consider the term “Japanese American.” Do you link it to any of the words below?

o   Assimilation

o   Colonialism

o   Colorism

o   Marginalization

o   Privilege

  • How about these words?

o   Cultural practices

o   Diaspora experiences

o   Language

o   Ownership of identity

o   Preservation

o   Solidarity

  • Consider the term “American.” Do you link it to any of the words below?

o   Assimilation

o   Colonialism

o   Colorism

o   Marginalization

o   Privilege

  • How about these words?

o   Cultural practices

o   Diaspora experiences

o   Language

o   Ownership of identity

o   Preservation

o   Solidarity

Neither of my word lists is exhaustive, but I hope you’ve got an idea of where I’m headed. How did you feel about seeing these parallels between “Japanese American” and “American?” Were you surprised? Unsurprised?

Now for a brief history intermission:

  • You’ve heard of the internment camps, yes? How about Indian reservations? Did you know internment camps and reservations have been compared as similar examples of dominant US culture discrimination against nonwhite people?****

Ok, you say, so the US government and dominant US culture have a history of shitting on nonwhite peoples’ rights – tell me something I don’t know.

Well, that’s my point – you do know. You know that as a result of the (white) US exerting force through the words in list one, nonwhite people respond by embracing the words in list two.

Now let’s try something. Say JAs are the ones exerting force through the words in list one. Say non-JA, nonwhite people – for example, American Indians – respond by embracing the words in list two.

Surprised? If, like me, you follow current online discussions of “diversity” among nonwhite writing communities, you may have noticed a certain trend: white people often get blamed for stuff. Don’t get me wrong – whiteness is undoubtedly the core of what shuts nonwhite writers out of the US publishing industry – but I’m also seeing an imbalance. Nonwhite and other marginalized writers are heavily lauded for “making it” when they land an agent or a book deal – but rarely is their work critically evaluated in a high-profile venue. In other words, I see people dishing it out, but not taking it, and no one seems particularly interested in making them take it.

Some people who self-identify as “[something] American” seem to fall into a similar rut. After decades and/or centuries of being at the receiving end of the words on list one, we know it is past time for change and we do what needs to be done to effect it. This is entirely justified – no one should be expected to endure this type of inequity without complaint. In labeling ourselves “Japanese American,” we might say things like claiming our piece of the pie, or owning our identity. We, too, can be “American” – and our Japanese-ness in no way precludes us from it. We take pride in our history, culture, achievements, and communities – the things we built in the face of white supremacy, discrimination, assimilation, etc – and we have adopted a label which encompasses both our Japanese-ness and our “American-ness.” In short, we are holding up a banner with the words on list two for the rest of the US to see – and we are elbowing our way through the crowd to force recognition of our existence.

The dominant US culture, with its pervasive, white supremacist framework, its agenda of denial, erasure, silencing, and destruction of things different from itself – it is a thing to be reckoned with. Any subgroup who successfully resisted and/or resists it is worthy of mention, including those who self-identify as Japanese American. But.

When we – JAs and other nonwhite people – advocate for ourselves in the US, what are we really asking for? Are we asking for equal access to the “American Dream?” But what exactly is the American Dream? And if we do attain it, while we might be happy, does our happiness come at the expense of others?

For example: say one of our dreams is to be a homeowner. So we work hard, we save, we scour neighborhoods, and, at long last, we find the perfect house. Yay! We’re happy. We accomplished our goal and we know we deserve it because we worked so hard – how could we not deserve it? Furthermore, we have shown (white) society we are just as capable and just as worthy. We don’t need anyone to tell us how good we are; we’ll tell them through our actions. That’s right – we nonwhite people are just as “American” as you white people.

Now for a second brief history intermission:

  • Remember when you studied pioneer history in elementary/middle/high school? Maybe you read Little House on the Prairie or reenacted “Oregon Trail” life in class. There was a lot of emphasis on how hard the pioneers worked to survive the trail and to eke out a living afterwards. Maybe, in the course of your studies, you noticed Black slaves, Chinese miners, or Indian traders, lurking at the edges. Perhaps you asked yourself why they never seemed to be the main characters; perhaps you didn’t notice.
  • In one of the Little House books, there is a scene where Laura sees the Indians departing. Did you ever wonder why they were on the move, or where they were going?

Let’s try a little role play. You are a pioneer, headed to the Oregon territory in the 1800s. The trail is long and tough, and you experience many setbacks, but eventually you reach your destination. You choose a likely-looking spot and begin to build your home. After much hard work, you have the house of your dreams!

Sound familiar? Ok, here’s my next question: what do you notice missing from both of those homeowner scenarios? Here’s a hint: in both scenarios, the focus is on you, yes? It’s about YOUR dream, YOUR hard work, and YOUR achievement. You, you, you. But half the picture is missing. Because, in fact, you weren’t the first one to find that Perfect Spot and make your home on it. Long before you got there, and before your ancestors got to their Perfect Spots, OTHER PEOPLE lived there. These OTHER PEOPLE had cultures, languages, communities, belief systems, and land usage concepts of their own – and they were there BEFORE you.

But I know that, you say. I know about colonization and how it resulted in genocide for many indigenous peoples of what we call the North American continent.

But do you really know? When you were dreaming and scheming to acquire your Perfect Spot, did you think about the history that made it possible for you to even have a Perfect Spot? And if you thought, oh, that’s just history, it’s in the past, colonization is over – did you think about what that says about you? Let me translate. “It’s in the past/colonization is over” = I prefer not to acknowledge the (sometimes) veiled white supremacist framework of the present because I am in a position to benefit from it even if I am not white.

Listen up. Colonization NEVER ended. If you believe it did, if you believe the US is a place of equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds – you are supporting white supremacy. If, further, you are acting on the belief that colonialism is a then-thing and not a now-thing, you are not merely a colonist – you are a colonist supporting the ongoing colonization of this country. (FYI, if, like me, you understand and oppose the ongoing colonization of this country AND you are not Native – well, unfortunately, we are still colonists, too, and Native people have every right to call us such. Why? Because we, too, benefit from the white supremacist framework and colonial legacy/ongoing colonization – and we participate in it, even if we are cognizant of our actions.)

Nonwhite, non-Native people – saying colonization is over does NOT mean it is over. Try substituting “colonization” with “racism” if you’re having trouble understanding my point. Get it now? When you label yourself “American” or “[something] American,” are you accepting ALL components of that identity? Are you acknowledging not only the history/culture/achievements/communities you have created in this country, but ALSO your ongoing participation in colonialism? Do you understand that, by only acknowledging the first thing, you are contributing to erasure of the people who were here first? Do you take responsibility for your status as colonist? Are you content with the status quo or will you try to do something about it?*****

So. This is why I make a point of not self-identifying as “Japanese American.” I am not discounting my place of birth, where I grew up, or the influences of both Japanese American and dominant US culture on my mindset and experiences. Instead, I seek to open a conversational space by providing an opportunity for people to, predictably, ask, why?

I am not condemning the cultural diversity that is a reality of the US today. Great things emerge when diverse communities come together. At the same time, taking pride in ourselves should not occur without ALSO acknowledging the harm we have caused/cause/will cause to others along the way.

Lately, I have seen some really fantastic Asian American solidarity on Twitter and other social media venues. I have seen many Asian American voices thoughtfully critique the (white) US’s historical and ongoing discrimination toward our communities. These critiques are needed; if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be complaining. That said, I have NOT seen nearly as many public acknowledgments of our own role as colonists. There are a number of insightful discussions on internalized racism, but even these don’t always discuss our participation in US colonization.

Fellow Japanese Americans, Asian Americans, and nonwhite, non-Native Americans, if we have the capacity to be this vocal, this forceful, and this kickass in combatting discrimination against us, I think we also have the capacity to pull back and acknowledge we have not just been hurt – we have also hurt others. Isn’t one-way advocacy among the things we often criticize white people for? (White feminism, white disability, white LGBTQ+, etc.) So, let’s not be hypocrites. We can do better, and we will. For every action we take to fight for ourselves, let’s listen to and act on a critique from someone being hurt by us. Let’s broaden our conversations about identities and cultural spaces and ask tough questions amongst ourselves about assimilation, colonization, and erasure. Let’s take tough questions from people we have hurt by our actions in these areas. Let’s have the guts to not just demand apologies, but to make them.

I know we can do this. We just have to try.

Thanks for reading, any of you who made it this far. Check out the Resources page for additional perspectives on Japanese American identity. Also, I follow some awesome folks on Twitter who actively participate in discussions of race, representation, and colonization, in venues much more far-reaching than this blog. Go check them out!

*See my tweets dated 2/29/16 for the actual text of the discussion. I may write a post about it eventually, but right now I’m still sifting through my afterthoughts.

**As many of us probably know from personal experiences with racism, intent doesn’t matter when you’re the one who gets hurt. In other words, think about how many well-meaning white people you know – and the accommodations and/or resistances you’ve offered in the face of their racism. I know I’ve done both.

***Some examples include – English fluency, deeply established JA communities and events, socioeconomic status, and dominant US culture know-how (in other words, the kids of my generation didn’t have to write the assimilation handbook from scratch, though it certainly never stops being edited). Obviously, these examples do not apply to all Japanese Americans and certainly not to all diaspora Japanese. Nor are these examples necessarily “good” or “bad” – they are privileges which advantage their holders over people who don’t have them, if the end goal is to “succeed” in the dominant US culture. Also, present-day JAs owe their privileges to more than past JAs – racial equity movements in US history did not occur in racial/ethnic/cultural vacuums. For example, try arguing that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work did nothing for non-Black, nonwhite people in the US. See what I mean?

****I’m not here to examine the validity of such comparisons. People with Degrees have written about this topic – do some research if it interests you – and be cognizant of the lens through which the material is being presented. Remember, academia as it exists in the US today is also a colonial institution – and this, combined with internalized racism, may have affected any racial/ethnic/cultural experiences brought to bear by the creator of the material. In other words, don’t assume nonwhite academics are immune to white supremacy. We have a long way to go before decolonizing academia.

*****I can’t speak for Native people on issues of colonization in the US because I am not Native, but I encourage you to seek out Native voices to hear their perspectives. I am fully cognizant my viewpoints on US colonization can only be from a colonist’s perspective. (I consider US colonization to be different from, say, discussions of how globalized white supremacy has colonized nonwhite cultures – see, for example, the spread of western education and economic systems. I have various opinions on the impacts of westernization on Japanese culture.)