M(ainstream) & m(arginalization)

In my FemSex section this week, they asked me to name a time when I felt in the mainstream and marginalized. The question almost felt as though they were asking me to carefully dissect out the individual aspects of my identity. When I tried to tell the facilitator that I couldn’t separate the intersections, she gave the example that walking down the street when it’s dark at night would highlight her gender rather than her race. The only black girl in the class, and I exchanged looks. Walking down the street, we’re not just women; we’re either a submissive, passive, “easy target” Asian girl or a loud, exotic, fantasy black Ethiopian woman. We are never just “women.” 

Here was my response to the initial M&m question:

I don’t think I ever thought of myself of being “on the mainstream” – at least not while I lived in America. The only times that I felt at ease and not constantly aware of my differences was when I lived in Korea. I moved to Korea for 8th to 10th grade because according to my parents, I was getting too “American.” I didn’t understand what that meant at the time; I thought that they were just traditional and hindering my assimilation into American society. Now I understand why they dragged me half way around the globe – for my own sanity. I had been wandering and drowning in the lily-white suburban town of Maple Grove, Minnesota, in denial of the racial differences or tensions but always understanding that I had to be different in order to be the same.

I always tell my straight, white, male friends that to a degree I understand what they have. In Korea, everyone looked like me and talked like me. I didn’t have to think about fitting myself to the norms of society – I was the norm. If I didn’t know something or didn’t understand rules, people were understanding and took the time to explain things; they never attributed my mistakes to who I was. I was never ashamed of traveling places with my mother. In fact, she knew so much and reclaimed her position as a parent when we were in Korea. I was the majority, I unknowingly had a large amount of power, and I loved it.

But because of that experience and that taste of privilege, I am always more aware of my marginalization in America. While on the mock trial team, which is largely consisted of white, wealthy, males (and those who are not, conform to those standards and hide their marginalization), I was constantly called the “foreigner.” If I didn’t know a colloquialism or a slang, it was because I wasn’t American. Some team members took it upon themselves to “educate” me about “American culture.” When I spoke up about racial issues, they would get defensive and lash out, saying that racism didn’t exist anymore or that I was being far too sensitive.

Even in groups of color, I never feel quite at ease. The positionality of the self-identified Asian American feminist experience is largely silenced or seen as too “privileged” within the Black or Latino community. Within Asian American groups, I am seen as too radical, too liberal, too outspoken. Within feminist groups, I feel too “racially sensitive,” not feminine enough, not radical enough, not vocal, not independent or sex-positive enough. There is no space in which I feel as though I completely fit in, but part of empowering myself is to fight in those marginalized spaces and make myself be heard. That’s when I feel myself, and that’s when I feel vaguely “normal.”

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