You Are Never The Color Of Your Skin


My cousin and I are ordering shawarma from the sole Turkish stall in the city when the brawl breaks out. Five black teens, maybe North African, are getting beat up by a group of white kids, maybe twenty years old. The groups separate without anyone getting killed and the immigrants back off and then one of the one white kids takes his shirt off and throws a Heil Hitler salute and I am reminded that yes, I am in rural Scandinavia, and now I’m remembering that my cousin, despite completing military service, probably doesn’t know how to fight, and although I am bigger than most of the kids in the group it’s doubtful that we can win if it comes to that.

I’m jacked up, the fear priming my muscles for something I don’t want to do and that’s when I am reminded that being half-white is not the same thing as being white.

I am in the country of my birth, a land whose blood courses through my veins, and once again, I am a stranger, a man looking from the outside in. It does not matter where you go. Belonging is something that exists inside of your head. It’s not real.

I am in bed, and the girl covers the right side of my face with her hand, revealing the side with the double eyelid. “White,” she says, smiling. She switches hands, covering the left side, and now it’s the monolid that’s staring back at her. “Asian,” she says.

Biology is full of metaphors.

The girl, who is from Seoul, was born long after Korea’s first exposure to the biracial. The “real” first generation was generally perceived to be the spawn of American soldiers and Korean prostitutes, and was treated as such. Years earlier, I came across a photo of a couple of these boys taken in the 1960s from an orphanage.

Three biracial children staring at the cameraman, who’s caught them unfiltered. I remember being transfixed by the picture. Their eyes cut right through you. You could see the shame and hatred, the distrust. They knew they were unwanted. They became living ghosts of the past, ostracized since birth. Mistakenly thinking I was part of the first “real” generation of hapas, I was struck by how prototypically “half” their features were: a characteristic blend of East Asian and European facial structures that I’d recognize in an instant.

In a generation, those same faces would appear on runways and billboards across Asia. It’s still incredible to me how, in the span of several decades, a group of people could rise from a reviled to fetishized status. Then again, such is the power of White Supremacy, the mimetic mind virus that propagates itself around the world, trailing in the wake of globalization.

Months later, when we are still together, the same girl tells me she’s not attracted to Asian men, and I almost choke on my own laughter.

Life is trying to tell you something. It’s not that your sense of disorientation isn’t real, it’s that you’re one of the few people with your eyes held open. The circumstances of your birth have forced you to ask yourself a question that few others ever will: are you the color of your skin?

On some level, I’ve always been disgusted by the concept of ethnic pride. I’ve always thought this form of ethnocentrism a kind of weakness, an inability to determine your identity for yourself. If your identity is contingent upon your membership to a group, you are subjugating your individuality to the conformity of the masses. It’s a form of exchange, a form of brusque tribalism. We are living in the twenty-first century now, and we don’t need these vestigial artifacts.

Ask yourself: Who are you?

If your answer is something along the lines of “ethnic pride,” (whatever the hell that means), then I have a hard time differentiating that between wearing a bright red jersey and getting into a drunken brawl with some idiot wearing different colors in the stands of the stadium.

Your ancestors are already dead. You don’t get to assume credit for their achievements. This form of chest thumping just doesn’t make sense. It’s not even wrong, it’s nonsensical. You are not them, and they are not you.

If you’re going to bleed for something, bleed for an idea. Bleed for the people you love. What really defines a human being is the sum total of the choices they have freely made. Not the things imposed upon them by genetic chance, social constructs, or fate. If you allow yourself to be defined by imposition, that’s a form of slavery. Ethnocentrism is a form of imposition, embedded within it a set of cultural expectations about what you can and cannot do. Ultimately, only those things self-determined are of any true value, because those are things you chose for yourself.

What do you believe? How do you live? Who do you love? How did you love them? What did you do with your time here?

Maybe I’m ascribing powers of self-determination to a human being that are overly idealistic. Arguably we do not have such unrestrained abilities: like a dog attached to a leash, we are bound by the causal constraints of our past. But that’s the very purpose of an ideal: something to reach for, something aspirational. And within that limited space is still a kind of freedom. I catch myself lionizing the achievements of half-Asian people all the time. That’s the kind of pull my monkey brain exerts on me, dragging into this lower form of consciousness.

Maybe the scientists are right. Maybe the scientists and computer models are right: maybe racism had some type of genetic game-theoretic advantage in our evolutionary past. Maybe that’s why it’s such a universal problem. The correct response isn’t to be disturbed – it’s to be indifferent. Why should we be constrained by the past? Who cares?

Were primates supposed to fly into space?

That sense of displacement you have, because you’re from two different worlds? Don’t curse it. It’s not that you don’t belong. You’ve been given something else instead. You’ve been granted the freedom to choose who you want to be. No – this freedom has been foisted upon you. You cannot choose either side because you are not merely one of your two  halves – you are both, and you are neither.

You are the choices you have made, and nothing else.