When I was growing up, my parents were very mindful to teach us proper deportment and behavior. We always knew that we were held to a higher standard than that of our white peers. My parents reminded us that if there was trouble, we would be the first to be suspected or suffer. Our dress or demeanor would weigh more heavily upon us than upon white families. And we were urged to work not twice as hard, but ten times as hard. My parents never said ten times harder than whom. We just knew.
We knew that individual actions might have ramifications for our whole community, even at a very young age.
It strikes me as amazing that I understood this as a very young child. And that I understood that it may not be right, but that’s the way it was and that we had to deal with it. It enrages me when white people talk about whining minorities, because we had to swallow and bear things that nobody should ever have to swallow. The measure of our inequality is that we are not seen as individuals. The measure of our inequality was that if we raised our voices, nobody would listen.
My parents were not at all happy when I became involved with the activist community. Not because they thought the work was unimportant or because they thought we should just be quiet and good. They were upset because they had very real (realized) fears for what might happen to me. And I understand that they did not want me to represent, because they did not want me to be killed.
And I understood that they were not fearful for themselves, but for me. I understood this on a much deeper level when somebody who had been harassing me used old records to find one of my relatives.
The issue of whether or not to represent is especially difficult for people of color who depend on the goodwill of white people. Unfortunately that means most of us, in greater or lesser degrees. People of color in the spotlight are put in the position of being forced to choose.
Recently, reappropriate posted this video of Margaret Cho doing a comedy schtick about Rosie O’Donnell’s chingchongery. Cho complains that whenever an “Asian situation” happens, other Asian Americans say, “Margaret! Do something!” But why would anybody expect Cho to do anything? She’s making her living tapping into the white majority sentiment. Basically she’s giving the audience license to laugh at Asian America. You can hear the audience laugh as she replicates O’Donnell’s mockery. And Cho has made it clear: I’m not like one of those other whining Asian Americans. I have a sense of humor!
I don’t know what it is like to be an Asian American woman in show business. But I would imagine Margaret Cho does. And if she has experienced even a tenth of what I might imagine, I wonder why she wouldn’t understand why she’s expected to represent.
Maybe it’s all about self-preservation. Because her humor puts a wall up around her and surrounds her with allies, while tearing the rest of us down.
I could respect Cho if, like my parents, she just wanted to stay out of the focus of racist hate. I cannot respect her because she turned the focus from herself to the community.