White Womanhood and Myself

Karen Yang

My love-hate relationship with white women (and myself):

Love – Grew up with white women as role models. I didn’t know other adults well enough to consider them role models. White women taught me a moral framework, and therefore they were the keepers of knowledge and instructions about morality.

Hate – I could never be a white woman. I tried my best to adhere to white women’s morality in evangelical purity culture, devouring blogs and books with advice and guidance, and finally realized it could never work because I wasn’t generally desirable to white men as an East Asian woman except as fetish (not the model of white Christian woman) and therefore I couldn’t achieve a “good Christian marriage.”

Love – I aligned myself with white women. Going to a mostly white college and being more comfortable with women than men, I felt closest to white women. The model minority myth and assimilation made me most culturally similar to white women.

Hate – I was envious of what white women had. They had parents who were in love with each other. They had nice houses with nice things. They had holidays where they went places and exchanged gifts. They didn’t need anything and they still exchanged gifts. They went shopping for fun.

Love – White women were nice, sweet, and pretty. I wanted to be nice, sweet, and pretty. Our friendships were nice, sweet, and pretty. Nice words. Sweet hugs. Pretty pictures.

Hate – When I was a teen, I imagined my ideal adult self as a thin, white woman with a blond ponytail, a sheen of lip gloss, a tint of rosy blush. Geek-chic glasses, business casual – pencil skirt and blazer, kitten heels– not too high, just feminine enough. I would work for a business located in some skyscraper, go on lunch dates with a co-worker. I never imagined my adult self looking like me, or as an Asian. When I doodled in my notebooks, the bone structure, the eyes, the nose, were all white.

I’m an adult now and mostly comfortable in my own skin. I look in the mirror, and it’s me, goofy ol’ me. Sometimes cute, sometimes pretty, sometimes haggard, sometimes a mess. I like my voice. I like that I’m assertive, I like that I’m loud, I like that I can listen, and I like my opinions. I like that I respect my own thoughts and my own thoughtfulness enough to share those thoughts and not be ashamed that doing so might cause friction. I like that I finally have thoughts that are formed enough to be proud of, that reflect the considerate and critical, if imperfectly informed and sometimes ignorant, person that I am. I like being an Asian American, because I stand in a gap, I stand as a bridge, I stand hyphenated, figuring things out, seeing multiple sides, most comfortable in ambiguity and ambivalence. I’m getting more and more used to trying to add curiosity to my confusion.

I like being Asian American, a woman of color, enough to know that it is most truthful and right to stand in solidarity with my siblings of color. To know that assimilation into white womanhood is neither desirable nor helpful nor realistic.

So I feel a sense of rage when white women get it wrong. When they center their feelings over the needs of people of color. When their answer to stories of racism is not, “How can I better understand?” or “How can I make this better?” but “I feel so sad” or “I’m afraid you don’t like me” or “But I don’t want to be ashamed of being white” or “We just have to be nicer to each other” or “I feel like I’m being attacked.” When communities should be rolling up our sleeves and getting to the work of dismantling systems of oppression and rebuilding communities of love, all of a sudden, the world spins again on its axis, throwing us all off balance, in an effort to once again, center whiteness.

Center the feelings of whiteness and center the comfort of whiteness. Instead of reaching out a hand to catch my falling brethren, my hands by instinct thrust themselves toward the nearest tissue box to wrench a soft piece of fluff to dab onto moist cheeks and catch stretchy lines of snot. Instead of opening my arms to hold tight to my brethren who are being snatched away from life, my arms by instinct rush to fluff pillows and I find myself saying, “Don’t worry. It’s okay. You’re okay. Breathe. Here, have some tea. Do you want anything to eat? Hey, let me tell you a joke.” And her forgetful head turns to me in gratitude, before she gets up to return to her charmed life.

“I know I should be most angry at white men,” I explain to my sister. “But I’m not. Even though patriarchy and whiteness are the fault of white men, I’m most angry at white women. Why?”

“Sisterhood,” she answers. “You expect them to get it and work with you, so when they work against you, you’re more disappointed.”

“I thought they were sisters,” I realize.

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9 comments
  1. I love how you capture the complexities of humanity – and the way the narrative was structured. Great job.

  2. Bunny said:

    I can understand everything she writes, and agree with most of it. The sentence however, ending with “before she gets up to return to her charmed life,” is unfortunate. Just as Asian women should not be stereotyped, they should not do so to others by insinuating merely being white gives one a “charmed life.” White privilege is real, but no one is guaranteed a “charmed life.” Every one of us us can experience evil, loss, divorce, lay offs, and question who we are, why we are here, and what it is we are meant to do. Struggle should unite, rather than divide, even if the struggle is different for each.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Bunny. I hope you understand that the sentence was not about empirically describing what I believe to be factually true. I’m a social worker and minister by trade, of course I know that everyone experiences suffering! My whole reflection is about depicting my experience, my lens, my interpretation. When I pay attention to the racial oppression that I face and compare that to the lack of solidarity I find among some white womanhood, such discouragement casts a shadow over the way I view white women. Just as when I struggle with depression or sadness, everyone seems unkind and my whole day seems unfortunate. Do I know rationally that there are kind people and my day is probably fine? Of course. But does that rational understanding of reality change how I feel? Does it invalidate the legitimate reasons behind my feelings or make my feelings any less real, of course not!

      • And of course, the point of my writing is that struggle should unite, but when white women get defensive and compare evil, loss, divorce, lay offs, and existential struggles experienced by white people to the racism of people of color as a way of distracting from the reality of racism, then we have a problem! All of these struggles are exacerbated by racism, which is why we need to work together to dismantle racist structures and systems, rather than centering whiteness!

  3. Cheyanne said:

    By the way, this is the best thing I’ve read all week. That last line, “I thought they were sisters” hits me every time. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks for your comment! When we talk together, we feel a little less alone.

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