Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unwelcomed. Invalidated both racially and culturally. These phrases can be used to sum up the experience of being “hapa” in the age of modern racial politics.

NOTE: pick the correct link

While being hapa is generally considered desirable in Hawaii, it seems that in all the bickering and racial philosophies rearing their heads in politics and academia, hapa people have been both disregarded in our national conversation and disenfranchised by binary and full-blooded racial politics.

In an op-ed I co-authored for Civil Beat defending Congressman Ed Case’s comment on his ethnicity, there was interesting feedback on Facebook. The comments were made by two individuals who knew of me, critiquing the piece.

My co-author and I were most displeased at this criticism for one big reason: The critique was directed at my race. The implication was that me looking Caucasian automatically invalidated the article I helped put together. “I love a white man’s hot take on this issue.”

The only problem is, I’m not a white man.

Mixed-race individuals (from all ethnic backgrounds) make up roughly 2% of the total U.S. population. To give some context, full white Americans make up around 60% of the U.S. population, African Americans are roughly 12%, and Asian Americans around 6%. Being half Asian and half white myself, I am just one individual out of a fairly significant, but often overlooked minority racial group — the hapas, or those of mixed race.

An interracial couple and their mixed-race child.

Flickr: Vivian Chen [陳培雯]

This particular situation reminded me of a span of a few years in elementary school when my friends didn’t want to play with me because I “wasn’t Asian.” Keep in mind, Hawaii is majority Asian, unlike the rest of the United States.

While these were just children who probably didn’t know any better, today, this form of racial tribalism of exclusion seems to have taken off into mainstream politics on both the far right and far left. This is nothing new for me. As a hapa, my identity has always been in question and subject to be revoked by others.

It seems that this aspect of being hapa in society hasn’t changed even as I’ve grown over the years, and in fact, feels to have worsened. Judging my ideas completely off of the color of my skin and hair, in the minds of these two self-identifying Asian-American progressives (who know my ethnic background), they concluded I’m not allowed to comment on racial issues.

My partial whiteness in fact even invalidated the ideas of my Asian-American co-author as well, a sort of intellectual “one drop policy,” one could say. For some reason this racial criticism in our modern age of “social progressivism” and “diversity” is acceptable, and even celebrated in mainstream politics, despite the shared culture and history of discrimination against both hapas and those of full-blooded minority groups.

Hapas too have been subject to racial discrimination in the past (yes, even those of us who are white passing), facing the same bigoted laws and social norms targeting mainstream minority groups, as well as laws explicitly targeting those of mixed race: most states at one point have had anti-miscegenation or anti-race-mixing laws; the one drop policy subjected those of partial African-American heritage to the same systematic discrimination that full African Americans had to face; and hapas of Asian backgrounds were targeted in the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act, particularly in Hawaii.

Despite these facts however, much of this history, as well as the voices and stories of mixed-race individuals, has been forgotten or purposefully silenced in favor of the larger, race-based group politics model that is prevalent today.

My voice and my Asian heritage don’t matter under this new philosophy. How am I supposed to go to my Asian American mother and tell her that she doesn’t exist and the Japanese and Chinese culture I was brought up with are invalid because of the way I look? How am I supposed to go to my father and tell him that his whiteness being passed on to me invalidates my opinions, ideas, history and identity?

Unfortunately, my Asian half holds me back from being accepted as a white, and my white half holds me back from being accepted as an Asian American. Hapas themselves aren’t recognized as a mainstream racial group in today’s public discourse and are thus lumped in by convenience into one group or another.

Bigoted Racial Judgments

This is the real problem for hapas in our current racialized group-based political system — we don’t really belong anywhere, and thus have no voice and no power. Regardless of this experience, however, I too must still be judged based on my “overachieving” Asian heritage in college admissions, and I still must answer to the original sin of the actions of whites in the past for being born partially Caucasian.

While my situation is an anecdotal account, it highlights an accepted form of bigoted racial judgment in our world today. A small few who claim to speak for entire racial groups have claimed the culture and heritage of their respective ethnicities for themselves and have attempted to redefine them under an arbitrary definition of “race.”

Unfortunately for hapas, and many individuals of other ethnic backgrounds, this new concept of “race” isn’t necessarily inclusive of them. Despite both one’s blood lineage and culture, people from full-blooded, binary ethnic groups are somehow allowed to revoke the rightful culture of others.

Ultimately, this trend of bigoted racial judgment from both the left and the right and their subsequent primitive retreat to racial tribalism is used to suppress the voices of others, as was the case with my two “progressive” peers. Rather than accept others for who they are along with celebrating the similarities and differences we all have, in today’s climate, people would rather exclude and silence.

Hapas should be recognized as rightful members of their ethnic communities, and their individual voices, or those of any race for that matter, should not be forgotten or dismissed.

Although in today’s world many people use the terms “acceptance” and “diversity” as buzzwords to make themselves look good, their judgments and actions to those who look differently from themselves might say otherwise. We should all consider spreading aloha in our lives regardless of identity, not just another form of racism.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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