Dear White American Friends,

Photo by Matt Moloney on Unsplash

First, let me lay out the scene that finally pushed me to write this article. Last night (Friday) I was out with a group of lady friends at our local dive bar — you know the kind, smells like must and beer, sometimes like piss, and has an eclectic group of people that sit outside on dirty picnic tables and smoke too much so that when you get home every hair and thread of clothing carries the scent of cigarette toxins. You order a bucket of cheap beer or shots in tiny plastic cups, and the regulars are always there, making their rounds to different groups like they’re running for mayor — and we started talking about the war in Ukraine (not something I will go into here) and it caught the attention of the group of people next to us, predominantly POC (I use this term because they all identified differently), and we ended up speaking with them the rest of the night. Topics varied from Ukraine, to racism, to drug use. The conversation was definitely monopolized by the most vocal person in our group (we’ll call her Liz) and the most vocal person in their group (we’ll call him Quin), but for the most part it was an interesting and lively conversation. Liz and Quin reminded me of college conversations, when all we wanted to do was debate some current event or historical figure; low-key trying to show how well informed we were, and how many ideas we had by interjecting a lot with our opinions.

At midnight I was tired: from the long work week, from the conversation, from the cigarette smoke, and had my cat to feed. I stood up to leave, having a final exchange with Quin about his cats, and heard Liz say to our other friend,

“I miss having diverse friends, I miss these kinds of conversations. Our friend group has no diversity, this one is basically white (addressing me) and so-and-so (another non-white friend) is basically white too.”

I ignored it as I was speaking with Quin but that wasn’t the first time she had called me ‘basically white’ and I had to push down the annoyance and anger as I waved goodbye.

Dear White American friends,

When you tell someone ‘you’re basically white’ do you not realize how arrogant and presumptive that is? Or, as Liz used earlier in the night to describe a white, heterosexual male, do you not realize the caucasity of it? I’m curious as to what gives you the authority to dismiss how someone identifies? By labeling people as ‘basically white’ you’re stating you understand what ‘not white’ is and can determine if someone is ‘not enough’ of something to satisfy your standards of what diverse means. In actuality, it tells me two things (if not more depending on the context): 1) White = American and 2) You don’t understand the nuances of ethnic and racial identity for non-white Americans.

I’m not white. I am half-Korean, a quarter Venezuelan, and a quarter Irish. However, I am American. I also happen to be well assimilated into American culture. From my own experiences, what many white people don’t understand, even my friends who are well traveled and open-minded individuals, is that myself, and many non-white people like me, grew up suppressing their ethnic and racial identities and have mastered the art of being ‘white chameleons’ for safety, for career advancement, and to reduce the psychological fatigue of being different. It doesn’t mean we rejected that side of ourselves because we don’t wear it like a badge, it doesn’t mean we’re treated as white, and it definitely doesn’t give you the authority to tell us what we are, and aren’t.

It can be so devastating to next generation immigrants, adoptees, and mixed raced individuals when one’s identity can be so casually tossed aside and distilled down to the phrase, ‘you’re basically white’. It’s like you’re saying, you’re almost there, you’re almost enough, but not quite, so you’re neither fully accepted in our camp nor diverse enough to be interesting.

Constantly talking about racism or micro-aggressions, or being responsible for the ‘diversity’ narrative at work or in your friend group can be exhausting. When that’s your life, it’s not necessarily entertaining conversation, and it’s not something I really want to debate on a Friday night with my white friends.

Love,

Your mixed raced friend

P.S. Stop calling people ‘basically white’

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