Racial performance

Back in February in my Asian American Literature class, we talked about racial performance. Normally we act slightly differently around everyone we're with whether or not you notice it. Racial performance, on the other hand, deals more with how people of color think how they’re supposed to act based on a perceived cultural consensus of their race, especially around other people of color. Key and Peele deftly points this out in their “Phone Call” video when they start using more black vernacular around each other even though it's not part of their everyday speech. Same when Jessica and Louis Huang get “success” perms in the Fresh Off the Boat episode, “Success Perms” even though at that time of their life they were not yet successful.

That made me think of all the ways I was putting up a racial performance. A common one that I could think of was whenever someone asked for my major, I would always say“English, but I’m also minoring in business." That little business tidbit makes me think that hey I’m not completely failing my race (aka my parent’s expectations), I’m still going into one of the four major career fields (medical, STEM, business, and law) albeit in a nontraditional one that deals more with the publishing industry. Another one would be whenever I see an older Vietnamese person who works at a store or a restaurant I always say, “cảm ơn (thank you)” to them to subtly let them know that yes I am also Vietnamese and I’m not completely failing in not speaking my mother tongue. I also become a bit quieter and reserved around them, as one does when you’re around elders.

By now it's become a habit that I can't easily break because it's so ingrained in my system. And I'm not sure if I'll ever stop doing it because, to a certain extent, I feel like I have to make up for being a "bad" Asian who doesn't normally fit the model minority stereotype. Even though I know it's dumb, and that there's no such thing as a bad Asian.

~ Stacy N.


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