I'm tired of being a visible minority
July 16, 2017 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Just as the title says, I'm tired of being a minority.

I am a female visible and "model" minority who has all the traditional marks of success.
I'm tired of being a minority. Is there anything I can do to feel better? I'm not depressed. I'm not rejecting my ethnicity or heritage, either- I just find it really exhausting to be a minority. It's this low-level but constant energy that I have to burn. I'm fetishized and not fully seen as a person. Wherever I go, my race implies something about me. I watch well-intentioned white people flash distorted bits of my native culture to up their own street cred, and yet all the effort I've put towards learning about my native culture and language is somehow taken for granted.

... if I had to be honest with myself, I'd say that I don't fully trust white American society. Actually, I don't even know if I fully trust the green to be receptive to this kind of question and I've considered leaving metafilter because it has almost become another place where I am confronted with the fact that the majority of the advice and thinking doesn't apply to me. I feel like so many things don't apply to me - health guidelines, beauty standards, attitudes towards food and drink, attitudes towards independence and family structure and money. I feel like I'm living in a world that wasn't made for me at all, but because White American society decided that I'm at least relatively compatible with their lifestyle and I'm perceived as being docile enough, I can remain in their system as one of the fixtures of maybe-diversity for now. I'm exhausted.

I sometimes wish I could move back to my parents' home country (not very realistic) or move to an enclave (financially speaking, I've reached a level that lumps me in with the yuppie gentrifiers, which might have something to do with the way I'm feeling now), but that doesn't seem productive. I just don't know where I could turn. Has anybody else ever woken up and felt like, "shit, I just wish I weren't such a visible minority anymore, and I wish that various aspects of my general daily experiences actually applied to me more often?" What helped? Books? People? Experiences?
posted by fernweh to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a member of a visible minority, so take this with a giant grain of salt, but I'm wondering if you can find other people who share your ethnicity (or who don't share your ethnicity but who are also members of visible minorities and might understand your predicament.) Even if you can't move to an enclave or to your parents' home country, you could maybe spend a couple of hours a week in the company of people with whom you can relax, even if it's just getting together periodically for dinner or drinks or to play board games or whatever. It might be nice to have people with whom you can discuss this stuff without having to worry about causing offense or being misunderstood. If that's hard because you live in a very white area of the country, is there any chance that you could work towards moving somewhere within the US that was more diverse?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:43 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]

I am a female, visible model minority who has been fortunate enough to live in progressively more diverse areas throughout my life. I started in an extremely white and remote part of Canada, then moved to a relatively urban part of the US, and now I live in northern California which has a high concentration of my minority. That's all to say that I now understand acutely the relief of living in an "enclave" or at least a place with people of my minority visible every day, everywhere I go. If it's possible for you, do consider moving to a place where your minority is better represented. For the first time in my life, I see old people who look like me and also talk like me (speaking native American English) and I feel like I belong.
posted by serelliya at 1:37 PM on July 16 [20 favorites]

Asian American here - I feel you. What helps me is surrounding myself with words and perspective from other woke Asian Americans so that I am not just absorbing the opinions of white America all the time. That could mean finding a group of like-minded people to hang out with, but if that's not possible where you live, there are lots of books and blogs and social media accounts that really help with these feelings of alienation. It sucks to only ever hear strangers talking about what they think you're like; listening, instead, to people who are like me speak thoughtfully and constructively about our group identity and our place in the world is just... really empowering in a way I can't quite describe, but it is so, so important to me to feel like I have agency and to avoid letting my internal monologue just repeat every crappy thing the dominant culture says about me. That stuff doesn't go away, but the more I surround myself with other perspectives, the less I feel like it can hurt me.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:38 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]

Hello, I am also a woman who is a member of a so-called "model minority" group in my country. I have a good professional career, a steady personal life, and meet the hallmarks of success in those and other ways. But I also find myself getting tired of white people who don't get it and am generally irritated with the way the world seems to be going, and wow, do I ever feel you when you say it is exhausting. It absolutely is.

I do find it helpful to have many friends whose parents are also immigrants. It doesn't even matter what the country of origin was, just being a child of an immigrant is enough of a shared experience. I often read blogs or articles or books by people of colour, as well, to make sure I choose my media to see myself represented. I seek out TV shows and movies that have racial diversity and that feature strong women having good relationships with other women.

It also helps me to have a job where I feel I make a difference, and a rich volunteer life that does the same. I actively work (for pay and not for pay) to advocate for women and people of colour and other marginalized groups. I don't know what your profession is, but if you are the same ethnicity as I am, I can make an educated guess that it's probably medicine, law, business, or academia. If you're a doctor, there are plenty of opportunities to advocate, and the same goes for law. Sure, it's not your responsibility, but if you're looking for a way to feel like an agent, instead of a subject, this is a good way to do it.

As for moving back to your parents' home country--I get it. I've often wondered what it would have been like if my immigrant parent had had me "back home." I have these fantasies that I would have fit in, and I wouldn't have to deal with racism. But you know what, those are just fantasies. That country has just as many problems with racism, sexism and classism--they just take different forms. I know I would still be frustrated; it's just that the specifics would be different.

Finally, it might help you to find a counsellor who understands these issues. I remember some of your previous questions and I do think there might be some things you'd benefit from discussing with a counsellor. But it needs to be someone who understands what it's like to be the child of an immigrant and a person of colour.

Good luck. I'm sorry you are having such a rough time right now.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:48 PM on July 16 [9 favorites]

yet all the effort I've put towards learning about my native culture and language is somehow taken for granted.

I'm going to respond to this point with an excerpt from this article from The Economist:
Many Chinese today share the idea that a Chinese person is instantly recognisable—and that an ethnic Han must, in essence, be one of them. A young child in Beijing will openly point at someone with white or black skin and declare them a foreigner (or “person from outside country”, to translate literally). Foreign-born Han living in China are routinely told that their Mandarin should be better (in contrast to non-Han, who are praised even if they only mangle an occasional pleasantry).
Reading this observation in print made me feel not so alone.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:56 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

DEFINITELY recommend finding groups in person or online. Instagram and Twitter (Facebook groups too) have huge swaths of people fighting for equality and against media, etc. Seeing people lift each other up and fight the status quo is so encouraging.

I am not a visible minority but am a young woman disabled by chronic illness. Invisible disability also has its own set of challenges and judgements. It's been amazing to find people like me to commiserate and speak out and just to chat with.

I know some bloggers, etc, have made lists of good people to follow in all sorts of activism areas. Once you start liking and following on places like Instagram, similar people will be recommended to you.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:00 PM on July 16

For activist groups - it's important work, and some people feel uplifted by organizing, but sometimes you also want to just be without thinking about the Struggle all the time. So in addition to that, if you can find more friends from the same ethnic group as you with similar immigration histories (alternatively, if the group is very diverse, so no one's the "odd one out", and everyone shares the experience of being a minority), it's nice - instead of being "the X who takes great photos", you're just "the one who takes great photos".
posted by airmail at 3:40 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

In my workplace I'm a visible minority. I'm a woman in science. I'm the only woman in my department. The constant "otherness" is exhausting. (Also ignorant comments, microaggressions, etc.) I'm sure it's only a tiny fraction of your experience, so I can only imagine how emotionally drained you are. What helps me is being around friends who have known me for a long time. I can just be myself without having to be "on display". Do you have friends who have known you long enough that your ethnic background is no longer an interesting novelty to them? Social media can be a annoying, but I'm glad Facebook got me back in touch with some childhood friends.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:05 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

Yes. I can't count the number of times I've, in desperation, frustration or plain sadness, wished I were white or that more people around me were my minority. You aren't alone.

I also completely understand that this isn't internalised racism or depression even though some people will insist otherwise. I think of it as a perfectly natural response to a frequently shitty situation.

Stuff that I've found somewhat helpful has been to take in media made by and including primarily people of my minority.

As long as I'm going to do escapism in a movie or book or internet forum it doesn't hurt to sometimes populate that fantasy world in a way that includes me and if I'm going to improve my mind there's no reason I can't use teachers that include me.

I also find that media made by & for my group sometimes speaks to different aspects of my experience that majority culture can't. I like to explore stuff that would be pretty accessible to mainstream culture and also look for stuff that uh, isn't "real art" yet because enough rich white people haven't decided it's acceptable yet. Haha.

Similarly, I watch YouTube beauty videos that focus on people that look like me to get a sense that people like me can be beautiful.

I understand about being afraid and alone. I find it helpful to read and listen to what other people of my minority have said about things like race relations in the past and now, as well as to network with and support people that are doing cool stuff whether or not it ever recieves real recognition from the white community (it won't). I'm sure there are various social groups, churches, and associations you can connect with. It's also positive to seek out inspirations and role models of your minority, whether or not they blend into majority culture.

More practically, to feel safe there are places I do not go without a white escort and other places I do not visit at all. If I'm in a situation where I'm the only visible minority in a group and I'm feeling nervous or uncomfortable I make a point of being aggressively friendly to whomever is nearby until someone gives me a good response. At the end of the day people are people and someone will usually respond well enough that you feel safer.

Generally, I make it a point to live and work in diverse areas. I know that this is selfish of me and often feel guilty for not paving the way for my minority into less diverse areas, but that's where I'm at right now. I've spent most of my life having to cope with the fact that I visibly stand out, it's nice to just be unremarkable. My neighbourhood is incredibly diverse with people of all the broadly visible race distinctions and it's a huge relief.

I usually try to avoid racial topics with majority people even if they deliberately present themselves as "allies" up front because I've found that these folks can be on a crusade that has very little to do with me as a person and I often end up hurt.

However I think it's important to take the risk from time to time because there absolutely are majority people you can trust who will hear you and genuinely try not to hurt you and people like that of any race are worth getting to know. And all human interaction carries risk. Ultimately you have to accept pain if you want humans.

I know how exhausting it is to put on your armour every day and go out into a world that's hostile and hurtful. I know what it's like to feel like you have to toe the line between destruction by assimilation and destruction by elimination. If I had a community to "go back" to I'd probably do it, at least to visit, but my circumstances have left me totally culturally adrift. If you can visit your heritage community, it might "fortify" you so to speak.

Anyhow, I'll leave it at that, but feel free to memail me any time.
posted by windykites at 4:16 PM on July 16 [11 favorites]

An Asian friend of mine felt similarly and proceeded to actively pursue friendships with people demographically similar to her. She sought out new friendships and deepened her existing ones. She dated and married within that pool. She did not devote any emotional energy to white people who were not already longstanding friends. For a long time, she lived in a predominantly Asian community. She's much, much happier now. I've taken a similar approach periodically as a queer lady when i felt my world was entirely too homophobic. I'm not a visible minority, though, and I don't know that my experiences would be helpful. Good luck to you.
posted by studioaudience at 4:17 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]

I listened to this podcast this week and thought that Jenny Zhang had an incredible conversation with Roxane Gay that touches on some of what you're grappling with. (I'm a white woman and offering up a podcast feels small, but this episode really moved me and I've been thinking about it for days.)
posted by katie at 5:14 PM on July 16

So I'm you, but male. I grew up in and surrounded by several Asian American communities, to the point where as a young adult I consciously rejected all of that as too "limiting" and aligned myself with mainstream white American culture. Basically, in college if you were an AA student you either hung out exclusively with other Asians (incl. international students) or you hung out with the white kids.

Now that I'm older... I can appreciate why many asians chose to spend their time with each other. Even more personally, I can see this same pattern in my dating history. They were great people, of all races, but yeah, generally things were just easier when I was with someone who immediately understood all the things I would otherwise have to explain.

All the little things add up. Spending time with people (and media) that don't require that extra energy is like... getting home from work and putting on a pair of sweatpants.
posted by danny the boy at 6:09 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]

There's a lot we don't know here, so just some random thoughts from a visible minority and multiracial person.

If you're feeling alienated and singled out, consider moving somewhere a little more diverse, where you might still be a minority, but then so is most everyone else. Pretty much all of the bigger cities in California are good for this. Also consider moving somewhere where the group(s) you identify with are represented, potentially in the various cultural enclaves in different cities across the country.

Along those lines, maybe it's enough to cultivate relationships with folks who you identify with, where attitudes and social mores are your own, as a group, instead coming purely from the culture around you. Maybe start a meetup or think about attending a religious institution or social club, or even sponsor a weekly dinner for folks who are part of your group or culture.

I feel like so many things don't apply to me

My advice would be to reject the things that don't work for you. That's perfectly fine. I grew up in the US and there's a lot of American social convention that makes ZERO sense to me. I've decided that I don't do those things and I don't bow to the social pressure that says I should. I'm going to live my life in the best way I can, and in a way that works for me, whether people (white or otherwise) like it or not. It sounds misanthropic, but it's really just that I have a set of needs, desires and principles that are important to me, and I'm not going to compromise them just because everyone else thinks I should. If the things you see in the social milieu don't apply to you, reject those things.

It sounds like you don't feel fully seen by the people surrounding you. That's valid and understandable, but as a multiracial person, I think it's unfair to refer to "white America" as one thing. Just like the rest of us, white people are individuals. Some terrible and some wonderful. On a personal level, intentions matter to me. I don't expect people to be perfect in every way (my personal definition of "woke"). If people care and they're genuinely trying, but they say or do something imperfect, I choose not to alienate my allies on their imperfection.

I sympathize. I've felt like a fish out of water for most of my life. I hope you're able to get to a place where you have enough familiar culture around you to offset the foreign and sometimes hostile culture you're experiencing now.
posted by cnc at 6:14 PM on July 16 [7 favorites]

Yeah, this is tough and I don't have any good answers.

Conversations got easier, in a sense, once I started limiting what parts of my personal life I was willing to discuss. I used to have horrible problems with accidentally derailing my conversations by mentioning something which I thought was reasonable and normal. So now I have a few pre-vetted hobbies (weightlifting, bicycling, DIY backpacking equipment) which I've found to be relatively safe. With work people, I add shop talk. I'm kind of sad that I have to censor large swathes of my life like that, but given that I must, I've found it way more successful and less exhausting to do it up-front than on the fly.

Given your comment that it would be unrealistic to move back to the old country, perhaps you've already figured this out, but it took me a while so I'll say it here: the old country would feel just as uncomfortable. My values and practices are partially American and partially a snapshot of the old country from the middle of the last century. There's no home to be found there.

It's probably good advice to turn to other people of your background, although that hasn't worked great for me yet. The ones I've met seem to fall on either extreme of being completely oblivious of these dynamics (or unwilling to reveal to me their awareness) or being super into the struggle all the time, neither of which is what I'm looking for. I don't say this to discourage you from trying. What I mean is, they're only people too, so don't expect them to solve all your problems, you know?

I don't know what to say. It sucks to be outside the mainstream.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:59 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]

I'm not a visible minority but I'm an immigrant and it's obvious once I open my mouth. I also have radically different values than most people here and I have never had a successful romantic relationship with an American man, nor are most of my good friends American. Luckily I live in an area with a lot of immigrants, not of my ethnicity but still it helps. I do seek out foreigners and it helps that American society is pretty accepting of outsiders. Still, I've sort of resigned myself to never feeling truly at home here and also I am not sure if or when I should leave. I've said I will if the GOP health care bill passes, which I should for financial reasons, but I don't know how at home I would feel at home either.

I did feel far more at home in California and also in NYC and Boston, all places with huge immigrant populations. Just the idea that we were all here on this adventure together was comforting.
posted by fshgrl at 8:51 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

I'm a female visible minority in a white-majority country. I feel your pain a lot. I'm also Muslim, which I only mention because it's really not fun being a well-meaning harmless person trying to make your way through the world when one of your identifying factors is something that will make many people immediately react to you a little differently, that is written about and held up for scrutiny. The term 'hostile culture' was mentioned upthread. That is very very much how I feel, both in real life and on the internet, and no online community I have ever been part of has ever been immune to this.

Moving to a big and diverse city was very important for me. I've additionally found it important to have a group of people around me who are from my home country and who have the same cultural and spiritual outlook as me (the two don't necessarily go hand in hand). When we are together WE are the majority and it feels good not to have to filter your experience for the consumption of people who might not get it - we can just talk in our language if we want to, or make a culturally-specific joke, and everyone will get it. They aren't the only people I hang out with, but finding this group, over the past 5 years, has been really good for me. This isn't advice to shun people who aren't from your background. But I think it would be worth some time spent actively seeking to deepen your links with either the community from your country, or the immigrant community more generally.

I also visit my home country frequently and stayed there for a year. It was definitely a life-changing experience to be in the majority. But of course, I was only a majority in relation to my skin-colour, but in terms of other factors and partly due to living most of my adult life in the West I was a minority there too, not visibly but in terms of language and attitude. So that might be something to keep in mind if you decide to move to your parents' country.

Windykites has it: I usually try to avoid racial topics with majority people even if they deliberately present themselves as "allies" up front because I've found that these folks can be on a crusade that has very little to do with me as a person and I often end up hurt.
This has absolutely been the case for me, even on the liberal internet. I sometimes feel like, surely I'm the kind of minority these guys are talking about and therefore my opinion matters, but even then it sometimes feel like Westerners are talking for me instead of listening to me.

I think the thing that helps me the most is writing, though, and I get that this might not work for you, but I'm just putting it out there. Having a creative outlet is really important and healing even if the product itself isn't that great. I write fiction, not filtering any of it for a Western audience but just putting down stories about people like me onto screen or paper, and this somewhat (somewhat) makes up for the lack of space for people who look and think like me in mainstream media.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:36 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]

I'm Asian American and the psychological load that was lifted when I moved from New England to California was immense. I was just so damn tired of people doing staring, trying out random greetings (Ni Hao! Konnichiwa!), let alone actual racialized malice. Can you take a visible minority holiday and go somewhere where you will be if not in the majority, at least part of the plurality? I live in Honolulu now and it's goddamn incredible to have people assume I am from here because of my Asian face. I've never had Asian American privilege before.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:41 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

Moving cities is a huge step, but it may be the most effective for you. I have recently had the reverse experience in which I moved from a very diverse city, to a less diverse city and the the amount of racist bullshit I have to deal with has shot up dramatically. Mostly it is those implied things you are talking about.

So far, reading about and consuming media about people like me has helped. Also talking to other people with the same experiences has been quite cathartic.
posted by keeo at 5:36 AM on July 17

Visibly disabled male here. I can identify with the exhaustion factor, and I'm sorry you're struggling with it. I'd like to second the idea of finding a counselor with a specialty adjacent to your situation. Just having someone to talk to about how you're feeling could lighten the load you're carrying. I hope it gets better for you.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:58 PM on July 17

I spent two years as a very, very visible minority (maybe... 1% of students in my school were my skin colour, and our town was SUPER white, especially the parts I lived in.)

What helped:

- Spending time with people of my ethnicity (I had friends I could literally text, 'omg I need to not be around [white people] for a bit, let's get coffee!')

- Cultivating friendships with, for lack of a better word, 'woke' white people - my roommate was a doll, and I was lucky to meet very open-minded people, mostly through fandom, who I could vent to.

- Reminding myself that I didn't particularly fit in at home, either; it's a nice fantasy to think I (or you) would, but at the end of the day, my home country was/is just as fucked up as the US, but in different ways. At least in the US, I felt like I had more power to change things, not least because there's more awareness, and the tools to dismantle some of the harmful shit exist.

Hugs to you. It's rough.
posted by Tamanna at 9:55 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]

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