With COVID upon us, my network of similar friends, and being allergic to social media, I wasn’t sure where to turn. With your permission, I chose someone I already knew. This seemed like a great opportunity to learn about a very different perspective. Throughout this interview, we covered topics of identity, migration, cultural background, values, worldview, race, gender, class, and whiteness. We’re going to dive into the moments that made me pause and what I learned from the experience.
The interview started by looking at identity which the author’s Martin and Nakayama describe as who we are and who others think we are (Martin & Nakayama, 167). I found it interesting how the first identifiers that came to my wife’s mind were wife and mother. She stopped there explaining that those are the biggest parts of her life. I asked about other identities but nothing came to mind, not even the obvious physical subordinate identities of being a woman, or Asian came to mind. Considering Tatum, Kirk, and Okazawa-Rey mention that “students of color usually mention their racial or ethnic group” and “whites students rarely mention being white”. (Tatum, Kirk, Okazawa-Rey, 6,7) I found this strange. Were those physical non-dominant qualities not a thought, or was the racial and ethnic aspect diluted by generations of American culture. What I found most perplexing was how I’d answer the same question in the exact opposite way. Being white, and being a male would be first with father, and husband out of mind. What’s the reason we have answers that seem to be the opposite of the way it should be?
Learning about my wife’s Asian identity causing her to be uncomfortable around other Asian women was intriguing. It specifically happens around women and mothers who are less Americanized which I found very interesting. She believes there is an expectation on how to raise children, and high demands from Asian mom’s which she can’t uphold because she doesn’t relate to that culture. This seemed to start in her childhood when she felt too Americanized to fit in with other Asian groups (my wife is 4th gen and the groups were 1st and 2nd gen Asian-Americans). There wasn’t opposition in the experience, just a feeling they didn’t mesh which shows at the meso level how “we compare ourselves to others and are subtly compared” (Tatum, Kirk, Okazawa-Rey, 11). Since that experience, she hasn’t associated with Asian groups. This sounds like an issue with an ethnic identity which is “a set of ideas about one’s ethnic group membership and (2) a sense of belonging to a particular group and knowing something about the shared experience” (Martin & Nakayama, 189). This surprised me to hear that people belonging to particular racial or ethnic groups could feel uneasiness around similar groups. I always thought these groups stayed together to retain a sense of culture and community but seeing how culture can be lost over the generations this type of resistance makes sense.
My wife is 75% Japanese and 25% Chinese and both sides of her family immigrated from Japan and China respectively. Her great grandparents on both sides came from Japan in the late 1800s, and her dad’s father (grandfather) came from China in the early 1900s. The motivation to come to America was in search of better opportunities. Immigration happens when people come to a new country, region, or environment to settle more or less permanently (Martin & Nakayama, 322). Her mom’s side of the family chose Hawaii for its Asian influence which likely provided a more comfortable and seamless transition. Her Father’s side came to Central Los Angeles, but the reasons they made that choice was unknown. She couldn’t recall problems being experienced by her family coming to the U.S. It could be that this wasn’t communicated to her or got lost among the generations. However, given they came to the U.S. around the time “Asians in the United States were treated very badly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.” (Martin & Nakayama, 430) I’d be shocked if they didn’t experience some problems. My wife mentioned that on road trips, her mom didn’t stop in small towns fearing that problems were more likely due to lack of diversity, and large cities were safer due to more diversity. This leads me to believe racism which is “any prejudice against someone because of their race” (Ijeoma, 26) may have been experienced somewhere but wasn’t communicated. This information did give me another aspect of the privileges I enjoy that aren’t available to others regardless of how well assimilated they are and shows how non-dominant groups have to be more conscious of their every move.
Given my wife is ¾ Japanese I expected to hear about masculinity-femininity which is “the degree to which gender-specific roles are valued and the degree to which cultural groups value so-called masculine values or so-called feminine values” (Martin & Nakayama, 104). However, my wife didn’t witness specific roles growing up other than her father doing finances and mother cooked. Otherwise, both her parents worked outside the home and shared household responsibilities. Thinking about the separation of responsibility around finances and cooking, it could be that there were traditional roles at one point. Yet, as her family spent more time in America those roles blurred as assimilation into American Culture increased. It could also be a generational component. I do know that today, her mom still cooks and I learned her dad doesn’t know how to cook, and her dad handles the finances.
The tensions and conflicts between my wife’s culture of origin and national culture highlighted how she was raised to focus on the group rather than the individuals’ own goals, needs, and views (Martin & Nakayama, 56). This identified how very different American and Asian cultures are. She was taught to value differences of opinion and to discuss differences without getting angry. This type of conflict management seems to be a way of saving relationships which lends itself more to the collectivist style of being ‘“more concerned with saving the other person’s face in conflict situations and use more avoiding, obliging, or integrating conflict resolution styles”’ (Martin & Nakayama, 53). However, there tends to be a balance of collectivism and individualism with my wife and her family because there is a focus is doing what’s best for the family, but there was also support and encouragement to personal own goals, and interests. I can say from experience that my wife holds a lot of priority on what benefits our family, and secondary is her own needs, interests, and career development. This balance seems to be the result of holding onto some original cultural values while also adapting to American values.
Believing equal opportunities were available to everyone started fading in recent years when my wife started becoming aware of the systemic racial issues plaguing our country. This opened her eyes to how unjust the opportunities are, and the many layers that are holding different groups back. How could it be a person of a non-dominant race and ethnicity was unaware of racism. Hearing this makes me think my wife only recently moved into the integration phase of minority identity development which the authors describe as being where the realization of racism and other forms of oppression occurs, but any anger is redirected in more positive ways. Resulting in confident and secure individuals desiring to eliminate all forms of injustice, and not merely oppression aimed at their group. (Martin & Nakayama, 179-180). My wife is more aware of racial issues than she had been and has always been an advocate to create change. I believe the election of President Trump led to my wife becoming more aware of the systemic problems this country faces. She detests Trump because he goes against everything my wife was raised to be, and his being in office breeds hate and racism in our country, and divide our country to unhealthy levels.
Despite what she has come to realize about the world, she very much believes that “anyone can succeed if he or she works hard” (DiAngelo, 21). The American Dream is very much alive and well. People can move past unequal opportunities, but not overcome them. It seems the values my wife’s family instilled in her, the way her families class status changed over the generations and a couple of instructors she had in school (black females) that explained their hardships and how hard work and determination allowed them to succeed reinforced her belief that meritocracy exists. As Alvarado points out that “merit is generally defined as a combination of factors including ‘“innate abilities, working hard, having the right attitude, and having high moral character and integrity”’ (Alvarado) all these qualities my wife carries and has been raised to believe, yet it’s clear that certain groups have to work significantly harder to achieve the same levels of success as the dominant groups. If they ever reach that target. If people from these non-dominant groups do elevate themselves, the forces of oppression are still very real. These groups have to fight from being pulled down by the system that is designed to suppress opportunities for the groups it deems unworthy.
The ideas of success for my wife are ones I cannot wrap my head around. They involve things that don’t indicate success in my opinion and I think that’s because they are more collectivist aimed at the greater good of society. In her view, being a good person, doing what’s right for the world and people, being guided by a strong moral compass, raising kind and respectful children who will help shape the next generation, maintaining the continuation of her marriage, and being a solid employee are what makes someone successful. Given this is her perspective on what it takes to be successful, she believes that people have opportunities to succeed because the definitions of success are different for every person. I appreciate her views here because regardless of the opportunities available to people, it shows that success comes in many different forms and it’s not all about money, status, power, and control.
Racism in the world hasn’t been noticed like it should be by my wife and admitted she believes that her being unaware of being Asian caused her to miss experiencing racism that may have been directed toward herself. Part of that was a lack of knowing she should be open to racism because her parents raised her to believe that everyone is equal, everyone’s the same. Her family had a diverse group of friends from various backgrounds so she never saw them for their color. This was almost unbelievable because we are talking about color-blindness which is what hides racism. As Ijeoma explains “if we pretend not to notice race, there can be no racism” (Ijeoma, 41) Is it possible for this to be a belief with a person of color and if so how would this happen? My answer to this goes back to my wife’s childhood when she had that experience of not fitting in with the Asian group causing her to abandoned Asians and befriend whites. It may be possible this caused her not to see herself for her Asian identity and attempted to adopt a new identity in that part of her life. If this was the case, she experienced the conformity stage of Minority Identity Development. This experience caused her to internalize the values and norms of the dominant group and gave her a reason to fit into the dominant culture. We can see uneasiness and even negative attitudes toward the Asian group. (Martin & Nakayama, 178).
Bringing open-minded leadership into positions of power as a way to correct racism in the world was not what I would agree with, but something my wife touched on. I asked if she meant people of color and cultural diversity or simply open-minded whites. She thought open-minded whites were enough. This wouldn’t seem effective because dominant groups remaining in leadership positions will always serve their interests. Therefore, I feel that diversity among leaders is the best way to bring about the changes we need. Social media and the internet she thought was another way of helping to correct racism which got my attention. She said the internet tracks our searches, and activity and can show us what it thinks we want to see. We’ve all seen how our activities follow us around the internet. From this, it’s easy to see how perceptions and stereotypes can develop with this type of myopic marketing if someone searches or clicks on a racist article or does some research on the internet. Since the internet is the primary way of consuming information policies should be in place to protect us from segmented information.
Stereotypes are widely held beliefs about a group of people (Martin & Nakayama, 208). The impact that these have on men and women is much deeper than I imagined. My wife feels unrealistic expectations are placed on mothers because they are expected to raise kids like stay at home moms, but are also expected to have careers like they don’t have kids. Yet, fathers are given a lot more grace when it comes to parenting. I laughed with her example of a father changing a diaper on a park bench which would be perceived as being a good dad for taking care of his kid. However, a woman in the same position would be criticized and judged as being unprepared, and having no decency. In professional settings, she explained how she has to be mindful of her communication. Since messages can be perceived as bitchy coming from a woman, whereas a man is viewed as assertive for the same message. Hearing these realities is a reminder of the truths behind the implications of being born female and how the social impacts so many facets of life.
Racism against whites is nothing like what other groups experience so when my wife shared stereotypes she’s heard about whites having no culture, and no ties to the family, it didn’t impact me, but that’s because they don’t affect my life. The cultural aspect holds some truth to me since my ancestors’ culture diluted upon coming to the U.S. and I see changes as I’ve grown up. That doesn’t mean we have no culture. Having no ties to family didn’t surprise me given my detached relationship from my family, and it makes sense to me how these stereotypes developed because of our highly individualistic way of life. The stereotype that white people have no morals was offensive to me. I consider myself a very moral person. I know many moral individuals, but looking at the bigger picture can see how others think otherwise given the “socio-economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefit those defined and perceived as white” (DiAngelo, 30). A group of people can’t be perceived as moral when they continually mistreat others unlike them on such a widespread scale as a way to maintain power and control.
The way my wife recognizes white supremacy in the world is through the pervasive representations of white people that engulf institutional leadership, government positions, media, and advertising. This seems to have caused her to believe that whites were the only people able to hold positions of power. What this display is the importance that “the overarching political, economic, social system of domination” (DiAngelo, 28) has on maintaining white supremacy. She also described never seeing herself represented in movies which limited her beliefs of what is possible for her. I couldn’t help but think about pop culture and power where the author Martin and Nakayama say that we need to “…think about the power relations that are embedded in these popular culture dynamics.” (Martin & Nakayama, 380).These realities are unfortunate and have lasting impacts on people as I learned through this interview. The forces working against people who are not white need to change. As a country, we are crushing hopes, dreams, and suffocating people which is unsustainable and can’t continue.
Upon starting this assignment I believed that if I interviewed someone different from me I’d hear a very different perspective. I thought lifestyles and experiences couldn’t be the same for someone else as they were for me or even similar. I realized I was wrong. While there are differences in experiences and ways of life, we share similarities in more ways than I imagined possible. Hearing that racism went unnoticed for a good chunk of my wife’s life was unbelievable, and I didn’t think that would be the case. I thought only people of the dominant were reserved to have that experience. This experience not only allowed me to understand my wife, and her culture a little better, but it showed me that we aren’t that different.
OTHER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Identity CH 5
- How do you identify yourself? Why do you choose those labels?
- What part of your identity do you struggle with the most?
- What part of your identity affects your interactions with people you communicate with?
- We learned about non-dominance and dominance. In what ways do you feel that your identities place you in either category?
- Do you interact with others in a way that is consistent with the way you see yourself?
- What social groups do you affiliate with? 8:50
- What country is your family from and what brought them to the United States?
- What problems did your family experience coming to the U.S.?
- What made your family choose to come to the United States instead of somewhere else?
- How did you/your family come to choose the neighborhood you live in?
- How important is family to you?
- What is something you would like others to know about your culture?
- How are you expected to contribute to the family?
Values CH 2
- What values did your family try to instill in you? Why were these viewed as important?
- Do you think you grew up in an individualistic or collectivist household? Why?
- What is the role of men and women in your culture?
- Do you think you come from a culture that values hierarchy, power, uncertainty avoidance? Low Uncertainty Avoidance (Limit rules, take risks) High Uncertainty avoidance (More rules, and consensus about goals) Masculinity and femininity? In what ways do you see this evidenced?
- Do you think you come from a background that offers great risks?
- What tensions/conflicts do you notice between the values of your culture of origin and national/current culture?
- Do you think opportunities are fair for everyone and what makes you believe that?
- Do you believe individual efforts can overcome that? (Meritocracy)
- What are your ideas for success? Do you believe people have opportunities to succeed?
- Do you believe in the American dream? In what ways is the American dream alive in your family?
- How do you see racism in the world?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What social problems do you think are important?
- Who did you vote for/support and why?
Ideas about Race/Gender Issues: WHITENESS
- What relationships do you have outside of your cultural group?
- What are the most commonly held stereotypes about people of your culture?
- What do you think can be done to correct racism?
- In what ways have you felt dominant/non-dominant and in what ways have you felt privileged?
- Do you ever think about what it means to be white?
- Do ever think about what it means to be a female?
- Do you believe racism against white people exists? In what ways do you see it?
Class CLASS READINGS
- Has there ever been a time when you felt disadvantaged?
- Do you think people can overcome inequality?
Whiteness RACE READINGS
- What difference in opportunities do you see is available to you vs others unlike you?
- How do you see the characteristics of white identity?
- In what ways do you see white supremacy in the system you live in?
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