fbpx

Confronting Complicity: Blindspots and Bananas

By Charlene Lo. Posted on September 25, 2019 in Stories + Recipes

I remember being a little girl growing up in London, Ontario. One of a handful of Asian families in the city – notable in high school because there was another ‘Lo’ family with lots of kids, and we were all interchangeable. I remember being called a ‘banana’ – yellow on the outside, white on the inside – and really identifying with this label. I started introducing myself as a banana – proud of my ‘internal whiteness’ and ability to be, act, and sound Western. 

I knew early in life that my job as a good Chinese-Canadian daughter of immigrant parents was to be successful. And putting on my mask of “Whiteness” would help me achieve that.

Only recently did I realize it was a mask. My entire identity was tied directly to dominant Western culture and traditions, and my perception of an ‘overly strict Chinese upbringing’ made me reject my own Asian-ness. I wore my ‘exoticness’ as a badge when it benefitted me, and laughed when my friends told me they ‘forgot I was even Chinese.’ I took it as a compliment.

This mask had crystallized so completely that when my first real experience of racial tension showed up at Hollyhock, I didn’t know if I belonged in the POC (People of Colour) caucus or the White caucus. Don’t bananas exist somewhere in between?

My DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) journey of the past 15 months has been a swift current. I have benefitted from mentors and Wise Ones along the way — Jada-Gabrielle Pape, Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Akaya Windwood and my sisters in the New Universal — and I heard time and again that self-examination was to be the first step on one’s own learning journey, and on the path to collective liberation. So I cracked myself open, examining my unconscious biases and my own painful complicity with perpetuating systems of power and oppression. I sat in circles with BIPOC folks (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), listening to stories of harm and good intent — and how both co-exist, repeatedly and often. I confronted my own defensiveness, blindspots (is this word acceptable?) and fragility, to reveal the truths in the discomfort beneath.  

The subtext to all this was my own internalized racism, which resulted in the painful (and harmful) rejection of my own Asian-ness and the upholding of white culture as dominant and superior. I have observed how a culture of whiteness transcends the presence of POC who may work in that system (especially if the POC are bananas). And how naming our privileges is not enough when our behaviours continue to uphold old colonial power structures. 

In a highly impactful training this past year – Conscious Use of Power, by Inner Activist – I learned about Leticia Nieto’s work describing “agent” and “target” skills models. I began to more fully grasp the concept of intersectionality – that most of us are made up of a composite of privileged and marginalized identities. I am a woman, and I am a person of colour. These are “target” or marginalized identities  I am also middle class, educated, and straight. These are “agent” or privileged identities. I began to notice my own ease with which I reference my marginalized identities. How quickly the conversation can devolve into some form of “Oppression Olympics.” But how real growth and learning came from the illumination of my own blindspots as an agent. Moments when I have realized my education and class privileges that have made these systems invisible to me, as someone who has benefitted from them – systems that give access to a few at the expense of many. How we don’t all start from the same starting line. How we are all both the oppressed and the oppressor. And how each of our liberation is tied to one another.

We don’t all start from the same starting line. We are all both the oppressed and the oppressor. Each of our liberation is tied to one another.

My challenge to myself, and to people reading this post, is to consider the ways in which you may be complicit with systems of power. How you may have received privilege or access because of your gender, class, race, ability, age, sexual orientation (or any other dimension of social rank or diversity) – and rather than feeling defensive or fragile about this privilege, or defaulting to explaining how you have also been the oppressed, consider that we are all part of a larger system of dominant culture. And if we are to re-imagine a world of true equity, access, and inclusion – it will require a dismantling of all such systems, which will require all of us. This is not a black, brown, or white issue. It is an everyone issue. As Akaya Windwood has memorably taught me, ‘we are all kin — cousins, sisters, boyfriends, pals.’ Liberation will require love between us, above all else.

So with that, it is time to shed my ‘banana’ label. It was an identity that served me in its own way as a young person, but I think it’s time to throw it in the compost now. It will become seed for something new… Owning my Chinese-ness has never been an option before, and feels incredibly revealing and vulnerable. So if I introduce myself in circle with you as Lo Ka-Ling, ask me to repeat it again. Ask me to repeat it slowly if you really want to learn to say it. Call me ‘Ling’ for short. I like the way it sounds a whole lot better than ‘banana.’

 

Photo Credit: Amanda Mary Creative

Showing 16 comments
  • Torkin Wakefield
    Reply

    Hello Ling, Thank you for this honest and generous sharing of your experience with both agency and target experiences. For us to change a dominant white cultural norm to an inclusive diverse norm we all have to be examining our own assumptions and experiences with race, gender, class. I have recently been reading more about structural racisim and how the systems of our culture, whether in housing, education, finances, prisions, health care all work together to maintain white privilege and to subjugate People of Color, women, and LGBTQ communities. Thank you for your personal story.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      Dear Torkin – Thank you for sharing about your journey too. We are all in this together, and we can dismantle the structures – together. <3 Ling

  • Carmen M Wakeling
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this Ling!

  • Werner
    Reply

    Dear Ling, Such well articulated words exploring your own inner journey and how that guided you. The analogy of composting ‘banana’ so something new can emerge, is an invitation for many of us in places of privilege to dismantle the internal racism that lies beneath our own blindspots. Thanks for sharing your vulnerability. Your personal story reminds me of the work I still need to do as a white privileged male. Take care.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      Werner, appreciation for your vulnerability and insight. Happy to walk this path with you. I look forward to the next time we get to see each other and connect. <3 Ling

  • Virginia McCorkle
    Reply

    hello, Ling~i thank you for the sincerity of your words, the journey you are taking &, grateFully, you are willing to share w/great courage. Please consider that each & every one of us is also dealing w/aspects of identity, whether we’re conscious of it or not: When we see our Selves as defined by something outside of us, it causes harm & must be corrected; that this is happening in ways large & small, does not always translate to feeling ‘good’ while releasing lots of old patterns/habits, ways of being & doing that Never really served us, & are now being discarded, shed, in a Divine letting go! As an older, privileged white woman, I reach out tentatively to thank you for this kindness of sharing.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      thank you for hearing my story and sharing your perspective, Virginia. we can all learn from one another. <3 Ling

  • Mark
    Reply

    Ling… how beautiful you are. Labels do and will forever exist. Without labels there is no black, white, up, down or somewhere in between. Your words have touched me. Thank you for sharing. I have lived a life with little to no external racism. My experience is that the west coast is a beautiful place to grow up and raise a family no matter the size shape or colour. The internal racism in my life exists… including everyone six degrees of me. In my experience the only way to remove what is ‘between’ us is to stand in it, be the love you can be. Time exists so change can take place. Your words are a great example of this. Thank you.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      I’m touched my post has moved you to share your experience too, Mark. It will take everyone to change everything. Thank you! <3 Ling

  • Lore Mack-Mumford
    Reply

    Dear Lo Ka-Ling, your intimate sharing is an invitation for me to clear my personal blind spots. This starts by recognizing them, holding them to the light to see beyond and celebrate the ONE we all are. Thank you for the invitation ~ with love.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      Dear Lore, that has been my experience too and thank you for receiving the invitation. Much love back to you and hope to see you again on the isle soon. <3 Ling

  • Sara
    Reply

    Dar-Ling… Love you. This is just the kind of eye-opening perspective I’d expect from you. I look forward to illuminating conversations!

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      It is delightful to have you as part of our community here Sara! Welcome and yes, many more conversations to come <3 Ling

  • Rg
    Reply

    Well done Char, constantly evolving you are 🙂

  • Stephen Tracy
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing Lo Ka-Ling. I read this post a week ago and it has stuck with me, so I came back to share thanks for the gift of this personal and beautiful story.
    Thank you for the reminder to examine the masks I still put on and for some new ideas in how to navigate this in my personal journey.

    • Charlene Lo
      Reply

      Dear Stephen I am very touched that my story has stayed with you. Thank you for taking the time to let me know – glad to be on this journey with you. <3 Ling

Leave a Reply