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Kinda White Like Me

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Image: Ophelia Chong

In high school I read Black Like Me, a non-fiction book by John Howard Griffin; a journal that chronicled Mr. Griffin's travels through the south as a black man. Decades has gone by, and as much it has changed, it hasn't changed. Mr. Trump and the other "Birthers" clamoring for President Obama's birth certificate is an an example of how little has changed in some parts and minds of this country. Last Friday, to head off doubters of his citizenship Governor Jindal (R-La.) released his birth certificate, in response to a newspaper incorrectly spelling his middle name, and not to pass up on the irony, Gov. Jindal is supporting a "Birthers" bill that will require anyone running for national office to show proof of U.S. birth in order to be on the Louisiana ballot. If you are White, does that mean you don't have to show proof?

Color is in the eye of the beholder

On a few occasions, when asked where I was born, my reply "I'm Canadian," will elicit "No, really what are you?" Because of the recent events I asked myself that same question. What am I? Am I White? Yellow? What am I?

All of this has got me on a non-scientific semi-factual project, I call it "Kinda White Like Me*." I wanted to leave the safety and comfort of my home, pose as a White person and to report back to you. Luckily I had brought back bottles of Pond's Flawless White from Hong Kong, a skin lightening cream popular in Asia. In Asia 4 out of 10 women use skin lighteners*. In a combination of historical and class preference, relentless advertising and Western influences, the women in Asia go to great lengths to attain that flawless white complexion. In every drugstore in Asia, every major brand has a skin lightener product, whole aisles were devoted to attaining the goal of pure white skin. Here in the US, skin lightening is hawked to the baby boomers as a cure for those tell tale age spots, a vain attempt to slow the runaway train to Cougarville.

Slapping it On

After a few weeks of smearing my face every night, I didn't notice much of a difference. If I was any paler it was probably due to the fact that I rarely leave the house, and it was winter and I wear SPF 100 when I did venture out. As I looked at myself in the mirror, Snow White wasn't gazing back at me, it was Kung Fu Panda. Conclusion: You can't reach in with a cream and reconstruct DNA.

Day: One

Even with the not so pale skin, I thought I could try to pass as white by dressing white. I poured over Elle and Lucky, trying to find the perfect outfit. I looked at the people at Gelson's while buying my artisan cheeses and organic milk, I studied their selection of accessories and I noticed they seemed to be on the same low-carb diet as me. I decided to save money by cobbling an outfit together from what I had, surely I could create an outfit with a thread and needle and iron on appliques. As I threw open my closet, I realized I didn't have to go to that extreme, my wardrobe was already quite white. My closet was a microcosm of the local mall and eBay. Without much thought, I threw on Lululemon workout capris, an Adidas tank top, a Gap hoodie and a pair of Dansk clogs. I was ready to go out and to test the waters as a White person. In the manner of my habitual lemming like behavior I ended up spinning at the gym to an alt/electro rock playlist, just like I do everyday with friends who are more interested in the shape of our derrieres than what country our ancestors spawned from.

Day: Sometime Later

Today I was more determined to be Whiter than I usually am. To do this I needed to be in the midst of non-whiteness, a place I felt foreign and out of place, Chinatown. I sat myself down at Empress Pavilion and ordered in English. The waiter put a fork in front of me, but this really doesn't count because it happens all the time, even when I order in Cantonese. It seems that the immigrant Chinese consider me White regardless of how I dress or speak or look. I go home crestfallen and sleepy from all the carbs in the dim sum.

Day: Not Too Long Ago

Up until now, I haven't found any difference in my being Chinese or White. Then it happened, on my Virgin America flight from JFK to LAX, the Chinese woman next to me turned on the game channel and started to play Mah Jong. I looked over and turned on my games and played Solitaire, only because I had never learned how to play Mah Jong. The epiphany hit hard, I have been white all this time and just never realized it.

Day: Most Recent

As I walk my dog, my neighbor makes a joke "Frankie looks a bit chubby, are you fattening him up?". No matter how I saw myself, I am and will always be Chinese.

* "Skin Whitening big business in Asia" PRI.org

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