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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hello, Non Brown America!

posted by jp 吉平
Dr. B is too busy to be everyone's part-time Femme-Prophet right now, but she needs to keep her page hits up so that the advertising checks keep coming. So she's asked me to get all ethnic up in here, even offered to kiss my ass. I told her I would be happy to write at her audience for a while, because I love attention, and that she wouldn't have to kiss my ass. Besides, it's not like I'm going to proof read...

So, staying within the lines of the assignment I was given (Dr. B wants me to get ethnic), I thought I'd write a cheerful letter to Non-Brown America, from one Brown guy who likes ya most of the time. Without a doubt, another Brown person may write in to say "JP doesn't speak for me!" to which I will respond, "SILENCE! YOU ARE CONFUSING THEM!"

Us brown people do have a diversity of perspectives, but goodness knows, we all tend to get distracted by the details sometimes. However when us Brown Americans disagree or have a different perspective, that does NOT mean that you are free to oppress us, take our land, or keep us from jobs, housing, or education. Word? Word. We will burn this shit down, get us pissed.

Anyway, here's an outline:
  1. Ethnicity is not pedigree.
  2. Ethnicity is as central to identity as gender.
  3. Relative vaginophobia.

1. Ethnicity is not pedigree. I am Filipino American. Thanks for asking! It's very important to me. I'm Filipino in that I can't live without rice, I point with my lips, and my favorite way to inflict pain is the karot, the bruising death pinch (if you are too far away to pinch, you'll get hit in the neck with whatever footwear I'm rocking). However, since I grew up in the 1970s in America, I don't speak Tagalog very well, I'm not a fan of dinuguan (chocolate meat! ask me later), I don't avoid the sun, and I don't elect soap opera actors to public office. In fact, in the Philippines, I would feel like a minority.

I'm also culturally American. For example, I believe in the separation of Church and State, I love to eat American things like cookies and pie, and I tend to drive EVERYWHERE. My favorite composer? Aaron Copeland! Come on, I am a big fat American!

So I'm Filipino American; pay attention. This is VERY DIFFERENT than those of you who say "Oh, well I'm half German, a quarter Scotch/Irish, and a quarter Italian!" I do understand, your proud of your pedigree, you're proud of your "blood," but when I say my ethnicity is Filipino American, it's a CULTURAL expression, not blood, not pedigree, not a fraction.

So then what is your ethnicity, if your pedigree is "half German, a quarter Scotch/Irish, and a quarter Italian?" My guess is that you're a White American, but you get to call your ethnicity whatever you want. You can call yourself White, you can call yourself Non-Brown, heck, you can even get away with calling yourself plain ol' American. Sometimes.

The pedigree stuff? That was cannonized by the US Government, trying to put a sunset date on Indian reservations, by saying that you had to be 1/4 Indian to qualify to live on the rez.

But your friend, who is "half Filipina and half African American?" That's her pedigree. If you want to know her ethnicity, ask her; she'll say that she's Filipina and African American. When you're talking about cultural tendencies, there's no reason to say anyone is incomplete in their ethnicity.

"So JP," you ask, "What box are we supposed to check on the government forms?"

Well, my friend, I don't know. My ethnicity was determined by my upbringing, by my parents, by my geography, by some political and life choices I have made. It is not determined by a box on some form that will help someone (?) give some abstract statistic.

2. Ethnicity is as central to identity as gender. I work in a school situation, so I hear this one a lot.

Sometimes, the Non-Brown people will try to show how non-discriminatory, multi-cultural, and accepting they are by saying "I don't think of you as Filipino! I don't care if you're black, white, or purple! We're all just equal."

And God bless 'em, you gotta give 'em credit.... they're trying to be nice. But here's the truth: when you say that, We. Don't. Like it. Ever.

I love being Filipino American. I work at it. It matters to me. If you've never had to question your own ethnic identity, maybe the closest thing you have to it is your gender identity.

So imagine if someone said to you, "I don't think of you as a male or female!" Yikes, you wouldn't like it.

Folks, ethnicity is at the center of everyone's identity, just like gender. Every single one of us. I know that some of you have that zero-ethnicity fallacy going on; the one that says, "I'm not ethnic, I'm just normal." Well, drop your ass in the Tokyo shopping district and suddenly your cultural assumptions come right to the surface, don't they?

3. Relative Vaginophobia. I know, I've been boring some of you all with the Brown People 101 items above. This topic may be more your speed.

American English is all dick this, asshole that, cocksucker, kick your butt, thinking with your dick, working your ass off, penis penis penis rectum rectum rectum.

Some cultures are not so penis/rectum oriented. The French, for example, tend to be more equal opportunity with their "con, connard, connasse."

And Filipinos? Way on the other side of the spectrum. Despite my English-only childhood, I know several words in several Philippine languages for "vagina," none of them euphemisms. How many penis words do I know? Exactly two; one is patutin, which is a little kid euphemism, and the other us buto, which I think is another euphemism, meaning "bone."

(I do, however, know several words "butt" in different Philippine languages, all of them silly, none of them insulting or dirty.)

I first realized this cultural distinction in high school (before I majored in linguistics). When I would tell someone that American humor was all penis/rectum oriented, and Filipino culture celebrated the vagina, my friends didn't want to hear it. They were buried in their own shame and mystique surrounding the Great V, and were convinced that Filipinos were these gross sex freaks. Well?

Well anyway, when we curse someone in Pangasinan or Ilokano, we don't say, "You're a dick!" or "You're an asshole!" or "You're a cocksucker!" Instead, we will exclaim "You're mother's vagina!" or the plural "Your all's mothers' vaginas!" (which is actually how I learned singular and plural personal pronouns). Note that this is not using the word "vagina" as an insult, the way "dick" or "asshole" is; instead the provocation arises from the "mother" part of the equation. You could say "you're mother's elbow" and there would be a fight. Update: commenter Michael pointed out my apostrophe abuses. How embarassing! Your mother's vagina! Your all's mothers' vaginas!

When mama is exasperated about my uncle going back to his ex-wife for the Nth time, she doesn't say, "He's thinking with his cock again," she says, "She must have a golden vagina!"

And when Auntie A drops something on the floor, she doesn't exclaim "Oh shit!" but instead "Ay, vagina!" or sometimes, "Ay, sticky vagina."

So what are the socio-sexual dynamics at play? Is there some underlying feminist commentary that explains this penis/rectum distribution in American culture and the vaginocentric distribution in Filipino culture? Not to mention the negative spin that American culture puts on the sex act, with your "Fuck you's" and your "fuck that's" and your "that's fucked up's."

So who's culture is more degrading towards women, Filipinos or Americans?

Aha! I tricked you into making a broad ethnocentric snap-judgment based on anecdotal, second-hand evidence, didn't I? Admit it!

Aw, don't be mad. We're all oppressive in different ways. You are penis/rectum people, we're not. It's all good.
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