We are going to end season 2 with a 2-in-1 bang! Fighting work discrimination and aspiring whiteness are some pretty heavy topics that my anonymous friend and I were able to discuss within less than an hour, amazingly enough - perfect for all of you individuals out there who just want the straight truths while you're on the get go. We've heard of how being seen as the model minority has hurt us a million times already, so why not put it into context while bringing up the flaws of our modern day American workplace system? For example, how do we combat microaggressions that we see day to day at work? Later on in the episode, we will touch upon some of us whose subconscious desire is to become white or like white and discuss how what it means to aspire whiteness is different from what it means to be labeled as "whitewashed."
My speaker for this week's episode is a South Asian woman who is currently working at an business consulting firm in the U.S. Her areas of interest include labor economics, environmental economics, immigration and economics of inequality, anti-trust and competition. Outside of work she enjoys exercise, coffee, talking long walks and engaging in conversations about social justice and politics.
TRANSCRIBED BY WINETTE VO
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NGUYEN: Hi! Welcome to Project Voice. This is Jess and today I have a friend of mine, whose identity will not be shared on this podcast due to… what’s it called...
GUEST, INTERVIEWEE: Confidential rights.
NGUYEN: Yes, confidential rights and that’s totally fine so I’m really glad to have her on our podcast series and today we’re going to have a lot of things to say. I don’t know, I guess you can’t say your name, but you’re welcome to share whatever information about you that you’re comfortable with. (LAUGHS)
GUEST: Um, hey guys. I’m Jessica’s friend and I grew up in a South Asian country and I work in a finance and consulting firm, which is like a pretty big firm and so I’m really excited to talk about Asian race matters and our interaction[s] with the real world so yeah.
NGUYEN: Yeah, me too. I’m excited so today’s episode is going to be about fighting workplace discrimination as well as a couple other topics that come up in the workplace as well and yeah. It’s… after having three jobs or jobs at three different companies, I would say I’ve garnered enough experiences to realize that there’s a lot to improve in the workplace just as much as the rest of the world, just as much as what’s going on and um, I still see microaggressions happening here and there and people not picking it up or people not calling others out when they see it and it’s frustrating to see that there’s still these different forms of discrimination happening at work, at a professional environment. I think it’s because most workplaces are predominantly white so it’s even harder to call them out or depend on others to call them out because whiteness is a norm and whatever people of color do, whatever Asians, Asian Americans do, it’s just, again it’s different. So one topic or one question that I wanted to bring up, especially for graduating, I was talking to my friend about my worries about working at a new place, like how do you navigate in a workplace after graduation when people around you at the workplace tell you to fix things in order to respond to your environment like defense mechanisms and this is actually a question from a friend of mine, Hien. An example that she brought up is like, you might speak more loudly as usual or not as loudly, potentially from how you’re brought up, like how do you navigate that? Like do you feel like you need to change or what would you do in that type of situation?
GUEST: I think people, like, even with microaggressions in school and in the workplace, like you should definitely speak up and make your voice heard. Maybe if you like feel uncomfortable in a particular moment, that might not be the best, but if somebody is performing some sort of microaggression, you should definitely let them know because a, they might never realize and b, you’re always going to feel guilty if you don’t speak up so I think that’s just the best way to navigate situations like that.
NGUYEN: Oh yeah. I’ve had to call out on some of the things that I heard at work and it’s weird. Just the other day, my colleague was talking to me, and we’re actually friends outside of work and we’re comfortable enough to just hold out casual conversations with each other and I don’t know whether she was on, or whether she had a bad day or something, but she just started asking me ‘why do you always bring up your Asian side when you’re conversing with me?’
GUEST: Oh my god.
NGUYEN: Yeah and I was like ‘I’m sorry?’ It’s like why do you, you know, bring up your Asianness in. You bring in your Asian American community and she also talked about how, I mean, and I asked her ‘does she have a problem with that?’ and she said that she felt excluded. You know, hearing these conversations because she couldn’t relate to it. She’s not Asian. She’s white so for her...
GUEST: Oh my god. Are you serious?
NGUYEN: ...it’s hard to relate to that. I was like wait, first of all is there something wrong about bringing up conversations that relate to my identity, that relate to my ethnic identity when my ethnic identity plays a huge role with how I feel about myself, a huge role in my life. She said no, but at the same time, she was aware that it was not my intention to make her feel excluded but I told her that it wasn’t meant to make you feel excluded. In fact, it’s a way of me trying to connect with you like giving you some information of where I’m coming from, like the fact that I’m comfortable enough sharing with you this piece of information. And, to her, race is very divisive. It’s a separating factor and she’d rather focus on the similarities rather than the differences.
GUEST: Oh my god.
NGUYEN: And I’m like, (DEEP BREATH) take a deep breath, Jessica. (LAUGHS)
GUEST: Oh my god. That sounds terrible.
NGUYEN: It’s like yeah, it’s important to try to find common grounds with people but at the same time, not everybody comes from the same place at all, and that makes a HUGE difference. A huge, huge difference. And she couldn’t empathize. I felt like she couldn’t see where I was coming from with feeling the frustration that I was feeling because then, she brought up about how she had Asian friends, too, and how they didn’t bring up conversations that relate to race or talk about race.
GUEST: Oh my god.
NGUYEN: And like, that’s great, but I am. I’m not like them.
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: You know, every individual’s different. And, uh, yeah. Conversations like that. I feel proud of myself for standing my ground and knowing that I have a reason why I bring up my Asianness or whatever in conversations, like I feel comfortable enough to talk about that part of my identity in the public. It takes a lot of guts, I feel, like it took me a long time to finally feel comfortable to not only talk about myself, my community, but also call out people on their shit, too.
NGUYEN: At my last workplace, I had to call out several people about what was going on. I had to call out some of their racist comments, as well as this workplace, too. It’s like are you not like…
GUEST: it’s a daily struggle, yeah.
NGUYEN: … aware of the, you know, they would try to copy behaviors and accents from other colleagues.
NGUYEN: … and you know, yeah, these microaggressions that constantly come up in the office and I see the people, who are being teased at, just laughing away and I’m like, they should not do that. That - what these people are doing are illegal, right?
NGUYEN: Yeah. They should not be tolerated at a professional workplace, at a professional environment.
GUEST: Right, right.
NGUYEN: [SIGHS] Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve ever felt such microaggressions at your workplace and how do you cope with that.
GUEST: I haven’t, I haven’t felt any at mine, but I have definitely seen microaggressions a lot in like the finance culture in general, stereotyping microaggressions, and it’s very... I feel like it’s also very white male dominated, which makes it even more difficult but I think if you are experiencing microaggressions in general anywhere, you need to call out or it just, it just keeps happening. It is difficult; it is tough, but you really really need to call people out.
NGUYEN: I agree. What kinds of improvements would you suggest in those type of situations?
GUEST: So I think the first thing is work or school culture right? The fact that we’re taught ‘oh yeah, like Asians are so good at math.’ like stereotyping things like that or like ‘Asians are so quiet?’ That needs to disappear and the friend that you talked about or the person that you talked about at work, whose like ‘oh, it makes me so uncomfortable.’ Most white people are the most privileged people need to recognize that; this is a lot of shit and people should really, like they need to recognize that and they need to correct themselves. So I don’t think it’s minorities who are really not speaking up, but if the majority who are not taking the part in their horrible or terrible actions and they’re not accepting the guilt, so I think that’s what’s going on because I think often when we talk about diversity programs or something, it’s almost like it’s the responsibility of the minority to fix the entire world when it really isn’t. It’s hard for a woman of color to survive in a male white dominated space, right? And then you also want us to give you diversity training or like fit in your diversity training, like how much of a responsibility is that? Why can’t you make the white male colleagues in diversity training and be like ‘hey, you need to stop saying stuff like Asians are good at math?’
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah! I don’t know whether or not at my workplace, there’s diversity training, but that’s important. I wonder if they’re effective even. I guess it depends on who’s training and who’s in charge of those programs.
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that, that plays a role too. Sometimes, I look how programs that corporate institutions have when they’re trying to employ people. I find them to be a bit problematic in terms of the BS. They’re trying to diversify their workforce, they’re trying to add more diversity in the workforce. At the same time, I wonder why not just be more mindful of who they’re applying through the traditional application processes instead of establishing diversity programs that are, you know, targeted at employing minorities like I know that it has allowed more of my people of minorities to be employed in these highly competitive institutions, but at the same time, I find it quite delegitimizing in order to have a job at a workplace there, they have to go through these programs. I’m pretty sure that they're amazing; it’s great but I question like how long they plan to have said programs. I don’t really think it sends a good message if they intend to sustain programs like these for a long period of time. I really would rather whoever their employer to be more conscious of who they’re employing through the traditional application process cause I wonder like oh, if you’re employed through the diversity program, like how other co-workers perceive you. I don’t like the idea of, you know, other co-workers perceiving you as getting in, getting this job because of a diversity program and not really your ability to be able to complete whatever responsibilities this position’s asking you for. To know that in 2016, we still have issues of women being underrepresented in workforces, people of color being underrepresented in workforces, and where they have to create programs specifically to expand opportunities for these groups when in reality, they should be employing more women, more people of color through the traditional process, like are we not competent enough? The response is to my calling others out aren’t so great either sometimes. [SIGHS] It’s like I want to inspire change and I want to help educate others, but at the same time, it can be very draining on my part. I often times ask myself like should I feel this obligated to educate them?
NGUYEN: When is it the right time to stop, ya know?
NGUYEN: But yeah, just standing your ground and making sure that you’re not taking it and you call them out because often times, people think that because we’re, people see us as a model minority so we don’t experience different forms of discrimination at work when we really do.
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: It just may be more subtle than they think so how do you deal with racism assuming that you’re at work? You’ve noticed that there are people who treat you or see you differently based on how you look.
GUEST: Um, I think for being an Asian woman, for us, you need to look like a certain way right? You need to be skinny with straight hair. I don’t know, that’s what, that’s what I think and I think that gives us the, like the having straight hair and like being skinnier. Like if you take two Asian women, and you have somebody who doesn’t fit the norm of being like a skinny Asian woman or is slightly overweight, I’m pretty sure, in some employers’ [eyes], that would be seen as a bad thing because the whole stereotype of being Asian is you’re like skinny with straight hair. And I think that we are, at least, supposed to look or I feel like the expectations in like general corporate world is you’re supposed to look like sort of white, like you know. Have your hair cut like white people, do your makeup like a certain way. I feel that. What was I going to say? How do I deal with racism? I remember once in university, there was a girl who was also actually Asian and she told me she only dated white men. She asked somebody black if they spoke African and she made a terrible comment about the country of my origin and I was so mad that I went and reported her to our residential area coordinator being like, this girl is very, very racist, like she needs to stop and then, they called for a mediation and then the girl tried to talk to me later, but I’m like I’m not really interested in talking to you. If you can go sort this out with the residential area coordinator, like someone needs to even like when other Asians make comments like that, somebody needs to call them out and be like ‘hey, what you’re doing is not right and I’m not going to stand for it’ so I think that’s like one way to deal with racism but I also understand that it’s not always possible.
NGUYEN: Yeah, you also have to… sometimes you can’t help but stay silent about it because of safety reasons and...
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: …not wanting to be hurt or wanting your loved ones to be hurt from this.
NGUYEN: Like how do you respond to people who say you don’t face racism as an Asian American woman because statistics don’t show? Because white supervisors or even other people from other races who may not know how Asian Americans get discriminated against.
GUEST: See, I think that’s like a comparative statement because people who are African Americans or Hispanic Americans do tend to face more racism and discrimination in workplaces than Asian American women, but it’s not true that Asian women or Asian American women do not face discrimination. They do. So, opposite members of the minority who face more discrimination than us, then I would say like yes I recognize that, I recognize that we are treated better than a lot of other minorities, but I don’t think that statement is true. If this was like a white person who said that, then I think they would need a lot of schooling in racism.
NGUYEN: Have you had diversity training at work? What was it like?
GUEST: Um, we’ve had, before you join any big corporate firm, they have video diversity training, where it is the same basic thing that if you are, you know, we accept everybody of every race, every gender, every nationality. If you ever feel like you’ve been treated in an unfair manner because of your identity, then you should definitely report it to the human resources. I have not faced treatment of that sort, but I think that for anyone, especially if you’re new, out of college or for anyone who does face treatment of that sort, I think it could be very challenging right? Because you’re already new to your workplace and you’re a minority, and somebody treats you unfairly and now you have to report it to your human resources. Like how do you, how do you go and break that? And be like ‘hey, somebody’s being racist towards me? Somebody’s treating me unfairly?’ so I myself, I’m like sometimes I wonder like how does somebody deal with that situation.
NGUYEN: Yeah, because at the same time, you don’t know how it’s going to be like. Are you going to stay at this job?
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: Your identity shouldn’t be revealed right? HR isn’t allowed to reveal your identity, but at the same time, if they’re reporting this case, it’s possible that the other person is getting convicted [and] they’ll have a good idea of who that might be and that can cause some awkward tension at work and you don’t know; you don’t want that to happen either.
NGUYEN: And [for] women of color and Asian women working and trying to help one another at a workplace. You hear how it’s difficult for women to even help each other rise in the ranks in the corporate world.
GUEST: I would personally say from my experience in the corporate world, I think women of color do really stick together and help one another and help each other rise.I think the people who really need to step up their game are the white men because I think there are instances, like I don’t know, if you work in the financial districts in any big cities, you’ll see like a group of white men and somebody says something weird in like a coffee shop or something or even if you see like a woman of color or a woman being assaulted on a train, there’s so many times that I’ve seen white men just sitting there, doing nothing. It’s like you have all the power and you have all the privilege, like why can’t you just step up? That’s what really bothers me.
NGUYEN: Yeah, people in power need to be aware of how much influence they have...
NGUYEN: …In the world, in the environment that they’re in so I agree with you. I guess I thought that for women for color, it might be harder to support one another when you’re caught up supporting yourself, keeping, moving ahead on your own in this already white male predominant industry because yeah, it’s harder, right? As a woman of color.
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: So you’re going to use more energy and then, the rest may not be enough to help others, but it’s encouraging to hear from your perspective that that might not be the case.
GUEST: Mm hm. I definitely think so.
NGUYEN: Yeah, so you’d say women of color or how about white women? Where are they in this spectrum?
GUEST: I think, I think they also need to step up their game. I think that white women have much more power than women of color in the workplace, but again if they are witnessing something that’s unfair to a minority, I think they need to speak up more. I just, I think that it’s mostly like, even if you see the women’s marches, it’s mostly a lot of women of color, African American women, whose been leading these movements, and I’m sorry but I think they need to step up more.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I heard a lot of critiques about the marches or the women’s day marches.
GUEST: Yeah, it was very white centered, like white women’s rights centered.
NGUYEN: That’s very White feminists.
GUEST: Mm hm. It was honestly, when I saw the marches and the trains that were going towards the marches, I’m like wow, I’ve never seen so many white people in my life before on the trains.
NGUYEN: And, anyway, talking about white people, I guess we can bring up the topic of aspiring whiteness…
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: I’m curious to know what your thoughts on that are.
GUEST: I think a lot of Asian Americans are brought up to worship, well, even like Asian’s whiteness and how that’s held up as a role model for us and I think a lot of people use that, either I’ve heard like a lot of, especially Asian women who’ve particularly told me that they’re only attracted to white men, but they would never marry white men because they’ve had such racist experiences. For me, physical attraction, is like a lot of what like, well I don’t know, like mental attraction so I could I don’t know, I would never do that, but it’s sad to hear how a lot of people feel that and how they always have to, for example, like when we grow up in school, we’re taught how to play the piano, violin, this is, a lot of it’s like white European culture right? Why can’t we learn traditional Punjabi dancing or something? Why is that not introduced as like a form of recreation in schools, you know what I mean?
GUEST: Like, oh, all Asian Americans growing up, they’re playing lacrosse, like they’re playing piano and like let’s say you have a community with a large amount of Asians right, why can’t you have something like classical Punjabi dancing taught in schools? Yoga, for example, it only became a thing after white people made it a thing so like what is up with that?
NGUYEN: Mm. Yeah, true. Fun fact, did you know that lacrosse is originally a Native American, Native American sport?
GUEST: Wow. I did not know that.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I didn’t know that either until my friend Angela told me about it. I was like, woah.
NGUYEN :...til the white people came.
GUEST: I can see that. I can see it being originally Native American, but I did not know that.
NGUYEN: Mm, yeah, um, it’s interesting that you mention that how aspiring whiteness, it’s basically wanting to be in power or wanting to be seen and be heard and feeling like you belong to this country, but at the same time, you have to compromise a lot. Sometimes you don’t just compromise, you also have to change into a new person whatever that means. Yeah, become someone who you’re not and it’s sad, but I think, as time, I just, yeah, I have to agree with you on that. Again, going back to internalizing racism, which we have actually covered in an episode, why is it that when you hear about people, wanting, going to China or Vietnam to study abroad, you don’t really hear as much excitement, as much as going to Europe. Maybe, this case was more common before. Nowadays, it seems like Southeast Asia is a new travel hotspot...
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: For foreigners.
GUEST: What if, yeah. Honestly, I think, I think we minorities, we’re taking the right step, but it’s the majority who really need to realize what they’re doing is so wrong, like people going on study abroad trips and like, I don’t know, taking pictures of half dressed kids in Vietnam in a village on a bull, like that, that’s just not okay…
NGUYEN: Uh, yes.
GUEST: It’s just, you know what I mean?
NGUYEN: Uh huh. It isn’t okay.
NGUYEN: How do we get in touch with the majority? That’s a big question there. What would you say? What would you do? Like, should we hold a contest? (LAUGHS)
GUEST: I would, honestly, to anyone, if any of the majority there is listening like seriously look at what you’re doing, look at what your ancestors have done for the past 200-300 years and please, learn to fix this shit because this is, this is really on them. This is really on you, like we’ve done as much as we can, like we can’t school you forever.
NGUYEN: Where does this aspiration to be white come from?
GUEST: I think it’s years and years of colonization. I’m pretty sure it’s like, passed down from generations. Years and years of seeing white people as the superior, as the all powerful, controlling land, controlling the old country, and it’s just been passed down, that’s what I think.
NGUYEN: Mm hm. So you know alliances are, or you know, white people being allies and what does it mean to be a good ally, you would say? This is a very tricky question.
GUEST: I think that, what it means to be a good ally is to realize the history of your, of your people and how they’re effective of other people and really just accepting the guilt and standing up. That’s what I think what it means to be a good ally. It’s just not enough to go to a march and hold a sign that says, I don’t know, ‘it’s a woman’s universal rights,’ like it’s great you a took a picture for Facebook like that, but if you don’t stand up to people, stand up for people in real life, like, it’s just not going to go anywhere.
NGUYEN: Yeah, it’s very important to listen, let’s just say that.
NGUYEN: Um, it’s all you have to do. Listen and develop this ability to empathize.
GUEST: Yeah, totally.
NGUYEN: Whitewashing versus aspiring whiteness. This term whitewashing. Why is whitewashing not PC? Politically correct. I always have mixed opinions about this term and [DEEP BREATH] aspiring whiteness. Yes, but whitewashing is a whole different story, where it’s like assumption, like you’re assuming that that person. It’s like a complete erasure on identity based on your own assumptions.
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: And you don’t know what type of experiences they’ve been through and you can’t say that their experiences are not authentic to their own ethnicity, to their own identity or...
GUEST: Mm hm.
NGUYEN: Yeah, like you can’t label others for not behaving what you see as something that is consistent to the stereotypes you internalize so… Yeah, that’s something I wanted to throw out there, the difference between whitewashing and aspiring whiteness and why it is important to be aware of the diction. So, what are the key takeaways that you hope our listeners will gain from listening to this podcast episode?
GUEST: Just please, learn to like, regardless of your ethnicity, nationality, gender orientation, stand up and speak up and don’t just, you know, be silent. Like silence is, I think, I think one thing I remember from somewhere was that if you’re neutral, you’re on the side of the oppressor and I think that’s totally true.
NGUYEN: Mm. What are some resources and spaces you would suggest to our listeners...
NGUYEN: …who are experiencing discrimination at work or at school?
GUEST: Start reading like blogs like ‘The Love Life Of An Asian Guy’ or watch movies or watch, I don’t know, read books by people of color and like, just don’t approach it like, ‘oh, this book is written by a minority and I’m enlightening myself.’ Treat them as like, an actual author or an actual writer as you would treat like a white writer and so that’s what I would say. Just educate yourself and stand up.
NGUYEN: Alright, I think that was it for now. Thank you so much my friend.
NGUYEN: It’s funny, you’re my first anonymous interviewee so if anybody out there would like to share some of your feedback on this episode or any of the others, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tweet me @projectvoiceaaw or Facebook me. I’ll talk to you soon. Can’t wait to share with you our next episode. Bye!
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