A Better Way to Think of Being Mixed: As a Filter Problem, Not A Data Problem

Fundamentally, I have a filter problem.

I don’t have a data problem. I am part-Chinese and part-Western, and these two backgrounds simply make for a “feedstock-rich” environment.

If I can't see the cultural datastream that happenstance has afforded me, then I'm missing something.

Despite this many mixed people and non-mixed people don't see this datastream. They see all zeroes, no zeroes and ones.

They see mixed as a data problem. To them there simply ain't enough data. Consequently, according to them, there is no there there.

One reason for this is that people use the unit of all mixed people, from all potential prospective mixes worldwide as the relevant appropriate lens with which to think of what it means to be mixed. What happens here is that 1) the rate of mixing too furious to make sense in real time what is happening on a global level. 2) it is also impossible to make sense of what it means to be mixed on a local level.

Though there are some threads of continuity amongst random mixed people, the particulars do matter. That you are Jamaican-Cuban, and that someone else is Korean-Italian likely means that you share a tranche of “we are both mixed, and that's kinda cool” surely, but prima facie the historical contexts are different, the norms, economic disparities and social mores are different. You also look different, which has a way of micro-shaping how others perceive you, which micro-shapes how you might perceive yourself. You may have the same stories of “I was once excluded,” or “it was once awkward,” or “someone once said something.” These are interesting enough for chit-chat over a box of Pocky, or some atomized coffee-talk. But that is about it. On such a general level (i.e. discussing what I call "meta-mixedness"), indeed there truly is a data problem. The earth is just a big blob. One person's mixed is just the same as the other guys.' From that vantage point we are all the same, and there is no vision with these lenses to see grain and detail that might conflict with that presumption of global sameness. Since the universe is too large, everything has to be a critical study. There is no hope for a meaningful framework with any possible ongoing integrity.

Yet the fatal flaw of the mainstream view of being mixed is that it looks top-down.

I reason I wrote my book Beyond Eurasian and Hapa: Bridging a Chinese-Western Identity was to present the alternate view, the bottoms-up view.

When I think of my mixed story, or any other mixed story, I guess I take a different approach from the Critical Mixed Race Studies one, for example.

In other words I don't look up at "the system," or at "structures." I don't assume that being mixed is deterministic in any way. Being mixed doesn't make you more likely to be queer. It doesn't make you more likely to be anti-racist. It doesn't make you any smarter or any wiser. Being mixed does not predict your attitude toward "inclusion."

My approach to being mixed is to "go low." I don't mean in the Michelle Obama sense of being crass. I mean in the sense of going straight to the narrative details of the story. And when I get to the nub of these details, I will promise to take them particular detail by particular detail, unique snowflake as unique snowflake. The bottoms-up approach means eschewing the impulse to pre apply any lens or framework for analysis other than some basic dialectic, surrendering only to the idea that being mixed inherently involves contradictions, nothing else.

In my particular background, growing up in Hong Kong and partially in California, I had plenty of examples of mixed people being "shafted," for lack of a better word. But at the same time, there were nagging counter-examples, e.g. of Hong Kong Eurasians during colonial times doing the shafting themselves, as mezzanine middlemen and indefatigable interlocutors, sticking it to the locals in service of the Crown.

Strictly from an American point of view, half-Asian people seem to slot in with any other sundry mixed people, with others from oppressed nations, and so forth. But the details matter. The local contexts matter when it comes to talking about being mixed. I believe in honor, yes. I believe in duty, yes. But I also believe in opportunism and self-interest. And the notion that mixed people had identical interests in previous times is rose-colored/misinformed, and to think mixed people have common interests in this world today is, well, codswallop. Reconciling contradictions is the bread and butter of being mixed; to not factor self-interest and power into heuristics/gut predictions of how mixed people will and should confront the world misses something very significant. I believe that mixed people may be inclined to be "progressive" as much as they may be inclined to be "regressive." To me, the melange of historical context and opportunity and naked self-interest and pangs of wanting to do right and be honorable, all factor in. In my view this black box is more complex than it is for other, non-mixed people. We may not be able to always see it, but it is fed relentlessly by more and more data, it will be brimming with it, overflowing with one push and another pull. And by golly, we have a need to study this black box, make it more meaningful and consequential than ever before. And I suspect that the degree to which we succeed here is the degree to which we build build effective filters. This is all for naught, after all, if we fail to extract meaning.

I look at being mixed as gift. But that gift is like a starter kit of lego. There is no finished product there. It is gift as invitation, a prompt to learn to learn

I don't have difficulty discerning that mixed people are far from monolithic. I know they have a high variance in interests at stake. If all I do as a mixed person is open my eyes, I will see data everywhere. I am done looking down. I am done with the dogma of "top-down." What I have is a filter problem. I am mixed. What I need are better filters.



Silence is Consent?

In Western business culture is “silence is consent?”

I think it is. For example, if you don’t tell the VP of Marketing that his campaign is deeply problematic in the meeting, well, aren't you then automatically a supporter of his campaign? Defaults matter in more rules-based Western business manners. No protest at that particular time, no hands raised within that window means you are going with whatever is being proposed and you have little to no rights to conduct a future review.

In Chinese business culture, I don't think silence is consent. I think silence is a degree of acquiescence, but definitely not consent. A lot happens in side meetings and in pre-meetings, so much so that this particular meeting may just be a formality. Silence in that meeting, or any meeting never has the finality that it does in a Western context. It is not as rules-based. Therefore, with future ebbs and flows in the balance of power amongst all stakeholders, the likelihood of a review or a reopening and reconsideration of the past circumstances of the "silence" persists and can't really be eliminated.

Mixed as Absurd and The Inn of The Sixth Happiness

He is a fictive character who serves our purposes. The following dialogue reveals some key details about the Colonel:

Col. Lin Nan: “You’re white. You shouldn’t be in China at all.”
Gladys Aylward: “How can you say that, when you’re part white?”
LN: “I’m half-white. In your world, I can only be a second-class citizen. I chose China because here, I’m allowed to be of value.”
GA: “That’s why I came here. To be of value.”
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When a Deal is Not Always a Deal

Maybe the Chinese haggling approach is feminine, let's call it that for the sake of argument. And what if I characterized this approach as actually grittier? What if I called it tougher than "a deal's a deal." Of course, a "deal's a deal" is steely and unwavering. It is classically masculine in that it doesn't budge. It doesn't suffer fools. You can take it or leave it. You "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me." You just don't bargain with a man 'cos to "nickel and dime" him presupposes he hasn't entered discussions with full and utmost candor.

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Absurdity and Discovering "Bothness"

But the older I get the more I gravitate to the absurd.

Indeed, it is absurd for people to tell you what you are not. To be so sure, to be so callously dogmatic about something--anything, to presume an entitlement to make decrees is absurd. I admit I can't profess I am 100%. On the other hand, no one can say I'm 0% Chinese. I'm somewhere in-between. But there is something remarkable going on here. And I don't want to miss it.

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