Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Will Miss #544 - not being condescended to

There are some experiences in America that I have had which I did not have in Japan which are hard to encapsulate into a post heading. This is going to be one of them. In 1988, when I left the U.S. for my three- to five-year planned stay in Japan that ended up lasting 23 years, the culture was not nearly so politically correct or corrective in America. When I say, "corrective", I mean a culture which seems to shove the word "privilege" in my face every three seconds and makes enormous and frequently erroneous assumptions about who I am and the life I've lead based on my skin color alone.

One of the things which has happened to me many times is that I'm lectured to, often in a condescending or patronizing way, about how little I understand what it's like to be a minority, to be poor, to be around mentally ill people or criminals, live with people people with substance abuse problems, have limited opportunities, or understand the impact of certain types of dangerous and difficult work on the underprivileged (particularly as it applies to those who are in developing countries or undeveloped countries). As someone who grew up poor in an economically depressed area and in the middle of strip mines with an alcoholic father, verbally abusive mother, criminal drug-using and selling relatives, and who worked and lived with severely mentally ill people, and who lived in a country in which I was part of a minority that represented .2% of the population with there are no enforced protections of minority rights, I'm more than a little sick of this attitude and the assumptions underlying it.

My white skin, I guess rather shockingly for most people, hasn't produced someone who has grown up ignorant of hardship or what it's like to be a minority and face prejudice and discrimination (thank you, Japan for an unintended gift of empathy in this regard). The irony is that I'm often lectured to about such things by people who have not actually experienced such things themselves and simply assume that I, like they, grew up in some sort of protected existence. They labor under the assumption that they know something I don't and, by God, I need to be enlightened by their superior wisdom of such things! That's my way of saying the biggest gas bags in this regard are privileged white people.

In Japan, people may have reached a lot of silly, stereotyped conclusions about me based on being an American, but they never assumed that it was their place to enlighten me about the hardships of life while they sat in their ivory towers.


  1. This is one of the hardest parts of the returning American expat--you've spent years as a minority only to return to a country obsessed with minorities where you look like a member of the majority. It's exasperating, and is likely to get more frustrating as time goes on.

    1. My issue with everyone - everyone - is that you cannot assume anything about them until you walk a mile in their shoes. Since we can't do that, then the next best thing is to really get to know them and understand them so that we know what their journey has been like. Here, no one will even listen to me when I talk about how I was treated in Japan. No one will hear that my life hasn't been anything but an easy street paved with ease and ample opportunity. They have no interest in anything other than their preconceived notions of who and what I am based on brief and superficial assessment. It's the worst sort of objectifying and minimizing and I thought I was finished with that in Japan. At least there, I could look at their relatively limited exposure to ethnic diversity (and the lack of awareness that comes with it). Here, all I can attribute it to is such a strong desire to hold to a limited worldview that the truth of any individual is not going to stand in the way.

      Thank you for your understanding comment. And, yes, it does get more frustrating as time goes on!

  2. Yep. This has gotten especially bad in the last couple years. Tumblr has given "social justice warriors" a place to gather and work each other up into a froth, then they venture forth to rabidly "educate" others.

  3. Thank you so much for saying this. I thought I was the only one who was going crazy over this. Though I am not an expat, I grew up poor, and had many experiences related to it. I also married into a hispanic family, and lived much of my life in Southern CA. (NOT the rich areas) where I myself was a minority, and I had very few white friends. In short, if I have to hear "white privilege" one more time, I will lose it. God forbid you refuse to aknowledge your "white privilege" or you will be called a white supremist, or worse. Thank you for bringing this ridiculous hypocracy to light.


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