The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, December 09, 1996, Page 5, Image 5

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Don’t make me get ethnic, fool
Wanna relate to me? Be who you’re supposed to be
I was cruising in the Escort with a
girlfriend of mine when two guys in a
low-rider (the Nebraska version, the
tractor-tire type) pulled up at the stop
light next to us. Rap music blaring,
Starter gear on
backwards, they
gave us a nod.
Not a “Hello,
young ladies,
how are you?”
nod, but one of
those Beavis
type once-overs.
As if! And if
being checked out by two teen-age
wannabes wasn’t bad enough, they
were blaring the treble in their car
instead of the bass. It wasn’t neces
sary to peer too closely through the
tinted windows to know they were
white boys.
If one more hat-to-the-back boy
from Waverly tries to talk to me, I’m
going to call the people at the cable
company and plead with them to take
BET oft' the air. What I find irritating
about white people who try to “act
black” is not just that they are not
very good at it, but that when they do
it, it’s “hip” and “down” — their
sagging jeans a testament to latest
trends. But let some poor brother
wear the same outfit and talk the
same way, and mall security is on the
I told one such wannabe not to
take “In Living Color” so seriously.
And do you know what this fool
said? He said he was just “trying to
If one more hat-to-the-back boy from
Waverly tries to talk to me, Tm going to
call the people at the cable company and
plead with them to take BET off the air”
relate.” Relate to whom? To what? Is
my name Wanda? I am an educated
African-American woman who
knows where all the forks and knives
go in the place settings and I happen
to LIKE “Gone With the Wind.”
Frankly, I was insulted that this
guy felt the only level on which lie
could relate to a black girl was with
some wack-mack line he’d heard on
“The Wayans Brothers.” I am not
some ghetto hoochie. Don’t work my
last nerve. To top it all off, he was
trying to look like he was packing.
For those of you who aren’t down
with the black vernacular, let me
drop some science for you (transla
tion: Miss Hollimon will now define
terms used in this article). “Packing”
refers to carrying an illegal firearm.
“Ghetto hoochie” is similar to a slut,
but not as naive.
Instead of the V-chip, I propose
the “E” (as in ethnic) chip—just a
tiny mechanism slipped into the
televisions of those morons idiotic
enough to think that it’s possible to
relate to people of other cultures by
mimicking how they are portrayed in
the media.
It isn’t just white males who do
this — unh uh. White girls have their
own special formula for “acting
black.” These are the girls with their
hair all cut to hell, spit curls gelled to
death, deep forest lipstick outlined in
black, with a couple of gold chains
and acrylic nails that would scare Flo
Jo. When they say things like “Whuz
up, homegirl?” it sounds like they’ve
been practicing in their mirror at
I’ve been told by many white
people over the years that sometimes
they feel like they don’t have a real
ethnic identity, or that they’re sorry
about that whole slavery thing.
Unless you’ve got some shackles in
your book bag you haven’t told me
about, get over it. Forget ethnic
identity, have you tried finding your
own personal identity yet? Ethnicity
is only a small part of what makes a
person who they are. I am not first
and foremost a black girl — for one
thing, my name is Sonia.
Some white folks do come from
areas where they were exposed to a
lot of ethnic minorities, and they just
dress that way or naturally speak
slang. The difference between these
people and the wannabes is — well,
remember Vanilla Ice? OK, it’s the
opposite of him.
There are black people afflicted
with the wannabe disease as well —
you didn’t think I was going to let
them slide, did you? For example,
let’s remember where we are as far as
regional geography. This is Ne
braska, not New York, not Oaktown,
not Cabrini Green. Trying to act hard
here is like trying to put thugs on
“Sesame Street.” It’s a joke.
Watching “Martin” and “Living
Single” is not a substitute for actually
knowing a black person, nor is “In
Living Color” some type of introduc
tory course. So please, use a little
common sense. I don’t assume that
all white people are like those
puffed-up Barbie dolls on “Friends,”
so please don’t assume that I smoke
chronic and cornrow my friends’ hair
while listening to Tupac. In fact, I
have reservations for English tea on
Sunday, and I like to country swing.
Plus, I have a thing for men who let
their educations and manners fight
for them. Just because I enjoy these
things doesn’t mean I’m trying to “be
white.” Speaking in an educated tone
of voice and having an extensive
vocabulary makes me just that:
educated. And I don’t “wannabe”
anyone but myself.
Hollimon is a senior broadcast
ing major and a Daily Nebraskan
At a cultural crossroads
Vietnamese past, American future present problems
Ethnically I’m Vietnamese.
Nationality-wise I’m American. But
culturally I’m a hodgepodge of
traditional Asian and Western values.
And at times this can be a real
Not a
headache in the
sense that I have
to pick and
choose which
values to ascribe
to, but a head
ache in that
sometimes 1 feel
as if I don’t
belong. Belonging, or rather, the
need to feel a sense of belonging is a
trait of being human — and I must
confess I sometimes don’t feel that I
truly belong in either circle.
Call it a character flaw, but I’ve
never been truly comfortable with
myself in the sense of my cultural
Whether this arose from interac
tions with others or just from the way
I see the world, I haven’t come to a
comfortable existence of being.
And at this point in life, I’ve
reached a crossroads of sorts—a
crossroads that doesn’t want to let
me blend my two cultural paths
together. Well, truthfully, I can merge
the two, but external and internal
forces are not giving me this oppor
tunity. It seems just when I think I’ve
gotten to the point where I’m
“American,” something flies in my
face that suggests I’m not.
Now if you’ve read this far,
you’re probably wondering, “What’s
he talking about?”
Well, my question is, “Who am
I?” I look into a mirror and see a face
staring back—not a “stand-outish”
face, but certainly one I can live
Call it a character flaw, but I’ve never
been truly comfortable with myself in the
sense of my cultural identity.”
But when I go to school and out
into the world, generally I just see
white or black faces. You might see
me as a guy walking down the street,
but when you pay attention to me, am
I “the Oriental” or just a guy? OK, so
you might not really care. But I’m
aware of it. And unfortunately, I can’t
pinpoint completely why.
You might think there is no
difference between an Asian growing
up in American and, let’s say, a black
person growing up in a white
neighborhood, or a white person
growing up in a black neighborhood.
But there is a difference.
In those situations there is still a
common “American-ess” those
individuals might possess. You might
be black, but far enough removed
from your roots to be American. You
might be white, but far enough
removed to be American. But in the
case of Asians, there isn’t an “Ameri
I always equate the Asian identity
with passivencss and the American
identity with aggressiveness. Western
thought and Eastern thought are
different. And this difference makes
me feel less American.
It’s odd. I don’t feel racially
isolated here in the Midwest, but
culturally I do. I don’t mean to imply
that I’d prefer to go “Asiatic” and
screw my American identity, but I
want to be comfortable with both —
and not h^ve to look at it as an all-or
nothing proposition.
Yes, this question of identity is
one we all have, depending on
particular aspects of our lives. But
it’s one I haven’t been able to answer
affirmatively in the cultural sense.
I wasn’t born in the United States,
but I’ve lived here for almost my
entire 22 years. But being first-born
in the family, I have been held up as
the one in my family slated for
certain achievements and expecta
The hierarchical order of impor
tance in Asian lives, or at least in my
family and in the families of many
Asians I know, has always been
school, family, then individual.
Individuality comes last.
Individuality is a Western and,
arguably, purely American trait. But
individuality does not work in my
circles. It isn’t proper to stand out in
areas other than achievement. To be
an “individual” is not to be desired. I
wasn’t taught this, but gradually
introduced to it through anecdotes,
traditional sayings, and the like; To
embarrass the family was the
ultimate social shame — to be
avoided at all costs.
The avoidance of individuality
and shame has been something I’ve
dealt with my entire life—and I’m
not entirely sure why. Perhaps to
please my parents, or perhaps it’s
some honor-bound sense of duty I
I grew up in suburbia America. In
primary school, I was usually the
only Asian kid in my classes—my
younger brothers and sisters likewise.
And I really never thought about my
ethnicity, because all of my friends
happened to be white. But in the
sixth grade, I was asked innocently
by another classmate if I “knew”
karate. Then in high school during
discussions of China or Japan,
people would ask me for my thoughts
— as though I could act as the
collective voice of Asian cultures. I
know of the similarities, but I don’t
profess to be the “voice.”
Maybe it’s something you take for
granted, but wherever I look, I see
Americans as being white or black.
Maybe it’s because there aren’t any
visible Asians. Sports? None, really.
Entertainment? None, really (unless
they know martial arts). Science?
None, really — maybe in a few
generations, but not now.
I hope one day to persuade myself
to “belong.”
Until then, I will have to find my
place one step at a time. I had one
experience this semester that I’ll
certainly remember for a long time.
In a small lab class of mine, a
student remarked that the prospect of
American students getting into
graduate school in a science disci
pline was high. She spoke of all four
of us in the lab as Americans. Maybe
she didn’t think about it, and I know
she didn’t realize it, but it was one of
the nicest things I’d ever heard about
myself. Thanks, Carolyn.
Nguyenr is a senior biochemistry
and philosophy major and a Daily
Nebraskan columnist.