As minority races are integrated into the American system, the line that defines one own race begins to transcend beyond just skin color. It becomes about one’s involvement in their race’s culture, dialect, tradition, environment, etc., that determine the level of someone's race. As a result, words were created and used to describe those in the lower level of their own ethnic race. In America specifically, words, such as “whitewashed,” “coon,” and “sellout,” are used to label those part of a minority race that becomes too “white” and “less minority.” I’ve been told by Vietnamese people, my people, that I was whitewashed. I‘ve been told that I was basically the Asian version of a white guy because I’m not Vietnamese enough. I mean, I can’t speak Vietnamese. I enjoy American food more than Vietnamese food. I don’t follow old Vietnamese traditions. My clothing, living style, and even song choices are labeled white things. Like a white guy, instead of living in the heart of the Vietnamese community in America, I live in the urban area that is commonly seen in those 90’s white family sitcoms. All these are the reasons I ain’t truly Vietnamese.
One of my favorite scenes of “Fresh Prince of Bel-air” is when Carlton’s blackness is challenged by a fellow black. Carlton in the show lives the unstereotypical black pampered life, in which his family lived in a mansion, had a butler, and are extremely rich. This has caused his people, the black members of the fraternity to turn their backs on him because he didn’t fit the racial mold of a stereotypical struggling black person in America. Hence why, not being part of any stereotypes for minorities, like coming from the ghetto, being part of a gang, speaking in slang, doing drugs, etc. made him less black in the minds of his fellow blacks who had most of these stereotypes in common.
Originally when watching this scene, I assumed that this was what they called “reverse racism,” because the black members of the fraternity denied Carlton on the condition that he was too whitewashed. As if being white was sinful, I found myself empathizing with Carlton and criticizing those black people as they reminded me of those Vietnamese people who called me a sellout as well. However, after reading “Your Average N-word,” by Vershawn Ashanti Young, I realized that I might have had some misconceptions. Carlton might not have been the only victim cause by integrating minorities into the American System.
The black fraternity members are also victims, having been conditioned to see “being insufficiently masculine or insufficiently black” as two opposites concepts as Young would call it. Young’s idea is that when minorities are integrated into the American system, using the example of Eric Smith’s literacy narrative from page 700 of his book, they are actually being compelled to give up their own black identities and accept the whiteness. Once that whiteness starts integration, they become slowly isolated by their minority peers, for example in Smith’s case, in which he was ostracized by the other black students for “not really black” because of his “proper speech” that resembled a white educated women. Why Young, instead of stating it as being black or white, stated masculinity or black is because education for a black man was considered effeminate, especially in the black ghetto. This is a result of systemic racism and how they made an entire racial stigma, stopping blacks from pursuing education because they would be sacrificing their masculinity and ethnicity unless they become more white. Systemic racism is basically the American system pushing whiteness onto minorities, forcing them to struggle and eventually abandon their own racial ethnicity. One of the methods used to create the stigma is conditioning everyone, majority, and minority, to see a scale that indicates someone's level of race, based on personal factors like how they dress, speak, live, etc. Hence why the situation in Carlton’s, Young’s, and Smith’s case isn’t “reverse racism,” rather more about how the American white system has influenced minorities to ostracize their own. Carlton would have had to give up his wealth, mansion, and formal way of speaking if he wanted to be black. Young and Smith, would have had to give up their masculinity if they wanted to be black. I would have had to give up my American lifestyle, American food, and even my urban home if I wanted to be Vietnamese. All of these “would have had to give up” choices exist because of systemic racism, which creates and uses stereotypes, racial stigma, and racial profiling to define the level of someone's race. It causes an unavoidable situation in which race becomes judged based on lifestyle.
Those black fraternity members and Vietnamese people are conditioned victims who have been misguided into taking up racial stigma against their own. They have been conditioned by systemic racism in believing that they are preserving what makes someone black, Asian Hispanic, or any other race when it’s just skin color. To further express what I mean, one of Carlton's most famous lines in the show was when he stood up against the racial stigma of his own black peer and said“being black isn’t want I’m trying to be, it’s what I am.” I am not white or a sellout because I don’t fit the common Vietnamese racial mold, I am Asian because I have always been Asian.