Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

What exactly is a Banana?

Posted by chinesecanuck on April 17, 2008

Racialicious has an interesting post on Bananas today.  And I don’t mean the fruit. I mean people who are “yellow on the outside, white inside.”  But is there only one kind of Banana?  Or are there several?  Can a FOB (is this term even accurate anymore?  Shouldn’t it be FOP or Fresh off the Plane?) be a Banana?  I mean, most Hong Kongers and Koreans, at least those who live in a western country have had some training in western classical music (usually in the form of piano or violin).  Would even the most old country of Hong Kongers or Koreans there be at least a little banana?  Or is classical music no longer a western “thing”?  After all, most white/multigeneration Canadians/Americans (dont’ know about Aussies, Kiwis or Brits) don’t send their kids to piano at a young age.  In fact, the only white kids I know who started piano at say, age 5 or younger are of Eastern European descent (and no more than third generation). Do you have to date a white person?  Take certain courses? Play hockey, if you’re Canadian?  What about all those Hong Kong Canadians who not only send their children to old line private schools, but also seek membership at country clubs that would have blackballed them decades ago?  Maybe a better term for them is YASP (“Yellow” Anglo-Saxon Protestant…of course, they aren’t ethnically Anglo-Saxon, but we’re talking about a cultural perspective here.  I mean, Grace Kelly was Irish Catholic, so she wasn’t WASP either.)

I’d say I’m a Banana because:

  • Barely read/write Chinese (I speak fluent Cantonese though…..pretty much accentless, because my grandmother took care of me when I was little, and I learned to talk from here)
  • I don’t really have the baby voice/Hong Kong mall rat voice that is really common with women under 40, though I sometimes speak with the equally bad “valley girl” mall rat voice (like, I’m soooooo sorry, okay?)
  • Went to a university that the so-called “majority” sees as being “very white” (ummm, no, the school is NOT “very” white, at least not compared to smaller schools.  It’s only “very white” compared to places like the University of Toronto, UBC and Waterloo.)
  • Took lots of drama and social science courses rather than sciences or even business (I was one of two Asian students in my high school drama classes (out of a class of between 15 and 20) and probably the only one in my year who actually majored in the subject in university.
  • Didn’t highlight my hair in high school (the majority of the Chinese kids who highlighted their hair at my high school were foreign students or recent immigrants).
  • Didn’t (and still don’t) follow Cantopop bands or HK movie stars…unless you count the few days when the Edison Chen scandal hit the news EVERYWHERE
  • My boyfriend isn’t Asian
  • I don’t play badminton (the badminton teams at my high school were OVERWHELMINGLY Chinese…I think there was only like one white girl on the team)
  • I’m not obsessed with big brand names
  • I didn’t live in an area that is “seen” as a Chinese suburb (i.e. Markham, Ontario)
  • Most of my closer friends aren’t Chinese
  • I do volunteer work for non-ethnic-specific organizations

But the following are kind of questionable:

  • I played piano from ages 4 to 17
  • I actually SPEAK Cantonese
  • I’m fairly familiar with Chinese (or at least Hong Kong) culture
  • A manicurist in Hong Kong didn’t believe that I was CBC – she thought that I went to school abroad at a young age (i.e. high school) – probably because of my lack of an accent

I also don’t understand why some people are so critical of the banana (or Oreo, apple, coconut, etc) identity.  A person’s identity is what he/she chooses! And no, I don’t think it’s derogatory, as one of the commentators has indicated.  It’s just part of me.

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8 Responses to “What exactly is a Banana?”

  1. […] chinesecanuck wrote an interesting post today on What exactly is a Banana?Here’s a quick excerptI mean, most Hong Kongers and Koreans, at least those who live in a western country have had some training in western classical music (usually in the form of piano or violin). Would even the most old country of Hong Kongers or Koreans … […]

  2. Scapegoat said

    When they call me “jook sing” I know I am doing something right.

  3. Alston said

    There is nothing wrong with self-identification, as many non-whites are insisting on. I actually left a comment on Racialicious about how bi-cultural (as opposed to bi-racial) people are supposed to self-identify, and whether it is seen as equally valid among non-whites trying to do the same thing.

    However, I think that what people have a problem with is that these food metaphors tend to also make the statement that you are validating the hegemonic definitions of what being non-white means, and limiting yourself in terms of the meaning of one’s so-called self-identification. An appropriate bi- or multicultural food metaphor would invoke the image of some kind of prepared food that reflects all of the ingredients, and perhaps how each contributes to the overall flavour. This, of course, sounds a lot like what they tried to do with the Multicultural Act.

  4. I’m critical of the banana/oreo/coconut/apple concept because it’s internalized racism. Your assumption is that if you’re not stereotypically Chinese, then you must be ‘white’.

    You barely read/write Chinese, and somehow conclude that not reading and writing Chinese makes you ‘white’. Guess what? Lot of non-white Canadians don’t read or write Chinese, and are still not white. Lots of non-white Canadians are native speakers of English, and yet are still not white.

    Canadian =/= White

    Maybe if you associated more with non-white, non-East-Asian Canadians, you wouldn’t associate Canadianness with whiteness.

  5. I think that you, Restructure, are once again (and as always), confusing actual “whiteness” with “white” culture(s).

  6. Oh, by the way, Restructure, questioning people’s “Banana” identities is almost like questioning whether someone is gay.

  7. I’m not questioning your “banana” identity. I’m pretty sure you’re a banana. I just think bananas have internalized racism, because the “banana” concept assumes that “Asian” is the same as “Asian caricature”.

    Also, in response to #5, I think you misinterpreted my #4. Let me clarify:

    When I said “Your assumption is that if you’re not stereotypically Chinese, then you must be ‘white’”, I meant that you have a very stereotypical view of Chinese people that ignores the existence of jook-sing CBCs. You are also ignoring the existence of CBCDs, CB Black Canadians, CB Filipino Canadians, etc.

  8. Chelita said

    Wow. I don’t care for the banana/oreo, etc. sterotyping. It’s crazy. Many of us are a product of our environment. I’m black. If I was adopted by some white folks, depending on the neighborhood and schools, I’m gonna act like the environment I grew up in. That shouldn’t make me an oreo. Who made the rule that Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, etc. are suppose to act a certain way? If you’re white, wear baggy pants, and listen to gangsta rap doesn’t mean you wanna be black. It just means you’re a Caucasion who wears pants that give you a bit more room to move, and you like gangsta poetry said to the sound of music. That’s it. We just need to stop the nonsense.

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