“It’s what’s on the inside that counts”

On Sunday, my husband and I were going through my most favorite and dangerous store ever, shopping for things we don’t actually need when we only went in for 2 items and came out with 10, Target, when we got separated.  As I was contemplating the body sizes of my friends to buy them t-shirts while trying not to insult them by purchasing a large when a medium would do, Christian hurried over to me, exclaiming, “I just saw the most racist t-shirt!”.  He likes to play these games where he points out absurdities (like, “I think I see George Lucas” when its just an older man with a gray & white bushy beard) and I’m supposed to find them.  So, wondering what the hell he was talking about, I made my final shirt choices for my friends (which I have since decided were incorrect so I have to go to Target to return them), and walked over to the display. It took me about 30 seconds to pick it out.  The twinkie t-shirt with the saying “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”.

Now, for those of you not familiar with the terms: Twinkie, Oreo, Coconut, or various other similar terms, the meaning of this is that the person of “color”, [whether it be yellow (asian), black (african-american, or just brown), or brown (i use coconut mostly for PIs because it encompasses multiple racial stereotypes into one)] is no longer true to their race and are now “white”/assimilated/a disappointment to their heritage/whatever you want to call it, but it’s usually its bad, on the inside.

While I use terms like these on myself, stating that I’m a coconut, or the whitest Hawaiian you’ll ever meet, or things like that (although since I’m half white, I guess it technically doesn’t apply to me), I mean them in jest.  When my aunt called my dad this about 20 years ago, it was meant to be an insult and not to be taken lightly.

Back to the shirt – The problem with this shirt is what it implies.  It is implying that it is the whiteness on the inside that counts and not the ethnic/racial heritage that is displayed on the outside.  It promotes the importance of full assimilation – of making a melting pot society rather than a salad bowl.

I am of the opinion, as a mixed-race child, that all parts of one’s ethnic heritage need to be supported and nurtured.  I appreciate that my parent’s showed me a little about all of my cultures – Mostly the Hawaiian and White sides, but I still ate and enjoyed lumpia and pancit for the filipino side, and my grandmother passed out roosters to everyone, which are apparently Portuguese – because without embracing all facets of my culture, I would have struggled with racial identity far more than I actually did.  My greatest struggle was when I got to college and began doing Hawaiian research – Should I go by Lessa or Nani?  Ultimately, I decided to go by Lessa because I decided that the main reason I would use Nani in a professional setting (something I had never done before) was to give me street cred, and if my academic and professional careers were strong enough, I shouldn’t need street cred because I would be seen as a knowledgeable source.  This was my great fight with racial identity.  There were smaller decisions, like my decision to study Hawaiians, and my decision to dance hula, but they were nothing compared to the struggles I know other mixed-race and bi-racial people, like my husband endured.  For the most part, I had a supportive family, immediate and extended, and it let me flourish.

Things which promote the whiteness and removal of one’s ethnic heritage are unacceptable.  While I’m sure Target didn’t even think about this when they produced the shirt, I wonder how many people picked up on this common use of the word “Twinkie” and what the shirt’s slogan implies.  Target, you disappointed me this week, but it’s not like it was the first time (can we all recall the Target executive donating money to the pro-Prop 8 campaign?  I didn’t shop at Target for like 6 months – until I found out it was only like $500 out of a multi-billion dollar corporation and the guy was a crackpot) and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

On a funny note – since I do enjoy joking about race – my friend told me one I’d never heard – an “Egg” – a person who is white on the inside and asian (or yellow) on the inside.  AKA, the asian-wannabee.  I wonder what one could be for those hardcore Hawaiian-wannabees…

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4 thoughts on ““It’s what’s on the inside that counts”

  1. I saw this shirt and had the same reaction. Being of mixed-race, I’ve only heard these terms in regards to being mixed-race, not in terms of ethnic identity. I wonder though how far should we analyze the metaphor since if it isn’t about the physical (looking brown but being also white), then is the term making a physical connection with cultural action?

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