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Posted on Sun, Feb 7, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Raising confident daughters of color while not forgetting Obama is black

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Years ago, I took a seminar called, "Raising Strong and Confident Daughters." My husband laughed at me, "Could our daughters be any stronger or more confident?"

The class was an eye-opener, not just in how to raise my girls, but also in understanding my own Chinese American childhood. I had no memory of dealing with a lot of the issues the instructor talked about as being so important to preadolescent girls, such as friendships and physical appearances.

At first I thought that I must have been just so low on the social totem pole, because of race and nerdiness, that I had given up hope of competing in those arenas. Then I found a Wellesley study of Boston middle-school girls’ self-esteem along racial and ethnic lines and discovered that girls of different ethnic backgrounds based their sense of self-esteem on different factors. It made perfect sense once somebody said it out loud.

The study also found that African-American girls had the highest self-esteem among the four groups studied. That's because the emaciated supermodels they see are almost all white. So instead of aspiring to be like them and developing all sorts of body-image neuroses as the Caucasian girls did, the African-American girls chose their own African-American role models and developed their own fashion sense. Who cares about Britney Spears when you have Destiny’s Child?

So I began to think about how to raise my girls as strong and confident Asian-American girls, with respect for Asian culture, tools for succeeding in American culture, and how to have fun with both. I read them stories with strong Asian-American girl heroines, I taught them to read the media and critique stereotypical portrayals of all sorts, I introduced them to role models both famous and local, I helped them see alternative beauty standards, I taught them to speak up, and I prepared them for sexism from both sides. They learned how to stand up for themselves and how to do it in a nuanced way that both Asians and Americans can accept (like code-switching).

They are now so strong, confident, and proud that I pity the poor boy who tries to date any of them one day. He will never be able to get away with anything.

Then Chris Matthews forgot President Obama was black for an hour.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes for the Atlantic:

“In fact, Chris Matthews didn't forget Barack Obama was black. Chris Matthews forgot that Chris Matthews was white….It's white people's responsibility to make themselves postracial, not the president's. Whatever my disagreements with him (Obama), the fact is that he is brilliant. That he is black and brilliant is pleasant but unsurprising to me. I've known very brilliant, very black people all my life.”

In Jon Stewart’s hysterical response to Chris Matthews’ remark, African American Wyatt Cenac plays out all the hidden stereotypes he “forgot” about Caucasians, African Americans, Jews, Asians (“not sexy Asian, math Asian”), even lesbian Irish gym teachers (whoa, that is a lot of stereotypes in one).

From the other side of the remark, I sometimes forget I am Asian too. I look out at the world and cannot see what people see when they look back at me. I think that I am just me. I get lulled into complacency thinking that because we are speaking the same language, that we actually understand each other. I forget that I do not know other people’s hidden assumptions and stereotypes until things go awry. I worry that despite my girls’ confidence and eloquence, the filter of preconceptions will always distort how people perceive them.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at, her blog at, and she can be reached at

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang will be speaking on (Raising) Women in the 21st Century at Eastern Michigan University for Chinese Week 2010 on Monday, February 8, 2010, 1:00 pm, 300 Halle Library.