When I tell non-Vietnamese people about Viet Happy Hour, I immediately sense their disapproval. “Well I’m not Vietnamese. Does that mean I can’t go?” I think in Seattle, there’s a natural urge to feel indignation when everything isn’t multicultural or diverse, but this perspective is overly simplistic and glosses over many important factors. Here are some comments I commonly hear about Viet Happy Hour and my responses to each.
“You’re not being inclusive.”
Inclusion is more than simply allowing different groups of people to be in the same room together. What’s the point of bringing a hundred people together if only one person feels privileged enough to speak up? It may have the appearance of diversity on the outside, but unless everyone feels equally dignified, it’s just tokenism.
For groups who have historically been marginalized in the United States, having an Asian-focused event creates a safe environment and opportunity to discuss our shared experiences (“Does your face turn red too?”) and frustrations (“Help! My parents won’t let me move out!!!“). Vietnamese-Americans need to feel (and be) empowered so that when we are actually in a room with a hundred other kinds of people, we have the courage and confidence to speak up.
Racism is the belief that one racial or ethnic group is inherently superior to another. Sometimes this can be overt, like someone saying “Asians make terrible athletes.” But it’s also important to recognize that racism can be internalized by minorities.
For example, there are few Asian-Americans in positions of leadership across many professions. Within the non-profit sector, a lot of minorities are stuck in direct-service work because they think their bilingual skills are all they have to offer. As a result, they might be overlooked for promotions or other professional development opportunities.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some incredible people who are doing amazing things, but community development is hard work. Asian-Americans have to deal with external and internal pressures all the time—from society thinking we’re too timid, to parents who think we’re failures if we don’t become doctors. Sometimes we just need peers and mentors who look like us and share our cultural heritage in order to inspire and challenge us into appreciating our gifts.
Viet Happy Hour was started to connect and support Vietnamese-American professionals who want to do something positive for their community…and because I’ve learned that drinking is best when done in groups where everyone has roughly the same tolerance level as you. Hooray for equality!
This comment has been one the hardest to justify because on a surface level, the definition of discrimination simply means to make a distinction. So yes, we are making a distinction between Asians and non-Asians—but it’s more complicated than that. When we think about racial discrimination, there is a tendency to be fixated on race and appearances. But we also need to understand power dynamics, because power is a necessary precondition that gives one group the ability to provide or withhold benefits and opportunities to another group.
U.S. History is filled with examples—from African-Americans being forced into the back of the bus, to Asian immigrants being clustered into “Chinatowns.” In each of these instances, a predominately White mainstream majority denied people their human rights and created a group of second-class citizens. So when we talk about any form of discrimination, we must consider power dynamics, because it creates a baseline where equality is not the starting point. “Sorry dude, you have too much power. You’re like…a Level 85 Wizard.”
Diversity and equality are values we should all strive for, but we have to do it thoughtfully. There are times when we want everyone in the same room, but there will be other times when people who have been disenfranchised need the space to realize their vision for moving forward.
So am I going to kick you out of happy hour if you’re not Vietnamese? Of course not! No one is denying your ability or right to drink (though I have my suspicions about people who are excited about gluten-free beer).