No appropriation of my sufferings please!

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July 22, 2017 by aarong3eason

(Never submitted anywhere, I wasn’t very happy with this article, it just felt lame, and I’m uncertain of the actual dates because by the time I heard Minhaj on Fresh Air it was an old interview, so it was some time in the last 6 months, I’m also not super sure that I’m right, TCK specialists may categorize more broadly than I realized)

Last week Hassan Minhaj was on Fresh Air. And during the first few minutes of the interview he claimed that he is a TCK, a third culture kid. This is simply a lie. Well it may not be a lie since that involves intentionality. But it is at least false, or stretching the truth to its limits. His parents are immigrants. That’s it. I am a third culture kid. This means I was born in the United States to US parents but was raised in the Philippines as a temporary expat. The difference may seem minimal but Hassan clearly has not read anything about TCKs (or the definition has changed radically) because I don’t even know how or why he found that name to apply to himself. The TCK community has little to no natural or intentional interaction with immigrant communities or identity specifically because of what being a TCK means. It means you have no cultural identity.

Identity is something given to you as a child, you receive it from the world you were brought up in. TCKs are called third culture because they come from one culture and are raised in a second culture but psychically they are part of a third culture. They used to call this third culture a combination of the two cultures but in my experience and the experience of many TCKs I know there is no combination of cultures. Rather the third culture is actually no culture. I am not culturally American. I thought I was (because this belief was constantly stated by myself and others) but my personality has simply not been forged in this country, I do not have the basic identity values of America. American values seem non existent to many people because this country is not made from a nation but many nations and culture is almost always race based. But America does have very distinct values and they are not based in race. When I began to realize this I saw that my parents (boomers) were the ones who didn’t understand America. To them America meant being Conservative Baptist, or being “free” or democratic. 

This is not the place to enumerate the various strands of what makes American identity. But suffice it to say that TCKs with an American passport do not have these identifiers, unless like me they choose to cultivate them later in life.

But I am also not Filipino. I understand Filipinos in a very academic way. My wife is a nurse who works with many Filipino nurses and when we chat about work usually I can provide purely intellectual insight. For instance why do Filipinos tend to care about the NBA but none of the other US sports leagues? The PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) is second only to the NBA as the longest running professional basketball league in the world, and the first of its kind in Asia. It is really the only sport of consequence in the Philippines. And a minor point of trivia the San Miguel Beermen (The Lakers/Celtics/Cowboys/Yankees/Maple Leafs/Manchester United of the Philippines) are the only team in the history of Basketball to win a seven game series after having been down 0-3. They did this just last year.

But Hassan is clearly a progressive American. Of course I do not know him, he seems to be a person of little consequence with a rather cliche “son of immigrant” personality. Other than the fact that he isn’t very funny, as evidenced by the White House press dinner (and has had various small acting parts) I don’t know or care much about him. Terry Gross did her usual soft ball identity politics sthick with him just like she does every guest, so I didn’t learn much from the Fresh Air interview except that his mother was relatively absent from his early years. And he also seems to possess all the typical PC values. In other words he’s boring, a perfect fit for Terry.

He also doesn’t seem to be very intelligent since he was under the impression that an immigration ban that did not include India was going to Ban his mother from returning to the US from India. And he continued to call the immigration ban a Muslim ban despite all the evidence to the contrary. And it’s notable that Ms. Gross did not push back on him for any of this.

As a classical liberal I hate identity politics. So I feel uncomfortable defending my TCK identity against an interloper. It makes me feel like those snowflakes who complain that braided hair is a co opting of African heritage. But this is actually deeply different from “cultural appropriation” lunacy. Because being a TCK is essentially about psychic damage. It is more like being part of a survivor group. And I think it should be upseting to everyone when people claim to have suffered in ways they have not. If Hassan had claimed to be an orphan or a rape or holocaust survivor everyone would be rightly outraged. But he claimed identity with a virtually unknown group. A group that makes him seem interesting and complicated.

TCKs are not in the upper echelons of human suffering. We are in that strange grey area of people who have suffered continuously in what seems like a very small way but it has damaged our core to a point where we will never be whole, we will never join the normalos but we don’t have the deep suffering that accompanies survivors. 

For a good explanation see: the trouble with TCKs.

So I don’t really see how Minhaj can group himself in my camp. I hate these distinctions and putting people into “suffering classifications.” But for me it has to do with the truth more than any sort of virtue signaling or wanting to be notice. I really just wanted to point out that Minhaj probably shouldn’t be using the term TCK to explain himself.


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