Advice, Current Events, Mental Health

How To Mic Drop: The Privileged Perspective

Dear Reader,

Shall we begin?

Last week, a Korean co-worker visited NYC for the first time. “OMG how was it?” I asked, expecting pornographic descriptions of food. “It was scary,” he stammered. He’d run into gun-strapping gangsters late at night. One yelled, “Mother f*cka! Gimme your money!” My co-worker threatened to call the police so they left him alone eventually, but not before his first, distinct impression of black people had been formed.

The good news? My co-worker felt comfortable enough to talk about his fear openly. It gave me the opportunity to console him and to remind him that not all black people carry guns and steal your money. Now, more than ever, facts like these need to be spelled out. Conversations must be held with compassion. What if my co-worker had spoken to someone who reinforced his nascent stereotype? What if this continued over the years? Could he end up agreeing with the Charlottesville Nazis?

Anything is possible. But before trying to understand where someone else could be misled, let’s start with ourselves. How does racism begin? If we can’t identify it, how can we fight it?

Fresh Off The Boat

I grew up with mildly racist parents. Exsqueeeeze me…mildly?

When my parents first arrived in America, they bought the ugliest house they could find and tried to rent it. Most people didn’t want to live in a scene from The Shining, so they attracted prospects with low cost + cash only. Many of the tenants were black or latinos who ended up not paying their rent. My parents developed a prejudice based on their limited experiences. They weren’t painting KKK on my bedroom ceiling, but they weren’t eager for me to date a black guy either. Thankfully, the same parents gave me the chance to see more of the world and make my own informed decisions. Nowadays, I’m all about affirmative action. 😉

My first memory of meeting someone black was in the 3rd grade. His name was Tyrell Brown. I remember his scrumptiously thick lips, resting on his choco-caramel skin, forever pouted. The boys loved his playground skills and the girls, everything else.

One day, he happened to tie his shoes next to me. I bore a hole into the back of his skull, willing him to notice me. When he looked up, I blushed, all cheeks. “Girl, your eyes are tiny!” he shook his head and laughed. Though rejection’s a b*tch, I didn’t have the sense that “all people who look like Tyrell are jerks.” Maybe all boys in general are jerks, but that’s another story. The point is, had I gone home and told my parents what had happened, had they said some racist things, this belief might have taken root and spread into my adulthood.

We all have varying degrees of prejudice based on nature and nurture. For example, many Koreans believe all Indians and Africans are poor and starving. My dark skinned friend gets stopped in the street by ajummas (old ladies) who give him food, regardless of how nicely he’s dressed or how many shopping bags he’s carrying. I also have a model-esque friend from Cameroon whose students call her “Black Monster”. She reported this to her school, but little has been done to rectify the situation. Whether it’s misplaced pity or outright violence, racism comes in many degrees, all of which undermine human dignity and common decency.

Have you ever met a racist baby? No, of course not. All they do is cry, poop, eat.  They’re not plotting Charlottesvilles. So if we’re not born racist, then we must be taught such things. Hate, anger, and negativity are acquired. I struggle with all three. It takes conscious effort to grow into a decent human being.  

Let’s not forget about mental health. To hate anyone so much you’d drive a car into a crowd…would an emotionally stable person do such a thing?  Mental illness can be hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it manifests as racism. Check out the Oompa Loompa defecating the Iron Throne.

I Am Privileged

Interestingly, I met my first “All Lives Matter” proponent outside the US.  She argued the Black Lives Matter movement was counterproductive and based largely on emotion, not facts. She and I could not reach any middle ground during our discussion and we ended the conversation quickly. “I’m angry now,” she shook her head, frustrated. I stayed silent, knowing any further response would fuel the fire.

Yet all was not lost. I asked if she’d be interested in speaking with someone from an African American perspective. She agreed. I connected her with a friend from the States who kindly offered to chat. “Listen with your hearts,” I encouraged them both. Sadly, that conversation didn’t last long as well and both parties felt defeated. When asked what went wrong, my friend from the States hit me with a powerful sentence, “She doesn’t recognize white privilege.”

BOOMSHAKALAKA!

Thuurrrr it is. How can we prevent events like Charlottesville, if we can’t even recognize our own bias?

So allow me to declare now for the record: I AM PRIVILEGED.

I’m writing about racism from the safety of my home. I don’t need to worry about my life or liberty being threatened on a daily basis. If I have kids (unlikely), I don’t have to give them talks about the dangers of hoodies. I don’t lose loved ones based on how they look on a regular basis. I don’t have to ‘educate’ people who hate people like me.  I don’t have to control my temper when these crimes continue to occur. I can post on social media about how f*cked up the world is, and then go about my day.

THIS IS PRIVILEGE.

It’s OK to be privileged. What’s NOT OK is staying silent. As long as as our hearts beat, we have a moral responsibility to say something. If we don’t understand why something is happening, let’s google the sh*t out of it. Let’s speak to people face to face. It will be challenging and sometimes downright nasty. But standing up for what’s right is one of the only things remaining between us and integrity.

What can we do? We can teach each other about MLK, Katherine Johnson, Nelson Mandela. We can empathize with the suffering of our neighbors and offer support. We can try to understand how systemic racism is, fail, try again, and keep trying until one day, future generations will shake their heads and say “ Wow, how could they have been so mean?”

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Black is beautiful!

Remember: we are not our fathers nor do their teachings define us.

Like Heather Heyer’s mom said at her eulogy, “you tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what, you just magnified her.”

Mic drop.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events, Mental Health, Teaching

The True American: A Love Story

Dear reader,

I’d like to share a childhood story: one of hope and love. I’ve written in second person to put my shoes on your feet (tongue-in-cheek.)

Imagine you are 4 years old. You can’t get enough of banana popsicles. You’re terrified of pooping alone, especially in the outhouse in your grandma’s village, which happens to be a ditch.  You love your mom. You don’t remember your dad.

After school, you and your mom go to a sand-brown, brick building. You wait for her on the steps. She walks in happy, she comes out sad. One day, she scoops you up in her arms and spins you in the air. “Lu ka!”she’s cries out. She’s gone mad over a green card.  Timing is everything so you ask for a banana popsicle. The two years she has spent raising you alone are over.

At the airport, you go down the escalator towards a man with brown glasses. “Jiao Ba!(Shout dad!)” your mom pinches your cheek. You yell as loud as you can. They’re laughing, hugging, crying. You haven’t learned about happy tears, so you start crying too.

You move into a white house with black shutters called the Jewish Service Center.  Having never set foot in a house, you’re certain it’s a palace. You don’t know your family is the live-in help nor that your dad works nightshifts at 7/11 and any parking lot that accepts Chinglish. You like your teachers, but not the kids. They pull their eyes into slits. None of that matters because you’ve discovered Happy Meals.

Imagine your first snow. The whiteness hurts your eyes in a good way.  A strange creature awaits you on the porch. Her disheveled hair sticks out of her trucker’s hat and owl-eye glasses.  “I’m Madeline,” she hands you something. “Hold this will ya?” Pop eye voice.

She sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles. Streaks of color paint the yard like a Jackson Pollock.  Their purring emanates through your belly like tiny grandfather clocks. You are bewildered, flattered, overwhelmed. Turns out you’re holding a can of cat food.

5 years fly. When you’re not being cat-dundee, your nose is in a book. Madeline introduces you to lifelong friends: Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Gulliver.   You’re clueless about holidays: she brings you marshallow peeps. Her minimum wage is bank rolling your Americanization.

Happy birthday 9. Your family reaches the pinnacle of the American dream: property. They move outta there fast. So fast you don’t remember to get Madeline’s number, nor call, nor send Christmas cards.New school, new place, same loneliness.

Grow up. You equate money with success. You take shit from people you shouldn’t. You walk away from your country, partner, job. Volunteer abroad. Consume attention like drugs. Self-destruct. You’re so fucking lost. Start therapy. Learn about co dependence. Learn to say no. Set boundaries. You keep going to therapy. You don’t plan to stop. Discover meditation. Run. Re-educate on love. You grow healthy. Strong. You actually enjoy your job: how did Columbus claim land? He slaughtered children.  What do Leonardo DiCaprio and Standing Rock have in common? Fight global warming. How can we help? Eat less beef. Who was the first woman to make it to space? Valentina Tereshkova. Why isn’t her name in the book? “They thought girls were stupid,” your smartest kid says. Think, not thought. Ask questions. Never stop. Love is love is love is love.

Arrivez election results. For everything you’ve been teaching, the opposite stands. You shut off facebook cuz it just fucking hurts. Chimamanda, where art thou.  You’re safe for now, but what about everyone else? What about L? “Everything will work out,” he strokes your hair and smiles. Storm meet lighthouse.

You apologize to all your friends. “Orange is the new Hitler,” you choke on your jokes. “Trump tells the hard truth. Hilary doesn’t,” one blurts out. Your friend is one of the nicest people around.  So you give him a hug with 3 words: “Please fact check.” Be like Trevor Noah, you repeat to yourself. Commit to conversation even if it’s hard. How else will we understand what’s going on?

A sliver of silver shakes up the clouds. Madeline it spells. Once you’ve met a true American, you’ll never forget. Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced.

Dark days lie ahead. Fortify my friends.

Compassion. Wisdom. Love.

writinginsoysauce

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Advice, Current Events, Love, Mental Health

The Virgin Suicides: Fuck You Waldo Winners

When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set. -Lin Yutang

Soundtrack Chivas.

Dear reader,

This post is inspired by my tyrannical boss, Donald Trump’s latest assault on women, and the guy who took my virginity.

10 years ago, I met a boy named Waldo Winners(anagram). Though I’d learned how to play ‘baseball’ in high school, I waited for the home run. Waited for the cracker jacks with the free toy .

Enter Waldo: blonde, swimmer, International Relations major. Hot. Smart.Sweet apartment. Free booze. Friends with all my friends. Hark! The angels sing.

Before anything remotely romantic happened, I asked him if he was single. I’d seen him hanging out with a pretty, dark-haired girl. Let’s call her Paris since she was abroad the majority of this story. “Nah, we’re just friends,” he chuckled.

We kissed. We more than kissed. I wanted to be desirable: no more of the high school Mathlete guys turned down at dances. So I omitted my V card. My first time in 2 words? Awkward. Thrilling. Thanks to the inventor of tampons, there was no Carrie post prom sheets. I did, however, have a post coital panic attack in his bathroom. Indoctrinated to see sex as both sacred and shameful, I’d crossed over to the upside-down like Eleven on Stranger Things.

“Are you ok?” he knocked eventually.

“Uh… my contact fell out!” Maybe he thought I was taking a massive dump.

We spent almost every night together. Ordered Thai. Drank his favorite Lipton green tea. Jammed to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Crammed our friend’s room with newspapers floor to ceiling. Starred on youtube’s nipple muffins, a non pornographic portrayal of pure, sober, idiocy.

When it was just us, Waldo was sweet and doting. While I brushed my teeth, he’d mouth  “Olive you” instead “I love you”.   He generously paid for everything. He came from a family whose forefathers had the privilege of examining Barbara Bush’s vagina. Gyno-gold.

7 months flew.

In groups, our dynamics changed. Just little things at first. A lack of attention.  Don’t be clingy, I thought. A message from an upset girl on his laptop. Don’t snoop. A lucid nightmare he cheated on me with someone we had just met. Just a bad dream. I shook it off. Whenever I got upset or brought up my concerns, he’d laugh it off or make me feel looney. What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy? (Thanks Bey). He was so good to me behind closed doors. I had no official proof of wrongdoing. Fine, he was a flirt, but who was I to change him?

On one of our rare nights apart, Waldo drunkenly attempted to piggy back a mutual friend. He broke his jaw on the pavement.  I spent weeks playing nurse. You know that SATC episode when Big gets heart surgery and opens up to Carrie at last? When you think: YES! She’s FINALLY getting the love she deserves. But as soon as Big feels better, he’s back to emotionally withdrawn. Like a hamster trapped by centripetal force, no matter how hard I worked, I’d wind up in the same place.

Then there was Paris. Her semester abroad ended and she came back to Boston. It wasn’t a big deal when he’d spend time with her, or walk her home after parties: he still came home to me. I respected their friendship. “She’s cool with us, right?” I’d ask. He’d flash that crest white strip smile. “Yeah, of course. But I think she likes me. I don’t want her to feel bad. Can we tone down the PDA?” I only ever saw Paris when we were out. She seemed like a nice girl. Small sacrifice. “Sure!” I nodded eagerly.

One week later, my guy friend sat me down. He’d been in the car with Waldo. He looked grim. “I don’t think they’re just friends.”

As usual, Waldo had a quick defense. “Why do people talk behind my back? They just make things up,” his voice trembled. “This always happens to me.” I didn’t want to believe him but he was on the verge of tears. My anger faded. I patted him on the back: “You can be honest with me.”

His eyes stared into with mine: “Cheating is disgusting.”

Two weeks later, while Waldo was out of town, I got coffee with Paris’ best friend. We ran in the same 20 strong circle, but had never gotten a chance to catch up one-on-one. 5 minutes in, I blurted out: “I’m so glad Paris is cool about me and Waldo…being together and all.”

“What?” she put down her coffee cup.”Since when?”

“Since she left Boston…”

“Impossible.”

“Huh?” I put my coffee cup down.

“He’s been with Paris. Since she left Boston.”

My chest bumped like a dryer with shoes in it.

“I’m calling her now,”she whipped out her 5 pound cell phone.

Me, Paris, her best friend, Waldo’s now ex best friend assembled for the grand inquisition. The four of us painfully unraveled a cunning web of lies. How he’d been in bed with me while in a long distance relationship with her. How he played upon our sympathies to keep us from finding out about each other.  How he knew exactly what to say, when to say it, and never got caught. (God knows how many other women were involved. Pure luck I am STD free. Get tested annually.) The magnitude of his deception was sick and impressive.

During all this chaos, he called me. I let it go to voicemail, then played it for the group. Waldo made silly voices,  chirped about his amazing trip back home in Minnesota. “See you soooooon!”he drawled. Click.

Welcome to the super shitty reality show nobody wants to be on. We made more calls. When the shock subsided, the breadcrumbs connected. Much later, we found out how he had done the same thing to another group at BU. We were not his first.

That night, I wrote him a message on Facebook: “I know what you did. Stay away from me and my friends.” That night, I rode the green line alone. Dear reader, that moment was my lowest to date: my virgin suicides. I wanted to hurt myself just to feel something.

Thankfully, I went home instead. The dam burst while my mom and I were alone in the kitchen. I started to cry and couldn’t stop. She instinctively guessed what had happened: “jiao cai liang chuan” (1 guy. 2 boats.)  For an old school asian lady, this was a huge breakthrough. A silver lining in the grey beyond.

In the following years, I self-medicated with my favorite drugs: far-too-fast love and promiscuity.  I jumped headfirst into relationships and took no time for myself. I was determined to exorcise his existence out of my head and scrape the touch of his hands off my body.

Shortly after World War III, Waldo had sent me an apology email about being an alcoholic. Delete. I never talked to him again. Until last year.

Before Ecuador, I wrote him a message about forgiveness. It took me a decade to feel ready. He responded: “you didn’t deserve the things I did to you.” Alas, the truth.

I let this experience break me for a long time. How could I have been that naive? How can I trust my partner to stay faithful? Not just with strangers, but with friends?  What if? What if? What if?

Only time, therapy, and decent men have tempered this fear. I couldn’t forgive him for the longest time because I could not forgive myself. We co dependents struggle with guilt (What did I do wrong?) and shame (What’s wrong with me?) in its extremities. What is co dependence? (Link to must read book recommended by my therapist.)

Remember: the signs of a sociopath, alcoholic, abuser, are not always obvious from the get go. You don’t go from kittens and fairies to Rihanna post Chris Brown mug shot. It builds up. Explosion inevitable. Falling debris.

To all the survivors: it’s not your fault. You did NOTHING to deserve it.

To all the beautiful souls who support us by listening, loving, enlightening:  THANK YOU.

To the countless others who still have no idea what consent, sexism, nor feminism means: FUCK YOU.

Fuck you Waldo Winners. I forgive you too.

writinginsoysauce

P.S. Waldo turned 31 this week. I hope you’ve healed enough to stop damaging others.

 

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Advice, Current Events

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut

Dear reader,

Sometimes the bad news is too much. I want to shut my eyes. I want to find Pokemon, not hatred in the heart of America. I want to categorize cities according to budget, not whether ISIS will attack. I want to curl up to the Kardashians, not pray I won’t get raped on a night out.

There is a Russian expression: “If you wake up feeling no pain, you know you’re dead.” I get why vampires turn their humanity off. Who wouldn’t want to frolic in the United States of Unicorn?

As much as I’d like to sign up, I can’t stop caring. That would be a fatal flaw. If we stop caring, there’s no chance for change. No recourse for reason. No leg room for love.

Whether we’re disagreeing, arguing, fighting:  there’s dialogue. If we shut our thoughts down, flip off the pain Prozac-style, we sentence ourselves to a living death. That is the greatest horror.

1. Know what you don’t know

My first boss in advertising said: know what you don’t know. He also happened to be a raging alcoholic who bragged about getting a blowjob.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a marginalized minority. I don’t know what it’s like to be born into privilege.

I don’t know what it’s like to put my life at risk on the job, nor to feel afraid from the moment I step out. 9 months in beautifully brazen Quito was enough.

I don’t know what it’s like when the world assumes your faith means you’re a terrorist. To feel alone from your first crush. To be trapped in a body that does not represent yourself.

Heck, I don’t know even know what it’s like to have a penis (though I’d definitely try it out).

There is so much I don’t know. There’s so much to find out. I teach to be taught.

2. Know what you know

I know that the scope of my understanding is limited to my personal experiences. Every interaction, from conception to now, is entirely unique. Imposing my beliefs, no matter how fundamentally right they seem, can be extremely off-putting to someone else. However, reaching out with rhyme and reason, armed with facts, not fiction, can make a difference.

Blood spills upon asphalt. If it’s not mine, it’ll be that of someone I love. Ask yourself: what can I do to help?

Information is the antidote for ignorance.

3. Agree to Disagree

Our nation couldn’t agree on a blue(or gold?) dress so our current state of affairs isn’t too surprising. Either we’re far too eager to take sides, or hesitant to express an informed opinion. Emphasis on informed. There’s plenty of idiots runnin’ wild. Comedy Central’s Trevor broke it down: why can’t we be pro-black and pro-cop? Pro-gun control and pro-constitution? Pro-prosecuting priests and pro-god?

Declaring your support for others does not mean you are discriminating against your own. Show your love for black lives AND all lives by speaking up. Show your love for the brave women and men who do protect us by better training and body cameras. Show you’re open to SOLUTIONS by admitting there’s a PROBLEM.

4. Denial

Remember: denial is the first stage.

Start small. Build bigger. For example, I’m pro-chunky monkey and I love phish-food. I’m also lactose intolerant.I devoured Toscani’s green tea heaven on July 4th. Fireworks ensued. I have a problem.

Our world faces increasingly violent times. I will never be prepared for the day I need to block my student from a bullet. But I will never turn my pain off. Without it, how would I know joy? Polarity makes the world go round.

I know the bitterness of anger. It will never help you get back up. It may make the front page, but it will leave you, and everyone around you, empty. Violence is the demon that never wants to stop.

A fish wouldn’t get in trouble if it kept its mouth shut, as the Koreans say. Let’s keep the lines open, especially towards those who seek to tear knowledge down.

Ask. Listen. Hug. Hold. Repeat.

Doctor’s orders,

writinginsoysauce

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