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

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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