Everyday Dismantling #5 – Voting

Six years ago I became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I left my green card, which wasn’t green, on a stack of other “identification of legal status” cards and walked in to my swearing-in ceremony.

I immigrated to the U.S. as an eight-month-old baby, so when people tell me I should go back to where I came from if I don’t like it here I like to point out that I actually didn’t choose to come here any more than “they” did AND that their response to my dissatisfaction is just plain ignorant.

But that type of ignorant response along with years of reminders from Dad, especially after 9/11, got me thinking: I actually had the privilege and “right” to pursue naturalization and then to vote as well as serve on a jury.

Now, I haven’t had my name come up for jury duty, and I know it’s not all “Making of a Murderer” or the OJ trial. (How do I really know? I was a journalist before I was a campus minister/mom/blogger/Instagrammer, and I covered a murder-for-hire trial that may be made into a bad tv movie, which I refused to be a part of much to the dismay of my family.) I often see tweets and FB posts from folks about dreading jury selection, asking for advice on how to be relieved of jury duty, etc. And until this year have stood at arms-length in the political poop-slinging also known as the presidential primaries.

But here’s the thing. I can write, speak, advocate, make space, elevate, etc. all the things in my piece of the platform, but there is this other space where things get changed, voted into law, funded, etc. and many of you, dear readers, can do that without having to go through the fingerprinting, money-shelling, time-off-of-work-thing I did to follow my path to citizenship.

You were born into the privilege. You were born into citizenship with the birthright of voting in an imperfect system, yes, that has the potential to shape and change policies, vote candidates and politicians in or out, show support in a non-binding referendum, etc.

You were born into the system with the privilege to have a teeny, tiny say in how to build or dismantle the system, and it didn’t cost you a second or a penny. Giving up that privilege, that power, doesn’t give anyone else your vote.

I grew up in the Church where we can incorrectly talk a lot about our citizenship in heaven as if being here on earth was a waste of time. Salvation and following Jesus was all about making sure I got to heaven and feel really bad for friends and family who were headed to hell. I accepted Jesus into my heart at every retreat and revival meeting just in case. But, now that I’m finally in my sometimes-wiser, slightly more theologically grounded 40s, it’s not about hedging my bets for a seat in heaven. My take follows Jesus’ prayer: May Your Kingdom, Your will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven. It’s not about waiting until death and resurrection. It is living embodied, not souls floating around like sunbeams and snowflakes, and that also means what we do to our bodies, with our bodies, through our bodies are part of bringing God’s kingdom come on earth. Not just on Sundays. Especially not just on Sundays.

So, back to the voting thing. There are too many people who cannot vote because the paths are not available, have been taken away, or have been shut down. I’m not here to argue whether that’s all right or wrong, but if you’re a long-time reader, you probably can figure out what I think. 😉 I’m writing to ask you, dear readers, to consider how your vote can either support the systems that need supporting or dismantle the systems that need to be done with. Your one vote may not count, but what if it is the small step to helping you think about what it means to live into the fullness of your values every single day? How do you decide what voting “pro-life” look like and how will you do it at the ballot and in your daily life? How do you decide what voting “like a Christian” looks like and how will you live into that when you don’t agree with the laws or the politicians?

Maybe I am just too new of a citizen and, if it’s even possible, not jaded enough by political pundits and the media. So be it. I don’t believe God will be angry or disappointed if you don’t vote. I do believe it is a strange privilege I have, and I don’t want to treat it like it’s become an entitlement.

 

Becoming Asian American

Dear Readers,

This isn’t a well-thought out post. Think of it as a blogger’s version of James Joyce’s Ulysses – a book I read and studied in college in a class I almost failed.

It wasn’t until college I had ever considered myself an Asian American. I grew up Korean American. Some days more Korean than others, some days resenting the Korean I wore on my face, carried in my name, emitted from the smells of my home. Some days I was American when I allowed people to mispronounce my last name up until I headed off to college, when I argued with my parents for the privilege to attend a school dance, when I embraced my teenage angst that was more foreign to my parents than the English language.

I was Korean. I waited in school to learn about the Korean War during U.S. History and was confused when it was a passing mention as a “conflict.” I knew my grandmother had a Japanese name because she was alive during the Japanese occupation of Korea. I knew the significance of the Chinese characters used in my Korean name. I was not “Asian” because the common thread of geography and religion did not trump the distinct histories and culture.

I don’t actually have a great analogy, but the closest I could come up with has to do with friends who grew up in different parts of the country. You aren’t “just” a Californian. You are from LA or San Diego or Orange County, and friends have explained the importance of the distinctions. You aren’t “just” from New York because the boroughs are unique and distinct, and don’t get me started with upstate. I was a Chicago northsider until I moved to the burbs. And anything south of Chicago was southern Illinois, aka farmland.

But I got to college and “we” were lumped together, which was actually strangely comforting because there were so few of “us” with no spaces for us, no classes for us, and maybe no awareness we could be an “us” or “we” to request, expect, demand a say and a presence though that did come later. Everyone complained about the Asian teaching assistants and professors who spoke with heavy accents and were tough graders. I never actually interacted with any of those TAs or profs because I was a journalism major. Instead, I had journalism professors ask me where I learned my English, comment on my “almost” accent-free English (what?!), and ask me where I was from. “No, really, where are you from?”  

My freshman year roommate asked me if she could borrow some of my clothes for rush and asked me if I was going to go Greek. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until she explained sororities and fraternities did I laugh in her face and tell her to wash whatever she borrowed and return it in the same condition as she found it in my closet. She didn’t understand that system wasn’t set up for people like me. She didn’t see it as a racialized system. Never mind the black sororities and fraternities on campus, which again I had to learn were a different system entirely. And being in the Midwest the Asian American Greek houses had not yet made their way over.

I’ve said this before. It’s difficult to “see” things as racist or racialized when the systems have always been designed and created for the success and flourishing of white people – even as the category of “white” evolves.

And in the evolution of whiteness, “Asian America” is also not included. We are perpetual foreigners, lumped together for the convenience of a culture and country that doesn’t want to bother with uniqueness even as we Americans revel in our unique place in history. The term Asian American erases the need to explain the difference between East Asian and South Asian and Southeast Asian. It means a false narrative to success and erasure. Why learn about the Japanese internment during WWII when it didn’t really impact all Asian Americans? Why learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act because Chinese aren’t Americans, right? Why talk about Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong refugees to America because that doesn’t fit into the Model Minority label? Why complicate things? Even the label of “Model Minority” reminds me of my “otherness” and our success in relationship to our behavior that is measured by the majority culture’s standards – white culture standards.

It’s always worth mentioning. Asian Americans are not white. Even when we don’t appear in stats. Even when we are called, or call ourselves, the model minority. Even when the conversations about race don’t include us, Latinos, or Native Americans. Why does that matter? Because right now #blacklivesmatter and I support the need to focus attention on what has been ignored because, quite frankly, I know as a Korean American who became Asian American, I know what it’s like to be ignored, erased, silenced.

It’s Easy to Forget Privilege When It’s Always Been Yours

I’m tired of reading blogs from my White Christian brothers about why they are choosing to vote. There. I said it.

I’m all for being a part of the democratic process, but it seems a bit odd to me that so many of these bloggers are coming from a position of power and privilege they themselves have always had. It seems a bit arrogant to choose something that was always theirs.

The way I see it, they had better vote. The vote of the White male is what finally allowed people like me – a woman, an immigrant, a non-native English speaker – to have the right to vote. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t matter. Neither did my ancestors, who immigrated here under quota systems developed by people in power for the benefit of the country and the powers-that-be.

And there still are people who have no voice, who have no right to vote, but they are directly impacted by the politicians, referenda, judges, and local officials as well as the “agendas and policies”. As a Christian who is new to the process, its a privilege and responsibility I don’t take lightly because it isn’t a given. I’m not American born. We are not post-racial America, and the fact of the matter is the church isn’t either. We are working on it, but we aren’t there.

Did you know that in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act denying citizenship and voting rights to Chinese Americans? Yup, they can build the railroads but they can’t vote.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified giving women the right to vote, but in 1922 the Supreme Court rules that a person of Japanese origin is barred from naturalization, effectively shutting Japanese men and women out from the democratic process. The same happens in 1923 to Indian immigrants.

In 1941, U.S. citizens of Japanese descent are rounded up and interned in 10 concentration camps here in America under executive order 9066. It isn’t until 1952 that first generation Japanese Americans have the right to become citizens.

In 1943 The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed, giving Chinese immigrants the right to citizenship and the right to vote, and in the same year Koreans in the U.S. are declassified as enemy aliens.

In 1946 Filipinos are granted the right to become U.S. citizens.

And all of these important moments in history did not include the voting rights of people like me. It’s easy to talk about whether or not you are going to vote when the privilege has always been yours without question.

So vote. Do your homework. Check out the ballot. Find out what your state or local bar association has to say about the judges who want to stay on those benches. Read the annoying brochures and check out what the entire article the candidate quoted actually said.  There are more than two names on the ballot for president, btw.

Yes, the political ads are annoying. The robo-calls are a nuisance. Turn off the tv. Turn down your ringer or shut the phone off for awhile. Ask your kids what they think of the process; I learned a lot by listening to what my three kids were hearing in the hallways!

I haven’t answered any of the phone calls from unknown phone numbers, but I did appreciate the one and only message left for our household. She was a community organizer getting out the vote for her candidate. She reminded me about Election Day and about the importance of voting as U.S. citizens – all in my native tongue.

How perfectly American indeed.

 

Voting:Responsibility or Privilege?

Next week I will vote for the first time in a presidential election. I became a naturalized U.S. citizen two years ago, giving up my Korean passport, my (not)green card, and pledging allegiance after having lived in the  U.S. since the spring of 1971.

I actually studied for my citizenship exam out of fear and habit – fear that the wrong answer would mean restarting a process that had cost money, time and emotions, and habit because I grew understanding not studying was not an option. The process actually took years for me, wrestling through ambivalence, frustration, grief and gain to get to a point where the privileges, advantages and necessities of becoming a citizen and my faith as a Christian pushed me over the edge.

At the heart of my decision wasn’t the right to vote. It was an issue of integrity. As a writer/blogger/speaker who addresses issues of justice, culture, and faith I have a desire to understand and learn from others about policy and politics as it connects with living out my faith as an individual and as a part of a community. But it was one thing to talk about “the issues”, to take a stand, or to share my opinions. It was another thing to consider what responsibilities and privileges I had or could have at my disposal to steward well.

So next week will be my “first time” (I thought Lena Dunham’s ad was funny). This decision hasn’t been an easy one. Neither major party had me at hello. I am tired of my sons being able to repeat the script for multiple political ads. I do not believe Christians must vote with one party over the other.

But I am wondering if other Christians believe that Christian U.S. citizens must vote or should vote as a matter of stewarding the power and privilege they have in a process that impacts those who cannot represent themselves.

Will you be voting? Why or why not?

Pro-life, Tea Party & Other Dinner Conversations With the Kids

Dear Readers,

How do you talk with your children or the children in your lives about politics? Or do you talk with your children about politics?

Honestly, it wasn’t an aspect of parenting I had thought much about until ‘becoming an American’. Personal opinions are one thing, and I have plenty of opinions. Engaging in conversations with friends, neighbors, church members, etc. have been enlightening, challenging, frustrating, and important. But as my children are growing up in an amped-up informational age and in a community where classmates come dressed up as political figures (I’m not joking. Four years ago there was a mini John McCain with mom dressed up as Sarah Palin.) or have parents running for local office, we are finding the need to address politics.

My two boys get an hour of screen time a night, with exceptions made because of the ink in my veins. I am a news junky, and this election season offers me a new outlet and responsibility. As a fairly recent naturalized citizen, this will be the first time I cast a vote in a presidential election. So the television has been on more often this fall. And the newspaper (an actual ink & paper newspaper) and news magazines linger a little longer.

Which has meant my kids are asking more questions, and dinner conversations are getting interesting. And difficult.

Tonight the 13 y.o. son parroted back a political ad that has been getting quite a bit of airplay out here: So and so candidate is pro-life without exception and has sided with the Tea Party.

“What does that mean? Pro-life without exception? And what is the Tea Party?’ he asked.

Peter and I did what I think was the best we could do. We answered the question (with thought bubbles in italics) and waited for C to ask for further explanation (which he didn’t):

Us: Pro-life in politics often focuses on abortion rights, but we also want you to think about the death penalty. (But I’m also thinking that if it’s really just about abortion it should be pro-abortion/anti-abortion.)

‘Without exception’ can mean a few things, but again in this political race it is addressing abortion in the case of rape. (Or for some the issue is really ‘legitimate rape’ and whether or not a woman can get pregnant as a result of a ‘legitimate rape’.)

The Tea Party is a group of folks who have common convictions about the role of the American government and were generally unhappy with how the Republican party addressed some of those issues. (Some of the Tea Party’s rhetoric scares me, and as a family of Asian Americans we should all be afraid. Can you pass the salt?)

There are still many political ads left to go before election day, and I am certain that our dinner conversations will circle back to politics in the next few days. So when the conversation circles around to politics, do you try to stay non-partisan? Do you engage? Any advice?

Happy unEqual Pay Day

By the time most of you read this, working women across America will just be starting to earn their wages for 2012 because until Tuesday, April 17, we were working hard to catch up to what men earned in 2011.

Did you catch that?

Women who work outside of the home had to work 15.5 months to earn what men earned in 12. That is bad math, my friends. And it makes me tired.

“Happy unEqual Pay Day”. 

Woo hoo.

Part of my working-for-pay-mom weariness is that during the past few weeks another wave of the Mommy Wars erupted over comments made by and responses to comments made by a politician’s wife, pitting women against women – those who work for pay outside of the home and those who don’t, a.k.a stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs).

Some want to argue this as a cultural and moral issue – whether or not women, and specifically mothers, working outside of the home, are “good” for children and society as a whole.

Others want to keep this to a policy issue – whether or not the government should be mandating or even guaranteeing rights and privileges.

And then those of us who fall under the broad banner of “Christian” may hold to varying degrees of how the Bible looks at all of this.

It leaves me tired. And sad. And angry. It’s not one thing or another. It’s not simple, even if you really, really, really want it to be simple because whether or not a woman (a mother or not) is working outside of the home, or whether or not you believe she should even be working outside of the home, she still needs to work longer and harder to earn the same average amount as a man.

And “she” isn’t just someone out there. “She” is the one typing this post and also many readers of this post.

It reminds me a bit of  what my parents and grandmother used to say to me when I was younger.

“KyoungAh (my real name), you have to work harder and do better than they do (Americans=White people) so they know you are the same as they are, even though you are better.”

This was while I learned in my Korean immigrant experience that as a Korean girl I had to work harder than the boys because no one would want a stupid, lazy, ugly daughter-in-law who didn’t go to a good college and learn how to peel fruit and serve tea.

And that was before I knew about unEqual Pay Day, which spans all degrees of melanin and should serve to remind all of us that the system is broken for all of us – men and women. As a Christ-follower, I continue to wrestle with what the Apostle Paul wrote:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I Cor. 12:26 TNIV

Last week I was grateful to gather at a table of leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to talk about how leadership is impacted by both gender and ethnicity. These leaders, who all happened to be women, listened and shared about the complexity of growing in leadership being fully present as women of color. I realize that not all would include Asian Americans within the circle of women of color, but in this conversation we were. We all understood that even as we discuss “women’s issues” there is an additional layer, nuancing and gift of experience we bring.

We tried, if for only an hour, to listen, to suffer, to honor and to rejoice with one another.

So I’ll acknowledge my weariness, take a nap, and get back to it. And I invite all of my brothers and sister of all races and ethnicities to share in one another’s burdens and to imagine and perhaps share some thoughts, stories, ideas of what it looks like to carry this burden with one another.

A Case of “The Others” – Asian-owned Businesses in Black Neighborhoods

Why are so many dry cleaners owned by Koreans?

Why are so many nail shops owned by Thai or Vietnamese?

Why are so many donut shops/convenience shops owned by Indians?

Why do Asians and Asian Americans own businesses in Black neighborhoods?

Why are they taking our money?

Why are foreigners who don’t speak our language and disrespect us take our money out of our communities?

Are these stereotypes or archetypes?

I’ve heard all of those questions posed in various ways, most recently from Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. and recent victorious incumbent in Democratic primary race for the D.C. council seat he has held since 2005. He celebrated as cameras rolled by saying,

“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

You can take a look at Barry’s twitter feed  and read the WP article to get a sense of how things unfolded. It’s typical. A politician/public figure says something offensive, people offended speak up, figure claims it’s taken out of context and apologizes (in this case Barry actually says, “I’m sorry.), tries to do what he/she should’ve done in the first place and put things into context.

But the context is complicated and entrenched in broken systems run by broken people and then communicated to the masses by more broken people (myself included) who are missing each other because, in some cases, they aren’t even talking with and being heard by one another. Creating “simple” dichotomies makes it easier – us against them, respect versus disrespect, rights and entitlements, etc.

I know this because as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee I reported this story. A Korean American owned beauty supply store in a predominantly Black neighborhood became the target of a protest. Black community leaders wanted to know why Asian store owners were rude, didn’t employ anyone from the community, didn’t contribute to the community. Store owners didn’t want to talk.

But I understood why they didn’t want to talk. Why they didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why they didn’t contribute.

My parents owned a dry cleaning business for years. My parents, who hold degrees in engineering and accounting, turned to small business ownership to help pay for college and weddings and to provide so much more. They didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why pay someone when my sister and I could work for free and my parents were willing to be there everyday (except for the two days off I remember they took for our weddings!).

A significant difference for our experience was that the dry cleaners was in the suburbs, but my parents experienced many cultural clashes in an effort to make a living and provide a service that was in demand.

Most customers were fine – pleasantries exchanged and business as usual, but there were plenty of customers who looked down on my parents as if they were uneducated foreigners. Few of them ever had to say anything because those of us who learn to be invisible, blend in, assimilate learn to read the looks, the tone, the small gestures because we learned to “speak” American even though we continue to be questioned about actually being “American”.

So I took that experience as the child of one of those Asian store owners first to my White editors and then to the Korean-American beauty supply store owners. The readers, the editors, the community leaders, the store owners and I all learned from one another.

We learned that we all considered each other as “the other”. We learned about how exchanging money – one-handed, two-handed, eye contact, a nod or a look – can be rude to one and normal to another. We learned that the owners were Americans, just not American-born. We learned that there was great pain and suffering in the community, and community leaders wanted participation, not handouts. We learned about cultural differences and expectations. We learned about prejudice, misunderstandings and misinformation.

I can only hope that Barry will take the time to learn that he didn’t just offend Asian who own dirty stores but offended Americans, some of us who happen to be Asian Americans. I hope we stop to learn about the corrupt, broken and racist systems and policies that limit Black entrepreneurship.

I hope we learn that life is more than Black and White and that we all need to develop cross-cultural competencies. All of us.

It’s Time to Punch the Ballots

I’m pretty sure I won’t actually be punching a ballot so much as I will be touching a screen or pushing buttons, but in the end it’s all about casting my vote.

(And would someone please tell me if the ridiculous “bot” calls to my home and the shameful stream of campaign fliers and costly commercials will magically stop tomorrow? I never thought I would miss seeing the ED commercials, but at least the blue pill commercials talk about blindness, sudden drop in blood pressure and death without the character assassination and misrepresentation.)

This will be the first time I vote, having just been sworn in as a naturalized US citizen earlier this year, and I’m excited because the information I’ve been taking in and the questions I’ve been asking will mean a little piece of something at the end of the day. Years of  hyphenated American angst will not romantically fade away, but there is a good degree of relief in having equal access to the system regardless of where I was born.

One thing I am learning, and it is a rather steep learning curve, is how to talk politics and policies with friends. There is an American idiom about avoiding politics and religion, but I have found that in recent years the former is almost more deadly a conversation killer than the latter. What has been most difficult is to find that while some of my friends and I share a deep-rooted faith, I am still learning how to listen and learn from others with vastly different viewpoints when it comes to issues of politics.

Citizenship has added another layer for me, another slice of identity that gets so quickly called into question if perhaps I offer up an opinion that is not “Christian” enough. My sense of belonging in the only country I’ve known as “home” has always been questioned, but having dipped my toe into conversations about policy, the economy, the wars and politicians my sense of belonging firmly in the camps of “Christian” and “Evangelical” has a new identity crisis to wrestle with. And while much of my identity angst has been done while my family was very young, it has been a new thing to talk about faith impacting my politics with my husband and children. Worlds colliding.

And I am amazed. For all of the political garbage on the radio, on tv, online and on my doorstep, I am amazed that regardless of faith and partisanship, the polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. at a neighborhood church where a wooden cut-out of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door is brightly lit. What a strange moment of convergence it will be…

But I’m curious. Will you, dear readers, be voting? Why do you vote or why do you not? Or, why are you choosing to opt out this time around? For fellow evangelicals, which is more difficult to talk about -faith or politics?

 

Is Blonde+Black > Everything Else? BTW Hindu Isn’t a Language

Wondering out loud, as an extrovert often does…is it my imagination or is the media (and perhaps the public) more concerned with:

  • the fact that Jackson, who is married to Chicago Alderman/Alderwoman/Alderperson Sandi Jackson, (and both Jacksons are African American) had a personal acquaintance flown in twice for a visit, and that said acquaintance has been described as female, blue-eyed, blonde and a hostess at a D.C. restaurant;
  • or renewed interest in allegations U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was hoping some fundraising prowess was going to move him up on the U.S. Senate seat replacement list;
  • or that Jackson, during an on-air radio interview in Chicago Friday, said that while he was in the room when, “two Indian fund-raisers began speaking practically in Hindu and that he didn’t participate in the talk or even hear it.”

Um, if Jackson didn’t participate in the talk or even hear the talk how did he know the two Indian fund-raisers spoke in Hindu? Oh, wait. Maybe because Hindu isn’t a language, therefore Jackson couldn’t hear it? Ugh.

Actually, I wouldn’t have known about Jackson’s comment except for the fact that I read about it in this morning’s newspaper (the paper version). Until then, what I read and heard about primarily was that allegations about Jackson’s involvement in the Illinois U.S. Senate seat pay to play politics were back on and that Jackson wanted at least two private visits with his blonde, female friend who is a hostess. I heard that Jackson and his wife have dealt with this private matter and want it to stay private. Blah, blah, blah.

Yes, I have bone to pick. Several, in fact. Why does it matter that the female acquaintance is blonde and a hostess? Surely it isn’t meant at all, not even a teensy weensy bit to discredit her or make her seem “less”? It’s rather perplexing, actually. We live in a culture that worships young and beautiful (and often paler shades of beautiful) at all costs and then when you actually are young-ish and beautiful you’re the “acquaintance”. And it really matters if you are the white acquaintance of a black man (a la Tiger Woods).

But this recent scandal is almost perfect because it hits on race, ethnicity, culture, gender and religion. Jackson’s radio comment hit a nerve with me because so many conversations, as difficult as they are, are whittled down to Black and White. Hindu is not a language but a religion and a religion not limited to but connected deeply with India as well as other East, South East and South Asian cultures. Conversations about race get even more complicated when we add different voices, stereotypes, assumptions and blind spots and Jackson’s off-the-cuff comment about not hearing the conversation because the fund-raising power brokers in this case were of Indian descent and allegedly broke out in “Hindu” is a great example of that complexity.

The media would have us more ticked off that Jackson had a white female acquaintance than the fact that he, a U.S. Congressman representing a diverse population, made a rather ignorant statement about his understanding of diversity and culture.

At some point the media will talk with the female acquaintance and we will see more unnecessary photos of said woman in various stages of dress and less-dressed. In some circles of politically involved Evangelicals, there will be conversations about leadership and integrity and marriage all sorts of important “values”. And I will put money on at least a handful of us women talking about the gender issues in this story…but will we – politically involved or invested Evangelicals, men and women, of all races and ethnicities, dare embrace the complexity and messiness of integrating issues of race, ethnicity and religion into our conversations. After all, Jackson knew how to talk woman and blonde (and dare I say presumably white) but he couldn’t hear Hindu. Maybe he didn’t want to see it either and I terribly afraid so many of us out here don’t either.

Did She Cross a Line?

If you haven’t read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (pepy3, where are you on the waitlist?) I humbly suggest you put your name on the library waiting list, borrow a copy from one of your friends or buy one if you’re the type who likes to own books. I finished the book last month, but it’s following my soul.

It’s a story about Southern African American women who work as housekeepers, nannies and personal chefs  and the Southern White women they worked for. It’s about each group of women and their communities, friendships, mothers and children, and the unspoken and explicit rules that governed their complex relationships across racial, socio-economic and even religious lines.

One thing that I’m still wondering about and thinking through is the author’s own admission that she has and had feared her narrative, particularly writing in the voice of African American women, had crossed “the line”. Clearly, the story she wanted to tell required multiple voices, but by her own admission she acknowledges that while our recent history used laws to draw the line some lines are beyond the scope of law and policy.

A few of us from book club took a field trip to see and hear Kathryn Stockett at a reading/Q and A/book signing earlier this week in Lake Forest. (A little shout-out to “M” who snagged a seat in the front, which meant she was one of the first in line to have her book signed and agreed to take additional copies belonging to Bedtime Stories members to be signed. “M” also asked a great question about the author’s own journey in understanding race and racism – much better than the question asked by the lady behind me who apparently thought there were no significant Southern voices after Eudora Welty from whom Stockett could draw inspiration from. I suppose no one has ever heard of Harper Lee or Zora Neale Hurston…) Anyway, Stockett briefly addressed the real-life complexity of the relationship between White families and their “help” as well as her personal concerns about telling a fictional story by assuming the voices of African American women.

It was slightly amusing and ironically appropriate to be sitting there in a room that was predominantly White and looked like a dress-rehearsal for a Chicos/Talbots/White|Black fashion show to hear Stockett talk about her teenage years when she, by her own admission, was naive and unaware of the rules of race and class even though she had been adhering to them in one way or another her entire life. It was just the way it was and there we were just the way it is.

But does it matter that Stockett is a Southern White woman who was raised by Demetrie, her family’s “help”, and is now telling a fictional Demetrie’s story? Were you worried as you cracked open the book or did it not even cross your mind to worry? Is there really a line and did she cross it by assuming the voices of Aibilene, Minny and Constantine? Was it too much? Or is it a line we should all be crossing?