Photographs, Microaggressions & Choosing Silence

“Take a picture. It lasts longer.”

I don’t remember saying this to the white strangers, but my younger sister swears up and down that this was my response to white strangers staring at us while we were on a family vacation somewhere in the U.S. There were so many times our family of four would pull up in the Oldsmobile to find ourselves clearly out of place. We were Americans but we mine as well have been purple because we always saw people stare as if they, the white Americans, have never seen people who looked like we did. And apparently during one of those stare-downs I made eye contact  and said, “Why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer.”

My parents couldn’t afford plane tickets but they could drive us anywhere and so we did – Florida, Vancouver, Maine, and so many national parks. That also meant finding ourselves in places even less diverse than “home,” and decades before I would hear the word “microaggression” I had already cataloged a lifetime of them through the Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, and even Wall Drug. Maybe it was because my parents were stunning (and still are because Asian don’t raisin, which if you aren’t Asian you might not want to say out loud because some jokes and phrases and words aren’t yours to use) or because my sister and I were and still are stunning. But POC’s know when were are “the first” or one of the few. We know that look, that stare as if we ought to be caged animals in a zoo up for display.

It has happened when my spouse and I walk into a predominantly white space. It happened when my spouse and I were actually at a zoo and the white woman near us mentioned how interesting the Japanese snow monkeys were while trying to engage us in conversation by repeating, “Japanese snow monkeys” in slightly slower speed. It happened when we first moved into our current home. It happened yesterday when my friends and I were visiting the Quad Cities visiting one of “the kids” at college.

There were five of us, and we had just read on a historical marker about a public swimming pool in the area that would be opened to African Americans only to be drained and cleaned before being reopened to whites. All of this in the 1960s. It made me mad and sad and we talked about how things had changed and hadn’t and walked on at some point noticing that several people – white people – were staring at us, us meaning the two of us Asian Americans. M and I both knew it. We both saw it. We both looked at each other and finished each other’s thoughts out loud about being stared at, and we were both thinking about that phrase: Take a picture. It lasts longer. And we both knew it wasn’t safe to engage those people.

We chose silence for survival.

We did mention what was happening to the others. T asked if we would point it out if it happened as we retraced our steps to the car, and we said it wasn’t worth it because who knows what could happen.

I chose silence because I am not a brazen child but a grown woman in 2018 fully aware that one of the few things that have changed in the past few years is that there is permission and acceptance of public displays of racism and violence against POC. I am aware that engaging someone for a microaggression could actually put me and my friends in danger and in the public eye at fault if violence erupted.

We chose silence for survival, but as I wrote in Raise Your Voice there are other ways than your physical voice to raise your voice. So here I am back at the blog to remind my Dear Readers to keep fighting the good fight, open your eyes and remember when you get stared at like a caged animal in a zoo on display choose love. The older white couple, the younger white woman, the white man sitting alone all staring at me like you’d never seen beautiful, confident, strong Asian American women – you also are made in God’s image. I see you even though you cannot yet see me.

 

When a White Girl Wears Vintage “Chinese” Dress to Prom

There was a white girl from Utah who wore a “vintage Chinese dress” for prom. There was no indication on her post that she knew it was a qipao (Mandarin) or cheongsam (Cantonese). She wrote (and no, I will not link it here) that she found it at a vintage clothing store, was told by the store owner that it was vintage, and bought it because she liked it. She comments that it was an act of appreciation of the Chinese culture.

And then the internet blew up. She got a ton of followers. White woke people called her out. Asians thanked her. Asians told her, “BOOOOOO!” Asian Americans said they don’t care. Asian Americans said, “BOOOOOOOOO!” White people said people of color look for things to be offended by.

Good golly. It’s only Tuesday. Fullish moon anyone?

I have a lot of thoughts because cultural appropriation is complicated because it cannot be discussed separate from the social construct of race and how non-white bodies are policed, commodified, objectified, and regulated. Cultural appropriation also cannot be discussed without addressing the impact of colonization (historic and present-day), internalized racism, and social location.

Again, I’m not going to provide all of the definitions because I blog for free and you can Google it.

This is not an exhaustive post, but here my thoughts after a morning yoga practice (where I am also having lots of conversations about cultural appropriation) and half a cup of coffee.

“She can wear whatever she wants!” screams of, wait for it, western white privilege. Yup. There are many of you who are upset that people are upset. There are many people out there in the interwebs upset that people are upset. You believe no one has the right to be upset about what an individual white girl chooses as an individual to her prom let alone face the public consequences and backlash should she choose to post it publicly on Twitter. There are so many people telling me I have no right to be annoyed because it’s her right to wear what she wants. What? She posted the picture on TWITTER. Yes, she can wear whatever she wants AND be prepared for the consequences.

The consequences for a white girl wearing a qipao to prom are different than when an Asian or Asian American woman/girl wears a qipao in public. (Notice, Asian is not the same as Asian American.) Again, the girls writes that she found the dress liked it, so dammit she was going to wear it. Do you know what happened when I, as a teenager, wore my hanbok (tradition Korean dress)? I didn’t even have to post it on the internet because it didn’t exist back then. People to my face and to my back and called me lots of names and none of them were, “Hey, she looked beautiful in that dress that honors HER OWN CULTURAL HERITAGE!”

And, as my wise friend Cindy Wang Brandt wrote on a mutual friend’s FB post: “If I went to prom wearing a qipao, I would experience racism – Asian women are fetishized and stereotyped. The high cut on the thighs would make me subject to perverse associations because of that fetish. A white woman wearing it is just a cute schtick.”

I’m also reading comments from white people who have family or friends or some connection to ASIA or China (y’all know Asia is a continent and not a country, right? Just like Africa is a continent and not a country.) and that’s why it’s ok to wear a qipao. Sure, your family lived as expats (also a privileged term) and you love the culture. Cool. Take note that you are also consumers of the culture and do not have to pay the price and face the racism when you wear that qipao here in the US. Yes, it’s getting better, but no it’s not really that much better. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever wear a hanbok to honor my own cultural heritage. I still get asked where I learned my English and where I am really from because even though I am a US citizen who wears yoga pants religiously I am not seen or approached as an American.

Non-Asian and non-Asian Americans say they wear clothing or eat food or collect art or cultural kitsch in appreciation but get all defensive when asked how exactly is eating at Panda Express or the local Chinese restaurant appreciating culture? I actually asked  the white girl who wore the qipoa to prom on her Twitter feed if she knew anything about the style of the dress (Don’t forget fashion is often political.) or what her Chinese or Chinese American friends thought about her dress choice. If you are going to claim appreciation, you better do some homework. Don’t throw “cultural appreciation” out there as if to equate consumerism as the same. It isn’t the same thing though related.

Don’t forget colonialism. I am always amazed and amused at how the US education system fails its people on the daily. One commenter (never read comments, never read comments) wrote about her grandparents living overseas, etc. My grandparents could not just come over to the US to live here for a bit for work and then go back. Immigration laws and restrictions actually limited the number of people from Asia because we weren’t desirable until the flow from eastern European nations slowed down. White business people, heck even missionaries, can go into another country with limited understanding or fluency of the language and still manage because of the economic and political force the US traditionally has wielded. My grandmother? She was told to learn English. I’ve been told to stop speaking my foreign language in public.

And then there is the “if people in other countries are wearing jeans is that cultural appropriation?” line of commenting. No, it’s not. Appropriation involves power. When my cousins in Seoul wore western-style clothing it was considered modernization. Why? Because only backwards people don’t wear western clothing. Again, it’s the impact of colonization. Non-western countries adopt western cultural practices, adopt new technologies, westernized clothing, learn English on top of their mother tongue, in order to compete globally. Think about the recent summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-Un. They wore suits. Kim’s suit had a Mandarin-style collar, again politically-influenced fashion, but they both wore suits. For those of you who watched beyond the handshakes and crossing of the border, you saw men wearing traditional clothing specific to the type of occasion. As if people in the US don’t make fun of Kim as some sort of emasculated communist puppet, imagine if he and President Moon appeared wearing hanbok. No, most of you wouldn’t have had a cultural appreciation moment.

Things are slowly shifting with more school districts adopting language immersion programs alongside ESL programs, but we here in the US generally don’t see a need to change and learn. We just take what we want and call it appreciation.

Also, and this is another blog post entirely but sometimes POC will fall in line and say stuff like this ok because of internalized racism. It happens in all communities of color. We approximate whiteness in different, destructive ways.

Michael Eric Dyson writes in Tears We Cannot Stop,“The ventriloquist effect of whiteness has worked brilliantly; black mouths moving, white ideas flowing. What your vast incuriosity about black life keeps you from knowing, and this is heartbreaking to admit, is that we black folk often see ourselves the same way you see us.”

And I have to add that this is a young woman wearing a dress with a slit that rides up to her boy-short panty line. I like to think I am all for female empowerment and feminism, but many of us know that if a black or brown girl (heck, even an Asian American girl) wore a dress with a slit that high people would be calling her names that rhyme with bow and thut because issues around race and ethnicity intersect with gender.

So, what do you think? Have you ever worn a qipao or thrown a Cinco de Mayo party? Have you ever dressed up as a geisha or though Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles was hilarious? Is there anything you’ve done that you now see as cultural appropriation? What made it shift from appreciation to appropriation? Or maybe vice versa?

 

 

 

 

 

No Justice, No Peace of the Gospel Conference

 

My tweets and Facebook post brought down the Peace of the Gospel conference and this is the story. It’s not a new story, but it comes with some specific questions for all of us whether or not you are religious.

The Timeline 

I don’t actually have the time to sit at my computer and call out every Christian conference with a line-up of all white platform speakers. There are variations on the theme – all Black male speakers, all Asian American male speakers, all white female speakers, etc., but most often it is the sheer lack of ethnic and racial diversity on stage and in the planning.

So when yet another such conference was brought to my attention by a white male friend, let’s call him Brad, who actually had not noticed the all-white keynote speaker list, I was humbled by his reaction. Brad apologized for not noticing and asked what he could do. We both agreed that contacting the organizer(s) of the conference as well as any of the speakers would be a good start. Brad did his thing, and so did I.

That was in mid-May when I invited my Facebook and Twitter community to contact the organizers of The Peace of the Gospel Conference for this blatant oversight, regardless of the specificity of mimetic theory. Peace of the gospel that doesn’t include people of color, especially indigenous voices, isn’t gospel peace. I am often asked, particularly by white allies, “What can we do to fight against racism and white supremacy in Christian spaces?” so I invited folks to contact the organizer(s) through the conference website and have their concerns registered.

It was unclear to me at the time who the organizers were. There were no names on the contact form so I filled out the contact form, heard back from their web person and then heard from Michael Hardin. He asked if I wanted to speak by phone and suggested a time. I responded asking for other options since the timeframe he initially offered up didn’t work for my schedule. I never heard back from him. I write this because this is not my first rodeo in raising my voice and trying to speak truth to power – Deadly Viper, Rick Warren, etc.

Every time I am asked why I didn’t handle things privately (try calling up Rick Warren privately), which assumes we are all on an equal, level playing field. Newsflash. The playing field was not created with equality and equity in mind. The playing field, even if we pray at it or read the Bible at it, was created with certain power dynamics in mind. A publicly advertised Christian conference does not allow for or require Matthew 18:15-17 treatment. However, when asked for a phone call I tried and never heard back. I have the receipts.

A diversity statement was issued. I tried to offer any help I was told in so many words that things were being handled. Cool.

And then I found out in September the conference was cancelled.

Why Now

So, I am not always known for my patience but I am growing in that area. Please take note that it is now the end of October. I found out about the cancellation in September because Brad contacted me about a disturbing email he had received about the cancellation. I am named in the email, blamed for assassinating the conference. I sat on this because I had never been singled out in that way and later realized that the email had been sent to conference registrants. I have no idea how many people received that email. All I know is that I didn’t feel safe. My posts about things like this often are public. My husband worries about that but supports me and agrees that this is part of what I am supposed to do, my “calling” in Christian-ese.

So I focused on editing and rewriting my book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up.  Yes, it was time to do as I say.

I hesitated to include the email because Asian American Christian women aren’t supposed to be confrontational, etc. and being abrasive or accused of assassinating anyone or anything doesn’t feel good. However, I decided to include it because the words and context matter.

PeaceConference email

Take Note

  1. The Blame Game – Perpetuating racism and more specifically white supremacy is apparently never any one’s fault except for the people who dare to call it out. In the email there are two of us mentioned by name (I was Ms. Nasty on Twitter, not FB, but right now I am Pres. Virgin Islands because I think I’m funny). WE ARE BOTH WOMEN OF COLOR and we were blamed for the demise of a conference and personal ruin because we had the audacity to ask the question, “WHY in 2017 is a Christian conference only featuring white speakers?”
  2. Diversity Statements – Corporate America was the blueprint for the Church’s diversity statements because too many of us Christians wrongly believed the gospel is separate from social justice and diversity. Apparently Genesis, Acts, I Corinthians and Revelation to name a few books of the Bible don’t actually speak to God’s intention behind diversity in nation, tribe, people and language. In that vein, issuing a diversity statement means about as much as a New Year’s resolution. You can put one out there but let’s see where you are at in a few weeks.
  3. Power and Money – My husband and I have some money socked away for retirement, but I predict we will die before we pay off the loans we have taken on to help our kids pay for college. Never mind the embarrassing amount of credit card debt we carry. So it is worth noting that Hardin’s email includes financial details, details that are not my problem but remind us that even in the Christian conference world there is money to be made and lost. It truly is the Christian Industrial Complex and the sooner we are wiser to it all the sooner we can be more critical about the systems out there and our own personal finances. Hardin also writes about his faithfulness to a call to sacrifice but appears to be displeased with his current financial situation. I can relate to the tension of living faithfully and wanting a vacation, and I am not always faithful or excited about raising my salary through individual donors. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we can’t claim to be faithful to Jesus’ call, cry poor when you say you chose that life, and then blame two women of color without ever examining your own privilege and power.

Take Action

Justice and peace are not achieved by tweeting and posting but both can be activated from whatever space we inhabit. I hesitated to write anything about this because it is exhausting – spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. Raising your voice is also dangerous. One of the more discouraging things is I find myself wondering who can I really trust? I don’t know if there were others who received this email and are connected to me virtually or IRL. All I know is that only Brad contacted me and for that I’m grateful. This isn’t a personal fight. This goes much deeper to embodied faith and theology, integrity, and witness in public and private spaces and how what we do and say in different spaces do or don’t align.

So what does this have to do with you, my Dear Readers?

  1. The Blame Game – Please remember this actually isn’t about one person or a personal issue to be dealt with privately. How we chose to live out our personal beliefs in the public say more about us than about whom we claim to follow. If you received this email or know of others who are in this mimetic theory/theology crowd, how will you talk about the inherent racism and misogyny expressed in the fallout of the conference? When you see FB posts or tweets what will you do or say? Will you raise your voice or stay silent? Also, this isn’t a single incident. This will happen again. It probably happened today, and it’s not just conferences. Did you hear an offensive joke and let it go? Did you repeat an offensive joke and tell someone to get a sense of humor? Do you actually know why people are kneeling during the national anthem or boycotting the NFL?
  2. Diversity Statements – Words have meaning. Words are cheap. On a personal level you can say all you want, post all you want to look like an ally but at the end of the day your relationships and actions out there at work, at church,  when you’re angry, when you’re tired and the line isn’t moving fast enough, etc. will tell the truth. It’s the same with churches and organizations. All are welcome just means you opened the door. It doesn’t mean you made the doorway or what people encounter inside actually welcoming. Ask me how I know.
  3. Power and Money – Do you go to conferences? Read books? See movies? Before you plunk down registration fees take a close look at the speakers, and, if you can find out, the planning team, the leaders, etc. Do they represent your personal values? Do they reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God? Does the way you spend money align with your values?

Any other suggestions??? I could use some help here, and I’m still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#DefendDACA

Things you can do instead of sitting and seething over yet another debacle initiated in the name of law and order:

This HuffPo piece has links so you can send an email to the White House, contact your representatives and senators, and a nice little script to help you communicate your displeasure with today’s action to stop DACA.

You can text RESIST to 50409 and it will walk you through a process to fax your senator. Yes, I know. Faxes?? Whatever it takes to #DefendDACA and if that means faxes, so be it.

Do you live near a college or university campus? You can check this list to see if that campus is a sanctuary campus and connect your church with student leaders: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1LcIME474-lYWbTf_xQChIhSSN30&hl=en&ll=36.20397974434343%2C-113.89148150000005&z=3

Not near a college or university campus? How about the high school district you live in? Give the administration and your local government offices a quick call and let them know you are concerned about any actions ICE (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) may try to take against DACA recipients because their names are all in a database and there is no promise from the current administration that the list will not be used to initiate mass deportations.

Consider attending a demonstration to participate and learn. Better yet, take someone with you. You can make a quick sign by flipping USPS priority mail boxes (they are free at your local post office) and turning them inside-out or taping white paper or posterboard to them for a sign that will withstand some wind. Home improvement stores like Lowes will also give you a few free paint stirring sticks for a nice handle.

Educate yourself on DACA, what your representatives and senators have said or voted on past immigration reform bills, etc. For example, did you know Chinese, Koreans, and Indians are among the fastest growing segments of undocumented immigrants?  Or this chart that shows us who was eligible to apply for DACA until today.

You can read and then sign the Theological Declaration On Christian Faith and White Supremacy and invite others to join you.

Why do I care? I care because I am a Christian who happens to live in America.

I care because I had the privilege and unearned advantages of being a documented resident who could afford the time and money to go through the naturalization process.

I care because these are human beings, created in God’s image, who jumped through arbitrary hoops and now are being told “too bad, so sad” with threat of deportation if in six months Congress doesn’t pass the Dream Act or some other bill to protect their status and give them a path to citizenship.

I care because my call has been to the college and university campus where thousands of DACA recipients and hopeful dreamers are living out their academic dreams and where I as a campus minister hope they will encounter Jesus’ Good News and also be my co-laborers in sharing the Good News with other students. They can’t if in six months they are deported to countries they do not know.

There is plenty of time for sitting and seething. This is not the time. #DefendDACA

 

 

 

 

 

What a Holy Week

It’s Holy Week. I am a Christian, an evangelical, no less, and this season is the holiest of seasons. I grew up with Palm Sunday and fasting on Good Friday. It is a week of triumphant entrances, anointing, betrayal, friendship, communion, and mourning.

I feel like I was pushed out of the palm branches a little too soon. Watching the video of law enforcement agents dragging Dr. David Dao off of a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Kentucky rattled me. It was violent. It also was painful to watch the video and see so many white passengers seated with their seatbelts buckled. Sure, folks whipped out their phones so thankfully there are videos from multiple angles, and we all know the importance of visual evidence even when it doesn’t actually result in criminal charges. However, it was deeply unsettling to watch the inaction. It was proof that no matter what we say about injustice or violence, obeying equates survival. I suppose that is why some of the people who welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem would later demand he be killed or be absent days later at the crucifixion.  I have seen posts from people of all races and ethnicities saying that passengers did the right thing Sunday by staying seated and that Dao should have complied. Everyone who did nothing made it out alive, but at what cost?

What is more difficult for me to process right now is the execution and murder of Karen Elaine Smith, 53, and Jonathan Martinez, 8, on Monday at North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino. The news brought me fully into mourning.

Smith was gunned down by her estranged husband who entered the school armed. He walked into the classroom for special needs children after following school protocol (aka following and obeying the rules) and opened fire at Smith. Martinez and another student also were shot because they were standing behind Smith, their teacher.

We may never know why the students were where they were, but I will tell you my mind went straight to protection mode. She was near her students because that is what teachers do – stand near students, and when that man she recognized walked in with a gun she and the kids did what instinct tells them to do – she shields the kids nearest to her and they stay close to her or take cover. That’s the scenario that plays out in my mind because this has happened before. This scenario has happened before.

Again, we may never know exactly what happened in the classroom of 15 children with special needs or how the 500 students and their students will ever recover from the terror. I just know that the parents and families of those children, of every child in that school, and of every employee of that school started Monday believing in some degree of safety and normalcy.

This isn’t a normal week. It’s Holy Week.

I wanted to  I felt like ducking for cover because the primary story Tuesday is about Dr. Dao and as an Asian American who has documented her own travel wins and woes on social media I completely understand why people would assume I care about the story. I care.

But right now, I also care about Karen Elaine Smith and Jonathan Martinez. I’m a woman of color. I’m a mother. I have children who right now are at school in a building that added a new, costly layer of security – front doors are locked, admittance gained via camera and a buzzer into the first vestibule, entry gained into the main building after identification is checked, etc. I have a child on the verge of adulthood in another city. I am also a woman who in college was in an abusive relationship. I am no statistician but I’m going to guess My Dear Readers that you are more likely to know a victim of domestic abuse than a victim of violence on an airplane.

The violence that was recorded on cellphones and shared on social media matters, and quite frankly it is DOMINATING my social media feeds. However, the violence that happened in that classroom and perhaps the violence and abuse that happened behind happy Facebook posts also matters. It matters that the narrative is the murdered walked into a school armed because this country now has a secretary of education who will not go on the record about banning guns from schools (Google “grizzly bears” if you are confused). It matters because they are connected. If the rule “every person for herself” stands as it did on the airplane, then we really aren’t going to do squat about domestic violence if it doesn’t impact us personally. We aren’t going to do squat about gun control until someone we know personally is killed because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun or a stockpile of guns gets caught with said gun(s). We aren’t actually going to do squat except post things and sit in our seats.

We may wave our palm branches on Sunday but we will be absent by Friday. I don’t want to be absent. I want to be like the three brave women who kept watch over Jesus on the cross. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome who witnessed the injustice and then went to work. In the wise words of my friend Donnell Wyche, “I want to be present.” I want to be present.

So what can you do?

  1. Educate yourself. Read about gun control and local ordinances regarding open/concealed carry. Ask your neighbors, friends, parents of the children your kids hang out with whether or not they have guns in their home, if the guns are locked, etc. You might be surprised. Let’s hope not.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn about domestic violence. Learn about the signs, the questions, the support systems in your community, church, etc. Don’t blame the victim.
  3. Decide if this is one of the issues that you care enough about to prioritize in your life. Is this something you want to give your time to? Money to? Expertise to? What are the options? Volunteering? Serve on a board? Raise awareness? Some combination?
  4. Practice a script. What you will say to the children and young people in your life the next time there is a public shooting or act of violence. My children are older (15, 17, and 21) so they are watching the news and sometimes aware of things before we are. We talk about facts. We answer questions. We do not tell them not to worry, but we do walk through what they are worried about and address their fears, concerns, and questions.
  5. Practice a script. Do you know the signs of an abusive relationship? Do you know how to ask a friend about her relationship? Do you have the courage to ask? What kind of help can you offer? What resources would she need to get out and stay out of an abusive relationship and be safe? Maybe that is too far-fetched for you to imagine. I get it. How about if you see someone in public being verbally abused?
    1. Make eye contact with the victim, and, if you can, put yourself physically in between the perpetrator and the victim. Talk with the victim.
    2. Try to make eye contact with others in the area to see if they also will get involved and diffuse the situation.
    3. Don’t engage the perpetrator.
  6. Practice a script. I will be the first to admit that in the case of armed law enforcement showing up like they did on the airplane, I’m not sure what “the best” course of action is because guns, violence against POC, etc. makes for a complicated situation. However, you can still practice.
    1. It’s a good think people knew enough to whip out their cellphones, so let’s start with that. Know your damn phone works so you can, on a moment’s notice, whip out that phone and start recording.
    2. Practice what you would say as you are recording said incident. Booing is fine. Narrating what you see while asking for names of LEA, recording badge numbers (if you’re on a plane you know you are THAT close to people), the time, flight number, location, etc. is better. Is there any way to engage the victim? Ask her/him, “Are you OK? Have you been injured? What is your name?”
    3. Practice what you would do and say. My kickboxing instructor would call this “muscle memory” – repeating actions so that your body remembers the combinations so that they come instinctively. Jab, cross, cross, upper cut, upper cut, knee, roundhouse. My friend Nicole Morgan came up with the following:

This is turning out to be quite a Holy Week. I suppose that is the point. My Dear Readers, let us walk gently with one another this week. I don’t want to rush to Sunday. There are lessons I need to learn along the way. I have the script. We have a script. Let’s be present.

Rage Writing

Yesterday was a very bad day. I got some disappointing news about a thing. I got some more disappointing news about another thing involving a friend. Then I got some more frustrating, disappointing news about another thing. Someone did give me some whole bean coffee as a gift so that was good. And then I went to a local candidate forum and was reminded about how white my community is and how dangerously invisible and present I am. At the end of the day, I still came home to two teenage man-children who tell me they love me, a spouse who sat down for a drink with me, and friends who tried to cheer me up.

But I went to bed like I’ve been doing for the past few months – anxiety tightening my chest and thoughts starting to race so fast that it’s exhausting just to keep my eyes open. I canceled another social engagement, which I’m starting to track because it’s probably my anxiety and depression, and went to sleep.

I WOKE UP ANGRY

Does anyone else do that? No? Well, I did. I woke up with thoughts of writing – rage writing about all the things. Like local politics. WHY DOES BEING BORN IN A COMMUNITY AND LIVING THERE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE MAKE YOU QUALIFIED TO RUN FOR OFFICE? I was amused and then annoyed at how many candidates said a variation of “I was born and raised here. My kids were born and raised here.” as if being a lifelong resident of ONE place makes you better qualified to engage in a community that hopefully looks different than it did in 1950. I did look up the youngest candidate running for school board and the first thing that popped up was his underage drinking arrest. I might vote for him.

But back to the “I was born here” rhetoric because it started to make sense. That is how the United States got to where some of us are counting the days of this administration and amazed we haven’t made it yet to 50 days. You have to be born in the U.S., have a lineage that was born in the U.S. or plays along with the white narrative of loving the once upon a time U.S. to be worthy of running the country, living in the country, allowing others entrance into the country. The problem with President Spray Tan isn’t just his own inability to not angry tweet. The problem starts in our communities where we listen to local politicians create the narrative that only the native-born, never intentionally choose to be displaced, privileged to have the security that allows for deep generational roots is worth entrusting into public service. And if you’ve only known this place as home, no wonder why you are afraid of change let alone progress that would erase what you have always known and are comfortable with.

I also heard several candidates, who weren’t born and raised here, that they moved here because they loved the diversity of the community, and I was like WUT?!?! What are you talking about? I live in a community that according to the most recent census numbers is 90% white, 5% Asian, 4% Hispanic or Latino, and 1% black.  As a woman of color when I hear the word “diversity” those are not the statistics I’m looking for but again I stopped and thought maybe this is exactly the diversity some people are intentionally looking for. We didn’t move here for the diversity. We actually moved here because we mapped out work, family, and our church community while avoiding other communities with bigger schools. Oh, and I wanted a house with a basement because of tornadoes and an attached garage because I am lazy. I also wanted a room on the first floor because I am actually prophetic and KNEW one of my in-laws would need a place to live for awhile because that’s just the way some of us are raised to live. Who knew that would actually be as tricky as it was at the time we were moving. Anyway, local politicians and hopeful politicians should really think about what comes out of their mouths as much as we critique national, higher profile politicians.

Also, candidates should consider what they put in their mouths. One candidate chewed gum while he was up on the candidate panel discussion and no one loved him enough to tell him to spit it out. It was so annoying.

The other thing that made me mad this morning is the Day Without Women thing. Google it on your own. I’m rage writing. No time for links. I get the idea of solidarity, etc. but I am not so sure. I went to the Women’s March on Washington and let me tell you there were plenty of white women who had NO IDEA WHO THE MOTHERS OF THE MOVEMENT were. If you don’t, go Google it and be ashamed. They loved on Ashley Judd (who should not try to do spoken word evah) and all the talk about reproductive rights (btw, I love Jesus but please stay out of my contraception choices and uterus because safe abortions and access to reproductive health care is also about pro-life) but I am still skeptical because it was white evangelicals and white women who put the walking spray tan in office.

So this Day Without Women thing. Am I supposed to walk out on my job? Why? Is some man going to make sure I have a job to come back to?? I live in a privileged bubble, working primarily from home in the comfort of loungewear. If I opt out of the work call tomorrow who will bring up the fact that women of color are missing from the new hires? If I and the other women opt out of the call what exactly happens for women, and more importantly, women of color? Or if I “opt out” and tell my family I’m on strike, though truly tempting only if I could disappear to a day spa, what is accomplished? How does that help my Korean American family? Oh, it doesn’t. You know why? Because they already hear me rant and speak about gender equality, life skills, and being an adult. However, if any of my Dear Readers want to cover the cost of a day spa let me know.

My friend Angela has been a lifeline of sanity for me, and she suggested staying silent on social media tomorrow. I may do that. I’ve been told that my feed on FB and Twitter is a place to go for recent commentary, etc. which I provide for free because it’s mostly fun and a labor of love. Maybe that is the labor I opt out of tomorrow. Are you participating in the Day Without Women?

What are you angry about today??

Fall 2016 in Three Acts: The Color Purple. Hamilton. Allegiance.

Act 1: The Color Purple, black women, and art as worship

When in NYC I make sure I to make time to see my daughter and to see a show. Bonus points if she and I can go together and this time it was to see and listen to Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Holliday in “The Color Purple”. The final show is January 8 so if you have the time and $$ to see the show, do it. It’s worth it.

Despite #oscarssowhite, Hollywood and Broadway and creative spaces in between remain predominantly white spaces. Universal stories are portrayed through the acting, voices and creative direction of white people. Yes, it’s changing. Yes, I’ve heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, I’ve also heard of Shonda Rhimes. Yes, it’s changing AND there is A LOT of catching up to do.

When I am in new public spaces I tend to look around and observe who is and isn’t in the room where I happen to be. Unlike some people, I am not colorblind so I took note that the audience for the matinee was diverse with as many, if not more, people of color in attendance. Why does that matter? Because it’s easier to stereotype POC as being poorer, less-educated, less likely to attend musical theater, etc. than to ask “Why are not more POC making it a priority to see live theater?” when n reality it’s much more complex.

Back to the musical. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the staging of a story I had first seen on the big screen, but in the end I was left with the experience of having been at church. Some attendees were there for the spectacle of it all (like the white man seated on the main floor, center orchestra, who whipped out his cellphone to take a photo or video of Ms. Erivo singing like no one was going to notice. Ms. Erivo noticed, called him out publicly, and went on without missing a beat. Did the man not read the program or understand the announcement?) while others were there hungry to connect.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read the book or watch the movie. I highly recommend it because as we creep towards inauguration day it’s a good reminder of what history has demanded of black women – their strength, perseverance, bodies and hearts. I sat there thinking of the black women in my life who have graciously shared their lives with me IRL and through social media. The Color Purple isn’t a story about the magical negro who comes to save and touch the life of a white person. It’s the story of black women being themselves – happy, loving, angry, confused, hopeful, faithful, petty, and fully human finding themselves in their own skin and soul.

And it was in the voices of Celie, Nettie, Sofia and Shug Avery I went to church, which was important for me because it has been a long summer/fall without consistently being at church. The irony and subversive nature of non-black audience members giving the all-black cast a standing ovation for singing and dancing about the pain and beauty of post-slavery life in the South weeks before DJT was elected as #PEOTUS (#notmypresident) should not be lost. It’s exactly that tension that has made attending church regularly such a losing struggle as of late, but there I was, on Broadway, in church wrestling with God about injustice, violence against women, love, sisterhood, motherhood and the silencing of women, particularly black women not only in the church but in history.

If musical theater can communicate good news, what is the Church missing in its gospel expressions?

Act 2: Hamilton, white women, and subversive art

At a much higher price point was seeing “Hamilton” in Chicago with the family as part of our Christmas gift. As the children are in their teens and 20s stuff is less prominent on their wish lists. They don’t want toys. They want gas money. They want money for an extra plane ticket. They want a dog. They will never get a dog so we are now in the second year of going to see live theater together as part of Christmas. Lucky for them I sat patiently on two computers, one phone and one iPad to get through the online ticket queue.

The audience was less diverse though I suspect the commercial success of this production lends itself to its broader appeal in terms of ethnic/racial diversity and age. There were many, many more younger audience members who wanted to see U.S. history via rap battles and F-bombs. Other than pure commercial success drawing a whiter and younger crowd is my theory that Alexander Hamilton’s story, though actually one of an immigrant, bastard, son of a whore, is considered more universal than that of Celie’s. I would argue both tell important “American” stories through a specific social locations and constructs that are equally important, but a diverse cast that also includes white people rapping, stepping, and pirouetting is an easier sell even to my teen sons.

But again, I was drawn to the women. I wanted to know more about Eliza and Angelica – their sisterhood, their strength and resilience. I wanted to know how a woman forgives her husband not only for encouraging stupidity (the duels) but also for adultery. It also made me think of how ridiculous our collective sense of morals actually is as we saw the show after Nov. 8 and after the US watched Hillary Clinton be held accountable for her husband’s infidelity while Donald Trump’s three marriages and comment about sexual assault went broadly ignored.

I also loved Lin-Manuel Miranda’s subversiveness – casting of diverse actors to embody historically “white” people, using hip hop and rap to teach U.S. history, and choreography that includes classical, modern and hip hop dance to move not only people but inanimate objects (note “The Bullet” if you go see this show). Art is not just something to consume for comfort, and if you really consider this show it should bother you because it is beautiful and profane. It puts a mirror up to our telling of history and essentially tells us we are fooling ourselves.

Act 3: Allegiance, Asian American women, and Asian American art

There was an Asian American actor in Hamilton, but it wasn’t until the final musical theater experience of the year where my family saw a full stage/screen of faces that looked similar to mine. We took the boys to see a filmed production of the stage musical “Allegiance” at a local theater. Again, this is part of our commitment to our children to give them experiences and exposure to the arts, especially when the story is told by and through the lens of other Asian Americans.

The Japanese Internment isn’t a lesson I recall spending much time on in U.S. history, and my children remember learning about it but briefly. It’s taught in a similar manner as the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. It was a very bad thing that happened but it’s over so let’s get over it. Surely the U.S. government and its true citizens would never let something like genocide, slavery or the incarceration of its own citizens because they looked like the enemy ever happen again…unless it was absolutely necessary.

But until there is some sort of guarantee there will not be a Muslim registry ever, ever, ever there are a lot of lessons in Executive Order 9066. If you think about it, the internment/incarceration was a little bit like taking the things we should’ve learned from genocide and slavery but didn’t and then creating this new thing that waves its hand at the past from the train platform. If you look like the enemy it’s perfectly legitimate to demand you give up everything, including your humanity, for the greater good. You lose your home, your businesses, your humanity in order to prove your worth. And while you are at it, you will work for nothing with no promise of freedom.

And we will call it “camp” so it doesn’t sound so bad. I hear a lot of people really love going to camp.

This is why we took our children despite their lack of enthusiasm. We do not assume they will learn these things at school, connect these dots and apply them to our current situation. My husband and children are American-born citizens. Birthright citizenship for non-whites didn’t matter in the 1940s. That’s why seeing this mattered now.

My dear white readers, you cannot know the power of seeing the big screen full of people who look like you and your family when that is all you know. Hollywood and television. Children’s story books. Cartoons and super heroes. All white, though slooooowly changing, even when it’s a universal story about “America”. Television now has “Fresh Off the Boat” but there really hasn’t been anything on the big screen since “The Joy Luck Club” where our stories were also universal stories.

“Allegiance” is written, produced, and acted by Asian Americans and for me it was powerful because again it was the women – the story of Japanese and Japanese American women, whose stories have disappeared into the background, who kept the families together as well as organized and resisted despite being incarcerated with no due process. It was Kei, played by Lea Salonga, whose ghost connects the past life before and during the Japanese incarceration to the present where her brother Sammy, played by Telly Leung and George Takei, pushes away the memories. Kei lives in the generational and cultural gap by honoring her family while still learning to be the nail that sticks out in order to honor & protect her people and ultimately it is her choices that sets in motion an opportunity to remember and forgive.

And as we are days away from Christmas where my fellow Christians and I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am once again reminded that women and our stories cannot be relegated the background. We are part of the narrative.

 

 

Everyday Dismantling #7 – Learn By Making Mistakes

How did you learn how to tie your shoes? To drive? To apply makeup or style your hair? To write your name in cursive? To read? To swim? To ride a bike?

Unless you are some freak of nature and succeeded in learning those life-skills in one single attempt, it took time. It took failure. In some cases, it took a combination of courage and humiliation. For example, I finally stopped perming my hair, and through the gentle coaching of a teacher/director I learned to give up dreams of acting and stick to public speaking as “me”.

So many of my dear readers have responded to my most recent post about a racist encounter in a public space with questions:

What should a bystander have done? What would have been the right response? What  were you hoping someone would do? What should I do when I see something like this happen?

But before I answer the question(s), I’ll do what I did before and throw it back to you, my dear readers.

Why are you asking these questions? Why do you want to know the “right” way to respond when witnessing a racist situation? What is the worst thing that could happen if you had actually been there and done something, anything?

I really wish there was one “right” answer so that we could teach it in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, coffee shops, and craft beer stores. I wish there was a line or a phrase that would’ve been perfect. I wish I could tell all of you that if someone had only done this or said that I wouldn’t have walked away shaken, wouldn’t have cried this morning at the sound of my friend Deidra’s voice checking in with me or this afternoon when Deb’s kind note arrived.

But there isn’t.

My dear readers, I can hear the fear of failure behind your question. Not all of you, but some of you. Maybe a lot of you. You are afraid of saying something wrong, afraid that you will come off as the arrogant white person, the white savior.

And you might come off that way because until you practice saying and acting out what you are learning in your heart and mind it may sound scripted, savior-ish, stilted. It may come out wrong or awkward. You may be misunderstood. You may make a mistake.

But you should do something, say something. It may not be met with overflowing gratitude. You may not even be thanked. (Brad walked away and I was trying to hold it together so I didn’t seek him out afterwards. I just wanted to leave. But just in case, Brad, if you are reading this, if you are the youngish white man in the polo shirt, I think it was blue, who stepped in, thank you. Thank you.) You may actually exacerbate and escalate the situation. You may fail.

But do something because your conscience, your soul, your heart and mind told you that in the presence of injustice and hatred and confusion people need to act, not just think, the part of justice and love and peace. You should speak up and speak out when you know something is wrong not because you want to be right or perfectly understood.

This is not my first rodeo with racism. I learned I was a chink and a gook growing up in Roselle, Illinois. I was bullied and harassed. I have been told over and over in so many different ways that I do not belong, and while EVERYONE can sympathize with that, NOT EVERYONE knows the personal pain of being told in so many ways over a lifetime that they do not belong in this country because of their race, ethnicity or religion (actual or perceived). This incident and all the others I’m referring to are not the same as not being picked for the dodgeball team or being in the cool crowd or feeling left out.

I was told to leave this country because Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. My sons, who witnessed this and have told the story to their friends, will say, “We were told to go back to where we came from.” They took the white man’s comments personally.

There is some irony in all of this. Unless you are Native American/First Nations this here United States of America is actually not “OUR COUNTRY” in the possessive ownership sense. We citizens of the USA who lack Native blood are ALL IMMIGRANTS residing on stolen land. This really isn’t “OUR COUNTRY”, is it? Let’s sit on that for awhile, shall we?

But that’s not what that man meant. He didn’t challenge the white male cashier. He saw me and my sons and assumed his white privilege and did not hesitate to tell me to “Go back to your country.”

None of us can learn a new skill in one attempt. None of us. We all fail. We will make mistakes along the way. Silence is a mistake my family and I cannot afford.

Be willing to make a mistake. To fail. Practice in your head what you might say or do and maybe whisper it out loud right now as you finish reading. And then wait for it. Don’t throw away your shot.

 

 

 

This Is My Country

****No editing here. Getting this written down quickly because I am still angry, shaken, sad. You never get used to everyday racism.

No, I wasn’t wearing this shirt today, but the image fits. And if you don’t know about AngryAsianMan.com now you know.****

The older man walked up to the closed register next to me and looked at the wretched KFC/Pizza Hut menu at the travel oasis/rest stop near Elkhart, IN. He asked about the fried chicken hiding behind the greasy cough-guard. I wondered if he was going to do what I thought it looked like he was going to do, and I wrestled with what I would do if he tried to cut in front of the line. He stands with a curve in his back, pants hemmed too short and hair disheveled. He is older, if not elderly, with white, thinning hair. I can’t take the Korean out of me. We respect our elders. Should I just let him go? I just want to feed my sons terrible fast food, get back on the road and get home.

But he goes on, putting in his order and pulling out some money, and the cashier tells him there is line that he will have to join. The line is now about 8 people deep, not including me and my two teenage sons.

The older man, let’s call him Gerald, looks back at the line, looks at me and asks, “What do you need food for?”

I’m hoping he is joking, though he isn’t cracking a smile, so I respond as kindly as I can with a smile (I have now listened to Hamilton five times on this road trip and I can’t stop thinking “talk less, smile more”), “I need food to eat, just like you do.”

Gerald looks at me and my sons and says, “You don’t need food. Go back to your country and eat the food there.”

By the way, Gerald is white. I am not.

Oh, FFS.

My first instinct is to put myself in between Gerald and my sons who are 17 and 14 and both taller and bigger than I am, but I am their mother and I will always put myself between them and perceived danger.

Remember. There are at least eight people watching this unfold.

What would you hope you would have done if you were behind me in the line??? W??hat would you hope others would have done or said as they watched this unfold?

I wrote briefly about this encounter on my Facebook page, and everyone wants to know what I said, but I want to know if you have ever seen anything like this happen to someone else? And if so, what did you do? Did you say anything?

Because that is part of why I am still upset, unnerved, angry, sad, and exhausted. I am not told to “go back” every day in the literal sense, but many Asian Americans, American-born and immigrants, will tell you that we experience this “othering” often, especially here in the Midwest.

Non-Asian Americans of all shades often seem unable to “place” me in discussions on race because I do not fit neatly into the Black/White binary and Asian American history, art, literature, etc. are not always taught in American history even though “we” have been around for centuries here in the United States.

Which brings me back to Gerald and the silent line.

My response was to first step in between my sons and Gerald. My second response was to whip out my phone camera, but I didn’t catch him. What I caught was his face getting closer to mine as I told him, “I have money. This is my country, and there is a line.”

Eventually a younger white man, let’s call him Brad, steps in between me and Gerald and de-escalates the situation.

I am exhausted. In that 90-second exchange I went through the mental gymnastics of wondering what I could do to de-escalate the situation, how I could show the man Christ-like grace, if Gerald was some how mentally challenged, allowing age to be an excuse for his racist comment, wondering if anyone else was going to step in, hoping it didn’t escalate but not ready to stand down and behave whatever behaving means at that point, wondering what my sons were taking away from this experience, hoping they weren’t too embarrassed, embarrassed as we then had to stand there and wait for our food, angry that I felt embarrassed, tired that this was nothing new because it has happened to me since I was a child.

So here is a lesson for all of you, my dear readers, who have never been told to “go back to your country”. Now that you know this really happens here in the United States, how will you prepare yourself to step in? What will you do when something like this happens in front of you?

Remember, there were at least eight other adults in that line who said nothing.

 

Everyday Dismantling #6 – Listening

Lou Ann just listened.

“What I’m saying is nobody feels sorry for anybody anymore, nobody even pretends they do. Not even the President. It’s like it’s become unpatriotic.” I unfolded my wad of handkerchief and blew my nose.

“What’s that supposed to teach people?” I demanded. “It’s no wonder kids get the hurting end of the stick. And she’s so little, so many years ahead of her. I’m just not up to the job, Lou Ann.”
 
Lou Ann sat with her knees folded under her, braiding and unbraiding the end of a strand of my hair.
 
“Well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger,” she said. “Nobody is.”
The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver

I don’t know about you but July is turning out to be a discouraging, deadly month.  I am afraid to turn on the news, read a newspaper, or look at my Twitter feed.

This week I’ve opted to watch the Republican National Convention. Strange as it may sound, it was a spiritual discipline to watch and listen. Speakers talked with nostalgia about an America I have never known nor am I familiar with. It was challenging to sit and listen and not roll my eyes at every other phrase or promise of success. It was particularly difficult to listen to people who claimed the same faith as I have in Jesus and hear them paint a reality that seems very different than mine.

Listening is one way everyone, but particularly my dear white readers, can begin the very hard and good work of dismantling privilege. Listening requires we shut our own mouths and the internal commentary long enough to allow the words, stories, and heart of someone else be the vessel of the Spirit to identify prejudices, biases, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia in our hearts.

Listening is an act of loving submission and partnership, a ceasing of my mouth to allow another person space to verbally communicate and express whatever it is that needs to spoken, yelled, or ugly cried between the two or more of us present.

As a Korean American woman I learned as a little girl my place in the world was the listen. To speak only when spoken to. To stay silent and stay out of trouble. I spent a lot of time listening to the world around me, which to this day is so often comprised of white men and women. Their stories, their words, their interpretations of life and scripture became the norm and everything else became secondary and optional.

And as I listened this week I heard many white men and women who are afraid that no one is listening to them anymore. That sharing space and power means losing. I heard people who have been so accustomed to being the only voice screaming louder and louder in hopes of remaining the only voice.

So my dear readers, listen. If you are truly looking to dismantle privilege (that elusive white privilege some are screaming doesn’t exist but their screaming about loss and fear and destruction begs otherwise), listen. Listen to those of us who are not surprised it has come to this. Listen to those of us who have been trying to tell you that racism is alive and well and never died. Listen to some of the speeches given this past week for the code switching. Listen to the screaming and yelling about building walls and past greatness.

What do you hear?

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