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.

“The Talk” – Part 2

Several years ago it was time to have part 1 of “The Talk” with my daughter. Since then she and I have regrouped to talk a little more about sex and sexuality, as well as God’s gift of sexuality and intention for sex, love and marriage and Hollywood’s version. It’s an open conversation that we started in 5th grade, before the school health presentation, because I have control issues and wanted her to hear the information from me first.

This year was Peter’s turn to start the conversation with Corban. I was hoping the conversation would take place first thing this year, but I was reminded that before we began to talk honestly and openly about sex we would have to undo some of our harmless lies.

Kathy: Honey, when are you going to have “The Talk” with Corban?

Peter: Well, I was thinking we should start out with the Tooth Fairy.

Kathy: Oh. Shoot.

…at least a month later…

Kathy: Honey, how about “The Talk”?

Peter: Well, what about Santa?

Kathy: You couldn’t just take care of Santa when you took care of the Tooth Fairy?

Peter: Honey, that’s a lot in one talk. Too traumatic.

…another month or so…

Kathy: Well, how did it go?

Peter: Well, Corban’s response was, “Dad, why do we have to talk about grown-up stuff?”

The “grown-up stuff” he hears today at school will be no surprise. Corban mentioned last night that today’s half-day schedule involved a talk on puberty – imagine a 10-year-old boy speaking with a touch of disdain and rolling his eyes. Honestly, there is tiny, tiny part of my Mommy heart that is relieved that Corban isn’t in a rush to grow up. I saw (and continue to see) more of that in Bethany and her female friends, especially as it relates to their bodies – how they dress and look.

But it’s time. It’s time to start talking openly and honestly as best as we can, as appropriately as we can. Peter and Corban, just like Bethany and I did years ago, have begun what we hope and pray will be a lifelong conversation that starts with “grown-up stuff” and never ends.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Will I Know It When I See It?

Tiger & Elin. Jon & Kate. Deadly Viper & some angry Asian Americans.

What does reconciliation look like? What’s the difference between “moving on” in a healthy way and exercising the privilege to walk away from difficult conversations?

All the buzz about Tiger’s return to golf  and Kate’s debut on the dance floor caught my attention not because I care about golf or hair extensions but because their choice to “move on” from their respective scandals has got me thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes, their lives were a circus before the scandals, a teeny bit different than mine. Peter is not a pro golfer, and I am not a model. Peter does not own anything Ed Hardy, and I don’t get followed by the paparazzi. They are celebrities, but they and we are human beings. Why wouldn’t they want to move on, heal, and, perhaps, forget? I would.

But is that reconciliation? Would it be enough to see Elin stand by her man at the Masters? (IMHO, no. It would not.) If not, what is enough? Can someone ever apologize enough? Ask for forgiveness enough? Be forgiven enough? And then is that reconciliation?

So the saga known as Deadly Viper isn’t exactly like Tiger and Elin and Jon and Kate, but when I think about forgiveness and reconciliation I can’t help but think about DV. There was a lot of ugliness and some hope. There were hurt feelings and misunderstandings. There were conversations and side conversations about actions versus intent versus past deeds done. There were divisions, sides taken, and allegiances. And it was in real time, on-line and public in a “you can’t take that back ever” sort of way. Relationships that started out broken between real people fractured in such a way that made me (and I speak for myself and no one else involved in the DV saga) wonder if we achieved the right end. I’m still wondering…

If, for argument sake, reconciliation for the two celebrity couples means restoring their marriages, what does reconciliation for those involved in DV look like? Is reconciliation necessary? Is it worth it? Who pursues it and how?

Do You or Don’t You: Valentine’s Day?

This will be the 18th Valentine’s Day sort-of-but-not-really-celebrated. Early in our marriage we were giddy-in-love and wrote notes and kept the local florist busy. One could fairly say we’ve become less romantic and increasingly practical. We are less giddy, more in love, write notes about getting the car’s oil changed and remember that cut flowers die but nothing says, “I love you” like getting one step closer to being debt free.

But if you must do cut flowers the $20 bunch at the grocery store placed in one of the many vases we received 17 years ago from our wedding will suffice. 😉

I grew up knowing my parents loved each other, but it wasn’t until college or so when I noticed my father making more of an effort to show my mother his love and affection. One year I remember he hung a little box containing a piece of jewelry on the gear shift of her car, and another year I remember he bought her a new watch and left it near her bathroom sink. The point is, I remember.

So every now and then Peter and I remember. We remember that our children are watching us and learning about marriage, commitment, honor, respect, faith, fighting fair and not so fair and…about love. We hug and kiss in front of the children. We argue with and apologize to one another in front of the children. We exchange gifts in front of the children.

But as a mother  I find myself looking far more critically at the messages around Valentine’s Day, and I get a bit weirded out. Commercials about men frantically trying to find the perfect sparkly something, floral arrangement, chocolates, lingerie, fragrance, etc. and print ads showing women wearing sparkly somethings or lingerie all for that special someone who isn’t necessarily their spouse until death is commercialized romance on drugs. I’m not sure it’s all that romantic let alone about love. Maybe it’s about “luv” – a generic imposter that looks like the real thing but falls terribly short?

I’m really not that cynical, but it’s a little crazy out there. Be careful. Seriously.

So this Valentine’s Day Peter and I will do what we’ve been trying to do for 17 years and lowering the pressure to compete with the commercials and celebrate our love. We will try to love our children and be kind and patient with them (and leave a little note and some chocolates for each of them), and we will try to love one another and be kind and patient with one another. We are hoping to have dinner with a young couple on the staring line of what will hopefully be a long running, long loving marriage. We can’t think of a more perfect Valentine’s Day.

What are your plans?

When Your Star Shines Brighter

When the idea of a group of Asian American women writing a book about faith, gender and culture started out with a snowball’s chance in hell, I had one fleeting thought that unnerved and annoyed me: What if this book actually gets published? Will my husband be OK with my success?

Somewhere in quiet, indirect messages I grew up to understand that boys were preferred over girls and smart, successful girls are scary or, even worse, undesireable.

It’s not that I thought two chapters in a book would launch my New York Times Bestseller literary career. But I understood that in the ministry world I’m in being a published author opens up opportunities that may have taken a lot more to open in the past. This is no time for false humility. After spending five years in the marketplace and then nearly a decade in ministry part-time, loving and learning from college students while raising a young family, my star was rising.

It is no small feat to be able to write a statement like that. Culturally there is no place for self-promotion – self-effacing comments, maybe. And by culturally I mean having grown up with a certain brand of Korean-American spirituality/fundamentalist/evangelicalism that let me know that under no circumstances was I to take credit for anything that I happened to achieve or fail. 

Good grades? I was lucky, or God pulled through. A promotion at work? I was lucky, or God had a plan. A big project flops? Bummer, or it wasn’t God’s will. Oversimplified? Without a doubt.

I will say here that my husband has been very supportive, but even then the kind of comments he would field while I traveled hinted at the audacity of what I was doing – pursuing a rising career. Men and women would gush over his willingness to babysit the kids while I was away writing or speaking, as if he had granted me a favor. Men at church would joke about “letting” me have so much time away from him and the kids. Women would ask how I could spend so much time away from my family.

It was as if my rising star needed to be explained away as an anomaly or excused as a luxury.

I’m not sure if it’s the sudden change in weather that is making me a bit cranky these days. I’m pretty sure it’s because over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a few other women who have wrestled with being a supportive wife and present mother who has an opportunity to stretch her wings and fly a bit. And maybe my fuse for this internal conversation is growing short…I want to respond graciously when I’m asked about the toll of my travel schedule on my family (because I really do agonize over it). I want to respond confidently when I’m asked about my ability to speak to a large audience about matters of faith and life. But I know I’m cranky.

Anyone else cranky out there?