Everyday Dismantling

This may have to be a regular “feature” once I figure out a blogging/writing rhythm/schedule. In the meantime, I thought I would compile my responses to my FB friend Preston’s question:

What are some practical, everyday ways we can work to dismantle privilege that both are simple, clear things to do and don’t burden PoC (people of color) with the expectation they be our (unpaid) teachers?

Note: When I read privilege in this context I assumed “white privilege” which in it of itself causes some people to walk away or disengage because this is the land of opportunity, bootstraps, and immigrants.

  1. Pay us. I cannot tell you how many times my friends and I have sat on panels to talk about our experiences and expertise and not get paid. We sometimes have to ask if our conference fee will be covered or if meals are covered. (I was a panelist at The Justice Conference last weekend and was not paid. Why did I do it? Because sometimes we (as in ALL PEOPLE OF COLOR) realize there are so few of us being represented at said conferences that we do it, at cost to ourselves and families, to make a point.
  2. Spend a year, or a month, reading only authors of color. Double down and read only women of color authors.
  3. Take a closer look at those conference line-ups and consider how many platform speakers are PoC. The same goes for the list of bloggers, writers contributors to communal blogging sites, major Christian on-line and print magazines.
  4. Let your $$ dismantle privilege by not going to those conferences that only feature PoC as panelists. Instead, go somewhere PoC are leading and speaking…if you can find them.
  5. If you make decisions at church, invite and pay POC, particularly WOMEN. And if you don’t make those decisions, considering joining the board that does.
  6. Use your influence to spread the word about non-white speakers, bloggers, writers, preachers, speakers, trainers. I love my white Christian writer friends but you and I have to go way back before I’ll promote you because there are so many more white Christians being published for many systemic reasons that also are difficult to break down.
  7. Support businesses owned and run by PoC. My parents’ dry cleaning business helped me and my sister through college and helped pay for my big, fat, Korean wedding and made dry cleaning super cheap for me and a select group of friends.
  8. Engage your crazy, prejudiced, racist friends (especially the ones who also love Jesus) and call them out on their crap. I will say that I tend to extend a ton of grace to my elders of all colors and stripes. My older relatives still refer to “us” as “Orientals” but if one of you, dear readers, said that I would remind you that I am not a rug. When people say things at the family gathering or post something on social media, remember it’s an invitation to engage and dismantle. Why? Because white people in conversation with white people aren’t pulling out the race card. The what? You know. The race card – the thing people of color pull out whenever we try to dismantle privilege. We make it about race. Anyone have extras? I’m out.
  9. Read about this country’s messed up history. Not the pretty version we all learned in school that mentions slavery and war but the deep stuff that reminds all Americans – birthright Americans like my kids or naturalized ones like me and my parents – that America has a pattern of genocide, colonization, taxation without representation, internment camps. Read about the wars America fought on foreign lands and how privilege carried over in places like Vietnam and the Korean peninsula. Do you know the story of the Hmong? No? Google it. LEARN! You don’t even need to love Vietnamese food or a Korean friend to go to the library and read.
  10. Consider your own language and defense mechanisms critically. I do not like being called out on my stuff because I like to be right. I get it. What I am realizing is that my white friends are seriously afraid of being called a racist. Being afraid of being a racist and being called a racist are serious. Being afraid you will be (and you will be) profiled because of your skin color or your family name, being afraid that “obeying” the police and running will still put you physically in danger? That’s serious serious. When someone calls you out on something, listen before you start defending and excusing yourself.
  11. Don’t assume what you do and how you do it is normal for everyone. That is how everyday privilege shows up. What does that mean? When you go to someone’s house for the first time do you bring a gift? Do you take off your shoes? When  you host guests do you prepare just enough food or enough food for others to take home a plate? When your church hosts a potluck what are the key dishes you think everyone will know and love? (My kids had never seen deviled eggs until 7 years ago. They thought I said, “devil eggs.”) Do you assume July 4 and Memorial Day are big picnic weekends? What does a “normal” New Year’s Day look like for you?
  12. Listen and be observant. Sometimes the POC around you, especially your friends, are dropping freebies left and right. A sigh. Suddenly scribbling notes in church or during a movie. Going silent during a conversation when she is normally or was just fully engaged. Or speaking up. You don’t have to ask her right then and there what is going on. Do your friend thing and if that is appropriate do it. Otherwise, wait and bring it up later. The point is, there are many everyday moments you can be aware of how white privilege can impact POC.

What, dear readers, would you add to the list because certainly there are more than a dozen ways to break down and dismantle a system that goes back 200 years.

 

 

 

When Your Kid Says Something Racist

Elias was four years old when he didn’t fully comprehend the racial slurs thrown at him across the hospital room.

The teenage boy in traction on the other side of the curtain was in pain but had refused to take his pain medication. How did I know? The curtain wasn’t soundproof. We could hear him complaining, arguing with his parents, moaning in pain, asking for candy but refusing to eat the hospital food (who could blame him). I learned from his mother that he had been in a horrible car accident. The young man was lucky to be alive after a bowling ball left in the passenger area of the car became a pinball upon impact.

Our families didn’t interact much except for exchanging knowing looks as we passed each other in the room or the hallways. They were focused on getting their teenager healthy and stable. We were doing the same with our four-year-old. We simply exchanged stories and then went to our sides of the room until the teenager decided to call my son a chink and suggest our family go back to where we came from.

I had asked the other mother if they would turn down the television that was on at the same volume it had been on all day long. Elias was exhausted having started fasting for a round of tests the next day, and Peter & I were spent.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning down the television volume a little bit? Our son is a bit restless tonight and the noise is making it difficult for all of us to rest.”

The other mother asked her son if it would be OK to turn down the volume as I walked to our side of the curtain. His response?

“No. I can’t sleep when that baby’s whining and crying. Tell that chink to shut up. They should all go back to where they came from. What are they doing here anyway?”

I waited for the other mother to correct her son, but she didn’t. She said nothing. Instead her son continued to raise his voice. She said nothing. Nothing.

So I did.

I don’t think Tiger Mother is what you think it means.

I walked over to the other side of the curtain and said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe this.” I left the room and headed to the nurses’ station where I asked demanded to speak with the shift manager to request demand  a room change. As I was explaining the situation, including the racist slurs, the other mother came down the hall asking me to understand her son was in pain and is tired and didn’t know what he was saying and that she didn’t know where he learned to say those things.

Full stop.

We are two days away from Halloween, and there are adults in blackface thinking Trayvon Martin is the perfect costume. They are posting photos of themselves dressed up like bloodied Asiana flight attendants and pilots. And when we see these adults doing stupid, racist things I know I am not the only one wondering ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! Don’t these people have friends who pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms, “THAT is NOT a good idea”?!?!?!?!?

But it isn’t just in that moment because those adults didn’t just decide a week before Halloween that blackface or wearing a name badge reading “Ho Lee Fuk” would be HILARIOUS. No, those adults learned long ago that those racist acts were OK, even funny.

Which is why I, as an adult, hearing racist slurs come out of the mouths of children, especially this particular 14-year-old boy’s mouth, and then NOT hearing his parent correct him bothered me so. I did understand the young man was in pain, which is why I was hoping he would take his pain meds. I did understand he was tired because my son was tired, too. I wanted to go back to where we came from – Libertyville, Illinois! But we were stuck in Ann Arbor because my four-year-old baby almost seized to death. I did understand. But I told the other mother that what I didn’t understand was how she could hear her son say things like “chink” and not correct him. I told her this wasn’t about the noise. It was about the racist slurs.

Again, she said nothing. It broke my heart because the other mother could no longer claim ignorance. She knew and said  nothing.

When your kids say something racist, you correct them or you stay silent and give them permission.

It’s not easy. Parenting isn’t easy. Talking about race and racism isn’t easy. But if parents and adults don’t say anything, don’t help lead and correct and answer questions, none of us should be surprised when adults show up at a Halloween party looking the part of a racist fool.

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty Pageant Bull

Huffington Post calls comments about Miss America "dumb" and "obnoxious". Let's call it what it really is. Racist.

Huffington Post calls comments about Miss America “dumb” and “obnoxious”. Let’s call it what it really is. Racist.

***Let’s be clear about this, dear readers. The reaction to Nina Davuluri is not dumb or obnoxious, as The Huffington Post would have us believe. It is racist. Don’t tell me it’s just a stupid beauty pageant because that doesn’t make it better or OK or less racist or problematic. Please don’t suggest that the comments may only reflect a minority of Americans. This past December, 77% of Americans identified as Christian. So, if the racist comments are coming from the 23% of Americans who don’t identify as Christians, we Christians should be a wee bit more vocal when this kind of very un-Jesus behavior rears its ugly head. God help us all if any of the comments come from the 77% – the majority, who identify as Christian.

You may now go back to your regularly scheduled reading. Thank you.***

We all have a lot of work to do. It’s Monday morning, and I am just finding the top of my desk.

But this can’t wait because none of us should wake up to racist bull on a Monday.

I have not watched a Miss America pageant in decades. I have never been in a beauty pageant, though many of my mother’s friends suggested I ought to try my hand at the Miss Korea pageant because back when I was young the art of blepharoplasty had not yet been perfected and culturally accepted. Back when I was young Miss America was always about the blonde, blue-eyed beauty winning. It was just like high school.

This morning my twitter feed and FB page had many, many posts about the new Miss America.  Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, was crowned Miss America. Davuluri is the first Miss America winner of Indian descent. The first runner-up was Miss California, Crystal Lee, also not White. They are incredibly bright, talented, and beautiful women because beyond the bikinis these women also have brains. And because Davuluri is both beautiful and bright, she can’t win. We are uncomfortable with the idea that a bright woman can also be incredibly beautiful and, gasp, sexy. She can strut her bikini body and head to medical school.

More power to her.

But what really stinks is the racist, hateful, ignorant garbage being thrown out there about our Miss America by Americans because she is brown. Please note that many of the tweets and comments are by younger White Americans who have grown up in a post-Civil Rights, post-Voting Rights Act, post-racial America because see we voted a Black American into our highest office not once but twice. These younger White Americans are supposedly more informed, more open, more accepting, less politically correct, less racist, less insensitive, more connected via the World Wide Web.

Some of these people think she is Arab. Um. She’s American. She is not from Western Asia or North Africa. She is from New York.

Here’s the kicker. As a Christian Asian American woman who grew up in the Midwest, I grew up assuming Eve, Queen Esther, Ruth, Rachel, Mary, Martha, the bleeding woman, the sinful woman, the woman at the well, and all the other women of the Bible, the beautiful, godly women I should aspire to were like Barbie and Miss America – white, blonde and beautiful. And why wouldn’t I have thought that with all of the felt storyboard Bible images, the child-friendly Bibles with pictures of a blonde Jesus and fair-skinned children at his feet, and the blonde Jesus picture so many of us Korean American Christian families had hanging up in our homes. (We had two – one portrait-style and one of Jesus standing at a door.)

I hope and pray none of the racist comments are also coming from Christians who are White Americans. I hope and pray the racist comments aren’t coming  from people who believe America belongs to Christians, not Arabs or Muslims because the two are interchangeable. (Not.)

I hope and pray the racist vitriol breaks your heart.

It should break every American and every Christian’s heart because racism should be un-American and hating your neighbor from New York is un-Christian.

They’re not racist. They just don’t know.

My sons, ages 13 and 10, spend two evenings each week on a golf course because I parent out of my own personal brokenness, which includes an acute awareness of life experiences and skills I was not exposed to growing up. Tennis lessons. Skiing lessons. Swimming lessons. Golf lessons.

Check. Check. Check. Check. (My daughter got the first three. She escaped golf because she has immersed herself into the world of dance for the past few years though it’s not completely out of the picture yet.)

One of my goals has been to expose my children to things I didn’t do and at one point or another felt like I had missed out on. This all despite the fact that I also wrestle with my own personal prejudices against sports like tennis and golf because they have in one way or another represented privilege and access to opportunities and networks my parents and I did not have.

So it did not surprise me to see a very diverse group of participants on our first day at the course – diverse meaning White or Caucasian children were in the minority. Golf, whether you are in business or in medicine, more if you are male but increasingly so if you are female, is one of those “life skills” that also translates into opportunities and networks that non-White communities continue to learn about and enter into.

(And wouldn’t you know that in the crowd of parents one of the other Asian American parents and I recognized each other after having last met about seven years ago!)

But I was a bit annoyed when I found out my sons were asked the following question by a young Black boy on the putting green:

“Are you guys related to Bruce Lee?”

My sons know me, and they have had their many questions about race, ethnicity and culture answered even when they didn’t know there was a question to be asked. They have been encouraged to recognize and value both similarities and differences. So C quickly qualified the young boy’s question with his own response:

“Mom, don’t worry. He wasn’t being racist. He just didn’t know. Bruce Lee isn’t even Korean, right?”

C was correct. Bruce Lee isn’t Korean, and the question wasn’t racist. The young boy didn’t know, and because of what he has and hasn’t learned and been exposed to about Asian Americans through school, community, church, media or family, he tried to make a connection between what he knew (Bruce Lee) and what he was currently experiencing (two Asian American boys). The boy was doing what anyone trying to make small talk might do when you are young or older and trying to make a new friend – find common ground. It wasn’t racist. The boy isn’t a racist. He just didn’t know.

But as I have sat and walked around the course for the past few weeks I’ve been wondering at what point do we move from not knowing to being responsible for what we don’t know. I have been the receiver of much grace and the giver of the same as people of different races/ethnicities/gender/faith find themselves making mistakes as well as being stupid, prejudiced and racist. I have found extending grace easier when the offender acknowledges the offense. It really becomes extending grace when the offender sees no offense.

So I’m still mulling over C’s response to an innocent question that on another day would have made my tired blood boil had I been the one being asked about my relationship to say Lucy Liu, but was tempered and amazed by C’s response, which was to simply tell the boy he wasn’t related to Bruce Lee.

And then they proceeded to sink a few golf balls.

A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.

It’s Not Racist or Sexist. It’s Complicated.

Bestselling author Anne Rice recently announced that she “quit being a Christian” but remains “committed to Christ”. Leave it to an author to parse her words in a way that would have the world a twitter. What followed was a flood of responses and reactions, including a thoughtful post by an acquaintance of mine, fellow blogger and co-founder of One Day’s Wages Eugene Cho.

The line that caught me and others off-guard, perhaps, was this:

First of all, I am a fan of Anne Rice. In fact, I don’t know of many people that dislike her. She’s a phenomenal writer and additionally, she’s gotta have some Asian genes in her. She’s 68 and ages like no other.

He has gotten some flak for that statement, and has since posted a public request on his blog for feedback asking readers to chime in: Was this racist or sexist?

I don’t think it was either. Eugene was trying to be funny. Some people thought he was funny. I just thought: “What the heck does her appearance in comparison to her age have to do with any of this?” And for the record, I do think there is a difference between noting Anne Rice’s appearance and age and connecting that to a possible Asian genetic connection in a post about her comments on religion and faith and someone noting Steve Nash (or whoever) must have a Black genetic connection because of their skills on the court (this is another question Eugene raises). Comments about Nash’s race point to the stereotypes about Blacks and athletic prowess. I’m not sure how Rice’s appearance has anything to do with her as an author or religious commentator.

It’s different because I don’t see how looking younger than you are relates to Rice’s appeal, success or current religious affiliation matter, but comments about race, basketball and the NBA can easily go to a deeper conversation about race, power and credibility.

Oops. I stand corrected. I guess it is similar because it’s all so very complicated.

I am a Christian Asian American woman who walks this ever-moving fine line in a field that sometimes connects titles, degrees and gender to credibility and access, in cultures that value age, experience, honor, beauty, youth, power, service, humility and self-confidence. I have been disrespected, ignored and shut out because I am am not a man, and in some cases, all within the Church, because I am not an Asian American man – young or old. I have served alongside and sometimes simply served Christian men of all shades who have significantly less life and ministry experience than I have because I am not a “Mr.” or a “Rev.” and I don’t have or am not pursuing an MDiv so the easier category for me is Mrs. (though I prefer Ms.).

It’s complicated and confusing. Doesn’t our Asian culture revere and honor elders or is it only male elders in general and a certain type of female elder? In Asian, American and Asian American culture don’t we also obsess over youthful appearances (yes, vanity and ageism affect both men and women, but watching advertising alone would lead me to believe that men should worry about ED and women should worry about wrinkles)?

Sour grapes? No. Yes. Sometimes. Sometimes very, very sour. And sometimes very, very nasty grapes that the Lord presses into new wineskins and makes into a wine worth savoring. There are many times I don’t want to be a Christian Asian American woman.

It’s complicated.

Is This Worth a Response?

May was a crazy month, and June caught me by surprise. Lots of things going on with the kids and with me personally, including taking a breather from writing as I tried to regain some sense of center.

And then the following comment arrived on a fairly old blog post of mine just begging for a snarky response from me:

From DoubleStandard-

WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IS WRONG WITH YOU RACIST PEOPLE

THE FACT THAT A WHITE OR ENGLISH SPEAKERS CAN SIT THERE AND HAVE SOME TROUBLE WITH READING DIFFERENT AND VERY VERY VERY VERY!!!!!!!!!!!!! HARD LANAUGES AND SAY IT WRONG AND OU CALL THAT RACIST WHAT IF NON ENGLISH PEOPLE SAY ENGLISH WORDS WRONG

IS THAT RACIST NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HELL IT IS

ITS CUTE AND WE “HAVE TO RESPECT” UNFAIR AND RACIST THAT MANY MANY NON AMERCIANS WHO CAN’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH ARE ALOUD TO BECOME AND BE CITZENS.

WE HAVE TO TO SHOUT AT THE OR LAUGH IF THEY CAN SPEAK ENGLISH YET WHEN WE TRY TO SPEAK ONE OF THE HARDEST LANUAGEST NO ONE SHOWS RESPECT.

lots of people like Penelope cruz pretend they can’t speak english like simple word even though she learnt it YEARS ago and learnt others much harder one sense but still doesn’t know what car means.

and the fact you hate dark people shows how racist japanese are beyonce is not nicole kidman so stop making her japnese ads look like her

DoubleStandard did not link her/his comment to a blog, but I am tempted to send an edited copy of her/his comment back with some suggestions.

I don’t care if readers disagree with me or want to push back. I do care when readers tell me to shut up because this is my blog. I realize that sounds a bit childish, but sometimes I feel childish. If you don’t like what you are reading, please move along.

I won’t clean up a commenter’s comment, but if you’re going to criticize someone else’s ability to speak, read or write English I personally think you, DoubleStandard and others, ought to check for typos.

And generally I haven’t engaged commenters like DoubleStandard, but sometimes I wonder if I should. Would it, could it, make a difference?