Not That You Asked: My Thoughts Since Charleston

Monday morning I was up from 3 -5 am thinking about writing this.

Bear with me as I try to muddle through the many thoughts that came into my head in those early morning hours and my mostly bad and awkward attempt at sorting out some of these things.

Today marks one week since the shooting in Charleston and like many of us, I’ve had a lot to chew on.

Someone posted an article on Facebook about how even babies discriminate. (I was going to link them to this because I think they are awesome, but decided they may not want to be connected to this ramble.)

It was an interesting and frustrating read, as it gave a lot of attention to what doesn’t work when it comes to talking about race with your children and no clear advice on exactly what to say.

One thing that struck me in particular was that desegregating schools actually seemed to make segregation worse, as schools with a more diverse student body saw kids align themselves with the people that looked like them. There were pretty damning statistics that showed children pretty much stuck with their own kind, especially their closest friends.

I lived outside of St. Louis, Missouri between the ages of seven and twelve in a middle – upper class area of West County. The school I attended had an initiative to bring inner city kids into the classroom. While this seemed like a noble and kind gesture, it was a disaster. With no direction on how integration was just going to magically happen, everyone went about their business as if ALLOWING these city kids through their doors was doing them a favor and lets just leave it at that.

[It’s also worth noting that I lived in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the country, where things like gentrification are discussed and debated constantly.]

I believe very much this was the start of becoming aware of my race and understanding what race meant in general. In class, I saw the white kids were treated better than the black kids. I was also treated the same as the white kids, at least by my teachers. But not always from the other kids. I was different to both of them.

My growing brain was quick to pick up on these nuances.

It was better to be lumped in with the whites than the blacks.

This would continue with me throughout my young life, often being one of few minorities and even fewer Asians.

Here is an excerpt from Dylann Roof’s manifesto:

East Asians

I have great respent for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.

Am I glad the racist guy with a gun has no beef with me? Yes. Yes I am.

I always had large groups of white friends, though I was reminded every now and again that I wasn’t actually one of them. Someone would always be there to pull their eyelids or call me a “chink” or on a more minor level, compliment my English and ask where I was from.

I’ve always wondered and feared that my track record for dating white guys had a greater, darker meaning. That I was one of those Asian women people talked about who worshipped white men and wanted their attention because they knew who had the power. I think I’ve mostly been able to disregard these theories based on my friendships in Chicago. When I moved into the city, I hoped to meet non-white people, specifically other Asians. And I did. I even joined a bowling team that my grandfather had been on right after the war, a Japanese American men’s league. There I met a Chinese American guy who was connected to a lot of other Asians, many who were artists, musicians and filmmakers. As a twenty year old young adult, I was completely taken with the late night Korean barbecue, even later night private karaoke rooms and above else, an entire group of people who looked JUST LIKE ME. But this facade didn’t last long, and eventually I learned that not only did looking the same not mean very much, each of us had very diverse backgrounds and experiences that made us likable, or unlikeable, people. My being a Japanese American in Chicago meant very different things than a first generation Filipino or a Korean adoptee, though perhaps imperceptible from an outsider’s view.

To this day, I don’t have a true understanding of Japanese American internment, though my living family experienced it and amazing people like George Takei are trying to keep the story alive. It’s truly uncomfortable to know that thousands of American citizens, like my grandparents, were stripped of their possessions, land, money and homes and incarcerated for their Japanese ancestry not even a hundred years ago.

So yes, I take issue with some white people. And it feels good to commiserate with other brown and black people about our disdain for some of them. If you’ve ever been the target of racism, it’s easy to identify those feelings when someone else experiences them.

But that’s where the similarities end. Each individual has a deep history and personal account for their lives and what being a certain race has meant for them. I dare not compare the trials and tribulations of “my people” to any other.

That leaves me feeling a bit lost on how to handle things like Charleston and inevitably, what can *I* do to make this situation better even if in the tiniest way.

And the only way I think I can do this is through my son.

But how.

How?

I’ve always had a really hard time with patriotism. Mostly because I think there are many, many elements about living in America which I find ridiculous, cruel and unsatisfactory. And yes, I acknowledge that there are plenty of other places worse than here. But I have a feeling they probably don’t drone on and on about how great they are, how superior they are to the rest of the world, all the while lacking statistically in things like education, healthcare, economy and quality of life.

I believe the true root of America’s problem with racism and our inability to have meaningful conversations about it comes from the fact that we absolutely do not talk about what we did to Native Americans when we were freeing ourselves from the ever so oppressive Brits.

That we captured and kidnapped people from other continents and enslaved them in order to build our country to be what we wanted. 

On top of that, we looked down upon other immigrants who came here looking for similar opportunities, and exploited them to again, fulfill our hopes and dreams all the while making it impossible for them to achieve their own.

We are still doing this.

That is America, folks. Yet the stories we tell our children about Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are fairytales that indoctrinate them into believing we came here to be free and that everyone supposedly has this right as well, that there weren’t hundreds of thousands of casualties as a result of this freedom.

I’m sick of hearing about the American Dream. The American Dream is total bullshit. People who talk about it as if it’s an actual thing have got it all wrong. They think it’s about everyone’s “equal” opportunity to make money, buy a house and say whatever they want to say while bearing their arms.

And yes, I believe most immigrants come here to make a better life for their children and maybe themselves. There probably are more chances to do so in terms of making and keeping their own money. Perhaps they’ve found better housing, more access to essential things like clean water and healthy food.

Maybe they’ve even achieved great success, wealth and recognition, their children have attended ivy league schools, they’ve retired at the age of 50, they own three houses across the country.

And yet.

And yet, if they don’t have white faces, they can still be knocked down by one ethnic slur, one racist joke, one off color remark. Economic equality IS directly linked with ethnicity, but in more ways than the obvious ones. Money and power can only take you so far in this country. Look no further than President Obama if you need an example. Not to mention, do you really think we all start from the same place and are given the same chance to succeed? I’m not talking about work ethic. I’m talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need.

My partner (who is white) and I were talking about the origins of derogatory words to describe white people, like “honky” and “cracker”. It seems “poor white trash” is the meanest thing you could say and really it’s more about money than anything else. Just as there aren’t really terrible things to call men, but plenty of words to degrade women, those in power can’t be brought down by a name. They create words to describe those below them to keep them there.

A true Dream would be a place where we treat each other with decency. Human decency. And that can’t be found in America, my friends. Too many people are dying unnecessarily for us to believe we’ve come very far.

So where does that leave us? Where does that leave those of us who want to make a change, who want to create a generation better than our own?

How do I talk to my son about race?

I’m not totally sure. It’s what kept me up for two hours the other morning. I’m overcome with the task of figuring out a way to explain that yes we are all different, sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes because of the color of our skin. That BECAUSE of the color of our skin, we are treated a certain way and then become a certain person because of it.

All I could come up with is this: Children need to be exposed to it all, as much of it as possible, every color, every background, every experience. They need to be in contact with a huge variety of humans to understand that we are all worthy of getting at least one chance to be known beyond the color of our skin and all of the assumptions that go along with that burden. Be it white or brown or black.

We need to be able to talk about why that doesn’t happen already and what we can do to change that.

Maybe I’ll create a book of photos with a different face on each page and underneath it simply write “Person”.

-Carly

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