Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Still work to be done

Sigh. I have recently learned of two instances of racism directed towards Asians. One has made national coverage and the other hit much closer to home. Both have left me offended and frustrated. It doesn’t matter who the target is; racism is never okay. It especially worries me that these incidents have come right now when Japan is working through a horrific crisis. When people should be responding with compassion. With sensitivity. How are these things too much to ask?

The first instance I am referring to is this video of Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student making blatantly racist comments about her Asian classmates. Wallace reportedly apologized and said, “I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did.” Her delivery of the commentary seemed rather biting and deliberate to me, but I am swimming in a sea of angry bias at the moment. I thought her words were extremely hurtful and judgmental. I have to question her judgment in even posting such a video without expecting to get in some degree of trouble. What really gets me (well, the whole thing gets me) is her quick comment at the beginning of the video that her rant is not directed towards her friends. ‘Friends’ AKA her Asian friends who are clearly not like the other ‘hordes of Asian students’ at the college? A friend once made a similar side note to me when complaining about international students at our school (who are mostly Asian). “Not you,” she added, as though that made the rest of what she said okay. It didn’t. It doesn’t.

The second instance was relayed to me by a friend who teaches preschool. She told me she recently had to stop her 3 and 4 year olds from pulling their eyes into slants. To hear this just made me sad. I had classmates do that to me in grade school, too. Who continues to teach this ignorance? Who continues to allow it? We are all responsible for ending these unacceptable behaviors. We cannot just rely on someone else to do the job. There might not always be someone else. I asked my friend if there were any Asian students in the class and she said yes, one. A little boy who also happens to be adopted from Korea. My heart ached a little.

There was a time when I didn’t care about race and I thought those who did were making a big stink over something already largely resolved. How wrong I was! I remember just a few years back when the picture of Miley Cyrus pulling her eyes into slants was released. I told myself, “She’s young and just messing around. She didn’t mean to offend anyone.” Even if she didn’t mean to hurt someone, she clearly did. Maybe people keep pulling stunts like this because they think they can get away with them. I guess, in a sense, they do get away with them. What more has been asked of Miley Cyrus or Alexandra Wallace than to make a public apology? They get a slap on the hand and say they’re sorry, then the world moves on to the next controversy. What is an appropriate, natural consequence for racist behavior anyways? Yeah, I don’t have a sure answer, either.

I used to worry about sounding like a whiner for bringing these things up. Being viewed as whiney is just never good. But this isn’t whining. This is demonstrating that I am not some static stereotype. I am a human being who feels justifiably hurt when racism is directed at me or others who share my background. No one deserves that kind of treatment. This is me responding honestly to a reality and an injustice. I think about that little preschool boy and I want to be a part of creating something better. There is so much left to do.


  1. This ain't something new.
    The time for intelligent conversation has long since been over.
    The time to act is NOW.
    I'm done feeling bad about myself.

    From all my years as an American, I've learned that respect is not given, it must be demanded.

    Thurgood Marshall once said that, ["The time to deal with racism is not after something happens, it's right then and there."]

    I've called out many people for that subtle racism, even in the middle of a crowded store, with zero shame. Most of these cowards have nothing to say, once they realize that you're fighting back.

    Unfortunately, this is what it takes. It might take 1000 guys like me before the point gets across.

    You let a guy hit you once, he'll hit you once. You let him hit you twice, he'll hit you twice.
    If you cut off that fucking arm, he won't be hitting anything.

  2. Thought I should add:

    I'm not saying that we should be walking around uptight, and call-out people on first sign of disrespect...

    But think we should embrace our "darker side" when the time comes. We need both "wolves" so to speak. The dark wolf and the light wolf, can't win battles alone.

  3. Hey, thank you for commenting. That Thurgood Marshall quote is really great. The approach to handling racism always seems to be reactive which is too late. I think I see what you mean by the dark and light sides (correct me if I'm wrong). Together the two can strike the right tone of assertiveness without being too passive or too aggressive.

    Also, if you don't mind, I'd like to add your blog to my blog list! It's always good to hear another adoptee voice.

  4. I used to be terrified to say anything. Now I'm still terrified, but I say it anyway. I've learned that most white people are terrified to talk about racism, so very few are actually doing it. I may not say all of the right things, but just talking with kids (at my daughter's elementary school) when I see them practicing racism is providing teachable moments. I may not say all of the right things, but it's better than silence.

    Thanks for this post.

  5. Very good post. I like the Thurgood Marshall quote too. I think I have always been more sensitive than the average white person to racism because I have just never found humour in making fun of people. Now that I have my girls I am especially sensitive to the more subtle aspects of it also. Like Tonggu Momma I have always been terrified to say anything but I am more likely to know despite it. I have started with close friends and family because they will have the biggest impact on my children.

    We have been pretty blessed in our town and school that while Asians are not a majority we do have enough so that my daughters will not feel out of place. But it is interesting to note that from 3rd grade where her brother is to kindergarten where my oldest daughter is the other Asian girls are drawn to her. They all know her name and love to hug her and talk to her.

  6. Thank you for your comments, Tonggu Momma and mrkmommy. I too have been scared to speak up, but I'm realizing there are things more important than my own fears. I don't think standing up to racist thought and behavior is an easy thing to do in this society..which makes it all the more vital to do.

  7. As a white woman, I can remember almost every single time I was subjected to racism. Once someone actually said that she would under no circumstance be helped by "that cracker"(I was working in a customer service position). I was flabbergasted. I do hope that those experiences will help me at least a little in understanding what my son will go through (probably on a much more frequent basis than me).

  8. To the Caucasian mothers of adopted Koreans - I can only ask you this:

    You know the feeling when you're the only Caucasian in the room full of non-whites? It makes you feel racially inferior and uncomfortable sometimes. Most people don't even put themselves in these situations.

    That is something your son will deal with on a daily basis (especially when he get's older) - but magnified to an entirely different level. When he's not around you, the same people that look like you, will often treat him the worst. Of course, when he's with you he'll be treated differently - so there's a lot that you won't see.

    My advice is to prepare him for race relations, and discuss it. Don't try to shelter him from the real world or minimize his race problems.

    That kind of stuff definitely did a number on me.

  9. Thank you Scotched for that reminder. I am trying to find ways to talk to my kids about it but I admit that it is hard trying to find ways to tell them without disallusioning them about the world we live in and the people around us. Sigh! 5 just seems so young.