May was Asian Pacific American Heritage month and Momsrising.org had a blog carnival in honor of it. I haven't been writing much during my intern year, but couldn't resist contributing after getting an email blast soliciting contributors. Check out the article: Gaysian Marriage?
I have this habit: I count people. Every time I arrive at a function or meeting, I’m like a covert operative and immediately analyze the situation. But I’m not looking for possible emergency exits, I’m counting the number of white people.
Sometimes I count the people of color instead. Basically I count whichever one is in the minority. These days, this usually means counting people of color and it’s usually in the single digits. Thus, the habit is not as all-consuming as it might initially seem; usually it only takes about one second.
And while this sort of behavior might give me something in common with bigots, I’m not a bigot. I’m just not colorblind.
In times of stress we revert to old habits so it's not surprising that a few days ago I found myself tallying the race if each resident in every program that I was considering. As a medical student on the verge of graduation, the deadline for submitting our rank lists is just around the corner.
Unlike applying for college, medical school, or even most jobs, the residency application process is a mutual one. Nobody is accepted and nobody is rejected. Each residency program makes a rank list of the applicants they want with their favorite at the top. Each applicant does the same with residency programs. The lists are submitted and computer magic spits out the optimized combination. On “match day” the results are released and each applicant is given a slip of paper with the name of the program that they’ve been assigned.
The process is similar to dating. It’s a complicated social dance of desperately trying to get a program to like you while at the same time trying to figure out which program will make you the happiest. The process is only intensified by everyone around telling you that it's the most defining decision of your career.
As I reduced each smiling face into a hashmark on my paper, I thought about the email that had prompted this undertaking. It was from my friend and fellow Family Medicine applicant. In it she ruminated about the ranking process. She noted that most of the programs that we were applying to were dominated by white faces. Was that an appropriate thing to be concerned about? How much weight should diversity carry in the ranking process?
Shockingly, I actually never noticed it till a friend of mine pointed it out. "Man, it's just all white people in here! I just keep looking at the door when more people arrive, and it's just more white people every time." The vast majority of my girlfriend's friends in medical school are all white. When we're in a small group I forget that because I just see them as her friends, people who care about her and that she cares about. But every once and awhile they have a large get together and the friend groups expand. Folks outside the inner circle come and the next thing I know, I'm the only person of color in a sea of white folks.
Usually it's not so bad. It's a little strange to me (it's a statistical anomaly since our medical school is not 100% white) but that's all. But there are moments that I want to kill someone or shake them until they will listen or at least shut up.
Some background --- The woman who runs the diversity/sociocultural education part of our medical school curriculum is a black woman. She's also a narcissist and not the most sympathetic character. I don't even like her that much. I agree that there are personality traits of hers that are unpleasant. I also agree that she's not particularly effective at her professional duties related to diversity education in the medical school.
However, there's something about a bunch of white people just sitting around, criticizing folks of color about the way they approach race that really pisses me off. The fact that making fun of this woman is actually a common occurance with these folks (a gathering a few months ago, also all white people except for me, also visited the topic) is a worrisome sign. The complaints against her vary from personal to professional. Everything from the moment that she turned to her husband (another doctor) during a presentation and asked point blank, "How does it feel to be the less successful spouse?" to the time that she held a diversity panel with only black women and finally to the ever famous time she talked about her struggling through her personal issues with having a white nanny. They rehash the same transgressions each time until ultimately, these stories culminate to the final, self-righteous, damning accusation: it's her fault that we're learning nothing about diversity. Furthermore, because of her, our classmates don't take any of these issues seriously. It's a real tragedy. The convenience of this argument lies in the fact that they have now washed their hands of responsibility for their own ignorance.
This discussion on diversity education then wanders to the other components of our curriculum that are supposed to address sociocultural issues. They complain that the small groups that we're placed in are supposed to help us learn from each other, but as white folks, they're too scared to say the wrong thing to really engage. I agree and talk about how sometimes it's actually more effective to address race issues if you actually separate those who identify as white with those who don't. I also point out from the minority perspective, there's not much impetus to talk. Most of us are tired of being ignored and being told we're wrong, so we don't even talk anymore because we think they won't listen.
Ironically, the same people who are lamenting these lost educational opportunities are also sitting around at a social function with only white people who also only date white people. I actually did the statistical analysis. A count of the medical school puts non-white people at 30% of the population. With 15 people in that room and only me as non-white we were 6.6%. A t-test comparing the two proportions indicates that they are significantly different populations with a p<.05. That's geek evidence for saying it is highly unlikely that the fact that the room was all white was random; this group of white people was chosen.
When I point out (probably quite aggressively) that they're not doing much to really address diversity issues within themselves, with this party population as evidence, they of course get very defensive. "It just happened that way." "I had all friends of color in college. They called me an egg." "I was an anthropology major, how could I be a racist?!" I don't have room in this post to address the ridiculous ignorance of those statements.
It's clear throughout this conversation that they see themselves as the enlightened but I find myself reliving those small groups all over again. Once again, there are folks saying ignorant shit and then being unable to listen. I'm pissed off to the point where I regret even opening up the conversation in the first place. My friend H was right, I should have gone to sleep. I would have been a better use of time.
When we go to bed, my girlfriend can tell that I'm angry. And to her credit, she gets it and did try to chime in during the conversation in support. I go to bed thankful that she understands these issues. But when I wake up this morning, I'm still angry. How the hell is a bunch of white people, who clearly have their own unconscious racism and aren't admitting it, much less doing much to address it, gonna tell some black lady that she's doing a bad job? And I'm angry that these are the friends that my girlfriend keeps.
It's not the minority's job to teach you about your own privilege and racism. We do it because we find that if we don't try to teach you, you won't learn. We do it because we've learned that it's in our best interest to do make you understand. But that doesn't mean if we don't do a good job, if we can't cross the gap well enough, that it's our fault and you can simply mourn a lost opportunity. "It's too bad they were so angry, it made me defensive so I couldn't hear what they were saying." "It's too bad that person's personality wasn't great, it prevented me from actually hearing the content of her words." How about you put in a little fucking effort? It's like a starving person blaming the chef who keeps putting food in front of him that he's dying because the food he's cooking isn't good enough.
The process of recognizing one's privilege is a difficult process. It threatens our ability to claim our accomplishments. It can cut to the heart of our identities. But just as you get over the major hump of learning to recognize your own defensiveness and accept that you were simply lucky to be born into good fortune, you realize that discovering what to do with privilege is even harder than pointing it out.
I remember in college I was friends with this guy, R, a sensitive, vegan, white boy with a jew-fro and bare feet. He lived in co-ops, was the founder of RASP, radical art social protest (? I can't remember the acronym exactly, but it was along those lines), and performed slam poetry. He wrote a poem about his shame over not speaking up to injustice and fading into the safety of his own privilege. He wrote a poem about the stark contrast of his life and folks with less money, less access to education, and more melanin. Basically he meditated on his white, straight, male guilt. I used to joke, "Poor R, somebody just needs to go oppress that boy and he'd be so much happier." But it's only years later that I realize I should have said, "Poor R, somebody just needs to go kick him in his white, straight boy ass and tell him to stop wallowing and do something."
If recognizing privilege is hard, giving up privilege is harder. I have no doubt that somewhere within the comfortable hearts of well educated, upper class radicals like me, there isn't a sigh of relief that the world that we advocate for, a world with resources spread equally and no carbon footprint, will never come in our lifetime. Deep down I am scared to give up my one-bedroom apartment (all to myself), my car, and the periodic indulgences (on top of my usual baseline of privilege - acute on chronic, if you will) that I allow myself.
I'm beginning to understand, that no matter how obnoxious it sounds, there is a necessary period of mourning of privilege. I remember the first point of tension I had with my girlfriend. What was so hard for me was listening to her struggle over the privilege of being part of the majority. Watching the process of struggling with giving up a privilege that I was never even offered, that should never exist, was maddening. At the time, I was too consumed by my own anger and suffered injustices that I was unable to remember my own struggles with privilege.
Interestingly enough, what finally snapped it all into focus for me, was a lecture on sexuality during my second year of medical school. Sally Foley , sex expert extraordinaire, was commenting on the use of condoms. Yes, folks think sex just isn't as much fun; yes, folks think you just can't feel as much, sex is less enjoyable; but unless you're in a monogamous relationship with a clear understanding of your family planning goals, you simply have to use them. "You can mourn the loss of condom-less sex, but you still have to use them."
Suddenly, it was much easier to let go of some of those guilty battles that I struggled with. I like fancy cell phones and gadgets. I like accessories, expensive watches, sunglasses, and hats. Previously these wants were largely curbed by an unrelenting sense of frugality instilled by my parents and a lack of disposable income; to a lesser extent, the value of maintaining a simple life without extravagance. I'm not exactly sure why, but being given the permission to mourn somehow gave me the freedom to admire from afar. Suddenly instead of battling between indulging a guilty pleasure and denying its existence, I was given a third option, admit and repent for sinful thoughts. It's a way to go easy on yourself without necessarily giving in.
I guess the next step would be actually conceding something substantial.
The one year anniversary post:
Ever since I was little, I think there was something in me that just knew that I wouldn't end up with another Chinese person. I don't know why. Maybe because I grew up in a really white suburb of Connecticut. The odds just weren't there. At the time it didn't seem too disturbing. It was clear to me that other Chinese parents wanted their kids to end up with Chinese partners. While I figured that was also my parents' preference, they also made it clear, they would never make me date a Chinese person. That felt liberating and I was proud of us! This is America!
However as I got older, this soon became a point of anxiety for me. It was still clear to me that I would probably not end up with a Chinese person. On the other hand, my concern about how much Chinese the next generation would be infused with grew. I did some quick math in my head. My Chinese language ability, understanding of the culture, and ability to cook was, by my liberal estimates, was about 10% of my parents. This was in a household of two Chinese parents that grew up in Taiwan. I projected forward. Since my household would only have me, it might be reasonable to estimate that I would actually be able to pass on maybe 3% of what I actually know (surely, it could not be 5% as I was positive that two Chinese parents had a synergistic, not just cumulative effect). That meant in the span of two generations, our culture would be reduced to three tenths of a percent.
And, because I'm a “worst case scenario” kind of person, I figured I'd end up with a white person. This is not to say that white folks are worse than other folks. But in my head, what I was thinking is that white, American culture is so mainstream, that any child growing up in the states would undoubtedly experience it, learn about it, and incorporate it. Having a white parent was culturally redundant.
And so for a long time, this was something that I had resigned myself to. There wasn't anything to be done about it. The most that I could do was try to bolster my percentage so that my children had a slightly larger pool to draw from. And maybe I would make my parents hang out with them. And the dreaded Chinese school. My kids were definitely sentenced to years of Saturday morning torture.
I realize that the way I'm talking about culture right now makes it sound like this mechanical or discrete knowledge set that I want to force upon my children. I think that's how it comes out sometimes because we grow so anxious about passing these things on, that we don't know what else to do. Certainly as a child, sometimes I felt like Chinese things were a just an exercise in culture that I was required to do because my hair was black and I had squinty eyes.
However, around the time that I got to college, I began to realize that culture was more than that. It was part of my family; it was part of my history; it was part of who I was. I remember showing up to my friend's house late in my freshman year. We were getting together to make dumplings and I realized that participating didn't just bring the promise of yummy food. When I walked through the door and saw everything laid out on the table, I suddenly had this huge sense of relief. Somehow, some part of me had returned home in some way. I realized how much I associated Chinese culture with an anchor in life.
And so when I think about my kids, my anxiety is that the less I pass on to them, the less they understand me, the less they understand their history, the less they understand themselves. I think about all the things that I associate with my childhood and I fear that I can't reproduce it for them. I can recognize some of my favorite dishes when they're cooked, but I can't remember them all myself. And I can't cook them all. I don't even know all their names. We want to show our kids all the things we cherish and it makes me anxious that I can't do that. It's stressful to think that I was the last to know.
And so it was this mindset that I left the states, and my white girlfriend, for, ostensibly, the last summer vacation of my life. I was heading to Taiwan. I would live with my grandmother. I would learn Chinese. I would learn to cook.
As I've alluded to in the past, arriving in Taiwan was so fantastic it felt like a dream. My grandmother was finally letting me watch her cook instead of just having food ready when I showed up. I remember how satisfying it was to feel like my Chinese was actually improving. The words that I found in my books I found on the street. Phrases that I used to understand but could never use myself, seemed to roll off my tongue. And the pinnacle of achievement: I wandered out of the house one day, found my way around the city on my own, ordered from a menu I could read, and then found the right bus line home. Given the bus route signs in Taipei, this was no small feat. My eyes shone with pride.
As time went on I seemed to calm down a bit. The concerns that my Chinese would again disintegrate when I got back to the states seemed to fade. This trip had shown me that I could pick it up if I wanted or needed to. The foundation for that was there and that would never go away. And with that I came to realize that if my Chinese wasn't perfect, that was ok. I wasn't born in Taiwan. I don't live there. I'm from the states and not having perfect Chinese is part of who I am.
And I began to look around a little bit more. As freeing as it was to be so enveloped with Chinese culture, I began to notice how the homogeneity could be stifling. For example, gender normativity is still very strong. I began to understand why my mom has always preferred living in the States. I could not find any good Mexican food to save my life. That sort of thing.
So I guess culture is this balance of old and new. I'm reminded once again that it's a fluid entity that's constantly evolving. And it occurs to me that for the first time I can really appreciate that though things are lost, at least in terms of culture, things are always gained. Instead of just looking at the negative consequences of what not having two Chinese parents might be, I can finally recognize the benefits that also might bring. I think about all the time and emotional energy that I've spent in the past year sorting out being in an interracial relationship. I think about the strength that my partner and I have gained from unpacking race and all the baggage that, unfortunately in this world, race brings with it. I can't help but think that my children are bound to benefit from growing up in a household where interracial/intercultural dialogue is a culture in it of itself.
It's hard to unpack a disagreement. So many things are said so quickly. So many responses are made off a snap second judgement of not only your partner's emotions but also your own. Even afterwards, when I play over what's said, it's often still hard to figure out what I was feeling and why.
My girlfriend and I were on the way to a networking event: medical professionals, drinks, and our attempt to garner support for a recent policy proposal.
We started talking about identity. I asked her how she preferred to identify. We were a relatively new couple and probably the first time that she was really coming to realize that she might actually be attracted to women (something I often forgot as she handled it with such grace). I guess at the time that I posed the question, I didn't think that it would matter to me how she answered. Really, I was just curious about her thoughts. It was my way of trying to figure out how she was feeling about it.
Through the course of our conversation, I shared how I believed my sexual orientation to be either bisexual or gay, but that I chose to identify as queer for political reasons. I worried about enforcing a binary gender normative so I was reluctant to identify as bi. On the other hand, gay seemed so constricting. Even more importantly, I felt like queer was more inclusive. More and more I've come to see the value and wisdom in coalition forming. The LGBTTIQA alphabet soup had to stick together. Who else could we count on for support? One letter is just too lonely.
She said that she could see the wisdom in that. At the same time, it didn't seem to fit for her personally. Certainly, she recognized that transgendered folks deserved a voice. She just didn't really feel like she had much in common with someone who was transgendered. How could she truthfully claim that identity and unity if she didn't feel like they had any shared experiences?
At another point she talked about perhaps not choosing an identity at all. Why should anyone have to chose a label?
I immediately became agitated. I tried not to get personal and even told myself I wasn't mad at her. I was mad at the way things were. The system. Our circumstances. I reminded myself that identity is personal. If she didn't feel like she had anything in common with a transgendered person, I couldn't tell her that was wrong and that she ought to. I reminded myself that in an ideal world, not choosing an identity should be free of negative implications.
I argued with her about the convenience of allowing oneself to pass. I said, "I'm not saying you're doing this, but sometimes I feel like some people chose to not pick a label because then they don't ever have to confront the issue. They can just pass. And if people who can pass just keep on passing, we'll never be able to normalize this identity!" We both played along and pretended that I wasn't attacking her personally.
From there it was this cascade of incompletely understood feelings compounded by misunderstood responses. It was like when you turn down a ski slope that's just a bit beyond your skill. You start off faster than you expect, but it's ok. Around one third of the way down you're still surviving but you're only processing flashes of visual input. All your responses are based on instinct. Then it all finally catches up with you, some how you fall, and the next thing you know, you've tumbled to the bottom without any idea of how it all happened.
The next thing I remember clearly: hours after the car ride, sitting in my apartment with the lights out. Still struggling, but now it wasn't just about identity anymore. Race. Class. And it was no longer clear what the topic of discussion was. The "ideal" conflict resolution model of 1) identify the issue 2) outline feelings 3) discuss and clarify needs 4) resolution seemed impossible to apply. I don't think I could have even explained what I was feeling and why I was upset. She said I was attacking her friends without knowing them just because they were white and not necessarily the most radical people. She accused me of taking my anger about the system out on her. I knew that this was an unfair to projection, so I struggled to admit that she was right to both her and myself.
In my mind, I try to list all of the missteps and assumptions and miscommunications and vulnerabilities and anger and baggage (from individuals and the world) that came up during that conversation. It's overwhelming. And there was this moment, when I sat there in the dark, that I felt this intense despair. Maybe it wasn't possible for me to date a white person after all. I know it sounds dramatic but it almost felt like the tragedies of the world were pulling us apart.
However, at the same time, accompanying that was this vision of us fighting fiercely for our relationship. We spend our whole lives doing work founded on the premise that humans have the capacity for empathy and change. If we couldn't even figure out how to resolve all these issues with someone that we were deeply in love with, how could we continue hope for that in the world? When it was framed that way, it seemed absurd to even consider giving up.
I struggled with what I knew I should do admit: that I was frustrated that she could pass; that I was jealous that the was society and often those around us treated her was so different than that was that I was treated; and most importantly, that I was unfairly, though however humanly, translating my issues with the world that we live in onto a more concrete target: her.
Finally we found the words that would finally be heard. My mouth probably dropped open. "I will never be other. It's like you want me to be." Words that me me remorseful, "Give me a break! I only realized that I might even be queer a few months ago!" And finally, words that physically made me cringe, "At what point do I lose the ability to laugh at jokes you make about white folks because it's just too sensitive an issue between us?" And from my end, "Even though right now I might be safe, you don't think that I know that at any point world politics, societal beliefs could change and I'd land on the dangerous side of "other"? More than just fighting implicit issues, but like, hate crimes and murders."
They say that when you meet a patient, 90% of the diagnosis can be found in the interview. Sometimes telltale details in the patient's history can almost certainly point to a specific diagnosis. In the case of aortic dissection, the classic marker is abdominal pain that is so sudden and so intense that the patient's memory of when it first started is like a freeze frame recount.
I remember that feeling the first weekend that I met my girlfriend.
We were at a conference. I had just recently come to recognize the "white folks" rule. Additionally, I was still pretty certain that I wouldn't ever be able to date a white person again. At least not any time soon. However, I wasn't so disillusioned that I believed that I couldn't even befriend white folks. Besides, I was curious about her. Classmates had described her to me as a liberal who believed that disengaging from the system and removing the liberal view point from the discussion, would only make things worse. It was our responsibilty to stay involved; thus, her heavy involvement in the AMA. I was skeptical. I knew plenty of people who said they were liberal but didn't do much more than vote Democratic.
We were on an escalator in a hotel way to fancy for anyone's good. We were standing on the escalator up from the conference rooms to the lobby level. I stood staggered with my left foot resting on a stair higher than my right and I was turned, slightly facing her. She was standing towards my right. I made a general comment about "white folks." Looking back, I was probably testing her. There was a moment. Then she looked at me and responded. Smart. Calm. Un-offended. The carpet behind the escalator had a diamond pattern.
And so it was a bit of a surprise for everyone when a few months later I started dating a white girl who looked like a Republican. Incidentally, when confronted with this news, she asked, "Republican? Why?" My friend quickly rattled off, "Clothes, hair, white, pearls." To which she responded, "But pearls go with everything!"
A few weeks before meeting her I had learned a new lesson about white folks. As it turns out, in general, white folks don't like being referred to as white folks. They sometimes find it racist and at the very least it seems to be impolite. This was a big surprise for me because I had pretty much spent my whole life referring to groups of people by race. When I was little it was a way of helping me understand how I fit in culturally. White folks didn't use chopsticks at the table. I was different because I was Chinese. Chinese folks eat rice and speak Chinese and really, really, really like the color red. It wasn't a label that implied quality, just difference.
As I got older, it seemed natural to speak this way because it seemed like everyone around me spoke that way. My Korean friends joked about white people and their Korean music. I would overhear black kids in the hallway imitating the way "white people" talked. My Chinese friends and I referred to "Chinese parents" as a culture in it of itself, a phrase used to describe the often expected strictness, importance on musical ability, and academic success. My friend and I joked that Jewish people weren't really white, they were Chinese.
Looking back, I can now recognize that these comments were almost exclusively made by minorities/people of color. Looking back, I realize that they were never made in mixed company. I'm an idiot. How did it take me so long to realize this? Jokes that are funny to people of color are not funny to white people. And sometimes they even find them offensive.
I guess it's because white folks are raised to be scared to talk about differences. Our parents' generation was that of the "melting pot" and "color blind" philosophy. People were people. To recognize that people were different based on race was dangerous because you might be a racist. It was better to pretend or work to a point where race wasn't even noticed. And so that's the message, however explicit or implicit that was passed on to their children. [Clearly this is just a guess - my own attempt to understand. I wasn't raised white. I have no idea.]
On the other hand, those of us who fall in the category of "other" can't really ignore race and culture. In fact, I think it's learned/taught very early on, that paying attention to the rules of white folks is necessary to survival because they're the dominant culture.
For example, when I was six or so, I was playing at my friend's house and was invited to stay over for dinner. I helped set the table and the dinner seemed to be going fine. At this point I had already learned the differences in food and utensils. Chinese food was eaten with chopsticks. White people food was eaten with forks and knives and spoons. Towards the end of the meal, I got to the awkward point where there was just a few bites of food left on my plate. I tried to get my spoon to pick it up, but there wasn't enough leverage and I watched myself chase it around on my plate. The pieces were too small for a fork. I pondered what to do.
Throwing out the food was not an option. That would be wasteful. My dad had been very clear about that. So, though it seemed awkward, the plate was so big, I decided to lift the plate so that the edge was too my lips. We did that all the time at home with our bowls. In fact, it's how you eat rice with chopsticks. As soon as I got the plate to my lips, I realized that perhaps this had been the wrong decision. It was so heavy, that it was hard for me to maneuver my other hand to push the rest of the food into my mouth. And if that weren't enough of a hint, I heard my friend protest (I couldn't actually see her since the plate was so large and in my face), "She's putting the plate to her mouth! You can't do that!" Her mom quickly hushed her, "People are taught different manners."
Needless to say, I was embarrassed. I finished as quickly as I could. Then I tried to pretend that nothing had happened. We all did. I also worried that now they thought me and my family were uncultured and rude. I worried that she thought I had bad parents who hadn't taught me good manners. This seemed to be of special concern to me since many of the manners I had been taught revolved around how to interact with adults and how to show respect: "Did you go say hi and say 'a yi'?" "Make sure you thank 'shu shu' for that." Manners and respect seemed to be linked. Had I just disrespected my friend's mother? My host?
And so that's how I learned that white folks didn't put anything but cups and utensils to their mouths. I find it hard to believe that that's a racist statement. But I guess, then again, if it bothers white folks, it's not like I have to go around pointing it out.
Last year, I was recounting the most recent happenings in an ongoing flirtation of mine, "K", when my friend turns to me and says, "Jess, if K were white and female, do you think you could fall for him then?" My friend clearly wasn't fooled. Despite the fact that C was probably one of the best guys I've ever met and quite attractive, she knew that I would never fall in love with him (I'm just a little too gay), but the "white" qualifier surprised me. My mouth dropped open and I immediately tried to defend myself, "Hey! I don't date just white people! My first girlfriend was black! I dated a Hapa after that! One of my boyfriends was Native American!" Why did I feel the need to defend myself? Why was it upsetting to be seen as a person who dated white folks? Was it not radical enough to date a white person?
Actually, it was just around that time that I was worried about the opposite. I was worried that I could never date a white person again. And I was worried about what that said about me. My last relationship was with a white person. An incredible, loving, progressive person. While we were together I had never considered race an issue in our relationship. Sometimes I forgot that we were interracial at all. But as I reflected over our relationship, I realized that sometimes the race difference was hard on us.
I remember getting into a huge argument about rich, white folks and their huge houses and expensive cars. She thought I was too angry and militant.
I remember her breaking down in tears when I made a half joke about not living with only white people in the future. And I remember how guilty I felt afterwards, like I had failed to be enlightened enough, that I had failed at fitting in. People are people. Why not hang out with only white folks?
And yet, it seemed impossible. My recent experiences with white folks seemed less than promising. Somehow things I said, jokes I made always seemed to alienate them. I was too angry. I pointed out white people too much. I could tell this. I could sense it. And I could tell that people didn't like me because of it. And yet I couldn't stop. It was like being transported back to middle school again when you're trying so hard to make friends but you can just tell that nobody likes you. Except, back then sometimes it was just confusing and not necessarily your fault. You were still learning social navigation skills and didn't know what you were doing wrong. This time around, it was all the same feelings of being unliked coupled with the knowledge that you were the one doing something wrong over and over and over again. It's a terrible to feel unliked. It's even worse when you're certain it's your fault and you can't fix it.
It's a confusing place. I've often wished that there were some kind of objective meter out there that I could judge my behavior against. On one hand, I felt for certain that my comments were militant and out of line. Response after response of those around me had told me that. Maybe I was a racist. On the other hand, a small part of me cried out to be validated. The most effective tool of counter-organizing is to convince those who are oppressed and those who are aware that they're being extreme. Was I falling victim to societal pressures to fall in line? The uncertainty killed me. Was I a good person or not?!
I didn't know. But whichever I was, it was pretty clear to me that I would probably never date a white person again, not necessarily because I was against it in principle but because it just could never work out. Whether I was a good or bad person, I could not, for the life of me, keep my mouth shut. I'd have to find someone who was ok with that.
What I've been reading:
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
about this blog
A place where I can write my thoughts on race, on privilege, on class, on being a doctor. Part of the endless struggle to become a little bit more enlightened and feel a little less alienated.
Agree with me. Call me out. Pass it on.
I post once or twice a month with smaller comments on mini-blog.
My name is Jess. In the interest of full disclosure: I'm a 30-something-year-old Chinese American and believer that the quest for social justice and equity must be an intentional and active one. I'm a Family Medicine physician. I'm queer. I'm a radical. I grew up in a mostly white suburb and my parents are white-collar workers. And I don't eat meat, but I miss it sometimes.
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