Poetry Saturday
FPC will thank me for this one day

In which I solve at least one of the world's ills

GAAAAHHHH Internet I am OVERWHELMED. And waaaay anxious and since the best thing for Anxious Me is to act like I'm not (seriously, I am not being facetious, this IS the best thing) I will now attempt to write something worthwhile! (You: HAAAA!) 

So! This morning, when we were still kidless and cleaning up last night's party, I suddenly brain-vomited, as I am wont to do when we are kidless, all the Philosophical Discussions I bottle up and save for Phillip. He looks like a computer geek but he can be pretty astute, pretty insightful when he wants to be. And this morning he schooled me on Race Relations. It was rough. I cried. I had to think. Still thinking. 

Not to go into the Whole Big Thing, but a series of conversations, an Unbloggable Event, and about ten minutes of an Oprah show I happened to catch last week turned into this Thing. A thing where I thought I was just sharing a bit of my life with Phillip. You know, I'm all, "Dude, blah blah blah, internal processor, here's my already-thunk-out conclusion, all tidy, there you go, the end." And Phillip is all, "Okay, but blah blah blah maybe you should think about that." It's like he's forgotten I don't like to be WRONG. 

And not that I was wrong so much as... realizing I do not take risks in this part of my life and, according to Phillip and everyone else who is smarter than me, maybe I should. 

I am, as you know, a Pasty White Girl. But most of the important people in my life, my husband and most of the good friends I've had since high school, are Asian-American. I don't know why this is, or if there is even a reason to wonder why it is. There is a not-so-nice term for white boys who are attracted to Asian women, but I haven't heard of a term for a pasty white girl who hangs out with all the Filipino kids in high school. Whatever. It is what it is. 

One thing I don't think I've told you about the Non-Denominational College Fellowship was that, at the time I was in school, there was a strong focus on racial reconciliation, mainly between white people and Asian-Americans, because those were the two racial groups in the fellowship. As a result I participated in MANY the awkward facilitated "conversation" and learned to hide my face whenever it was a white person's turn to speak. It's just the nature of the event, right? Minority attempts to gently educate, Majority doesn't get it. Rinse, repeat, cover my face. 

I was never a person who didn't get it, though. Which isn't to say I GOT IT. I think all that really means is that I knew how the things that might come out of my mouth would sound. I choose my words about race very very carefully. I live in dread of being The White Girl Who Thinks She Understands Your Minority Experience. Probably the only person with whom I'm entirely open about this stuff is Phillip, and that's because one day after one of those awkward facilitated "conversations" I went into full tilt Despair re: interracial relationships were IMPOSSIBLE, how could this EVER work, WOE!, MISERY!, I HATE MYSELF! Phillip gave me a few days on that one, possibly weighing his options in the meantime ("do I REALLY want to date this deranged chick?"), but in the end made it clear that I was being a total idiot, would I like to get married now? 

Anyway, that's just to say that whenever I don't get something, or whenever I'm confused about something and need to talk it out in a safe place, I find Phillip. This also means I elatedly tell Phillip whenever I have acquired another piece of evidence that shows I do understand. So here's one thing: I have become discerning about my Chinese food. I know what's real Chinese food and what's White People Chinese Food. I totally know the difference and have my preferences and YES, I CAN USE CHOPSTICKS, but on occasion a Chinese relative will assume I only eat sweet and sour chicken, and compliment me on my chopstick usage. Whatever, no big deal. But sometimes something happens, like the Unbloggable Event, where I distinguish myself from the Stereotypical White Person Eating Chinese Food and okay, I'll admit it, I feel PROUD. Like I know the secret. Like I understand something. And I tell Phillip, fully expecting to be laughed at, but mostly he doesn't laugh, he'll just say he noticed. 

But I did happen to say that this wasn't something I would share with other Asian-American friends. I mean, besides the fact that it's 1) stupid and 2) totally out of context in practically every conversation, it's something I fear would put me in the category of White Person Desperately Trying To Show You That They Get It. So, I told Phillip, I would probably say nothing. I wouldn't want to risk looking foolish/naive/stupid.

So he looked at me kind of funny and I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was like he turned my little rational explanation on its head. Like, why NOT? I have to say, I haven't fully thought out everything we talked about (INTERNAL PROCESSOR!) but I just knew he was right. That I was fearful and prideful, and not wanting to risk in conversations about race, which you have from time to time when your friends are not white, was keeping me from something. Phillip reminded me that if say or do something in love, the other person should respond in love, even if I mess up - something I always ALWAYS forget. When I told Phillip about the Oprah show, and how there was a white woman going on and on about not having any IDEA that African American women struggle with their hair, and how much I just wanted her to shut up and and how much I wanted to climb into a hole for her sake, he said, "But I think that's awesome." 

So many of the important people in my world are Asian-American, and I am deeply invested in wanting them to think I'm cool on this subject. I want to be as aware as I can possibly be, without going around acting like I understand, if that makes any sense at all. And many times I find myself straddling these places. I mean, I go to an awful lot of happy hours with two Asian-American girls, and of the three of us, I'm the only one with an Asian last name. It gets CONFUSING. I tend to play it safe. No, I ALWAYS play it safe. And today I was informed that, just like on Top Chef and Project Runway, playing it safe is kind of lame, especially with people who'll love you anyway. 

Comments

lindsay

What's awesome? That you wanted to climb into a hole or that the lady didn't know black women struggle with their hair and wasn't afraid to admit she was clueless about that? Just clarifying because I could totally be that person who is clueless. Not that I would go on Oprah and discuss it but sometimes I think not knowing something about another race is interpreted as racist or at least insensitive when in fact it just means it's never been on someone's radar before.

Maggie


Awesome = participating in the conversation. 

Carrie

It is complicated, isn't it. And let's not even go into the fact that we also have the pressure of racing kids that are (at least half, and sometimes I think much more than half) not the same race as us, and how do we raise them to be good Chinese kids when we are not Chinese...
But, that all aside, I'm glad Phillip is encouraging you so much and I hope that you are able to play it not as safe for a while! I'm totally a fan of safe playing too, but I do like to tell other people to do otherwise :)

Carrie

PS- Hopefully my comment made sense and actually was applicable to your post. I'm really tired and braindead today :)

Jess

THIS. This is a huge part of why I have reservations about potentially someday adopting internationally.

And also, the thing about if you speak in love, people should respond in love... that is CRUCIAL. And I've never heard it framed like that before.

Tara

It's all so interesting and confusing to me, even being a mixed race person myself. I think participating in the conversation is huge, rather than pretending that differences don't exist.

The last grad class that I took was Race in American Music. Random sounding, I know, but it was one of the best classes I've ever taken. Made me wish it was a required course (or something like it). One of the ideas that came up in the class was that we are all racist to some degree-- whether we think we are or not. The goal is to realize that and to work forward from there. Anyway, that's maybe off-topic, but it's something that I still roll around in my head all the time... especially since everyone likes to throw out the disclaimer "well I'm not racist..."

Again, I am a somewhat confused person on this delicate topic, but I think it's such a worthwhile one too.

Carolyn

I loved reading your perspective on this. From my position as a pasty white girl, married to a pasty white guy, who just moved to Asia together... we are faced with being a minority in a place with rampant stereotypes about that minority. And these are mostly POSITIVE stereotypes!

For the first time I'm starting to get a tiny little hint of what it might be like to grow up dealing with the preconceived notions of everyone around you. That would be tough for a kid. And if you were living in a place where your minority was stereotyped negatively... I still can't begin to imagine that one. I hope my husband and I can have open dialogues with our new (and old) Asian and Asian-American friends about it.

Tell Phillip his words are inspiring others to start talking about it, too.

Manda

Ok so this is touchy, but I'll weigh in anyway. My situation is different, because a lot of the people I hang out with? Are black. And so, for instance, I know a lot about black women's hair and I WATCHED that Oprah episode and GOT IT (and have you read Malcolm X? My goodness). Anyway, my point is that I don't always weigh in. But there are times when I pride myself in what I know (say, vs. my mom or someone). That being said, when I'm among my friends, I am just myself. I participate in a discussion when I feel compelled to, and my friends allow it because they know they can be real with me in the same way, and they know that I am genuinely interested in who they are and what makes them who they are ... and part of that is their background. And my LORD look at the reconciliation that has to go on between black and white Americans.
Anyway, this might have made little to no sense but I encourage you to be YOURSELF and keep learning and knowing people. Because that's what I see at the heart of this ... not a desire to know a race of people, but a desire to know the people you care about.

The comments to this entry are closed.