I stood in the backyard with a couple of kids from the neighborhood. I was five years old and my jet black hair was hot from the direct sunlight as I watched these children perform a rhyme. I heard the first word, and my face burned.
“Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these,” they shouted while using their index fingers to distort the shape of their eyes. Slanted. Always slanted.
I grew up in what I affectionately call a “railroad town.” It was at the very bottom of the mitten of Michigan, and if you blinked twice, you’d miss the main drag.
My mother and I were one of the few Asian families in town, and as a child, I didn’t get why I was considered different. All I knew was that it hurt to feel like the “other.”
So it’s interesting to note that I refused to believe that racism was still a problem when I was in high school. I wanted so badly to shut my eyes to all the problems in our world and believe that humans could just accept and love each other exactly as we are. I wanted so terribly to believe this that I refused to acknowledge the pain that my dad or my mother or my grandpa or my aunt or my uncle would go through on a daily basis.
Because, unlike me, they’re black.
(I’m even more appalled when I remember that Freedom Writers was my favorite movie ever.)
Now, at twenty-six, I look back at the younger, more idealistic version of myself and I ask her, “Where did you learn that it was okay to invalidate other people’s reality and pain because you no longer experienced it firsthand?”
And while the answer is arguably much more complicated than this, I know the self-help books I was reading and the misinterpreted meanings that I took from them had a lot to do with it. That and my parents didn’t have the words to communicate what they experienced in a way that I would’ve understood.
Which all serves to remind me that if you don’t discuss an issue or try to understand what’s going on in our world that you’re at risk of making decisions based on false conclusions. Hurtful ones, like blaming a loved one for stuff they can’t control -- the way they’re treated by a judge, why they’re having so much trouble getting a raise, why they feel an aversion to the way they look.
What I’m trying to do is apologize. For the times I closed my mind to the very real issues happening to the people I love and to the ones I would eventually come to love. For the times I blamed someone for being exactly as they are when they didn’t get what they wanted. For the moments I didn’t realize that keeping quiet meant reinforcing the status quo.
As a marketer, a writer, a big sister, and a member of this society, I promise I won’t stay quiet and closed anymore.
With so much love,