Uncomfortable Conversations

I am writing this in May of 2020. Two and a half months have passed since the mandate of a quarantine in Southern California due to Covid-19. Life has been disrupted on a global scale for everyone regardless of class and social status.

There is unrest everywhere, but especially in the land of the “free.”

On February 23, 2020 two civilian white men shot and killed 25 year old Ahmaud Arbery as he was jogging in the street. Their justification for killing this man was that they believed him to be the “suspect” that was responsible for local break-ins.

On March 13, 2020, three plain clothes police officers forced their way into an apartment searching for individuals who were already in custody. They did not announce themselves and they exchanged gunfire with a man inside who was a registered and licensed gun owner that was acting in self-defense in what he thought was a house invasion. The officers would end up killing 26 year old Breonna Taylor in the ensuing firefight.

On May 25, 2020,  46 year old George Floyd was murdered by a police officer that kneeled on his neck for minutes on end until he was dead.

Civilians taking the “law” into their own hands on someone they alleged was a thief.

Police in plain clothes looking for someone who was involved in narcotics that did not announce themselves that fired round after round into an apartment building.

Police officers arresting a compliant man for paying with a counterfeit bill and then minutes later killing that man in an agressive and sadistic way after hearing again and again that he could not breathe.

The country is reeling as protests are taking place all over the country. Some of these protests have turned violent and individuals are taking to the internet to voice their displeasure at the dangerous environments that are forming… for them.

Disingenuous and half-assed “my prayers are with the families of _______” followed by denials of they systemic problem that has been afflicting the United States for centuries fill social media.

Absolute radio silence from those who are comfortable and unaffected by racial tension and prejudice when innocent people are dying, but an absolute excess of unwarranted, unbased, and ignorant “arguments” and comments about how “protesting and violence is never the answer.”

“Vocal about the looting, silent on the murder”

This is the context into which this post is being written.

The Talk:

I remember when I was maybe around age 10, I was super into jedi knights and power rangers. I remember walking into a Wal-Mart and seeing a life sized cut out of probably Anakin Skywalker or something and striking a pose pretending to fight it. I distinctly remember my parents telling me to behave myself and to stop play-fighting while I continued to do so. My parents gave me the scolding stare to which I realized that I was actually in trouble. After being reprimanded at home, and being taught an introduction on how my behavior needed to be different due to pre-existing stereotypes based upon my skin color, my parents did their best to communicate to me that I did not always need to know “why” I was not allowed to do something. They went on to articulate that disobedience oftentimes meant exposure to dangers I did not understand.

Later that week my parents found a documentary on the KKK and had me watch it to help reinforce the importance of not being wise in my own eyes and being obedient when instructed not to do something. I felt a cold fear grip my stomach as I learned about these atrocities that humans would commit against other humans. It was that day that I learned about racism. It was that day that I learned, that it was foolish to not be afraid.

“The Innocent Are Never Afraid”

As the oldest and most rebellious of my sisters and cousins, I was always getting into trouble. Sometimes, I would not be the instigator of the current day’s antics, and yet I would be afraid of getting into trouble. I remember that one time, my mother said that “if I was innocent, I shouldn’t be afraid or guilty.” Regardless, a fear I have always had is being accused and convicted of a crime I did not commit.

This fear is not easily understood if you have not experienced firsthand the unforgiving and ugly head of injustice. In this country, we are taught that the “bad guys” are the only ones who should fear the police, because they are here to protect and serve the “good guys.” As a child, I one day discovered that being a “good guy” was only a matter of perspective.

On one specific occasion when I was around 9-10 years old, my family went to the outlets at Camarillo. I was in a golf shop with my sister and we were behaving as we had been taught by our parents. We were not the leashed children kicking and screaming and bouncing off the walls. We were well-behaved and simply looking at the different gear and seeing if there was anything we could convince our dad to buy for us. We looked at some cool gloves that were tied down to the table and tried them on, and we perused the different aisles.

The middle aged white male manager made eye contact with me once and chilled me to the bone with his judgmental gaze. I broke his gaze and made an excuse to my sister for us to get out of there and we went next door to the shoe store where our parents were.

I felt afraid for some reason as his gaze burned in my mind.

So I hid in the back of the shoe store.

I watched through the window as the golf store manager made his way from the golf gear store into the shoe store. He made eye contact with me, sneered, and then made his way to my dad. It was easy to pick out my parents because we were the only Asians there, but he proceeded to accuse me of stealing a pair of golfing gloves. My dad calmly said, that I had not taken anything, but that I could prove it and had me come up and asked me what happened. I explained that Mary and I had been in the store, that we had looked at and touched the display gloves, but that we left after that. The manager didn’t believe me, so my dad asked me to pull out my pockets, which I did. They were empty, and the manager left without so much as an apology. My parents proceeded to tell me to be careful in stores and to keep my hands out of my pockets and to avoid acting suspicious.

I never forgot that feeling.

The sheer fear.

Fear not of being guilty, but being perceived to be guilty

Asian-American Identity Crisis

I’ve struggled for years to articulate what I wanted to say in this post. I’ve wanted countless times to explain and articulate what it is like to grow up as a minority in the United States. To explain why the fact that the Avengers are all white affects the roles which Asian American children believe they fit into. To articulate why after the first few minutes of meeting me, if you can’t stop making jokes about my last name, that I can’t just laugh and shrug it off. To try and make people understand that the demonization of people of asian descent in media is bothersome to me.

Yet, it is always such an uncomfortable topic to breach. For most of the time, my experiences and explanations fall upon ears that do not understand and do not try to understand. I am instructed to continue to be a model minority, and to carry on as if nothing wrong is happening.

I’ve learned that if I want better treatment in restaurants to wear button up shirts and to keep proper posture.

If the interview is business casual, show up in a suit, show up earlier than 10 minutes before, and to always smile regardless of what the situation is or what is being asked of me.

The answer to “where are you from” is a question that I must answer without fair reciprocation. Because I am Chinese because my grandfather was born there and the asker of the question is simply “American” because he is white. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never even laid a foot in China, but that is who I am according to the people who ask that question.

Conditional Acceptance

For those who think that minorities in the United States make too big of a deal about systemic racism in this country and that we ignore the struggles of the majority, let me break it down into more concise terms.

It is uncomfortable to be a minority in the United States because our acceptance into this society is entirely and utterly conditional. 

Let me say that in different words: as people of color, our acceptance in this country, is fully dependent upon events and actions that we are oftentimes not even remotely affiliated with.

It seems that whatever trial the United States faces, the people who pay are the ones who fit the template set forth by the government, the media and the masses. Don’t believe me?

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, who had their rights as United States Citizens stripped away as they were sent to camps that have all been since forgotten by the masses?

Nobody wants to do the backbreaking blue collar work in the farms and fields, but when the economy crashed in 2007 which group was attacked for “stealing all the jobs.”

The country enjoys cheap clothing, goods, and imports at the expense of labor trafficked individuals overseas because of the choices of in-state companies and CEO’s but who is accused with “stealing” domestic jobs?

After 9/11, which people group was singled out by airport security and numerous government organizations and demonized endlessly in the media and in everyday settings?

EVER since the founding of this country which people group has been endlessly wronged, beaten, tortured, and killed in a never ending stream of hate crimes?

The average white United States Citizen can not fully understand what it feels like to live in a constant state of limbo that a minority lives in. For in the blink of an eye, any colored individual could lose their “government promised” rights in the name of national security because unbeknownst to us, the conditions might have changed.

As a special note to my friends of color (but a still valid example to my white friends if you are able to empathize and place yourself in this situation) who do not believe that the issue is systemic, I ask you to consider the hypothetical situation in which the ethnic people group that you have descended from committed some sort of act of war against the United States. Perhaps a country you have never been to but have only heard of in stories from your grandparents or parents. I ask you to think about how our government and the organizations that are tasked with enforcement and intelligence would handle you.

And as you consider arguments that may be related to your innocence and non-involvement in anything sinister, I ask you to consider the Japanese Internment Camps and the Patriot Act. As the fear sets in of having what you say and claim about yourself disregarded and your “rights” stripped away, realize that this is an everyday reality for many.

Being Chinese During the Coronavirus

I remember stepping out of my car early in the Covid-19 quarantine with an N95 mask that I had purchased during the LA fires years ago. Social distancing was already in place, masks were mandated, and protective gear was everywhere.

I distinctly remember how it felt to be standing in line and to see people staring at me and continuing to stare angrily as I followed all the rules and procedures that were set forth. I remember cashiers being short with me, getting called out for wearing an N95 as opposed to just a cloth mask for civilians, and I distinctly remember that first couple of weeks on social media.

“China hides the true death toll of covid in Wuhan as crematoriums work overtime”

“Researchers confirm that China engineered the virus in a lab”

I remember reading stories of Asian Americans getting harassed at stores, on subways, in everyday places just because of what they looked like.

I was on edge to put it lightly.

I was afraid to go home because I didn’t want to risk being a carrier and getting my family sick.

I was afraid to go get groceries because people are unpredictable when they are afraid.

I remember thinking to myself that this was a terrible time to be Asian.

Unclear Regulations and Aggressive Enforcement

In late April, a friend of mine told me that there was a basketball court that was open and that its hoops were uncovered. She told me that she saw people playing there daily and that she would sometimes go to practice ball handling and shooting.

She invited me to go and play, but I was uncertain due to the ever changing rules and regulations about outdoor activity. So I called the Irvine Police Department non ermergency line and asked them if playing basketball on an open court was legal at the time.

The officer I spoke with told me that as long as there was no signage that the park was closed, and that we maintained social distancing rules, that it was perfectly legal.

My friend and I proceeded to play three one on one games and shot around. In the time we were there, there were four other people who also shot around. For 1.5 of the 2 hours we were there, others were there enjoying the park as well. Near the end everyone left and it was just her and me.

As we were about to leave, a masked and mid twenties white private security officer briskly approached us as we were switching shoes and talking about how much we missed basketball.

He hyper aggressively asked us if we knew that it was illegal to use parks.

As I began to respond, he cut me off and said that it was illegal and that we were not allowed to be there.

As I began to say that I had been uncertain but that I had called the Police department to ask he cut me off yet again and asked me to stay six feet away from him as I shifted my weight from my right to my left foot.

I tried to start again to say that we were sorry and that the court was not visibly closed and that there was no signage indicating it was to which he interrupted me again and said that the park was private property and that we should have known that it was closed.

I remember biting my tongue and saying that we were leaving.

I remember feeling angry and disregarded.

Especially because he never once let me finish, did not speak respectfully to me, and did not hear me out at all. We did nothing disrespectful, did not break any written rules, and even as I apologized for being there and it was clear that we were leaving, he continued to harp on me.

Now this example may not have an explicit racially prejudiced action depicted, however, it does depict on a small scale how people who possess the power of enforcement are oftentimes not listening. 

We Don’t Owe Explanations to Anyone, But We Can Let Those We Care About Into Our Experiences

In my office I work with an eclectic group. My white bosses took covid very seriously and began to have us come into the office in shifts while working in separate offices. They handled the whole scenario very well and made us feel safe without alienating any of us. Not once, did I feel discriminated against.

However, one of my coworkers inadvertently started making me feel really uncomfortable.

He started making jokes about whether or not I had the coronavirus in reference to a couple of days where I was out of the office.

He started closing my door for me while staring at me and then spraying my doorhandle with Lysol whenever I would enter or leave.

Now a thing to know about my coworker is that he is a great guy. We have a great banter and prank each other back and forth normally, so this kind of behavior is nothing out of the ordinary. However, the context is what made these individual and isolated scenarios so unsettling.

I began to feel very uneasy whenever he would do these things, and so I started to shut down around him. At first I thought to myself that I should tell him how uncomfortable he was making me BUT as all of us with histories littered with scenarios like these are aware, coming clean and vulnerable about how uncomfortable people make you feel is generally met with one of two responses.

The first which is pretty rare, is a validation of your unease followed by an apology.

The second response, is a complete dismissal of how you feel, followed by some sort of defensive justification OR a straight up personal attack.

Anywho, one day as he was leaving he was saying goodbye and I very unenthusiastically said, “bye”. To which he paused in the doorway and I had a very long five seconds to decide if I was going to breach this ridiculously uncomfortable topic

I ended up, as concisely as possible, telling him that I knew that he was joking, but that due to the social environment of today, the things that he was doing mainly as a joke were making me very very uncomfortable. I told him I was on edge because of how I perceived I was being treated differently in social contexts and because of how people in the United States were perceiving and dialoguing about China (the Chinese Communist Party).

I was pleasantly surprised as my coworker immediately apologized both for his actions and for the way that people were making me feel. He profusely apologized for the next couple of days and he stopped all behavior that would imply that I had it.

What Covid has Taught Me

Most of my life I have spent avoiding both uncomfortable conversations and uncomfortable situations. For too long, I have stayed silent instead of saying something because I was afraid of being dismissed or for not fully understanding the concept that I wanted to attempt to articulate. When it comes to prejudice and racism, my experiences are nothing in comparision to what some of my brothers and sisters face daily. While I push for more representation in media for asians some of my brothers and sisters are seeing their own tortured and KILLED on national television.

I can not hope to understand the pain, frustration, and anger that they feel, but it is unjust of me to sit idly by as the broken system continues to exploit and murder my brothers and sisters. 

The conversation as uncomfortable as it may be must be discussed. The wrongs I face on a small scale, helped me to taste a fraction of what it feels like to be marginalized, dismissed, and wrongfully accused, however, I never faced harm nor death.

It is time for us to engage each other and to mourn with our brothers and sisters who are mourning.

It has been past the time where we must stand up against injustice!

WHY are some of us still arguing about “who is right,” and “what method of protesting is truly effective when people are dying. And not only dying by some random disease or unfortunate situation, but murdered in cold blood.

Tryanny is a strong word, but how do you describe a system that allows people of one group to be murdered while the murderers of another group walk free or only get “fired” from their jobs?

Families are losing husbands, wives, sons, & daughters and the ones that took those members are losing their jobs?!

God and my brothers and sisters forgive me for ever having the gall to dismiss your loss and to argue a point about optimal ways of getting your voice heard! Forgive me for idly sitting by and allowing my actions to stop at a hashtag and a repost on my social media.

My friends, if we do not rise to the occasion and stand with those who are facing oppression, discrimination, and racism we give power to the oppressor. We are no better and we are accomplices to murder.

The Application

This is a call to action my friends.

Lay aside the desire to be right and the desire to win an argument.

Engage the uncomfortable conversations that surround you. 

LISTEN to the real pain, real experiences, and real struggle of those in your communities. At the heart of many beliefs is fear, trauma, and a whole lot of personal experience.

If every voice in your community sounds the same, that doesn’t make those voices right. 

Broaden your social sphere and LEARN about what is happening from the people who live it.

Our society needs more listeners. Not arguers. The moment that we stop listening to respond and start listening to validate the experiences of our brothers and sisters is the the moment that we begin to see the world more holistically.

Making it Personal

Think about a time when you were in pain or going through some sort of situation that re-hashed past trauma. Who knows, you might have thought irrational or seemingly erratic thoughts about societal systems or life in general.

If your friends started arguing with you or telling you that you were being unreasonable, would it in any way have helped the situation?

On top of that, would you not harbor frustration at these people who claim to know you, yet so quickly jump to attack your “implied political agenda” when you were in pain trying to process your emotions while rehashing a very real past pain.

I think oftentimes we do not understand that there is a time and a place for us to learn and to engage with these uncomfortable conversations. That there is a time for us to respectfully ask, to openly listen, and to have the opportunity to learn.

However, at other times, we need to understand that we just need to be present.

We need to be there to listen.

We need to mourn together.

We need to acknowledge that murder is murder.

That loss of life is LOSS of life.

And that regardless of the minutia of the situation, that this is not the first time this has happened, and that the fear that this will happen again is not at all unwarranted.

We need to be able to feel the fear and frustration that our brothers and sisters feel because if we did, we would not be so quick to tout our political views and opinions.

If we could for just a second place ourselves in their shoes and see how the system we live in could just as easily subject us to the same treatment, we would not nearly be as brash or arrogant.

In closing, I would like to share a story of a man named Lazarus.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha… So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days… Then when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirt and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord come and see.’

Jesus wept.”

John 11: 1, 17, 32-35

As someone with the power to raise people from the dead, Jesus out of anyone, fully had the right to display a lack of empathy for the plight of people who were mourning and overwhelmed with grief caused by death.

And yet, Jesus the Son of God, weeps and is troubled as He is present with those who are mourning.

Let us mourn together but then let us stand together.





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