In Which, Once Again, I Am the Ching Chong Chinaman

Open Scene: Community Picnic, Fall 2017

“Mama, mama, mama, mom, mom, mom…”

“Can I have more rice?”

“My hot chocolate is too hot. I burned my tongue, see?”

“Okay, sh…. Please, just eat some of your food because it’s going to get cold and you won’t want to eat it.”

*Spoons toddler son a mouthful of rice in a second of silence*

“Hey Ching chong Chinamen…”

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCKING HELL.

“Excuse me, what?! Get a life!!”

“Oh shit….” *Scamper* *Scamper*

“Mom, what did they say?”

“Mom, you said we were supposed to be nice to people. That wasn’t nice.”

“Mom, what did they say? Why did they say ching chong?”

Scene Fades Out.

*************************************************************************************

     I have recently had multiple conversations with people in which the forefront of them has a veiled excuse (or screaming microagression, it just depends on which side of the looking glass you are) that the racist things said and done to me and others, should be looked at on a case by case basis and that I should give people more of a benefit of a doubt because I live in North Dakota. Because maybe people haven’t traveled or people don’t know anyone of color outside of their movies and television screens.

.B-U-DOUBLE L.SHIT.

     I will not excuse you from saying something or doing anything that is racist and allow you to say “I’m not a racist because I have a [insert token friend/family member/coworker/teacher/I-don’t give a shit].” Or “I’m not a racist, can’t you take a joke?” Or “I’m not a racist, you’re just too politically correct and need to get over ‘it.’”

Because…do you even know what ‘IT’ is?!

     I have taken up my cross to bear in this conversation, in this acrimonious section of American life to, for the most part, educate. But to be honest, it’s mostly because I don’t have a choice. Because the day I was conceived my DNA dictated my browner skin, my dark hair, and my almond eyes. I cannot scrub the brown off, I won’t wear my sunglasses at night, and I can’t change that I’m not white anymore than you can change your genetics. And I’ve taken it on because I don’t want this for my kids. I don’t want this for your kids or any other adult.

     And I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, the victim should not have the onus of proof placed upon them in any situation. The victim should be able to call a spade a spade and then the burden of proof should be placed on the perpetrator—including obtaining the education to simply just be a better person. Damn, strive to be a better person by learning and educating yourself to live in community. We all live in communities and they are increasingly growing in a global way, and yes, even in North Dakota.

     Because I can remember the first time kids pulled their eyes back with their fingers and with each passing year how the kids may have changed but the subject of their ridicule never did. I can remember the first time someone asked me if I liked “flied lice” and the triumphant look of someone who had just thought up the funniest joke they’d ever heard. And their face afterwards when I didn’t laugh. How offended, how angry they were at me for not being able to “take a joke.” I can remember the first time I was called a chink by a boy that I didn’t want to date. I remember the nicknames alluding to my sexuality, which is obviously ferocious and dragon-like. I remember my substitute teacher making all of the kids who weren’t white stand up to prove a point about immigration—and waiting until myself and the lone bi-racial girl in our class were forced to stand as exhibit A and B. I remember being mistaken for my father’s mail-order wife. I remember the first time someone told me my “English was so good” and I “spoke so well” in a loud, exaggerated voice—to make sure that I could understand

     And even still, do you know the worst thing about all of these examples? The worst thing is that I can’t remember the number of all the other times that these exact and barely varying scenarios played out. Scenarios that included myself being subjected to someone else’s ignorance and expected to forgive and forget or “educate because they don’t know better.” I can’t remember because they happen so damn often. Regardless of where I live or where I visit or where I go. Of who I am.  It doesn’t matter how much slack I give in conversation, how “understanding” I am in response to racist jokes and spoken stereotypes. It doesn’t matter how often I give a benefit of doubt when it’s never returned based on the color of my skin.

Because I don’t look like someone’s “American,” I am not.

I couldn’t be.

I cannot be.

I am not.

I’m always still the Ching Chong Chinaman.

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Are You Tired Too?

Since the election I have felt at a loss for words. Despite what you may see or read from any of my social media or even in person, I have felt a loss of words…a loss of energy…a dimming of…something…which has impeded my ability to emote in the ways which typically come easier to me. The 2016 election, the new presidency, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, PULSE, and now this…Charlottesville…high profile snapshots indicating and peeling back just the thin skim of the broader festering in our American values. And unfortunately those examples are only a sampling of what has come (will come) so far.

So I’ve retreated. Or it feels that I’ve retreated. To try and regroup, re-center, orientate anew in this season unknown.
*
We recently had the pleasure of visiting family in South Dakota and my kids spent their days to the hilt with their cousins; their differences and similarities quite obvious, sometimes comically so to their parents. We were there for a week and pictures were taken, the obligatory cousin picture of course taken a few million times to get at least five out of six of the cousins present looking somewhere near the camera. It’s these cousin pictures that I keep coming back to during and post Charlottesville.

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It’s a picture like this one that I keep returning to, mulling over the faces that I so dearly love and desperately want to protect. These smart, funny, imaginative, and compassionate little people who have little knowledge of what’s “out there.” Hopes and dreams largely untainted (though Nellie now knows she does not indeed have super powers—she’s still holding out for her owl), their aspirations set high bolstered by the love and support received from our family. They are different and unique in the best and most annoying ways that only parents will tolerate.

And when I look at this picture, my heart swells a thousand times over…and breaks in a bittersweet *han that only parents of color will ever fully understand. Because when I look at this beautiful picture of my family I also am reminded in times such as these that the precious people here will not be seen for the family that they are. They will not be treated as the family that they are. They will not experience life for the family that they are. They won’t be treated for their unique preferences or personalities. They won’t be treated for who they are. They’ll be treated for who someone else thinks they are. Who someone else thinks they should be. And for my kids who are both equally parts of their mother and father, who have already felt the stinging smack of racism towards themselves and others…it’s just too much for this parent who has also walked this pot-holed road of race in America. Of race in the Midwest. Of race in small-town, apple-as-pie, nice MN/ND.

It’s too many feels.

And I am tempted to continue retreating. To continue insulating and consciously hedging my life experiences in order to avoid finding myself on the blunt end of those humiliating, demoralizing, and de-basing moments that the out right hateful and the blissfully ignorant would inflict. And truly it’s those blissfully ignorant, willfully ignorant comments that burn the longest. That feel the deepest. And I have the right to retreat, don’t I? To retreat to protect myself and my family?

No.
No, I don’t.

I’m mostly told and sometimes asked over and over that it is my job to educate others. To give them opportunities for learning and growth. …How can I judge them if I’m not willing to speak with them? Teach them? …Be their target? Be their mea culpa? Be their “safe” space? Use my experiences for the greater good they say. And while I try, and I offer myself up for that scrutiny day in and day out in real life conversations, in relationships, in organizations, marches, and through my keyboard…what work is being done by others who do not live this burden? Those who continue to ask me, demand from me “How can I help?” “What can I read to learn?” “I don’t hear about that stuff, how did x, y, and z affect you? (And while you’re at it, convince me to believe differently otherwise it’s your (my) fault for being a reverse-racist, liberal, snowflake-y bitch who thinks they’re better. Because what’s an insult without a little misogyny thrown in?)”

How can I fight this fight for my children who deserve so much more? For my family and other families and a community of beautiful people who deserve so much more?

I am tired.

But I will press on.

I will continue to fight through my loss of words. I will wrestle with my table-turning-in-the-temple anger and wretched despair. I will put up with the lazy questions and some (I’m only human) blatantly ignorant statements and I will continue engaging them in conversation. I will continue to speak and will not retreat.

I will push through this battle because I don’t want Charlottesville to be a legacy for my children to bear. Or yours. I don’t want this hate, this bubbling, festering, virulent wake to pour over. Charlottesville cannot be a rallying call for white supremacists, bigots, and Nazis, to be emboldened in their hate. Take note that it is not a rallying cry for those opposed to the white supremacists agenda either. The rallying call for equity has been ongoing and continuous with each deep, unjust loss felt by the communities delegated to the back of the proverbial bus. But don’t allow being late to the party assuage you of the importance of showing up now. Do not bow out saying that your contribution is so small it wouldn’t matter. Start your work now. If you choose to sit on the sidelines, understand that the movement for equitable treatment will carry on with or without you but that you have then made a conscious decision to be complicit with those who carried out the torch-carrying riots in Charlottesville and their message.

So all of these “no words” to say that–I’m tired. And I don’t always have the right words, hell, most days I don’t even have words. And certainly I don’t always know where to go or even where to start from. But I do know that all people deserve to live in a community in which they have equitable rights, treatment, and opportunity regardless of their skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or political affiliation. My children believe it. And I will work into the grave so they might be able to live it.

*Han: Han is a difficult concept to describe and the context in which it’s used must be understood in order to really “know” it. I borrow from Wikipedia (yes, I know, I hear the eye rolls) to explain what I can’t but know to be true here: “Han is frequently translated as sorrow, spite, rancor, regret, resentment or grief, among many other attempts to explain a concept that has no English equivalent. Han is an inherent characteristic of the Korean character and as such finds expression, implied or explicit, in nearly every aspect of Korean life and culture.” [Though I believe that han, even without an English equivalent or having Korean ancestry, many people of color or largely marginalized groups will be able to understand in their own unique way.] “Han is sorrow caused by heavy suffering, injustice or persecution, a dull lingering ache in the soul. It is a blend of lifelong sorrow and resentment, neither more powerful than the other. Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance and a grim determination.”

#BlackLivesMatter

“Better a little righteousness than much gain with injustice.”

Proverbs 16:8

Tonight my heart burns so deeply there aren’t words to describe.