Lupita Nyong’o danced with Pharrel like the royalty she is. Her genuine joy, surprise, and awe after hearing her name announced as the winner of the Best Supporting Actress award made my heart swell. Her walk up the stairs, spreading the pleats of that incredible dress like a fan was the way to work that dress.
And it was an incredible moment in history.
It was 75 years since Hattie McDaniel, fondly or reluctantly remembered for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind, became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was barred from attending the movie premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, GA. McDaniel and her escort sat alone at a segregated table apart from the film’s other stars. Yes, she sat at the “coloreds only” table.
So, it didn’t escape notice during the conversation that ensued in our home that despite it being 75 years later, the role was that of a slave. Nyong’o understood the power of her role when she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Her role doesn’t take away from her award or from the power and beauty of her performance (yes, I did watch the movie, and, yes, I recommend it).
Other Black female winners included Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001), Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’Nique for Precious (2009) and Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011).
Yes, these women voluntarily took these roles. Yes, McDaniels, Spencer, and Nyong’o knew they were playing slaves. Yes, Berry and Mo’Nique knew they were playing impoverished women. That leaves a
ghost medium and a backup singer.
Seventy-five years between Mammy and Patsey, and the range of prime roles for Black women (never mind other women of color) seem rather, um, limited. What will it take, how long will it take for women of color to gain the experience, the networks, the audience to be offered the roles that so easily go to the likes all the women of non-color who dominate the awards circuit? How long before Asian and Asian American women are even up on the the big screen and littler screen in leading roles that are human beings? Please don’t name the five roles that are out there. Are there even five?
But why bother actually wasting five hours of my life when clearly I see and experience all of life as an Asian American woman and am going to notice these things anyway?
1. Because, despite a raging headache that pounded the back and sides of my brain, I am a sucker for fashion I can’t afford and would never buy even if I could afford some of it. I love the drape of a well-tailored dress or tux. I appreciate the aesthetic of fashion, and though I firmly believe the Fall of Humankind lead to all sorts of ick I am grateful we have moved beyond fig leaves, fur & leather.
2. Because the Oscars bring together the brokenness of this world together with the thing I believe God intended humankind to “do” – the creation of culture.
3. And because I also am an artist, the wife of an artist, and the mother of three artists. In my household five resides several writers, an aspiring screenplay writer/director, a dancer/choreographer, a seamstress/designer/styler, a photographer, a future master Lego builder, a satirist, and a comic book author. We are Christian home that continues to wrestle with what it looks like to be in this world but not of this world. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves by being neighbors who also watch things so we can have easy small talk and be neighbors who know what’s going on this world through a Christian lens, shaped by our Asian American immigrant experiences. We read (meaning two out of the five of us read without it being assigned) books, we get a paper newspaper and several magazines, we watch the news, etc. We shop at the mall, at the resale shops, and at all garage sales possible. We are first-world Christians desperately trying to live and be light by not hiding under a rock or bushel but by finding joy because we have the privilege and the opportunity to do so in incredibly easy but intentional ways.
So we sat together in the family room with the big screen tv and we watched, learned, and taught.
The five of us stayed up enjoying the likes of U2 (has anyone else noticed Bono can’t dance), Pink (I loved that dress!!), Idina Menzel (or Adele Menzeen, according to John Travolta, ugh), and Pharrel perform. (Pharrel, if you or your people are reading this, I have a daughter and two sons who can work it for your next multi-generational dance party.) We engaged them in critique and asked them about their observations. They noticed the plastic surgery and we talked about the world’s view and standard of beauty for men and women. We laughed when we all thought Jared Leto kind of looked like Jesus from the “Son of God” movie. We asked the kids which child would get the family to the Oscars. We cheered when the boys said they wanted to work their creative magic together. We cheered when our daughter mentioned choreographers can win Emmys. We all reacted to the Chevy commercial featuring Asian American children creating a movie by pointing at Peter, husband and dad, who made movies as a kid and still dreams about writing a screenplay. We noticed they cheered and recognized themselves and our family in a CHEVY COMMERCIAL but have never had that opportunity in an American sitcom or movie because obviously writers, casting directors, and producers don’t take race into consideration.
And in watching we continued to push ourselves and our children into the risky business of being in the world but not of the world. In many ways, it felt like an extension of Sunday worship as my heart, mind and soul continued to wrestle with the commandment to love my neighbor as myself when this world keeps telling me I am invisible.
“I’m sorry if…”
“I didn’t mean to offend…”
“I didn’t intent to hurt anyone…”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“I’m not racist. My best friend is (fill in the blank)…and I love eating (fill in the blank)…”
It’s not your intention. It’s how messages are received and interpreted in the present and later as history. If intention was the problem, sins of the father and mother like slavery and genocide wouldn’t be an issue because I’m told folks back in the day really, honestly, truly believed with no malice that White was right. And some slave owners were doing what was required of them to make a living, right? They didn’t intend to create an unjust, unequal system that generations later remains broken. Lots of harm, but no foul because they didn’t intend harm, right?
No. NO! Wrong! WRONG!
Yet the defense of ignorant – if not racist, racially-insensitive, questionable, unwise, or just “interesting” – comments, reactions, behaviors, etc. often go straight to intent, as if that covers all sins.
Take for instance Madonna, who posted a photo of her son on Instagram with a caption using the “N” word. Madonna didn’t intend to cause controversy (though at this point in her career it can only help, right?) but that’s not the point. Who uses the “N” word as a term of endearment for her White son? What kind of endearment did she intend? What world does Madonna live in that has blinded her so completely from the racial, political, and cultural issues surrounding the “N” word and excludes her from paying the consequences?
She lives in a majority culture world that is changing and giving voice and space (or perhaps voice and space is being taken up) by those who are tired of being told that intent is all that matters.
How is this for a change: I know that some of the things I say and write will offend some of you. My voice, my perspective, my point of view, my tone may cause some dissonance, confusion, and defensiveness because it’s not what you expected, different from what you believe or see or feel. I know that sometimes we will agree, but I also know that sometimes you will be offended because sometimes I am going to call you out on your stuff. And, if you are in relationship with me, you will do the same.
As a Christian, I often am told in so many ways that my outrage over issues of race, ethnicity and gender should be tempered and quieted because my first posture should be of understanding and listening.
But as an Asian American woman, my entire life has been about understanding, learning, adopting, and adapting to the ways of the majority culture. I was born into a world that awarded me when I assimilated – when I untangled my tongue and learned to speak English at the expense of twisting my Korean tongue, when I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of rice and soup to lunch (but now sushi and pad thai are cool so we’re all cool), when I despised the smell of my home even though it was the only place to go when I was chased down the street by boys screaming, “Chink, go back to where you came from!”, when I learned to sing the hymns in English and stand respectfully in the pews.
Dare I say I wouldn’t have made it this far if I had not been such a good student of understanding and learning?
And yet over and over, I and others, who don’t have the luxury to be colorblind because we have paid the price for other’s blindness and whitewashing, are told to learn, that our taking offense is actually our fault, our lack of information and intelligence.
Christianity Today/Her.meneutics contributer Anna Broadway does exactly that in her recent piece, “Picture This: A Closer Look at Mindy Kaling’s Elle Cover” when she tries to quell the outrage and educate the outraged.
“I can only imagine how much richer and more intelligent the conversation might have been were visual arts education more widespread.” (my emphasis in bold)
I’m not as educated in the visual arts, but I do know the difference between Instagram and film, thank you very much. I bristle at the tone and the assumption that understanding the visual arts happens in some sort of cultural and social vacuum completely void of racial, cultural, ethnic, social and gendered impact and influence.
And seriously, (unless you are younger than I am) am I really the only one who would look at this series of cover photos and not start singing:
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Sure, maybe it wasn’t the intention of the cover editor at Elle to let all the White women stand up and have both face and torso photoshopped into perfection and have Mindy cut down to a glamour shot. Maybe it wasn’t their intention to raise the eyebrows of more than one outraged critic to wonder why the one woman of color is the only woman whose photograph is not in color.
But at some point, the student observes and learns to question and speak. We see patterns and gaps. We see the repetition or the absence. And I don’t know about you, but some of us are tired of being told to forgive based on intent, to keep learning about visual art or about what other people intend.
I am all for learning but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to learn.
I don’t know if God will provide $73,000, but since He has already provided about $47,000 why not go for it. Go big or go home, right?
I am a full-time minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, and I have the privilege of seeing God’s Good News reach campuses across Illinois and Indiana in culturally relevant and challenging ways with students, faculty, and staff. My focus is developing ministry to Asian American, Black, and Latino students as well as equipping our staff to effectively communicate the Gospel, develop student leaders, and develop personally in an increasingly multicultural world.
In order to do what I do, I also have the privilege of inviting others to join me by praying for me and by supporting my work through financial gifts and gifts-in-kind. Currently, ministry partners faithfully, joyfully give $47,000 annually to my budget.
Here’s the kicker. I’ve been on staff for 15 years, and while my potential salary has increased my real salary has not. Part of it has been my ambivalence and discomfort with raising additional funds. I tell myself we don’t “need” more money, but I have realized that the deeper reality is that I have not been comfortable believing I am “worth” that much money. Asking more people to consider joining my financial support team not only means InterVarsity believes I am worth a higher salary but that I believe my skills, expertise, and quality of work is worth a higher salary. Asking more people to consider giving financial support mean wrestling with my own personal demons of worth, need, materialism, covetousness, envy, greed, selfishness, etc. It can get ugly.
It also makes me wrestle with my core beliefs. Do I really believe God will provide? Do I trust God even when He doesn’t answer my prayers and meet my needs in the ways I want and hope for? If I believe I am called to this work, why isn’t God providing the financial support that is required of me? Should I trust God in a new way and look for another job that doesn’t require raising support? See? Lots of trust issues.
The other kicker is that while I enjoy giving, I don’t enjoy asking. Does that make sense? I love giving gifts of all sizes and types – a jar homemade granola, a quart of homemade soup, two hours of social media help, a last-minute after school pick-up, and a portion of an unexpected windfall. I love being able to support other organizations as well as individuals in various non-profit and ministry roles. Giving away money is fun because I know that money – my salary – came from God. Giving of my time is fun because I know every day truly is a gift, even the ones that involve yelling, parenting fails, and gnashing of teeth. Every month I see the names of my partners in this amazing work and the amounts they give, and I am amazed and humbled. And every month I get to do the same thing right back.
So, here it is. If any of you, dear readers, have any interest in learning more about what I do as my day job so you can pray, learn, ask questions, give financially or in some other creative way, comment here with your contact info or email me at morethanservingtea “at” gmail “dot” com. I suspect there are many of you out there who enjoy giving as much as I do.
Here is a link to my most recent ministry update letter.
I am not stressed.
This is not a superwoman post. I cannot find the surface of my dining room table. There are several laundry baskets in the laundry room and kitchen. The lovely Christmas cards all of you overachievers have sent (just kidding, I love the photos, by the way!!!) are sitting in piles on my desk and on the kitchen table. There is laundry air-drying in the family room. No, I haven’t finished shopping for Christmas. No, I haven’t started baking for the Thursday cookie exchange or the Friday night poms and moms party. No, I haven’t finished my Christmas cards because I haven’t started them. They may morph into New Year’s cards…or Valentine’s Day cards.
I don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong. I will go grocery shopping today. Or tomorrow. Definitely by tomorrow afternoon. The laundry will get done, folded, and placed on the floor of the appropriate owners by some combination of the many hands in this family. I don’t know about the cards, though.
I just can’t do the frantic Christmas dance anymore. Not this year. It’s just too much. So, let me invite you, my dear readers, to join me in a deep breath and a prayer.
Your mother didn’t have a bunch of women throw her a Pinterest perfect baby shower before you were born. She didn’t register for the perfect gifts, wash your layette in baby detergent, and select perfect birth announcements.
Despite the horror of finding out she was going to be your baby mama, she praised and proclaimed God’s faithfulness. And she waited.
Help me, in the horror of what I have made this holy season out to be, praise and proclaim God’s faithfulness in my life. Help me to wait. Help me to be present. Help me to breathe, just like I did when I gave birth in the sterile comfort of the birthing suites. Help me savor the Good News of your birth.
My entire paycheck depends on the generosity of others. This has been the case for the more than 15 years I have worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each month for 15+ years, individual donors have given financially to allow me to do my job. I know. It sounds crazy on multiple levels, right?
- Other people are giving money they have earned so that I can do a job that I love.
- In order for those people to know what I am doing and what the financial needs are, I have to invite/ask them to learn about what I do and consider giving financially.
- In order for me to be able to invite/ask others I am constantly digging deep into my heart and personal issues about money, self-worth, dependence on others, etc.
- If donations don’t come in, I don’t get paid my full salary.
- This model flies in the face of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” model of American opportunity because no matter what, I cannot make people give.
- AND I’m not the only one who lives this way!
So on this #givingtuesday I am giving thanks to the many, many individuals who have given not just on a Tuesday but for years and years to allow me to share the Good News of Jesus with students at Northwestern University, to train and lead the InterVarsity staff team at NU reaching so many corners of the campus, and to develop and help lead training that integrates cross-cultural skills and competencies into leadership development, evangelism and discipleship for campus staff and student leaders to more effectively reach a diverse student population in Illinois and Indiana!
One of the most encouraging gifts has been from “anonymous” every month for about a year. I have no idea who anonymous is, though selfishly I would like to know so I can thank anonymous. After 15+ years of living into #givingeveryday I am still learning the gift of giving is a gift for the giver and the receiver. Yes, there are times when I give out of guilt, and I am sure that some folks I’ve approached about giving financially to my work with InterVarsity wrestle with guilt. But that really isn’t what it is about.
My kids can be reluctant givers, but something about this time of the year brings out the very best in them. They give, much like anonymous I suppose, because they want to. They don’t have a lot of money. They are kids after all. Yet for the past few years, my youngest, Elias, money isn’t an issue. He spends generously and can’t wait for the family to open the gifts he has carefully selected for each person. He looks like he might burst with anticipation, hoping the gift will bring the recipient as much joy as it has given him to pick it out. Corban is a little older, a little more patient, but he is just as excited having asked me and Peter rather stealthily to take him out shopping without the siblings or without one of us around. Bethany is older, but just as thoughtful. The other day she asked me to take a look at the gift she had selected for Dad. She wanted to share the joy almost a month in advance with anyone who could keep a secret.
That is what is incredible about giving. The gift can be physically large or small. It can be financially costly or not. When givers like anonymous or my kids give it’s truly from the heart in a way that doesn’t allow for guilt. It only creates more space for joy and generosity.
So on this #givingtuesday take a moment to consider the various ways in which you can give joyfully.
And if you need some ideas, here are some of my personal favorites that make me giddy and excited.
International Justice Mission – an incredible human rights agency that rescues victims of slavery (yes, slavery still happens), sexual exploitation and other forms violent oppression. I learned of this organization through a family that has supported me through InterVarsity. See, giving is contagious.
Heifer International – as Korean Americans, my children also enjoy receiving additional financial gifts for New Year’s Day. We asked them to consider tithing – giving 10% or more – of their New Year’s bounty to charity, and several years ago they decided this was the charity of choice because who doesn’t love giving a water buffalo or a pig?!
Locally, I’ve been involved with Youth and Family Counseling here in Lake County, Illinois. The not-for-profit social service agency works to provide affordable mental health services. Let’s be honest. Mental health services is a trickier “need” to raise support for, but as one who is under treatment for depression because I have medical insurance I don’t and can’t take access to mental health services for granted.
And finally, there is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. If you know someone who works for InterVarsity, consider giving to her/his staff account. If you were involved with an IVCF chapter, consider giving to the staff who are currently serving your alma mater, even if you don’t know the person. And if you are still looking for a personal connection, you know me.
Last week I had the privilege and straight up crazy “am I really getting to do this kind of thing” of sitting on a panel with authors Rachel Held Evans, Rebekah Lyons, and Shauna Niequist during the Q Focus: Women & Calling event in NYC.
You can watch the Q Cast panel here. I haven’t watched myself yet. I’m not ready. But what I remember is making a passing mention of another set of Christian controversies that evolved over social media. I was talking about a certain megachurch pastor’s unpastoral response to concerns raised over a questionable Facebook post, the culturally insensitive video shown at a church planting conference, and the Open Letter to the Evangelical Church from a coalition of Christian Asian Americans.
It was about 30-seconds after my comment I realized that the audience may have had absolutely no idea what I was talking about because I, as an Asian American woman, am a different, new voice with a perspective and set of experiences just outside of what many in the room and over the internet may be familiar with. I have no set data points to prove any of this. It’s all based on observations of who was in the room, who knew each other in the room, etc. And this is not a play for accolades and affirmation. I know that I was an unknown voice for the majority of attendees. They had to read my bio and maybe google me to find out a little more.
Opportunities to be the different voice at a large conference, the imperfect woman who learned about Jesus through church lunches of marrow-rich soups, kimchi, and barley tea and hymns and the Lord’s Prayer sung and spoken in Korean and English, do not often come. It’s difficult enough for White women to be invited, which is why the issue of gender representation at Christian conferences is a tricky one personally. Q Women & Calling was unusual for me in that of the 11 women, 3 were women of color. (That seemed unusual to me. Correct me and let me know of other conferences that have that kind of representation.) When Shauna Niequist so beautifully and powerfully spoke about her mother’s legacy and journey, I was profoundly moved as Shauna talked about her mother, Lynne Hybels, finding her self.
I was also reminded of why different voices matter, even when and especially when it comes to encouraging people to trust Jesus, because finding our selves in a country, a community, or a church that looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels so different, and dare I say foreign, is a different journey. Ambition doesn’t mean selfishness. It often means survival.
And it was a moment of affirmation and reminder. To me, Jesus may have been blue-eyed and blonde in the painting, but He was Korean Jesus who didn’t mind the smell of kimchi and barley tea because He knew it wasn’t a way of hiding. Those were the things I tried so desperately to hide during the week. No, it was a way of nourishing our bodies and souls for a week of engaging in a world that didn’t always have time, a desire, or a need to get to know us and our different stories.
So here’s to celebrating the different voices and experiences we carry with a different edge. The first clip is from the remake “21 Jump Street” – watch only if you don’t mind swearing. The second is the incredible performance of friend and colleague Andy Kim on The Moth GrandSLAM: Taco Bell, Saving Souls and the Korean Jesus.
I was nervous. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. It’s one thing to meet some of your favorite authors (I got pictures with and autographs of Lauren Winner, Shauna Niequist, and Rachel Held Evans. #fangirl). It’s another thing to realize your voice will be heard alongside theirs, sharing space and time in real life.
Prepping to speak at Q Focus: Women & Calling last Friday involved prayer, study, journaling, yoga, prayer, red wine, outfit & accessory consulting, procrastination, and more prayer. The conversations I had with myself and with God were fraught with self-doubt, insecurity, anxiety, arrogance, confusion, and humility. And wouldn’t you know I was asked to speak about ambition.
Things I learned (some of these are things I have learned before but clearly needed a refresher course):
- No matter how much you prepare, nothing can prepare you for a late-night call the night before a big “thing” letting you know your husband is in an ambulance headed to the hospital.
- I am incredibly blessed by friends who say “let me know if you need anything” and really mean it.
- The little things – a note in my luggage, texts and emails of encouragement from friends, a lovely meal with strangers who become friends, and brief FaceTime exchanges – mean a great deal more to me than I can express.
- Honesty & vulnerability is scary, but they can break down barriers.
- Female conference speakers do have to spend more time considering wardrobe options and ask about the mic. I wore a dress, which meant the wireless mic transmitter hung from the back of my neck. I also had to think about hemline length & shoes. Men always wear pants, so they don’t have to think about it.
- You can never pray too much.
- I am afraid of failure. I was especially afraid of failure because as an Asian American woman I often feel like one of the few non-White voices so my failure is not just mine but my community’s failure.
- Despite 15 years of ministry experience and 20+ years of public speaking experience, I take note of how many speakers are non-White, and I still have to work through feeling like the token.
- Conference directors having a tough time finding diverse voices should use the internet more often. At this event I found 11 female conference speakers, including three who are women of color.
Many of you dear readers have asked me if I was nervous, how I thought it went, what I wore, and in general what was it like.
I was nervous, until I actually got up on stage and started talking. For those of you who weren’t able to be there or see it live-stream (I was honestly annoyed that my husband paid to see me speak because I know there are plenty of days he can hear me for free and would rather not!), I got up on stage and tried to take a photo of the audience because the women were beautiful. It was such an incredible moment to look out at a room of women who were able to invest a day to spend with friends and strangers to faithfully seek out clarity and community. I am still thinking about how our world might change if everyone who was there in person or virtually took one more step towards God’s calling on their lives…
The talk went well, meaning it’s never as bad or as good as you might think. I did realize that I did not ask anyone beforehand to listen with the intent of giving me feedback. So, if you watched me speak, I WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK! You can do it in the comments or email me at morethantea “at” gmail “dot” com.
With my daughter’s permission and approval I wore a grey and black patterned sheath dress with a black cardigan, a fun silver necklace, nothing on my wrists, stud earrings, and dark red patent pumps.
And walking into the room felt a little like what I have always imagined sorority rush might feel like (I did not rush because I had never heard of the Greek system, having been the first in my family to attend college in the U.S.). It was a bit like the 18-year-old me showed up for a few minutes – anxious, nervous, self-conscious, insecure, wondering what I was doing there. And then I found myself praying for God to bring “me” back – the 43-year-old me who can acknowledge the brokenness with a different perspective.
To my delight, and no surprise there, I found myself simultaneously sitting at Jesus’ feet and in front of an incredible audience sharing from my heart and mind what God has been teaching me all along. And that will not be taken away from me.
How is God inviting you to sit at Jesus’ feet to find your voice and calling? What are you learning about yourself in the process?
After almost a decade after having published a vacation Bible school curriculum titled “Far-out Far East Rickshaw Rally – Racing Towards the Son”, LifeWay Christian Resources president and CEO Thom Rainer issued an apology for the company’s decision to use offensive stereotypes in the materials. I wasn’t at the Mosaix conference where the video apology was shown but thanks to social media I heard about yesterday…
Rainer never refers directly to the Open Letter from Asian American community to the Evangelical Church, but folks closer to the decision have said that the letter brought the Rickshaw Rally controversy back into present-day discussions.
I’ve been laying low on blogging about the letter and the events that preceded the letter, in part, because I was just tired of emails asking me to withdraw my criticism, questioning my commitment to Christ, and accusing me of all sorts of shenanigans. Speaking out isn’t the most comfortable thing, EVEN FOR ME, but not saying something, not speaking out and drawing attention to the brokenness in the Church in those recent situations wasn’t a choice. And to hear that Rainer, who was not the president and CEO at the time of the Rickshaw Rally decision, chose to look back at the organization’s past, acknowledge the offense, and publicly apologize for it is reason enough to continue to encourage me and others to speak out. I’m writing this not as an “I told you so” but rather as a “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for humankind!” (Ps. 66:5)
As Asian American Christians, we have all sorts of cultural nuances and baggage that perpetuate self-silencing in the name of maintaining harmony and perceived peace. Sometimes that “peace” has been at the cost of identifying and celebrating the unique gifts and blessings our cultures bring to the diverse Kingdom of God.
The Open Letter and the many voices it helped amplify and release is progress. The apology is progress.
So I should really be focusing on prepping for a set of national leadership meetings for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries. I have a book to finish reading and a few folks to contact about my visit to NYC. I also should be practicing my talk for the Q Focus: Woman & Calling event I will be presenting at next Friday, but I am still finishing the prep for my talk. (By the way, there is still some overflow space and streaming options.)
I’m anxious. I am trying not to worry about how I will do and focus on the message I have on my heart, the message God has been pushing and pressing into my heart and into the shredded margins of my day-to-day. I don’t think ambition is wrong. I think many of us are afraid of what ambition will do to us, bring to us, how it will challenge us in what we believe about and value in the world, God, and ourselves.
And I’m thinking a lot about ambition because my oldest has gotten her first college acceptance, and she has her first audition tomorrow. She has dreams, goals, hopes, and ambitions. She is a dancer. Dancers want to dance. My heart and mind are distracted by her ambitions, and as her mother, not as a speaker, I am trying to embrace the moment, face my fears, and prep, which leads to the third part.
We leave in three hours or so to Kalamazoo. Bethany’s audition is for the dance program at Western Michigan University, and I am incredibly nervous. And I don’t have to do anything! And as I try to finish this post and make my mental packing list there is a lovely sense of convergence.
My daughter is a “good” student and she is an artist. Last year she choreographed a piece that took my breath away and left many in the audience reflecting on the power of dance. She doesn’t become a different person when she performs. She becomes more of who she is. And every time I tell someone she wants to major in dance she is breaking the model minority stereotype that doesn’t seem harmful or hurtful until you are the one either in the teeny, tiny box of what is acceptable or outside of that box being told you are failure. She hopefully will do with her art what I have been trying to do with mine – creating opportunities for progress, pushing fear aside, identifying God-given gifts as something to exercise and explore.
And just like that, it’s time to go.
What are the things you faced today?
Elias was four years old when he didn’t fully comprehend the racial slurs thrown at him across the hospital room.
The teenage boy in traction on the other side of the curtain was in pain but had refused to take his pain medication. How did I know? The curtain wasn’t soundproof. We could hear him complaining, arguing with his parents, moaning in pain, asking for candy but refusing to eat the hospital food (who could blame him). I learned from his mother that he had been in a horrible car accident. The young man was lucky to be alive after a bowling ball left in the passenger area of the car became a pinball upon impact.
Our families didn’t interact much except for exchanging knowing looks as we passed each other in the room or the hallways. They were focused on getting their teenager healthy and stable. We were doing the same with our four-year-old. We simply exchanged stories and then went to our sides of the room until the teenager decided to call my son a chink and suggest our family go back to where we came from.
I had asked the other mother if they would turn down the television that was on at the same volume it had been on all day long. Elias was exhausted having started fasting for a round of tests the next day, and Peter & I were spent.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning down the television volume a little bit? Our son is a bit restless tonight and the noise is making it difficult for all of us to rest.”
The other mother asked her son if it would be OK to turn down the volume as I walked to our side of the curtain. His response?
“No. I can’t sleep when that baby’s whining and crying. Tell that chink to shut up. They should all go back to where they came from. What are they doing here anyway?”
I waited for the other mother to correct her son, but she didn’t. She said nothing. Instead her son continued to raise his voice. She said nothing. Nothing.
So I did.
I don’t think Tiger Mother is what you think it means.
I walked over to the other side of the curtain and said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe this.” I left the room and headed to the nurses’ station where I
asked demanded to speak with the shift manager to request demand a room change. As I was explaining the situation, including the racist slurs, the other mother came down the hall asking me to understand her son was in pain and is tired and didn’t know what he was saying and that she didn’t know where he learned to say those things.
We are two days away from Halloween, and there are adults in blackface thinking Trayvon Martin is the perfect costume. They are posting photos of themselves dressed up like bloodied Asiana flight attendants and pilots. And when we see these adults doing stupid, racist things I know I am not the only one wondering ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! Don’t these people have friends who pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms, “THAT is NOT a good idea”?!?!?!?!?
But it isn’t just in that moment because those adults didn’t just decide a week before Halloween that blackface or wearing a name badge reading “Ho Lee Fuk” would be HILARIOUS. No, those adults learned long ago that those racist acts were OK, even funny.
Which is why I, as an adult, hearing racist slurs come out of the mouths of children, especially this particular 14-year-old boy’s mouth, and then NOT hearing his parent correct him bothered me so. I did understand the young man was in pain, which is why I was hoping he would take his pain meds. I did understand he was tired because my son was tired, too. I wanted to go back to where we came from – Libertyville, Illinois! But we were stuck in Ann Arbor because my four-year-old baby almost seized to death. I did understand. But I told the other mother that what I didn’t understand was how she could hear her son say things like “chink” and not correct him. I told her this wasn’t about the noise. It was about the racist slurs.
Again, she said nothing. It broke my heart because the other mother could no longer claim ignorance. She knew and said nothing.
When your kids say something racist, you correct them or you stay silent and give them permission.
It’s not easy. Parenting isn’t easy. Talking about race and racism isn’t easy. But if parents and adults don’t say anything, don’t help lead and correct and answer questions, none of us should be surprised when adults show up at a Halloween party looking the part of a racist fool.