Over the past few days, I’ve had some really demoralizing experiences with a heterosexual couple that my partner is very close to. The Facebook exchange was prompted by the guy posting an ABC “What Would You Do?” (which needs to be taken off the air for spreading post-racist ideology) segment that staged a scenario in which a black hairstylist “discriminated” against the blonde white girlfriend of a patron of the Harlem barbershop (Read: Reverse racism is real; white people are more oppressed than black people; black women are crazy). And as a side note, in Harlem, where the segment was filmed, black residents have been so displaced by gentrification in the last two decades that it is now a majority white neighborhood.
The exchange spiraled into commentary in which the existence of racism was denied (except in the case of the oxymoronic “anti-white racism“) using the most ahistorical and decontextualized “facts”. Some of the comments:
- “[It's] time for people of color to stop blaming ‘white’ people for all of their problems and start taking some personal responsibility.”
- “[P]eople like you [as in me, author of this post] are the real racists and you’re uninterested in changing the system, not if that means equality for all; punish the white devil! He’s bad! It doesn’t matter to you my personal feelings on the subject; I’m a racist automatically because I’m white. Shame on you.”
- “How can we move forward unless we open a new dialogue, one free from blame and scapegoatism. It’s time to separate the individuals from the collective, to realize that a good majority of people today, white people, that is, could care less about color.”
- “[He] has a Mexican daughter, a Lebanese wife, a gay brother and Native American blood–I can say for certain that he is not prejudiced.” (From a comment made in his defense.)
Normally, this would be easy. Strike that: it is never easy, and I can quite literally feel minutes taken from my life and my physical, mental, and emotional wellness deteriorate when I experience racism, white supremacy, and racist apologism in this way. It is always painful, emotional, and a great deal of self care is required in the aftermath of personal exchanges like this. One is left with self-doubt after being made to feel crazy (recall The Combahee River Collective Statement), one is left exhausted and sad. BUT, normally, it might be easier to deal with these exchanges. I can vent on social media, be affirmed by the people closest to me who have a deep understanding of the trauma of racism and white supremacy, analyze it and expose it for the same old, sick and tired story that white supremacy is, in venues like this. Here there is no question of proving injustice and falsity; the comments speak for themselves–it’s a matter of the writers taking a hard look at the matrix: themselves, the world outside, reading non-Eurocentric history books, and then making a choice between truth over ideology.
What makes this less easy is that these people are close friends of my partner. What makes this less easy is that it was one of those occasional rude awakenings that on a very social/personal level, I am part of the world outside of the social justice movement, as much as I have tried to put it at bay by surrounding myself with thoughtful people who share my values, or working jobs (given I am lucky enough to choose) with minimal interactions with people who say backwards sh*t. What makes this less easy is my notion of love as not just a site at which isms converge, but as a kind of refuge from these exchanges, particularly a love between two people who are trying to recognize and nurture each others’ humanity in a world has beaten us senseless. A million unanswered questions.
For now, all I could come up with was this very personal and emo note on my relationship to racism and “Asianness” to the white people out there who love and care about people of color, but who would deny the existence and definition of racism, who slash and burn our claims to our own lived experiences while reaping the very benefits of them:
Racism strikes deeply at the core of our humanity. Race and white supremacy have affected everything from my family being allowed in this country, from the U.S. military justifying the use of more bombs in Korea than in the entire Pacific theater during WWII*, to the systemic exploitation of Asian women during the entire 20th century through today by the U.S. military and capitalist agents. Race and white supremacy affect how other people of color perceive my status, happiness, and acceptance in this country, and how my family as far as rural Korea perceive the qualities and character of black Americans.
Racism affects how I am sexually harassed, to the images of myself I see in the media. Race and white supremacy have created painful, thorny borders between individuals and communities. Racism, within the context of heterosexism and patriarchy, has affected how I’ve been loved, how I’ve been hurt and abused, and how systems like the police, schools, and social service agencies have dealt with that abuse. Racism has affected how I understand my own sexuality, my own worth, my own understanding of pleasure and the tenuous boundaries it shares with pain. Racism has forced me to become a resilient creature who has to find joy in creative ways in order to survive and thrive. Racism affects how I see my own beauty, how I care for and protect my body, how I see the beauty in others who look like me, in whom and how I love.
Within the context of the trauma that racism thrusts into our psyches and bodies, struggling to find and nurture my own humanity is a lifelong challenge. To love someone is to center that person’s humanity in your interactions with them, in forging a connection based on your respective humanity, in relating to them in all sense of the word. True friendship and true love are not so different–both can be a radical act between two people.
*Garner, Dwight. “Carpet-Bombing Falsehoods about a War That’s Little Understood.” New York Times. July 21, 2010.