Perspectives on Race & Racism #12: Kyle, The Curious Librarian

We need to have a conversation about race.

How would you describe yourself?

Kyle: White, mid-western, small town protestant upbringing who’s now a liberal New Yorker.

What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Kyle: When other white people take me into confidence, as if we’re on the same team, and try to point out an us vs. them thing (where us = good and them = not). For example: “you know how they are”, “I don’t need to be politically correct with you”… etc.”  Of course, what follows is usually completely racist.

The two that bug me most are “I’m not racist, but… [insert racist statement here]” and “Well, you know there are black people and then there are niggers”.

It not only drives home the point that there are still a lot of racist views, but deflates my impression of this person that may have been an acquaintance or sometimes even a friend.

Name: Kyle
Birth Decade: 1970s
Race: White
Ethnicity: Both sides of family have lived in the U.S. (or former colonies) for many generations, but mother’s side from Germany, Father’s side from Scotland.
Hometown: Ossining, New York + Chicago, Illinois + Ohio

Is there anything else you’re curious about regarding race/culture?

Kyle: I’m a librarian… I’m curious about everything! Nothing specific.  Continue reading “Perspectives on Race & Racism #12: Kyle, The Curious Librarian”

We Need To Have A Conversation About Race

Come at me, bro!

In 2016 an African-American behavioral therapist in North Miami was shot by police as he purposely laid on the ground with his hands raised.

He was trying to help his autistic patient who’d created a disturbance in the street.

With his hands still raised, Kinsey asked the responding officer, “Sir, why did you shoot me?”

To which the officer replied, “I don’t know.”

Deciding whether to engage in conversations about race and racism is much like deciding how you feel about sex.  Continue reading “We Need To Have A Conversation About Race”

Perspectives on Race #11: Huy, From Houston

We need to have a conversation about race.

How would you describe yourself?

Huy: I was born in Houston, approximately 9 months after my parents were reunited after their escape from war-torn Vietnam.

I consider myself a product of Alief, a racially and socioeconomically diverse part of Houston. I also consider myself Vietnamese-American and culturally Catholic.

Name: Huy Pham
Race: Vietnamese American
Birth Decade: 1980s
Hometown: Houston, Texas

Does race matter?
Huy: Race matters tremendously to me. I truly believe that part of figuring out where you want to go is taking a step back and figuring out where you came from. I believe that some of our traits are subconsciously part of our DNA and/or a byproduct of our cultural upbringing. Taking the time to understand my culture has given me a deeper understanding of my Self.  Continue reading “Perspectives on Race #11: Huy, From Houston”

Perspectives on Race: From Trinidad to Serbia

We need to have a conversation about race.

I don’t want to live a life characterized by anger.

It’s why I write, why I move, why I leave. It’s why I value reconciliation, resolution, and reflection.

It’s why I don’t watch movies with Samuel L. Jackson, Gerard Butler, or Kristen Stewart. It’s why I don’t listen to music by Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, or Cardi B.

It’s why we need to have a conversation about race.

I don’t want to live a life characterized by anger.

I hope you’ll stay. I hope you’ll join me.

1. Perspectives on Race #1: “Black, Muslim, and Tired”
Written by Nora Nur with Love From The Other Side

Black. Female. Muslim. Chicago. 

“But as the schools became more black, new problems developed for me.  I was too white. I pronounced my words “too white,” liked too many “white things,” and acted “too white.” Being light-skinned didn’t help. White students assumed you were a “safe” black person. Someone they could ask pseudo-racist questions to because you weren’t really black. Black students greeted you with the “you think you’re better” because you are light-skinned. In short, junior high was cultural torture– filled with bullying and identity confusion.”

2. Perspectives on Race #2: Jamie, From the Midwest 

White. Female. The Midwest. 

“When I moved from the Milwaukee area to Slinger, I was bullied and was often called a ‘wigger.’ I had to ask what that meant. Even though I was white and EVERYONE else in the new school was as well, they had clear thoughts about the way that I was living in their world.”

3. Perspectives on Race #3: Anonymous in Maryland

Black. Female. Muslim. 

“Race matters because we make it matter. Even if you want to live a life where race doesn’t matter, if you are brown-skinned, I think it’s dangerous to not at least acknowledge that other people think that it matters very much, and they will make decisions that affect you based solely on the color of your skin. So if you don’t want to be blindsided, it’s best to be aware – doesn’t mean you have to adopt those same beliefs, but understand when race is a part of that current equation.”

4. Perspectives on Race #4: Cat, On Checking Both Boxes

Mixed. Black and White. Female. Christian. 

“I describe myself as mixed. This is the term my mother primarily used to describe my sister and me when we were growing up. As I got older and did my own research, it was the term I became most comfortable with. While I will sometimes refer to myself as biracial in order to clarify my identity for others when they express confusion about my own terminology, it is not a label I use for myself often. I always use the language of black and white in reference to myself as well. This is mostly due to the racist roots of the term Caucasian and the nature of the term African American, which I do not feel is broad enough to accurately describe my family history.”

5. Perspectives on Race #5: White Like Me

White. Male. Houston.  

“That I’m white/Caucasian really has no meaning for me, simply because it doesn’t create any problems for me in this society. When I was in China, yes, being white/Caucasian certainly did change how others saw me and how I saw myself. Events of the past five years, in particular the murders of Trayvon Williams, Tamir Rice, and so many other occurrences of discrimination and injustice, have certainly made it very clear to me that people of color experience life in America very differently from what I experience. I’m shocked every day by some new shooting of an unarmed black guy … , and then I have to realize that it has been happening all my life but I didn’t know about it.”

6. Perspectives on Race #6: James, From Trinidad

Trinidadian. Mixed. Male. 

“When describing my background, I often mention that my four grandparents were from four countries– Trinidad, Grenada, UK and Venezuela. Mixed is a powerful enough word for me. Trinidad is a very mixed and mixed-up place where national identity is tied to inclusive cultural celebrations and identifications.”

7. Perspectives on Race #7: Vern, From New Jersey: “Just My Thoughts”

Black. Male. New Jersey.

“In some respects, everybody is going to treat you differently. Hopefully you’ll be respected, but you can’t count on that. That may not have anything to do with race, but it could. You have to fend for yourself.”

8. Perspectives on Race #8: Kat, From Serbia

White. Serbian. Female.

“I must say that historically, all those stories about the abolition of slavery have resonated most with me. The fight for equality… impacted my perception of the world and filled me with hope and fear at the same time. Hope, because their sacrifice was worth it, and that mankind had taken a step forward. Fear, because it had to take so long, and so many people were opposed to it.”

9. Perspectives on Race #9: Puerto-Rican & Pentecostal

 Puerto-Rican. Female. Indiana. 

“My race matters to me because although I look one way on the outside, I clearly identify with the three races that “make-up” a Puerto Rican: African-American, Spaniard, and Taino Indian.”

10. Perspectives on Race #10: Irene, From San Jose: “Just Don’t Marry One”

Korean. American. Female. Christian. 

“They had a hierarchy and order of preference: 1. Korean (even though there were no other Koreans in our town), 2. White 3. “Other” Asian, and they explicitly said ‘don’t marry’ anyone who is black or Latino.”

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Perspectives on Race #10: Irene in San Jose

Just Don’t Marry One.

What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Irene: The belief that folks are “colorblind” and that that is the epitome of what we should all be. Overt racism doesn’t bother me as much as the microaggressions.

Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?
Irene: My parents were just trying to survive as well, so I don’t remember them teaching us anything about race.

However, I do remember their own sense of fear/negativity around black people (even though in Utah, I don’t remember really ever seeing black folks). It was usually when they were seen on TV, and it wasn’t always explicit.

However, the one time I remember explicit conversation about race was in middle school when for some reason my parents were talking to us about who we could/should marry when we were older (I have no idea why we were talking about this).

They had a hierarchy and order of preference: 1. Korean (even though there were no other Koreans in our town), 2. White 3. “Other” Asian and they explicitly said ‘don’t marry’ anyone who is black or Latino. (They later took this back when they thought I was dating a black man and hiding it from them, telling my siblings to tell me it was OK with them now.)

“They had a hierarchy and order of preference: 1. Korean (even though there were no other Koreans in our town), 2. White 3. “Other” Asian, and they explicitly said ‘don’t marry’ anyone who is black or Latino.”

How would you define racism?
Irene: Prejudice/discrimination + Power against a person of color

Name:
Irene. I was named Irene after my mom’s first American friend.
Race: Asian American
Ethnicity: Korean
Birth Decade: late 70s/early 80s
Hometown: Ogden, Utah
Place of Residence: San Jose, California
Any other places you consider home: Chicago, Illinois

How would you describe yourself?
Irene: I am a progressive Asian American woman brought up in the reformed Christian tradition. I am also currently serving as a minister in a mainline denomination. I grew up to two Korean immigrant parents in Ogden, Utah-a place that had very few people of color. Utah is also predominantly Mormon (LDS) so growing up as a Presbyterian Christian there was also very difficult to navigate along with being one of the only non-white kids in my school (until my siblings joined me in school).

Does race matter?
Irene: Race matters because it’s a social construct in the United States that has historically and currently negatively affected the lives of people of color. It was constructed to privilege some (white-or whatever was considered “white” at that point in history) and because of that, continues to systemically affect people of color in all facets of life in the U.S.

When (if ever) did you first realize that your race mattered?
Irene: I realized this early on when I first started attending preschool and kindergarten. Part of that was because I began with a language barrier. Korean was only spoken at home so I remember not understanding anything my teachers and classmates were saying at first. I also quickly learned that something about the way I looked was negative because kids would tease me and make slanty eyes while making “ching chong” noises at me. I didn’t understand what they were doing, but I did understand that something about me was different and not part of the norm.

“I also quickly learned that something about the way I looked was negative because kids would tease me and make slanty eyes while making “ching chong” noises at me. I didn’t understand what they were doing, but I did understand that something about me was different and not part of the norm.”

In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race?
Irene: I’m sure I learned some things, but in my early childhood education until middle school, I honestly don’t remember learning anything about race.

To what extent do you discuss issues of race with your children, the same way they were discussed when you were growing up?
Irene: I hope to definitely do so, but my son is only 7 months old right now. I do intentionally expose him to a diversity of books and people– which is easier living in the Bay Area of California.

If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race, can you describe any/all relevant experiences?
Irene: SO MANY TIMES. Things that happen ALL the time (no exaggeration):

  • “Where are you REALLY from?”
  • Strangers coming up to me and greeting/ speaking to me in an Asian language they THINK I speak (and then shocked when I speak perfect English)
  • Still folks making slanty eyes and making ching chong sounds
  • People yelling at me to “tell me to go back to where I came from”
  • When they find out I’m Korean, telling me how much they love kimchi (or some other Korean food) or how they adopted a Korean baby, or saying the one word they know in Korean (and usually butchering it)
  • Men telling me how much they “LOVE” Asian women
  • Mistaking me for another Asian American woman they know
  • Assumption that I am good at math

“When they find out I’m Korean, telling me how much they love kimchi (or some other Korean food) or how they adopted a Korean baby, or saying the one word they know in Korean (and usually butchering it).”

How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race/culture with friends, family, or peers?
Irene: This is a topic that I have regular conversations about with my friends– most of whom are people of color, so it comes up a lot. But even my white friends are the type who are willing to engage with it or want to engage with the topic.

Would you prefer to engage in these conversations more often or less often?
Irene: I don’t mind engaging in the conversation, as long as I don’t have to constantly be the one educating.

Thanks so much for sharing, Irene! I appreciate you.

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Perspectives on Race #9: Puerto-Rican & Pentecostal

We need to have a conversation about race.

How would you describe yourself?
Anonymous:
I’d describe myself as a 52-year-old, Puerto Rican woman who was raised half of her years in Gary, Indiana (until 5th grade) then moved to a very white town called Hobart in Indiana where I lived until I was 24-years-old. I identify myself as Pentecostal.

Although I identify as being Pentecostal, I also identify myself as being “Presbycostal” on occasions, as I have worked in a Presbyterian Seminary for 18 years.  I consider myself to be ecumenical in the sense that I may think more differently that the traditional Pentecostal.

Name:
Anonymous
Race: Puerto Rican
Birth Decade: 1960s
Hometown: Indiana
Does race matter?

Anonymous: Yes, I believe race does matter very much. I am Puerto Rican, however, if you’d look at me you probably would not identify me as being so. I am white with hazel green eyes and (now) grey hair.

My race matters to me because although I look one way on the outside, I clearly identify with the three races that “make-up” a Puerto Rican: African-American, Spaniard, and Taino Indian.  Continue reading “Perspectives on Race #9: Puerto-Rican & Pentecostal”

Perspectives on Race #8: Kat, From Serbia

We need to have a conversation about race.

When did you first realize that your race mattered? 
Kat: I really haven’t.

Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?
Kat: Not much, honestly. It was never considered something worth discussing. It’s always been sort of a given that I am supposed to treat everyone with respect, regardless of where they come from.

“It’s always been sort of a given that I am supposed to treat everyone with respect, regardless of where they come from.”

How would you define racism?
Kat: Treating someone as less worthy because they are not of the same skin color as you are.

How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race with friends, family, or peers?
Kat:
Not much to be honest. I simply don’t see what is there to discuss so much. Maybe a few times a year.

Would you prefer to engage in these conversations more often or less often?
Kat: It depends what kind of conversation it would be. If it’s to learn something new about a certain race, then yes. If it’s to debate on white privilege or dominance of one race over another, then no.

Name: Kat
Race: White
Ethnicity: Serbian
Birth Decade: 1990s
Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
Current City: Pearland, Texas

How would you describe yourself?
Kat: Honestly, when I describe myself, I only mention where I’m from, as I know that people will be interested in it once they hear my accent. I believe that other things mentioned, such as race/ethnicity or religion are completely irrelevant.

Or at least they are irrelevant to me, as I am not religious. I typically describe myself as a self-driven person who comes from Serbia, loves good food and wine, enjoys dancing and strives to be socially active.

To what extent have you considered how you will discuss issues of race once you have children?
Kat: I am not sure if I am specifically going to address this with my children, as that would mean putting a focus on something that should not be an issue in the first place. Rather, I think I’ll just teach them to love diversity.

“I am not sure if I am specifically going to address this with my children, as that would mean putting a focus on something that should not be an issue in the first place. Rather, I think I’ll just teach them to love diversity.”

[If you believe that race-based discrimination is real] What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Kat: I believe it is real in certain individual cases, but I do not believe it’s omnipresent.

If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race/culture, can you describe any/all relevant situations?

Kat: When I lived in Belgium, I was considered a second class citizen because I was there on a visa that was specifically issued for people coming from outside the EU.

This was a paper visa, in RED color, and it had my picture in it. Wherever I moved, I had to take it with me, along with my passport. This visa did not give me the right to work, or receive any social benefits. When I went to sign up for French classes (that I was ready to pay for), they asked me for my documents, and when they saw my red visa, they didn’t let me sign up. This was the worst moment in my life. There were more similar situations, but this one really left the strongest impression on me.

Does everyone in your immediate family feel the same way about race? If not, why don’t you think so? 
Kat: Me and my husband see eye to eye on race.

In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race? If so, what did you learn? What resonated with you?

Kat: Of course, I learned about all races in school, and the typical features and stereotypes. I must say that historically, all those stories about the abolition of slavery have resonated most with me.

The fight for equality, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and all those historically important personalities impacted my perception of the world, and filled me with hope and fear at the same time. Hope, because their sacrifice was worth it, and that mankind had taken a step forward. Fear, because it had to take so long, and so many people were opposed to it.

“I must say that historically, all those stories about the abolition of slavery have resonated most with me. The fight for equality… impacted my perception of the world, and filled me with hope and fear at the same time. Hope, because their sacrifice was worth it, and that mankind had taken a step forward. Fear, because it had to take so long, and so many people were opposed to it.”

What are the most apparent differences (if any) between your home country’s issues and the issues of race/racism here in the states?
Kat: My country is not as diverse, so we never had any issues on racism. I guess that is why we never talked about it much, other than in school from an educational standpoint.

Does race matter? Please explain what you believe and why.
Kat: No. At least, I haven’t been in a situation where it mattered. Coming from Europe, where most people are mostly divided into those who belong to the EU and those who don’t, I have never even wondered about race issues, or given it too much thought.

Even if it does (and I trust people when they tell me it DOES matter in some places), I have never believed it should actually matter, as I’ve seen enough of the world to learn that it plays absolutely no role in whether a person is smart or kind or important, for that matter.

I have drunk wine with a Middle Eastern person, danced and laughed with African American people, learned French from Congolese neighbors, gone bungee jumping with Asian people, shared most intimate secrets with a Mexican, and shared recipes with Latin Americans. I have shared the good and the bad with all races, and it is all these experiences that have made me realize how irrelevant skin color is.

“Coming from Europe, where most people are mostly divided into those who belong to the EU and those who don’t, I have never even wondered about race issues, or given it too much thought. Even if it does (and I trust people when they tell me it DOES matter in some places), I have never believed it should actually matter, as I’ve seen enough of the world to learn that it plays absolutely no role in whether a person is smart or kind or important, for that matter.”

Thanks for sharing, Kat!

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Top Ten Ways Understanding Racism is Like Receiving a Bad Health Prognosis

We need to have a conversation about race.

The Friday before couldn’t have been described as anything other than ordinary. I hit the snooze button on the first three alarms before waking up in a panic. I scrambled to shower, to get dressed, to grab food, and to successfully catch the 7:17 train.

I ate half a blueberry muffin on the way there and instantly regretted it. The day came and went without issue and without cause for alarm.

The next day, I woke up with a pain in my neck that progressed from my shoulders to my arm, back, fingers, and all the way down the length of my spine.

Two fingers on my left hand were almost completely numb, and there was a pain in my arm that seemed to start at the vein and stretch down to the ends of my tingling fingertips.

At first, it was hard to sit still or write. Then it was hard to sit up straight. Then it was hard to eat, drink, read, walk, or concentrate. The pain made it hard to sleep, so I stayed up for most of the night wondering what was wrong with me.

On Sunday, less than 24 hours after the symptoms first started, I could barely get out of bed.

Since April 1st, I’ve been to the doctor at least six times. They said it was a pinched nerve, and that I shouldn’t worry. Nerve pain takes time heal. They gave me a few prescriptions and told me to do some neck stretches consistently.

Closer to May, I went back for another check-up.

I’d panicked that weekend because my hand with the numb-tingling fingers had started to get cold. Colder than the other hand. It felt like I was holding a bag of ice in one hand, but nothing in the other.

There was a miscommunication after the X-rays, so I headed home instead of going back to see the specialist.

She called me a few hours later with the news.

You have arthritis in your spine. We’re referring you to a neurologist for the coldness you’re experiencing in your hand. The arthritis in your spine is permanent, but the pain you’re experiencing should eventually go away. There is a slight chance, however, that it never will.

This chance is only slight, but it is a possibility. Nerve pain takes time to heal, so we want to pursue more conservative treatments before we conclude whether spinal surgery is needed. You’ll get an MRI when you see the neurologist, and then we’ll determine whether it’s best to see a chiropractor or physical therapist.

If that doesn’t work— although we hope it will, but if it doesn’t—we’d need to have a conversation about surgery on your spine.”

I took a few deep breaths and hung up the phone with my one cold hand. My fingers were still tingling.

Learning to understand racism is kind of like receiving a bad health prognosis. 

We grow in our understanding of race and racism much like this:

ONE: If we’re lucky, we go on about our days—we go on about our lives—completely unaffected.

TWO: Perhaps completely out of the blue, we have an experience. Or a moment. Or a confrontation. We experience or we feel something that makes us believe that everything is not all right—no matter how much we might wish it.

THREE: We start to replay old memories in our mind. We hunt for clues; we hunt for evidence that things have always been this way. Were there no warning signs? What did we miss?

FOUR: Perhaps– though I imagine it’s not the same for everyone– we go through a brief period of mourning (but we don’t think of it as that). We start to think about things that we may longer get to experience or things that we may be kept from. We start to think whether we should still pursue certain things—perhaps the barriers against it will be too great for the reward. We start to think about the people whom we love who may no longer care for us because of it.

FIVE: And then, although I think this comes much much later, we start to realize that we are more than this one thing about us. We’re more than whatever good or bad may come from it. There is still time. We can defeat it.

SIX: We may start to look at other people differently. Perhaps we’re kinder or more patient. Perhaps we’re more gracious or generous because it occurs to us (although it’s occurred to us before) that other people are fighting battles of their own that we can’t quite see. Perhaps we’re even more loving.

SEVEN: We can become angry and hostile. We can lose our ability to function in the world as we did before. We may have to figure out a new way to exist in the world, given the knowledge of our new reality.

EIGHT: We may begin to advocate aggressively on behalf of other people who may also be struggling.

NINE: We may give up and decide it is easier and best to live as if we never went to see the doctor.

TEN: Every now and then, when we’re feeling really good, we may forget that this problem has ever existed. We may do what we’ve always done without issue or cause for alarm. We may even forget that the diagnosis was permanent.

Not everyone is ready to have a conversation about race.

Not everyone even wants to.

I understand, but I don’t empathize.

The conversation is important.

At the heart of it, I understand that we say and do many things for the sake of self-preservation. It’s not always about who we’re against, but the fact that we’re for ourselves.

It may look like selfishness, but we don’t call it that. Perhaps we just want to do what’s best for our children. Even if what’s best for our children is unfair to other people’s children.

Like in The Walking Dead.

Just like that.

Some people think it’s pointless because we’re all supposed to be the same. We’re all a part of the human race, after all.

Some people think it’s pointless because they believe they’re better than other people and that others should be beneath them.

Some people just don’t believe that anyone will ever change their mind.
Some people just don’t have the emotional sensitivity, the patience, or the grace.

At different times in my life (and probably tomorrow), I’ve been one of those people.

For these reasons and so many more, we need to have a conversation about race.

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Perspectives on Race #7: Vern From New Jersey, "Just My Thoughts"

We need to have a conversation about race.

What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Vern: That they’re not willing to look at the other side. If you have a point of view about something—understand that someone else has a different point of view. It’s impossible for there to only be one point of view on anything. And for that point of view to be the right point of view. I don’t understand how people think that way. I’m sure there’s a quote that goes something like, “truth comes from the many, not from the few.”

Name:
Vernon
Race: I prefer black.
Birth Decade: 1980s
Hometown: Lawnside, New Jersey

When did you first realize that your race mattered?
Vern: I always knew it mattered. I grew up in a black town. I went to black schools. My town– the history of my town– was rooted in black identity. The Underground Railroad runs through my town and the oldest building there was part of the Underground Railroad. All that history has always been around me. I come from the Still family of Philadelphia. The Stills are well known even today.  Continue reading “Perspectives on Race #7: Vern From New Jersey, "Just My Thoughts"”

Perspectives on Race #6: James, From Trinidad

We need to have a conversation about race.

How would you describe yourself?
James: When describing my background, I often mention that my four grandparents were from four countries– Trinidad, Grenada, UK and Venezuela. Mixed is a powerful enough word for me. Trinidad is a very mixed and mixed-up place where national identity is tied to inclusive cultural celebrations and identifications.

What are the most apparent differences between your home country’s issues and the issues of race/racism here in the states?
James: Theses have been written on this.
At its core the difference between growing up in a predominately brown population versus a predominately white population is that growing up, your heroes and leaders were all brown.

In fact they were browner than me! That’s what I aspired to be. They held the influence, they were the Nobel  prize winners and the Premier League footballers. In America things are a bit different, and the hometown hero, Governor, may be from a race that has historically persecuted yours. That’s tough.  Continue reading “Perspectives on Race #6: James, From Trinidad”