On Taking It All In

I folded in on myself like a punctured lung, but my heart kept beating, kept pumping those vital life forces into and through me so that I survived in spite.

 

The semester is nearly over. Another semester spent dissecting raceclassgender, but this time I learned so much more. I have had the sense of—have travelled through—time and space by way of narratives that, at first, seemed external and foreign. But, I’ve taken them in—stories of growing up on the rez, of the Great Migration, of developing world women and developed world women trying to make their way together—and I feel less lonely with all these people alive in me.

Even so. Even so. even? so?

Tuesday will be the last day I meet with my independent study professor. She’s teaching one of the courses we’ve been constructing next fall, and I am childless but I feel a kind of parental-esque anxiety. Oddly, my consternation is not exactly over the class. I have disclosed some of my innermost feelings and thoughts to this strong, independent professor. Even though it might seem paradoxical, in doing so, I have cared for her, and I know from experience that this kind of care is something I can never terminate. It’s a strange, quiet feeling.

 

So, I ask myself, what I have I learned from living here?

I think that what I learned most is how living othered can feel. I have felt myself bumping up against invisible borders I never really knew were there before we moved here. Conversations in which people freely use genderedracialclassedableist tropes. Conversations in which I am ignored. The aggregate hopelessness of being told so many times that I don’t understand my own experience. The hostility I am greeted with when I question hegemony—especially white male entitlement.

These all erode feelings of a concrete self and a concrete reality. Having not faced such things on such a wide scale, having the privilege of growing up in a place with access to wide diversity, I was ill equipped to even identify what I was going through. Instead, I turned inward. I believed that if people saw things in me, they must be there. That is how much I wanted to believe in other people. That is how little I believed in myself.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been kindness here, or that everyone has been so entrenched and hard. But the day-to-day, the life I’ve lived since moving here has not been nearly as charitable to me As I strive to be.

 

So, I ask myself, what I have I learned from living here?

Much scholarship in contemporary Race/Ethnic Studies suggests that as a society, overt racism (that of Jim Crow, of intentional and undeniable genocide, of Chinese or Mexican laborers sought out because they could be treated as work animals, etc.) is rapidly being replaced with subtle or covert racism (such as a white person insulating himself in primarily-/all-white communities, acting upon ideas that devalue or overvalue a person based on their perceived race, and so on) which is just an insidious.

I think that overt and covert racism have always gone hand-in-hand, but as it became more taboo to express overt racism, the energy that once went into it was transferred into more subtle forms. Being more subtle, it is infinitely more difficult to pin down simply because there is no solid, scientific proof—we’ve learned to cover our intentions, sometimes even from ourselves.

 

And, I ask myself, what I have I learned from living here?

I’ve learned what it feels like to constantly have your experience called into question.

This is what I am not trying to do: I am not trying to say that things are as bad today as they were X number of years ago. This is not an endeavor I think is wise. I don’t think that we can make that kind of assessment, or, perhaps, I don’t think that I, short time I have been on this earth, can make that kind of assessment. Further, I am not saying that I have an awful life, that all white people have great lives, that all people of color have dismal lives, and/or that my experiences are the worst it gets. I can only write about what I have perceived and how I feel and try to respectfully and critically analyze what goes on around me.

Having made that quasi-disclaimer, I write to you that, worse than some of the overt violence I have experienced in my life is the prolonged self-doubt I’ve experienced here, and the loneliness that keeps its company.

Excluding a very limited number of times in which I was speaking to a few (as in, exactly four) professors, every time I have experienced, identified, and shared instances in which I was devalued because of my Korean, female body, I have been questioned. “Well, maybe you misunderstood.” Or a bland, “That’s interesting,” followed by a quick turning away. Or, “Maybe you have a problem with reading too much into stuff and holding on.” Or, Silence.

And I have taken all this in, just like I take in non-hegemonic narratives, except. Except, unlike the narratives of collecting wild rice, these responses hollow me out creating a space for doubt. And having no defenses, unable as I was to even identify that what was happening to me was part of a larger gendered, racial trope about who is trustworthy and who is not, I took them in until I no longer trusted myself. Colonized again from the inside out.

 

So, I ask myself, who I am now?

Who I am now is someone who is learning to repair herself. Who I am now is me and all the people I choose to populate myself with and all the people I don’t, and together, we all work towards learning to be free.

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