Feminist of Color: On Feminism & Trust

My experience of feminism has basically been my experience of Christianity–I am in complete agreement with what I identify as the core values, but cannot seem to get along with other followers. As feminism imagines, I want to believe in a world in which all women lift up other women, but my own experience with most white women (not unlike my experience with many Christians) has been that the gulf separating our realities is too vast for me to bridge alone.

I’m thinking back to that time I befriended a white, punk rock chick. In the short time I knew her, I sat with her while she cried about two difference breakups. In public. I considered her a friend until she told me the story about how “all the Asians stole all the boys” when her high school merged with another nearby school. Even if I could have manifested the words out of my shock to respond to such problematic nonsense, it was not on me to tell her how racist she was being. It’s not my responsibility to kindly educate those around me on the way that tropes of the dragon lady/lotus blossom have real world ramifications for the health and well-being of young women. Nor is it my job to explain how assigning allure and perceived popularity through no fault of the objectified person’s own but rather by the fact that she simply exists in the same world as cultural representations of hypersexualization linked with subservience help maintain and recreate an environment of exploitative, cultural tourism.

Or, I could recall the time the female head of the Honors Department called on me in a seminar and asked me alone (the only female student of color) if I had read the article I chose to report on. And how when I called her out on it in her office, she dismissed me by saying that a male student in her earlier seminar hadn’t done his reading. When I pressed the issue, she told me she was sorry if that’s the way I’d taken it and then proceeded to tell me how I was not using the seminar adequately.

And of course, most recently, the white, self-identified liberal co-worker who asked me if I felt powerless after she barraged me with a series of defensive and aggressive statements that she tried to disguise as a conversation on politics. As if that was within her right. As if she already knew me.

There are more stories, because there are always more stories. My identity is multi-faceted in a way that seems to make it easy for me to lift up other women, but makes it difficult to relate to and trust the other self-identified feminists I meet. All of the women mentioned above either identified as feminist or made their careers on the back of the Women’s Rights Movement. I yearn to be more involved in the movement that has meant so much to me, but find it difficult to work up the energy to feed something I have to constantly assert a space in which is supposed to be empowering.

So, take this for what it is: me, putting out a call for shared experiences, for people who are interested in dialogue, for suggestions on how to make the vision of all women lifting up all women happen.

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Linguistic Violence, or Why I’d Rather Be On My Own

I am done letting other people define me. I am done letting in anyone who wants in. I am done settling for less than I deserve because I want people who do not know me to like me.

On Friday I went home half an hour into my day because I could not come back from an over-privileged, white co-worker battering me about why Hilary Clinton is better than Bernie Sanders for a full 20 minutes. She hurt me, with the way she talked over me, the way she dismissed any points I tried to make, the way she attacked and twisted my beliefs and ethics. I did not see it coming, which is why I chose to engage. I did not want to believe that someone who identified me as politically similar to herself would treat me like I had less to say–like I was a lesser person. But that’s what happened. And I bet she doesn’t even know.

Post-traumatic stress is real, but I had thought that mine was so minor and I had worked so hard on working through it, that mine was gone. I had thought that the 3 years of abusive relationships pre-C and the 4& 1/2 years of covert racism and ideological dogfights I lived through in Reno were in the past. Two minutes into my co-worker’s approach on Friday made me realize that post-traumatic stress never actually leaves you, if you’re lucky, you just get better at dealing with it. I went home on Friday because I could not pull myself together after this act of linguistic violence. It is violence to care more about one’s self-perception as a “winner” than it is to care about another person.

So I’m done for now. I still want to meet new people I may one day call friends. I still want to be able to relate past and through differences, but I’m not in a place where I can do that right now. I cannot afford to be careless with myself, because there’s nothing worth that cost.

Love & Hegemony: When Self-Love Feels Radical

How do I explain my life to my mom? How do I challenge her beliefs in the way the world works when they are backed up by her own experience? Moreover, how do I resist totalization with respect while maintaining a semblance of the relationship she wants?

These are only a small sampling of the questions I’ve been trying to answer these last two weeks, but ultimately they are all the same question of: What next? The reality is that I don’t know. I do know that for a long time I had my mom on a pedestal, to the extent that I believed I was the sole reason we had problems. My dad and my granddad only ever wanted her to be happy, and I grew up with my dad putting the role of the guardian of her happiness on me. Sometimes I think that because she was so used to being prioritized by them, she extends that expectation to me in a way I fail comprehend.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to renegotiate our relationship, but it is the first time that I’ve had the conscious thought that not everything is my fault strictly because I am the common denominator in my own life. I have always suspected that she resents my attempted coups because of the way she seems to shut down and evidenced the in recurrence of familiar issues. However, now that I am realizing all of these things, I don’t love her any less. I simply love myself more now that I have room to tell myself that those things she said and didn’t know she said aren’t all the absolute Truth.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 5)

In Totality & Infinity, Levinas posits that these are the two choices we have in the face of the other: to exert our totalizing forces and define the other, or to open ourselves up to the unknowable infinity in the other’s face. This is the dilemma of social interaction. But what happens when the face is replaced by a screen? Does it become easier to separate the autonomous other from the self?

I can tell you that initially I was bemused. I thought that perhaps he was someone who enjoyed getting a rise out of others, which would have explained his assignment of feeling/motive to me and my friend in my previous interaction. Not being sure if that was indeed what was going on, I decided to respond authentically. I am not a stranger to these situations–two different people with two different understandings of the way the world works at odds over meaning-making–and tend to throw a crumb to see what, if anything, bites. I was prepared for confusion, and I was prepared for the possibility that he wanted someone to engage with and to that end he might continue his challenging leaps in logic. I was, am always and will remain always, unsuspecting of the possibility of name-calling and personal attacks, because I believe that we are better than that behavior.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 3)

Anyway, she and I were going back and forth while I was taking a break at work. Two hours later I check back in, not expecting anything since it seemed as if our chat had wound down. Instead, one of her friends had been commenting–posting and then posting again as thoughts came to him. He wrote that the show is “self-deprecating” and the piece in particular was a “satirical look” at a “section of Asian culture” and “so much less a slap in the Asian populaces (sic) face”. He then wrote that “Ya’ll should wonder why you were OK with the show poking fun at one culture, then considered it crossing the line when they brought in another”, which he followed up with the comment, “This isn’t me screaming reverse racism because I’m white”, because, of course he did. 

Does this sound as familiar to you as it did to me? More to the point, why does this foolishness seem commonplace? Also, will people ever learn that telling people how they should think of you is a pretty clear indicator to the listener that you are a more unreliable narrator than most on the topic at hand?

I responded cheekily, with the outright assertion that I “have zero interest in getting into it with people I don’t know,” by which I meant “people on the Internet I don’t know irl.” But given my rule of giving everyone I encounter at least one chance, I went on: “You’re right the show is based on self-deprecation. However, there is no apparent ‘self’ in this [meaning the segment]. Rather, it’s one historically advantaged group portraying another group in a mocking and stereotypical way. I also think your assumptions about whether I was okay with anything and what my personal boundaries are are…symptomatic, to say the least. I would go on but there are too many issues to address here.” I punctuated all of this with a smiling emoji blowing a kiss, which I thought was, at worst, a mildly flippant way to say “no hard feelings?”  

Here’s a screenshot of his response, because I do not have it in me to type this up:

  

Charity 

While I was visiting the family, I had 10-15 inches of my hair cut off.


Voilà!


Just like that, it was gone.

I had one person ask me if I was crying yet while it was being cut off, and others have expressed surprise about how short I went (I’ll include a picture at the end). After growing my hair for five years it was a relief to be rid of it. I have told very few people in my daily life that I donated it to Locks of Love, because that seems like the type of thing you say to people who are basically strangers in order to gain their attention, and I don’t want that kind of attention. Or, perhaps more truthfully, I want to minimize the chance that anyone will say what only one person has said so far: “How nice of you.”

Because I am socially adept enough I understand that these words are somehow supposed to make me feel good about myself. However, as a transracial adoptee who grew up hearing about how grateful I should be to my parents for adopting me, these words bring up an immediate gag reflex. I don’t understand what’s so nice.

Is it nice that I didn’t have the hairstyle I wanted for a couple years so that a child I’ll never meet may feel slightly less awful about the probably harsh reality of their day-to-day?

Or is the nice part that I donated my hair instead of tossing it in the trash?

Perhaps the nice thing is that who I am doesn’t appear to be combative to differential beauty standards that fetishize women’s hair and are so invasive that they effect every member of society?

I feel like what that one person was saying when she blanketed me in the banality of niceness for this minuscule charitable act is the same as what people mean when they tell me all about how great my parents are for adopting me. “It surprises me that there are people who care about other people who may look and be completely different and whom they may never meet.” To me, that is the translation of the combination of those types of casual words with that particular soft and non-committal tone.

Now, I say what follows with love and respect, both of which call for truth. As someone who lives on the line of this artificial boundary–who has been told that immutable facts make her the object and actor of charity–let me tell you that I appreciate the intentions, but that appreciation doesn’t negate how tired I get from parsing intentions from words so that the speaker had a smooth interaction. This is work, and it wears me out. I don’t think less of people who say these things, I just think it would be so sweet to live in a world where what we see as charity becomes commonplace because everyone envisions caring about all the people, regardless of how much or how little those people acted or looked like them.
As promised, here’s the haircut:

The Return

I thought I would handle this better, “this” being the return to my life. But alas. When a co-worker told me that I ought to spend time with my parents, as if I had not just gotten back from a week-long trip, something in me ripped open that I don’t yet know how to close up. And when she proceeded to tell me about her cousin who lived 2 years even though the doctors gave him a week, I tried to reassemble the sharp, broken bits in me into a smile because it was the humane thing to do for her sake. 

In my daily life, I do not let people in. There is too much history, too many first-hand experiences of racism and misogyny for me to easily confide in others. So when I told another co-worker how little my dad now weighs, it was half gift, half consession. And when she asked if it was a shock to see him as if I had not seen him in the intervening years through eyes of love and knowing but instead through the eyes of a tourist to the tail of his pain, I extended myself and told her about his jaundice–the first sign something was not right. To which she replied, “Is he Asian?” And when I said no, she responded, “Oh, so you could really see it.” 

I am exhausted. And guilty, because I cannot claim ownership of what is his fight. And I am outraged that jaundice may not look so bad on an Asian, that race is ever present, that I have to accept what comes in an environment I was right to be distrustful of. Will I ever forgot the way she laughed when I said my parents would probably not need me? As if that was a joke?

I understand that as people we don’t always know what to say, and I know firsthand how hard it is to put another first. I already feel this anger sprung from hurt passing leaving only the steady fullness of love. But just for now, the hurt remains.