When I was young and exposed to dolls, TV, and the media, what I perceived to be normal was that the dolls I had were all White, except one doll that had stiff limbs I couldn’t move very easily, wearing a cheongsam/qipao/traditional Chinese dress. The people on TV and throughout the media were White. There were “Black tv shows” and “White tv shows.” There wasn’t much in between. If I wanted to see anyone who looked like me, I had to watch my grandma’s Cantonese soap operas. But they all spoke Cantonese or some variation of Chinese; they didn’t speak the American English that I mainly spoke. Without even realizing it then, my exposure to the world was very segregated. There was a Black world and a White world. A world that included people like me didn’t exist on TV or in newspapers.. unless you included Jackie Chan in martial arts movies or fully token Chinese stories like that depicted in the movie The Joy Luck Club.
I wish I had read books that taught me about history as it really was, not how white-washed this country wanted to make it for me. I wish I had read children’s stories of kids who made friends with people of different backgrounds or sexual orientation to normalize it more. I wish I had read stories about topics such as Black Wall Street, which I now see kids’ books being written and illustrated about. In fact, how sad: I didn’t learn about Black Wall Street until last year. I vaguely heard about the Tulsa Race Massacres in school, but it was such a vague reference; it was never made a focal point in learning. It didn’t tie to the concept of “Black Wall Street” and that there was once a very wealthy, culturally rich area called Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that people considered an economic and cultural mecca of its time…. until a white mob decided to burn these buildings to the ground and kill every black person in sight then. We visited this area today in Tulsa. It’s hard to imagine this entire area up in flames. It just gave me chills thinking about it.
No reparations have been paid for the damage done to that area of Tulsa. Many members of our government ignore that that even happened or that it holds any significance to this day. But that’s the problem with this country: people, especially those in power, who ignore our past and do not realize that not understanding and acknowledging our history is only to the detriment of our current and future generations. We never move forward unless we reconcile with the past and learn from the past. And that’s a really sad thing in a country full of people who are willfully ignorant to the past, who just say “that was then; this is now,” or “Slavery was in the past; get over it.” You hear that a lot today: “get over it,” “forget about it” “look forward.” About four years ago, a German colleague from Germany told me that in school, they constantly had it beat into their heads that Germany “fucked up big time” with Nazism and that they could never forget what they perpetrated against Jews, against the elderly, the disabled, the non-Whites in Germany; somehow, that concept doesn’t resonate here with slavery, Jim Crow laws, and ongoing systemic racism as a result of all that crap. Instead, we’re supposed to teach kids that the U.S. is perfect, the country everyone else wants to be — truly exceptional.
Yes, we are quite exceptional… truly exceptional in our denial of racism and our past and its connection to the present.