Aunt Jemima is finally denounced

I’ve never enjoyed fake pancake syrups. In this country, they are primarily made of high fructose corn syrup, which is probably one of the unhealthiest things you can consume, a sign that America is too cheap to spend money on real cane sugar, but would rather stuff American bodies with fake sugar to lead them to an earlier death. Aunt Jemima was problematic for me as I started learning more about American history and realized that the face on the bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup was a caricature of the “black mammy” archetype, a black female stereotype of the American South who worked as a slave in the home of white families and nursed white babies. The bottle, the brand, the company, were all racist symbols that were being embraced here in the U.S., long, long after slavery had ended. It was sad to constantly see this in grocery stores and even in my own family’s kitchen.

When I worked at a digital marketing agency years ago, I was asked to work on the Aunt Jemima search engine marketing campaign. I looked at my manager and said I didn’t feel comfortable working on a campaign that promoted a racist brand. She gave me a funny look, said it was “just business,” but respected my wishes and reassigned it to another colleague. Unfortunately, race is part of everything, and no, to this day, I do not believe it is “just business.”

This week, we’ve learned that finally Pepsi Co., which owns Aunt Jemima under Quaker Oats, is now finally waking up to the fact that their caricature is racist and has announced they are removing the caricature from the brand and doing a full rebranding “to make progress toward racial equality.”

Ummmmmmm……

LATE MUCH???????

It took decades upon decades of systemic racism, black lives being shot and killed with no one to be held accountable, and finally the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, for this brand to wake up? It’s so convenient, isn’t it, for brands to act all faux “woke” with their performative allyship, as long as it helps their bottom line… to make more money, to profit off of their faux progressiveness.

It’s infuriating.

Juneteenth

Like many other tech companies who are attempting to be seen as “woke” and progressive during this period of heightened awareness of racial injustice, my company granted today, June 19th, or “Juneteenth” off as a holiday to allow employees to take time for themselves to educate themselves about this day in history. Juneteenth, rarely taught in schools, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. However, the issue here is that this news came to Texas 2.5 years AFTER then President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official on January 1, 1963 (funnily enough, this is basically like how the country is run today; just because something becomes national “law” does not mean individual states instantly start enforcing these laws).

We had a series of programming lead by our Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG) team along with our Optimizely.org rep. I joined one of the early sessions on the history of Juneteenth and also spent the day exploring the much quieter Manhattan Chinatown, buying different foods I’ve missed out on over these last few months, exploring bakeries and noodle/tofu shops that I’ve been wanting to buy from, and just wandering the streets to get a sense of what life is like now given so many businesses are either still temporarily closed, or have even permanently closed during this COVID-19 shelter-in-place period.

Throughout the day, I continued listening to the White Fragility book and lamented the fact that this book, like so many books, movies, articles that are so informative and enlightening, will likely never be received and consumed by those who need this information the most. It’s sad to think that even when people have willingly participated in anti-racism training with the author herself, Robin DiAngelo, that they will get angry when their own racism is called out in incidents they themselves chose to willingly share, and that they would then be a live example of white fragility in a classroom led by the White Fragility author. I am sure that similarly, many of my colleagues who so severely suffer from white fragility refused or declined to participate in our company’s Juneteenth events, likely because they are so consumed by their own feelings of *potentially* getting hurt in a situation where their hurt doesn’t even matter.

Working in tech in America

As a female person of color who has been working in digital marketing and in tech for the last 12 years, I can say that unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of not thinking about race. I have to think about it pretty much every single day. I am oftentimes the only woman in a meeting, the only person of color, or in endless cases, the only person of color AND the only woman in the room. So, I am constantly asking myself, how are people going to perceive me and my actions as an Asian female here? I know I am the minority; the last time a colleague and I manually checked our stats, about 15% of the entire go-to-market organization were people of color. Are they going to immediately assume I fall into the “model minority” stereotype, that I’ll be quiet, passive, never speak my mind, simply take orders and carry them out? Needless to say, I do not fit that stereotype at all, and I know for a fact that my failure to conform to a racist stereotype has brushed a lot of individuals along my career path the wrong way. Here is just a handful of incidents that have happened to me personally, but does not include all of them: 

  1. I have repeatedly voiced constructive feedback about my team to a former VP. Though I know the feedback I gave was shared by a number of colleagues, including several white colleagues who spoke to this leader, I was the only one out of all of us who was told that she is “one of the most negative people on this team. For your career growth, I suggest that in the future, you consider how you ‘package’ feedback.” Now, what makes me different from all the others in this group? 
  2. I was once told that I was “rude,” “unprofessional,” and spoke with a “demeaning tone” when asking a colleague who was speaking far above normal office speaking volume to please lower her voice. She had antagonized a number of colleagues sitting around us to the point where most of us did not feel comfortable being around her or sitting at our assigned desks. Yet when a white male colleague literally yelled across the floor of the NYC office, on multiple occasions, “Yo, <employee name>! LOWER YOUR VOICE!”, everyone merely laughed and took him as the joker of the office. Nothing was reported in that incident. When I mentioned this to our HR rep, she responded to me, “Well, I wasn’t there,” and shrugged. 
  3. I, along with another Asian colleague in New York City, have been told repeatedly by a colleague, in an attempt to be “woke”/ aware, “I can tell the difference between Asians.” 
  4. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve been asked by white colleagues, “Where are you really from?” after telling them that I was born and raised in San Francisco (to be clear, this is a microaggression that implies that I am a perpetual foreigner and not truly American). 
  5. I’ve repeatedly been mistaken for at least half a dozen different Asian female colleagues across offices, via Slack, e-mail, and in person.
    1. One European employee gaslighted me, insisting I had been in San Francisco in April/May 2018 when he had actually confused me for another Asian female colleague. I told him that I hadn’t been to San Francisco since kick-off that year, and I would obviously know when I traveled from NY to SF. He kept insisting I was wrong and that I was in his meetings in SF that week. 
    2. These mistakes have also been made by members of our CXO team.

How do I know that any of the above was actually racist or prejudiced? In the day and time we currently live in, all of the above would be quite hard to prove as “racist.” And if I were white, I’d have the luxury of never even thinking for a second it could be about my race because I would be the majority group. The majority group is the default group, the “normal” group to which everything else is compared. But that’s the thing: You don’t need to yell racial slurs to be racist. You don’t need to be a member of the KKK to be racist. You could easily donate to progressive causes and vote for Democrats and still be racist. The Amy Cooper/Christian Cooper situation was a classic case of white privilege and racism in action, as her actions silently said, “Your position in society does not allow you to talk to me like that. Now, you’ll be punished for not knowing your place.” This was all because she couldn’t tolerate a black male birder calling her out on breaking the law.

It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, what you do, or what industry you choose. Racism is pervasive everywhere. And the worst part is: the people you think will help you, the ones whose jobs are actually to help you (hello, human resources teams, I’m looking right at you), make the situations worse. They gaslight you. They question you to death until you question your own sanity and sensitivity. They try to make you “consider other viewpoints.” They try to make it NOT about race. BUT IT IS ABOUT RACE. It IS about sex. The white moderate is the issue here. The people who think they are helping are NOT helping. They are making the situation worse and perpetuating the status quo, which is to continually oppress people of color and under-represented groups in a white male-dominated society.

When They See Us

Last night, I started watching the Netflix 4-episode series When They See Us, which documents the Central Park Five incident that happened in the late 80s in New York, where five Black and Latino teens were (wrongly) convicted of raping and beating a white female jogger. Although I knew the story at a high level, I read more about it last summer, around the time this series came out on Netflix, because it was discussed during Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show. At that time, I actually had no idea this incident had occurred.

I only got through one episode, but it was hard and painful to get through. To think that kids can be tried as adults… what… simply because they are Black or Latino, is just beyond comprehension, that people in the legal system can force children of color to admit to wrongdoing that they haven’t even committed is just disgusting. The justice system in this country is unjust; there’s nothing that works in favor of people of color. It’s even worse to think that the original prosecutor who worked on this case, to this day, still thinks she was justified in all she did, is even more hideous, especially given that DNA tests showed that none of these five kids actually committed the rape. Her justification for this? She said they weren’t only guilty of rape, that they committed other crimes.

Wow. Not everyone learns from their mistakes or is even willing to admit to making mistakes. And that’s what is wrong with society, and in this case, white society.

Hands, wrists, and elbows

For the last week, my hands, wrists, and most recently, my elbows have been acting up. It’s likely from all the stress I put on these parts of my body from my computer usage, whether it’s for work, video editing, or just internet browsing, but either way, it’s not great. I’m 34 years old, supposedly at the “peak” of my life, and I’m already getting arthritic symptoms in my hands that seem like early-stage carpal tunnel. I do all the things you’re supposed to do: exercise, take breaks, stretch, walk around… and then I have this. My video editing has increased in hours since the quarantine began since I have nothing else to do with my free time, so why not edit more and produce more material? But that’s clearly had negative ramifications for my physical health.

My Dynaflex power ball that I usually use to exercise my wrists and forearms has not been helping; if anything, I think using it has exascerbated some of the pain. I’ve been icing, elevating, trying to rest as much as possible, but you kind of need to use your hands, right? Having weak wrists and elbows is not a great thing, and having tight hands is not comfortable at all, to say the least.

Dreaming of puppies

In tumultuous times like what we are currently living in, the subconscious has a tendency to go one of two ways: erratic and tumultuous as well, or calming, comforting, peace seeking. It seems that my subconscious has chosen the latter and has served me up dreams of puppies for comfort and cuddles.

Last night, I dreamt that someone rang my bell, and when I went to answer the door, a large woven basket with two little dashshund-poodle mix puppy siblings in it. I was confused, as no note was attached, so I brought the basket of puppies into the apartment and closed the door.

I debated whether to keep the puppies, and in the meantime, I figured I would enjoy them and their company. I picked one up and placed it into my lap. She immediately looked up at me with innocent, sweet eyes, and then proceeded to pee all over me. I could feel the warmth all over my lap.

Peaceful protests

Chris and I joined a friend and her colleague in the protesting here in Manhattan yesterday for about four hours. We marched for about 60+ blocks, chanting, kneeling, attempting to make a statement about racism and police brutality. It was thousands of us; all the way down to Foley Square up to the 90s on the east side of Manhattan. It’s sad and infuriating that the news doesn’t seem to want to cover peaceful protests and instead focuses on a few bad apples that have to ruin it for all of us.

The most emotional moments of the protests for me were when we would put our hands up and chant, “hands up; don’t shoot!” When you hear thousands of people at the same time chanting that statement, over and over and over again, it just breaks you. It makes you feel their pain. It’s our pain, a shared pain, because oppression of one group is an oppression of all of us, especially those of us who are not “mainstream” looking or white. I felt so choked up the first few times chanting this. I could not even imagine being in this situation in real life, hoping to not have my own life lost with a senseless, needless shot of a bullet.

Then again, I suppose if you do not care about other people, about human rights, this would not break you. You’d just insist this isn’t about race, that this is about “tribalism” and that we’re all violently protesting. And you can go shoot yourself in the mouth if you really feel that way.

“I don’t understand why they are protesting. The cop got arrested.”

I was on a Zoom call with two colleagues today, and it began with a discussion about the protesting across the U.S. My male colleague said, “I don’t understand why they are protesting. The cop got arrested.”

My female colleague and I looked at each other. We had to address this in the most civil way possible.

Me: Getting arrested is not enough. It was third degree murder when it should have been 1st degree. And it’s not a guarantee he will get convicted. That doesn’t even include the other three cops involved. Then there’s Ahmaud Arbery getting chased down, shot and killed, and us finding out about it two months later? What is that about? And then there’s the long history of black men unarmed getting shot by the police that has been going on for hundreds of years. How can you answer for any of that?

My female colleague: Well, I have a black fiance who I’m going to be marrying, and if we procreate, that means… I believe, that I will have black babies. So, I have a black future husband and black future babies, so I am personally invested in solving this ongoing issue.

My male colleague’s face was hard to read. He looked a bit defeated. He simply responded with, “Well, I hope justice is served.”

I hope it is, too, but I also wish that he would acknowledge that his lack of understanding is 100 percent his fault. Who knows if anything that we said got through to him. It’s not up to other people to educate him, particularly people of color. It’s his own personal failing as a human being to not seek out resources, whether that’s a GOOGLE SEARCH, news articles, blogs, opinion pieces, books, documentaries, movies, NETFLIX or HBO. The digital world we live in makes it so damn easy to find information, but the key part of finding the information is to SEEK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF. And if you choose to whine and whinge, insist that you “just don’t understand,” then you are part of the problem and will only exacerbate the oppression.

I’m sure he got off the Zoom call and ran to his wife, complaining that “My liberal colleagues ganged up on me!” Well, I’m not going to apologize for hurting his white fragile feelings because this is beyond politics. This is a human rights issue, and if you do not care, you are not human. Clean and simple.

How media companies make money

A lot of people via social media and texts I’ve been getting seem to be falling into a group of people who are not critical consumers of the news. When I say that, what I mean is: do you always believe everything you read? Do you ever fact check claims that you hear about or read? Do you ever question the source of the information? The answer, for many Americans (and people around the world) is no. The human mind is trained to crave and seek out negative news vs. positive news. It’s why newsletters like Good News and Reasons to be Cheerful compilations are put together. It’s also why media companies, seeking to make money, will be more likely to have click-bait-y headlines and over report/cover bad news vs. happy news.

How do media companies make money, you ask? Well, there’s two major revenue streams: a) ads and b) subscriptions. Not everyone requires a subscription, but with ads, this is pretty much universal. How do media companies get people to click ads? You have more sensational headlines and stories that will attract them to read the articles by clicking into them, thus getting exposed to the ads. The user clicks on the ad, and boom! Money is made for CNN, Fox News, and the New York Times.

That’s a bit depressing, right? Well, it is to me. It’s why I discount a lot of headlines I see about protestors majorly being violent, looting stores, breaking into cars and store windows. Yes, looting is happening, but it’s the minority of all protestors. I know based on the way media works and thrives that these are the outliers. The vast majority of protestors are peaceful, trying to make a point and fight for human rights. Don’t let the media brainwash you into thinking all protestors are violent, or even half of them are. This could not be any further from the case.

Racist vs. “not racist” vs. “anti-racist”

In the last week, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media regarding what it means to be racist vs. “not racist” vs. “anti-racist.” Being racist has an obvious meaning: it means that you believe that certain groups of a certain skin color/from another country that’s different than yours are higher or lower than you on the socially constructed totem pole of life. Then, there’s people who are simply “not racist.” These are people who do not consciously harbor racist ideas or white supremacism in the front of their mind, but when threatened or upset, they weaponize race… or, they just do not do anything actively to combat racism. That means that they do not speak up against race-based injustices. They do not speak out when their friends or family make disparaging remarks against a certain race/skin color/nation. They passive accept it and move on. And these people are a huge problem, as Martin Luther King, Jr., once said. Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, and many other activists have spoken out about this. Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in the face of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The people who claim to “not take a side,” be “impartial,” or “moderate,” — these are the people who allow oppression and injustice to continue. And they are a huge, huge problem.

Then, there are anti-racists – people who genuinely want a society where people can be seen and treated equally regardless of skin color or country of origin. People who identify this way actively engage with people who are consciously or subconsciously racist or “not racist” in an attempt to educate, to build empathy with those who may not fully understand. I think I first was conscious about this term when I saw Ibram X. Kendi speak on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah about his book How to Be an Antiracist. I’m about to start reading it since I’m nearly off the e-library hold list.

Being an anti-racist is exhausting beyond belief. It can build bridges, but it can also destroy them. It’s no wonder that so many people cut off “friends,” family members, extended family members, in light of Donald Trump winning the 2016 election. In my own life, it’s been infuriating and painful to have discussions about race with my own family, whether it’s my parents, my cousin, or my uncle/aunt. When they’ve made comments about black people being ‘thugs,’ about Latinos being “lazy,” or about how mainland Chinese people are “animals,” who are deceptive and cannot be trusted (even though my family actually is Chinese and my grandparents are originally from there…), I’ve selectively chosen times to argue against them, but it’s always to no avail. We argue, yell, and maybe I am biased saying this, but it’s mostly irrational on their side. An aunt has tauntingly said to me that I am short-sighted, that “I know who you voted for in 2008 and 2016, and you were wrong to do it.” I try to state facts, statistics, map the history of Chinese people in America vs. black Americans, and it’s no use. They don’t want to listen. They write me off as being “brainwashed by liberal media” and insist that one day, when I have reached a certain tax bracket, I will become a Republican and “see the world for what it really is.”

It feels hopeless. It makes me feel like I’m fighting for the sake of fighting… perhaps even to make myself feel better that I’m at least attempting to “do the right thing.” So, is it really more for the cause or is it for me and my self-righteousness? I don’t know — maybe a combination of both?

Anyone who thinks racism is not a problem in today’s world clearly has such massive privilege to the point that their privilege has blinded them and drained them of even a drop of empathy.