Thinking about race and racism

Given the current climate we are living in regarding racial injustice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the book I just finished reading by the historian Ibram X. Kendi called How to Be An Antiracist and about my own experiences as a person of color in White America. One of the ideas that Kendi discusses in the book is that people oftentimes think that racism came after race was defined, but he argues that actually, racism came first, which was what brought about the need to categorize people in different racial groups. White people saw people on the African continent and thought they looked different, therefore they pillaged and made them slaves simply because of skin color. When Asians tried immigrating to the U.S. and tried to define themselves as “white” (so as not to be considered the “colored” or “Negro” folks, as they called them then), the white ruling class shot them down and said, NOPE! You’re colored, too! We don’t want to employ you because of how you look; you need to be below us. All human beings’ DNA is 99.9% the same, and this is a scientific fact. So if we know this, the desire to then take what is 0.1% different is based on a need to create a hierarchy of socially constructed groups to elevate some and oppress others. The saddest part about this reality is that whoever is the majority, whoever is the “dominant” group then has to “approve” whether the oppressed group can get their rights. That was the way it was with women’s suffrage — men had to grant the right to vote to women. Yes, women fought for it and weren’t handed it on a silver platter. But the “ruling party” had to “approve it.” It was the way it was in 1865 when slavery was abolished; black slaves didn’t “free” themselves and make the law; they fought for it, and they had white allies (well, sort of. This is more complicated) fighting for them. It will continue to be the way we live until… forever. It will require a lot of protesting and a lot of noise to get there, as all these changes did, but that “white approval” actually has to happen. That is such a depressing thought.

Billions dream

During quarantine, we’ve started watching a few new short series on Netflix (Taco Chronicles was pretty delicious, and it was fun to think that the taco was actually talking to us), but one new show we started watching on Showtime has been Billions. I wasn’t sure I was going to like a show about greedy people who work at hedge funds, but I was quickly proven wrong when I met the characters and realized how well written they were. The character development is very nuanced and real. Like in real life, I don’t really fully like or dislike any of the characters; there are things to love and hate about all of them. One of the characters I have yet to fully decide on is Taylor, who was an intern at Axe Capital and is now working on a contract week to week since she thought at the end of her internship, she’d leave for grad school. I actually had a dream about her, that she was trying to win me over, and to attempt to do this, she offered to take me out to any restaurant I wanted to visit. I insisted it didn’t need to be extremely expensive or fancy, and she insisted back that it was her treat, and any place was on the table. Even if I didn’t think we could get a reservation, she’d work connections and make it happen.

Then, I woke up. That’s the life of having a crap ton of money, huh? Money and connections just open all doors for you, and nothing is out of your reach?

Book worms

I spent over three hours tonight catching up with a friend on old TV shows, books, and podcasts. We talked about our experiences with others dealing with our mixed ethnicities/backgrounds and talked about different religions and how they view the world. I spent much longer on the Zoom chat than I thought I would, but I think it’s because I just found the conversation very stimulating. It actually made me think, particularly about topics and issues I don’t constantly think about day to day. Those are the types of conversations that seem to be lacking in my usual day-to-day, whether that’s with friends, family, or colleagues. I rarely hear anything that provokes me to stop and think, to really dig into how I feel about something.

But I think, even on a more basic level, it’s really refreshing and fun just to talk about books we’ve read, why we love them, and what they mean to us. Too often, and maybe it’s partly due to the context in which we are discussing, but when people talk about books, all that is really said is whether the person liked or didn’t like the book, whether they would or would not recommend it. There’s no conversation around what the actual plot line is in more than sentence. There’s no talk about the meaning of the characters, the nuance of the characters themselves and their personalities. There’s no depth in the discussion, if you even want to call it a discussion. I hate it when friends try to give me book recommendations, and all they do is say they liked the book, think I would enjoy it, and just leave me with the title. In many of these cases, I actually did read the book and hated it. Many of these books were books I never even finished because I found them so unbearably insipid. One of them is sitting in my Kindle, 43 percent finished, but will likely never get finished because so many other books are far more interesting to me.

I now have two friends I’ve met in the last few years who are both avid readers and have similar tastes in books that I do, so it’s been fun to talk about these works with them and see what gets them going. These are the types of people I need in my life.

African authors

Since visiting the continent of Africa and exploring South Africa in December 2017, I started thinking a lot about the Western European/white bias of the entire world we live in, from education to politics to art. I thought a lot about it throughout school, especially when studying art history (that was the thickest, heaviest textbook I ever used, and our teacher said that since the Advanced Placement college-level exam didn’t cover the Asian or African continents that we’d skip over those chapters. Those chapters were HUGE — they basically were half the weight of those textbooks!). In English, our focus was about 99 percent on American or European authors. When we did have the option to read books of our choice, the consideration list was always limited when it came to works from Africa, Asia, or Central/South America. Oceania basically didn’t exist from a literature standpoint. It was unbelievably depressing and made me feel like outside of Western Europe and North America, no where else really mattered or had “high status.”

As an adults, though, we have the responsibility to ourselves and our communities to self-educate and learn about these other areas… assuming we actually care. I’ve tried to read more and educate myself more to make up for the crappy biases I’ve been raised with. It’s definitely an effort.

I think one major benefit of Trevor Noah taking over as the host of The Daily Show is that he’s showcased so many guests of many backgrounds that normally would not get a spotlight like this. One of the guests he interviewed a while back was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author who splits her time between the U.S. and Nigeria, and writes novels and short stories. She writes about the perception of race across different countries and what feminism means — not directly, but more indirectly. Her direct acknowledgement of the importance of feminism in society comes out a lot more strongly in her interviews. One of her books, Americanah, was a New York Times bestseller, and has been on my reading list for a while. I finally got it from the NYPL and had it sent to my Kindle this past week, and from the first page, I was in love with it. It’s honest, raw, poetic, colorful — you really feel what the characters are feeling. The writing draws you in immediately, and her commentary on black American vs. black Nigerian attitudes, perspectives, and how the world views them is so pointed. I personally think that if we had books like this as assigned reading in school throughout K-12 and beyond, we’d have a more well-rounded education that incorporated more viewpoints around issues that, well, are still a challenge we all face today. We’d be more open-minded, less in denial of things like racism, sexism, classicism, and inequality.

Social media posts today

There have been some real gems on Twitter when it comes to commentary on what people are choosing to post on Facebook and Instagram during COVID-19. The three biggest areas that I’ve seen an increase are:

  1. Cooking posts/pictures from people who normally NEVER cook or bake.
  2. Workout videos showcasing people working out at home in a confined space.
  3. Screen shots or videos of people’s Zoom catch-ups with friends and family.

For #1, these people are clearly seeking out praise for going to what has been to them pre-COVID-19, “uncharted territory.” Congratulations on actually being a freaking adult finally and learning how to cook for yourself. I’m actually happy that people who refuse to cook, think they are too good to cook, or just insist on using the excuse that they’d be a lousy cook to not cook are actually PUSHED to cook during this current sheltering-in-place. Stop being stubborn and emperor-like and grow the f*** up.

For #2, no one cares about your home workouts because guess what? Assuming you exercise and want to continue exercising during this period, home is the only place where ANY of us are working out. The only exceptions to this is people who go running.

Lastly, for #3, this is where people who love to post group pictures of their brunches, picnics, friends’ outings, etc., come in. They are so devastated by not being able to have a social calendar to fill up for the next six months that this is their survival tactic. By posting a Zoom screen shot of all the different faces of people you consider your friends, you are trying to show your “network” that you do value human connections and HAVE people in your life who actually want to catch up with you and your mundane life today. You are not a loner. Scream that out via your Zoom video.

This is a tough time for everyone. Tough times are when people show their true colors, though, their grittiness, their vulnerabilities, their insecurities. I just find it completely predictable for some people how they choose to share this via social media.

Social media changes in a day and age of COVID-19 social distancing

Once upon a time, in a day and age of Facebook, Instagram, and social media, when everyone wants everyone else to know what they are doing and thinking at all times (what am I wearing today? >> OOTO, aka “outfit of the day,”; where am I traveling to? What am I reading (news articles, features, books, etc.); what am I celebrating? Who am I dating? How much do I love my mom that I need to write a really gushy, overly affectionate post about her on Mother’s Day?), we lived in an era of FOMO, aka “fear of missing out.” That person is getting engaged or married, so why am I single? All my colleagues are getting pregnant, so why am I not having a baby? My friend seems to be on a holiday around the world every two months; where do they get that kind of money and time off, and why can’t I have that life?! Because of social media, many of us have been left feeling even more lonely (as ironic as that sounds), as though our lives aren’t measuring up because of all the fancy and amazing posts those we know are posting. Our lives suck in comparison. WHY IS THIS THE CASE?

But now, fast forward to today, or rather, in the U.S., the last six weeks. Anyone who lives in a city that has leadership that actually cares about them is enforcing social distancing and sheltering in place. This means that there’s really no more FOMO anymore, unless “FOMO” means you are jealous of what someone is making for dinner, how much more bubbly your friend’s sourdough starter is, or the fact that your colleague somehow was insanely productive the last six weeks and nearly mastered piano/Japanese/doing the splits/something else that generally takes a lot of time, energy, and perseverance. No one is traveling the world. No one is going on crazy business trips to exotic places. No one is running marathons. No one is having some lavish first birthday party complete with a professional photographer, videographer, caterer, and balloon artist. No one is getting married because the courthouses are closed (the engagements are still happening, but well….).

All of that has been replaced with FOGO, or “fear of going out.” If we go out, will our friends, family, and colleagues judge us? If we leave our houses, will we get coughed on or catch the Coronavirus just by touching a shopping cart at Wegman’s or Trader Joe’s? If we get takeout or delivery from our favorite restaurant, are we actually helping a small business survive, or are we putting their workers more at risk for catching the virus?

All of social media is now: comparing grocery hauls and what we were able to buy or not buy (“Duane Reade ran out of toilet paper!” “THERE’S NO MORE DRY ACTIVE YEAST OR FLOUR AT Whole Foods!” “OMG, I finally scored a dozen eggs on my fifth try at Trader Joe’s!” Oh, and there’s also the super Type As who are being crazy productive, doing home improvements like rearranging furniture and redecorating, creating make-shift home offices that look like they came out of a Pottery Barn catalog, and those who have started the most intense art projects ever (mosaics made out of pistachio shells, wine bottle corks, and recycled colorful paper, anyone?).

If life ever returns to “normal” again, how will that new “normal” be redefined, and how long will FOGO return back to FOMO?

A life cut far too short

Yesterday afternoon, my parents and I went to the Columbarium to visit Ed. It’s part of my routine when I come home, as I try to go to the Columbarium and see Ed each visit. Part of it is to remember and acknowledge him and his life, what he meant to me and what I am trying to live for each day. The other part of it is to reflect on life on this earth and to prove to him what this life is supposed to be about.

A depressing reality of coming back to the Columbarium each visit is that more and more of the niches are reserved and filled. More people are dying and being laid to rest. More lives are coming to an end, whether long or short. But this visit, one particular niche in the Hall of Olympians caught my eye: it was that of a little infant boy who died. No details were in the niche, but it was clear he died as an infant and had an outpouring of love and longing from his parents and and family. All these little tokens of the baby were scattered al over the inside of the niche. This child’s niche was the same size as Ed’s.

I stared at this niche for what felt like a short eternity. My eyes welled up, and my vision blurred. The thought that a life could be cut that short just made me short of breath for a bit. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering this little baby boy’s parents were going through, but just seeing this made me feel all choked up. All I could think about was a deep abyss of hurt.

It’s a shattering thought to think that innocent little babies like this one and people who had so much good to give the world like my brother had their lives cut short, yet there are so many truly terrible, hateful people who continue to live their lives every single day. Then, there are those who are wasting their lives away, doing tasks and actions that have zero meaning or future positive impact on the world, and they get to continue their lives as though they can just do whatever dull, superficial, or pathetic thing they want to do. The mere thought of this made me see red everywhere.

How does anyone ever really come to realize what they are supposed to contribute to this life, to this world?

Reparations for our dark past: slavery

Last night, Chris and I went to 59 E 59 Theater for their Summer Shorts, Series B plays, which are a compilation of short plays that this theater does several series of each summer. Of the three short plays that we watched, the last one entitled Appomattox, was the one that still lingered in my mind after we left. The story line is simple: two friends, one black and one white, get together for a picnic lunch and some catch, and they immediately get into a conversation about life and history that touches upon the idea of reparations for slavery at a university and whether this is a good idea or not. And then they break it down: what is the cost that is being paid by student, and what is the price, if there is one, that could ever fully compensate and make up for the 300+ years of slavery and mistreatment of black people in America?

The black friend responds to his white friend and says there really is no cost that makes sense, but if there were a cost, it should be something that “hurts.” It shouldn’t be an easy payment or something we wouldn’t think about because it would be automatically deducted from our paycheck without us ever seeing it. It should inflict pain on those who are paying it to acknowledge the pain of slavery and its lingering after effects into today.

It’s a relevant topic with many pertinent questions to today, especially as we hear members of Congress debate this very point. Does it make sense to pay descendants of slaves many generations down the line? What cost would be considered appropriate, if any? How would the distribution of these funds be handled, and who exactly would be paying for these?

I don’t think any cost would be “enough.” What would be enough? If we could remove all the harmful racial stereotypes, the police brutality of unarmed black men and women, if we could completely and fully desegregate schools and neighborhoods around this country; if we could abolish gerrymandering and and allow people their true voting rights regardless of their skin color or where they live; if we could eliminate all the systemic racism that this country seems to accept blindly every single day as “normal.”

I don’t have faith that this will happen in my lifetime, or even the next, though.

China bound

Today, Chris picked up our Chinese visas from the consulate office. We both got approved for 10-year, multiple entry visas, and we’ll begin using that visa at the end of this June.

I feel a bit conflicted about going back to China. Although I am excited to see places I haven’t been before like Beijing, Chengdu, and Hangzhou, and also interested in seeing how much Shanghai has changed in the last 13 years, I can’t help but already feel annoyed at how on guard I will have to be there, about everything from people spitting everywhere and missing me (this happened even while in the visa line at the Consulate on Monday), people trying to rip me off or take me on a longer taxi route, and in general, the rudeness that is oftentimes associated with Chinese service in general.

I felt like I had such a peaceful, happy, helpful experience everywhere we went in Taiwan, and it was such a contrast to being in mainland China even as a student who was so eager to practice her language skills 13 years ago. Now, I just need to brace myself and restart brushing up on my speaking skills.


I’ve been making edits and additions to my growing reading list and finally spent some time tonight consolidating three different lists I had in different places. One of the books I had on my list was The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism – which I was able to get off the hold list from the library this week. Within the first few pages, it already felt like a book I knew I’d enjoy. One of the excerpts I’ve found interesting so far is this one that advises you to de-stigmatize discomfort by remembering that with over seven billion people on the planet, the chances are pretty much zero that you are the only one who has ever felt this level of shame, depression, sadness, or anger in life. Regarding shame, the author writes:

“Of all the emotions that human beings can feel, (shame) is one of the most toxic to health and happiness … (it’s defined as) “the fear of being unlovable: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

“Shame hits us so powerfully because it conveys a message about our fundamental acceptability as human beings. And in basic survival terms, if a tribe rejects you, you die. It is a life-and-death situation. The brain equates social needs with survival; being hungry and being ostracized activate similar neural responses. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the fear of being so disapproved-of that we’d be excluded by those who matter to our survival.”

I never really thought of shame in that way personally. I suppose I get it at a high level given that shame is the worst thing you can feel as an Asian child in an Asian family with extremely high expectations about everything from school performance to etiquette to career, hence the concept of “losing face.” But I never thought of defining it as the “fear of being unlovable.” When viewed that way, it would be no wonder that shame is the reason people run away from their lives or even go to the extreme of taking their own lives. It’s a terrible kind of pain for some people who experience it at that intense level.

I wonder if that was how Ed felt, like he didn’t deserve to be loved, as though it was some sort of deformity or disability he possessed that prevented him from being the person he hoped to be. It’s sad to read books that illustrate pieces of what my brother likely felt and believed.