What is Wrong With How We Talk About Diversity?

A wise law professor said at a law school event this past week, “I take issue with the way we talk about diversity these days.” He continued on to talk about how the current discourse about “diversity,” particularly in higher education settings, generally revolves around the experiences of minorities. When reflecting on the opportunities afforded “diverse” students, the initiatives promoting “diversity,” and many discussions I have had about “diversity” with my peers, I realized that this is true. I’ve had countless classmates tell me “I’m not diverse, I’m not going to that event.” On the other side, I’ve also heard “why is that person at this meeting? He’s not diverse at all.”

While the experiences of minority populations are extremely important, focusing the discussion of diversity on only those experiences excludes people who are not typically considered minorities – in particular, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual males. And although it may not seem like it at first glance, this is a problem.

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The problem is that it makes those who are not included in the conversation feel like they have no stake in the issues and do not need to take ownership of the topic. Like the student who says “I’m not diverse, I’m not going to that event,” people in the majority often feel like they do not belong in the discussions or will be judged for their privilege. And while pure diversity is important, it is almost nothing without inclusion.

This is not to say that it is the job of the minority or those already involved in the movement to bring the majority in. The minority should not have to bear any further burden than they already do, and the majority should want to take ownership of the issues themselves. Instead, this is to say that if we re-frame the way we talk about diversity, hopefully more people can feel included and then become bearers of the burden that those of us who face oppression and discrimination every day already carry.

Everyone contributes to diversity. The very definition of diversity is just variety, difference, multiplicity. The way we talk about it society is what has made it more limited. But in the fight against oppression and prejudice, we need as many allies as possible. So the discourse should not exclude anyone.

We need to change the conversation to include everyone. A huge difficulty with this, however, is the fact that because of white privilege and male privilege, there is a tendency for people to respect white males over any other people in almost every setting. So if we bring them into the conversation about diversity, won’t that center it around them? Won’t that take away from what little role and respect minorities already get? Not if we do it right. Those who are marginalized should still have the power, but there are a couple nuances to that:

1) I think a very basic change we can make is to start talking about diversity and inclusion, not just diversity. This may not seem like it make a big difference, but I believe that the way we talk about things affects the way we view and act towards things. So the hope is that if we talk about inclusion, we will remember that everyone should be included in diversity, and that everyone has a role.

2) There should not be pressure put on people to “represent” diversity or represent a group they identify with. Being in a law school where I am one of five Asian women in my class, I often feel a lot of pressure to speak out about Asian American issues, give my opinion when relevant cases come up in class, or represent all of the Asian American community during diversity events. While I do speak up, I do it because the racial justice movement is something that I am passionate about and that I’ve invested a lot of time in. And I make sure to speak only as myself, from my own experiences. I never claim to speak for the Asian American experience because it is so diverse. Demanding that an individual “represent” diversity or a group of people only reinforces assumptions that a group of people can be generalized, and often stereotypes that are already rampant in society. It also places more burden on people, often those who are already marginalized and carrying a heavy weight. The conversation about diversity is something that includes all of us, and we all have something that we can talk about. We should value people for who they are as individuals, and what they contribute to the conversation from their particular background and story. This will help us get a fuller understanding of diversity.

3) Those with privilege need to realize they are included in the conversation so that they can be allies, not necessarily leaders. While it is not necessarily awful for a man to lead a talk about gender inequality or a heterosexual person to lead a LGBTQ organization, I think it is much more effective when the power is the hands of those who understand the struggle most intimately and can provide the most honest perspective. There is a fine line between supporting a cause and making it about yourself; an example of the latter is the journalist who attempted to celebrate the cultures of certain African tribes by transforming herself into women from those tribes. The project not only used blackface, but also made the entire conversation about herself instead of the women she was trying to showcase. While her intent might have been good, she took attention away from the actual stories and experiences of the women. An alternative would have been to be an ally to the women, and showcase their stories and their faces without any attribution to the journalist besides maybe a byline. When we recognize that we have privilege in a space, including a space where we are talking about diversity, we need to realize that with privilege comes power, and we need to give that power to those who don’t have it. We need to use that power to uplift the voices of those who are silenced.

The fight for inclusion is something that every single person in this world should care about. People around you every day are struggling with oppression, discrimination, prejudice, hate, just for being who they are. If you experience this, be strong and fight and stand tall, and there are people who support you. If you have never experienced this, try to have empathy for those who have. Together, we can make this not only a diverse world, but a inclusive, loving one. 

Let me know what you think of this topic! As always, I’m open to feedback and thoughts 🙂 Thanks, Femmegades, and keep on keeping on.

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A Couple Words on Relapse

For me, it’s my body image issues. The relapse often looks like food guilt, extra exercise, or, on a particularly dark day, a purge. It generally happens around times of stress, which is I felt that now, finals time, would be a good time to address this. For others, it may be an addiction, anxiety, a relationship. The relapse may look like a cigarette, a bad panic attack, a drunk dial, or worse. Regardless of what it is, it never feels good. When I relapse, I feel weak, like I haven’t made progress, like I will never get better.

But none of that  is true. My couple words on relapse today are: it’s okay.

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It’s okay. Healing is not linear, and relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. It is important to remember to forgive yourself when it happens, and keep your head up. When I slip, it only makes it worse to beat myself up about it. I usually try to step back from the situation, look at my tattoo, and remind myself of all of the things that I know: that I am worthy of self-love, that societal expectations are bullshit, that health is more important than fitting a standard, that I have come so far from where I was only a few years ago, that my body is strong and beautiful and capable. And then I try to see each new moment, each new day as another chance to love myself.

It’s okay. The recovery process is just that, a process. It takes time, and sometimes it is something that we will deal with for the rest of our lives. I can’t say that I will ever completely leave my history of disordered eating and body image issues behind; maybe I will, but maybe certain things will always trigger me. Regardless, I cannot live my life shackled by those things. I have to keep fighting and keep making progress.

It’s okay. There are resources and people who can help you if you find yourself relapsing hard and often, or even if you’re not and just want to talk to someone. Don’t ever feel like you have to deal with something alone. If you ever want to talk to me about something I’ve said that has resonated with you here or in another post, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Honestly. It’s okay. I have been there. Other people have been there. So many of us have been there. It’s okay.

A Plea for Sensitivity

This past week, both my alma mater Emory University and my current state of North Carolina have been making headlines and trending on Facebook.

At Emory, phrases promoting Donald Trump for President were chalked all over the main campus, in particular around the areas leading to diverse student spaces. After this happened, students responded by washing off the statements, protesting the administration, and asking President Wagner to address the incident with the university. This response generated fierce responses on both sides of the argument. On one side, students argue for sensitivity to an offensive display of racism and a validating response by Emory administration, which has ignored the plights of students of color in the past. On the other side, reporters and other students respond that this was a display of political speech that should be protected under the First Amendment, and, relatedly, that the complaining students are being oversensitive. It appears, first of all, that the arguments are missing each other – the students of color are not asking for a legal response or “traumatized” by the political challenge. They are are just asking the administration to value their experiences and feelings, and to respect their freedom of speech as well.

In North Carolina, the General Assembly, which has a track record of passing bills that restrict the rights of people of color, low income people, and LGBTQ people, recently passed a bill that invalidated the city of Charlotte’s protections for LGBTQ people. The bill bans, among other things, allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, and keeps Charlotte from adding future nondiscrimination provisions. Essentially, with this bill, LGBTQ people receive no protection under the law in North Carolina.

Given all this in the last few days, this is my plea for sensitivity to marginalized people. I have spent hours thinking about how to help people, generally those not directly impacted by the issues, be more empathetic and sensitive to the plights of those around them, and I have not figured out something that always works. Is it a matter of face-to-face interaction with those people? Is it a matter of showing experiences? Is it a matter of recognizing privilege first? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things. But this time I am going to try just telling you. I am telling you that this is important and that in order for the country and the world to become better, it needs to be done.

We need to be more sensitive to the issues of people in the margins, regardless of what characteristic places them there – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, SES, etc. First, don’t tell anyone else that they should not feel harmed or that they are being oversensitive. Think about how it would feel if it were flipped. Think about something traumatizing or hurtful that has happened to you. Imagine if you were to tell me about that experience and express how you felt when it happened. Then imagine that I responded, “why are you so sensitive? That’s not a big deal.” How would you feel? I would guess that you would feel invalidated, like your feelings did not matter, like your experience did not matter. This is how marginalized people are treated every day. 

In the Emory case, the administration and others are making students of color feel like they do not matter. Chalking in favor of Donald Trump may not make you personally feel attacked, but especially given his long record of racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic comments and policies, it is not your place to say that students of color should feel the same way you do.

In North Carolina, the legislators and governor are making LGBTQ people feel like they are less and their needs do not matter. This may or may not have been the intent behind the actions, but it is the impact.

No one is expecting you to know how people feel or know every time something is inappropriate, but hold yourself accountable for being open to understanding. When someone tells you that something has harmed them, listen and realize that this is their experience, not yours.

Second, please please think about people other than yourself. I realize that this is difficult, but it is necessary. You may be a white male with a nice job and a strong family and a good education sitting in the House of Representatives of North Carolina…but your state, the country, and the world is not all like you. There are people around you suffering every day from oppression from a system that strangles and snuffs out the voices of people of color and other marginalized groups. We have a presidential candidate who thinks that women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and others don’t deserve the same rights that the majority does. If you are a white male, you will never know exactly what it feels like to have a country and a system that opposes everything that you are and stand for. So try to think about those other people instead of acting like you and your interests represent everyone and are the best for everyone.

To be clear, I am not saying that people in the majority do not deserve a voice or a place in the conversation. That is not it at all; it would be hypocritical to say that we can just be insensitive to the majority. I think that everyone deserves to be respected, but at the same time it is most often that the marginalized people are the ones being pushed even further into the gutters of society.

An example that has been in the news a lot recently in different states since Obergefell passed is the idea of religious freedom vs. discrimination against LGBTQ people. The Christian majority argues that we need to be sensitive to their exercise of religion if they believe that gay marriage is wrong. The LGBTQ minority argues that we need to be sensitive to their right to not be discriminated against. I think both of these things need to be respected, but the difference is that the majority’s opinion is hurting a minority group’s rights, while the minority’s desire to get married does not hurt the majority group’s rights. Christians are not being banned from believing what they believe or going to church or practicing their religion. But LGBTQ people are being banned from getting married. Why should the majority be able to impose their beliefs on the lives and livelihoods of the minority?

I also do encourage everyone to be an ally to the movement. However, before you can be an ally, you need to realize that these problems are real. You cannot brush them off as people being “weak” or “oversensitive” or asking for too much. When you are in the majority, and thus accustomed to privilege, I know it feels like any kind of oppression of your voice or your stance is unfair. However, when you are in that space all the time, you don’t realize what it means to be equal. You don’t realize that you might need to sacrifice some of your power or space to that someone who has been oppressed their whole lives can finally find equal ground with you.

This applies to every aspect of your identity. You can have privilege in certain areas and not others. A personal example I can give is my privilege as a cis-gendered, heterosexual person. While I feel marginalized by society as an Asian and a woman, because I identify with the gender that corresponds with my biological sex, and I am heterosexual, I have the privilege of navigating a society that is structured around that part of who I am. I don’t face stigma or discrimination based on my sexual orientation or gender identity. I have no problems deciding which bathroom to go into. I see heterosexual couples and relationships depicted in the media and advertisements. The list goes on. I try to recognize this privilege as I move through the world, and realize that not everyone has that. And I do what I can to be an ally to LGBTQ people who are oppressed because of their identity. I would never tell an LGBTQ person that they are being overly sensitive if they were to complain about problems they face. I don’t feel like I have any right to because it is not my experience.

This is something that we can all work on, so please think about it. Please think about people who have difference identities, stories, and feelings than you. Please be sensitive to the oppression and inequality around you. Please.

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11 Ways Men Can Better Support Feminism

International Women’s Day was a few days ago, and something I noticed was that the vast majority of posts on my Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds about the day were from people who identify as female. Shout out to the males who did celebrate the women in their lives (and the one who wished me in person!) but this just shows we need more men to be engaged in the feminist movement. We need you not only because you make up half of the world’s population, but because you do hold such power that can be used for good. Here are some ways that men can better support feminism:

1) Read. The first step, as usual, is to educate yourself. “Feminism is For Everybody” by bell hooks is a great place to start, and from there I recommend Audre Lorde and Angela Davis. I tend to lean toward pieces by women of color, to get their perspective on the intersectionality of race and gender, but there are also pieces by Caitlin Moran, Simone de Beauvior, and others that are valuable. The most important thing is to learn what feminism, male privilege, and sexism really are outside of the stereotypes and misconceptions that litter the internet.

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great book!

2) Recognize your male privilege. In the United States, we live in a patriarchal society where most leadership is male, gender roles tip power toward the male, masculinity is valued, and society is set up to make things easier for men. Women are constantly objectified, diminished, and reduced to simplistic beauty standards by the media and the public. For some specific examples of male privilege, check out this list compiled based on Peggy McIntosh’s article on white privilege. It is important to recognize the privileges that come with your gender because once you do, you can acknowledge how it leads to sexism and misogyny, and realize how you can use it to support women and feminism.

3) Use your male privilege to stop sexism, both in person and online. One of the aspects of male privilege is that males, particularly white males, are often trusted more for their opinions and ideas that women are. Women are more often characterized as irrational and emotional. I can attest to this, particularly in the context of sexist comments or situations. Many times when I have tried to point out sexist remarks, I’ve been dismissed as overly sensitive, angry, and misguided. As a man, you will be less likely to get this kind of response. So you should use that power. Use it to challenge others who make sexist comments or jokes. I recognize that it can be hard, or awkward, but these are issues that we women deal with every day. And if you don’t try, how will anything ever change?

4) Challenge gender roles. Acknowledge when you/other men or women are being forced into traditional gender roles. There is a difference between choosing to be in that role and being pressured into it. For example, I had a conversation with my friend about a dinner party that he went to. He noticed that during the preparation of the party, all of the women were in the kitchen cooking while all of the men were in the living room talking about politics. When a woman tried to join the political discussion, the men dismissed her opinions and did not really help her engage in the conversation. While it may be true that the women working in the kitchen enjoy that work, men can do their part by contributing to the cooking and cleaning, as well as by welcoming women into the socializing in the other room. When you don’t do that, you are reinforcing a societal pressure for women to conform to a certain place in the home. This applies to gender roles in your personal relationships as well. Acknowledge them and be ready to challenge them.

5) Make sure there is clear consent in all your sexual relationships. This should be obvious, but I still want to mention it because of the implicit power dynamic that is often present in sexual relationships between men and women. Be aware of that and do not use your power to force or persuade a woman to do anything. Consent is a clear, unambiguous, enthusiastic yes. It is not the absence of a no.

6)  Don’t make comments about women based on their appearances. This is something that I think all people should work on, but particularly men when looking at and talking about women. There is so much more about a woman that is valuable; find those things instead of jumping right to her body or her features. Also, finding someone physically attractive is fine; just don’t make that the focal point of your comments about her and don’t use that to determine what kind of a person she is.

7) Keep doing these things when it’s just guys. It can be easy to let sexist comments and acts slide when it is just men around because maybe you think it won’t affect anyone outside of that group. But keep yourself and your friends accountable still, because it does affect others. Allowing men to perpetuate sexist stereotypes and do sexist things even when no women are around just reinforces patriarchal views that will translate into the relationships and interactions they do have with women. So have integrity and speak up when you know something is wrong.

8) Don’t use terms like “friend zoned,” or terms that slut-shame or victim-blame. The term “friend zoned” implies several things: that a nice guy deserves to be with a woman, that friendship is somehow a crappy alternative to a romantic relationship, that feelings and attraction are static…and other things that are just ridiculous. The biggest thing I want to talk about is the idea that when a woman turns down a man, she is doing something terrible and blameworthy, and that the man is entitled to be with her. Instead, we should acknowledge friendships for what they are – beautiful, intimate relationships that help us develop as people. Related to this, don’t use terms that slut-shame or victim-blame. Don’t call women sluts or whores. That implies that the choice to have sex defines a woman and defines her in a negative way. Don’t ask questions when sexual assault comes up that blame the woman. Don’t tell a woman she should or shouldn’t wear something. The list goes on.

9)  If you approach a woman, respect her responses. Often times when I get approached by men in bars or other social settings, and I decline their offers for drinks, to dance, etc., they get offended. They don’t understand why I would turn them down – it could be a plethora of reasons, and all of them relate to my own decision-making capacity and empowerment as a person. As a man, you need to realize that you don’t have a right to me or any other woman. To make it worse, often the only response that sufficiently gets a man to stop pestering me is “I have a boyfriend.” What does this tell me? It tells me that this guy respects another guy over me. This is not right. Don’t do this. Accept responses from women as their choices and do not think that you deserve anything from them.

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realize that these words by Audre Lorde are true, and respect them

 

10) Be aware of your physical and emotional space. As evidenced by the Tumblr “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train,” men have been told by society that it is ok for them to take up space and assert their privilege, while women have been told to shrink themselves down and take up as little space as possible. I recently had an experience with this on a bus – I was sitting next to a man and he stuck his leg clearly into the space in front of my seat. If I hadn’t told him that he was in my space, I would have had to sit the whole ride with my legs folded into a tiny corner. Studies have also shown that when men and women walk toward each other on the sidewalk, it is more often the woman who moves for the man. This kind of spatial dominance is also present in conversations, where men more often dominate the air space. Knowing these things, be conscious of the space you are taking up, physically and emotionally, and give a fair share of it to women.

11) Identify as a feminist. Don’t be scared of the word. Use it. Embrace it. Live it.

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you can also get this shirt so everyone will know

There are obviously so many more things that men can do to support feminism – this is by no means an exhaustive list. But I think that it is a good place to start. Look out for future articles with more suggestions, and have a great, feminist day!

Why Is it Ok To Be Racist Towards Asians?

At the Oscars, Chris Rock, who ironically made it a point to address the lack of diverse representation at the awards ceremony, also made an insensitive joke that played to Asian American stereotypes and child labor. You can watch a clip here, and by the way, those are not those children’s real names. At that same ceremony, Sacha Baron Cohen made a crude joke referring to Asians as “hard-working yellow people with tiny dongs.” These were both during an Oscars that was being held in the midst of a lot of controversy over the fact that all of the nominations were given to white actors, and that was trying to be intentional about increasing the diversity and cultural sensitivity of Hollywood as a whole. There were racist jokes made about Asians at an event that was intentionally trying to stop being racist. Think about that.

On a more personal level, my Asian American friends and I commonly face instances of micro- and macro-aggressions that offend my sense of racial identity. When we hang out, people in law school have addressed us as “the Asians.” This may not seem like a big deal, but I have never heard anyone publicly address a group of black people as “the Blacks” or a group of Hispanic people as “the Hispanics.” I think that that would come across as clearly insensitive, because it is. But we, “the Asians,” get it all the time. I’ve also been asked so many times about my math and science skills (of which I have none), been told I must be a bad driver, and been addressed in almost every East Asian language I can imagine – “ni hao,” “konichiwa,” and a more generic”ching chong” are the most common ones.

The internet backlash over the jokes made about Asians at the Oscars was swift, and my reaction to racist comments in my life is usually the same. However, a lot of the response has been that we as Asians shouldn’t be so sensitive, implying that our concerns are not legitimate. So that in itself, as well as the examples I have discussed, raises an important question that I want to address: Why is it seemingly acceptable to be racist towards Asians despite the ongoing conversations in society about racial justice for minorities? 

Here’s what I think.

1) The conversation about race in America is largely black and white. To be very clear, I do not mean to say that the Black community does not deserve the respect they are getting. They do, and they deserve far more than they are getting now. However, because the main narratives of civil rights in the United States center around the oppression of black people by white people, Asian Americans and other minorities are often left out. Students don’t always learn in depth about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment growing up. There is generally less conversation about the racism and discrimination faced by Asians in and out of academia. I am not trying to blame anyone for this, and I think that recognizing it can help us all work together in a more effective way. We need to find space for the Asian American narrative in the conversation about race. Also, if we as minorities can learn from one another’s struggles and successes, we can better stand in solidarity with each other, and promote a stronger sense of cultural sensitivity and inclusion across the board. While our experiences are by no means the same, we are all here to promote cultural acceptance and diverse representation, and if we are cognizant of these common goals, we can help propel the racial justice movement forward together.

2) Asian Americans do not have as strong of a history of fighting back against discrimination. Based on cultural norms and societal reinforcement of those norms, Asian Americans are less involved in protests, social justice, and activism than are other minority groups. Asian Americans are also still the most commonly bullied minority group, in part because we do not have a history of fighting back. I think this is in part based on cultural differences and oppression that Asians have faced for speaking up in our native countries. When I was younger, I know I personally was told by my parents and my teachers to stay quiet, do my work, and not express my opinions too boldly. I was told that as a Chinese American and as a woman, I needed to be gentle, demure, and calm. My parents are also big on avoiding  confrontation, so that was not something that I learned how to do productively growing up. I internalized the fact that I should deal with my own feelings and issues myself, without making a fuss or talking to anyone else, for a long time.

3) When Asian Americans do speak out, we are often criticized for it. An example of this is the recent Peter Liang trial. Police officer Peter Liang was indicted by a grand jury on manslaughter, assault, and other criminal charges after an accidental discharge from his gun hit and killed a man. The controversy that arose was over why Liang was indicted and not granted any leniency after countless white officers who shot black men were let off; thousands of Chinese Americans protested the inconsistency by marching in New York. They felt that Liang was being used as a scapegoat because he was Asian American. One protester said, “it’s easier to hang an Asian, because Asians, they don’t speak up.”

Some of the response to these protests were negative: that while Asian Americans have valid concerns, they do not have the language to effectively express them, and the message now is “clumsy and riddled with contradiction,” according to Jay Caspian King who wrote for The New York Times Magazine. There was also emphasis placed on the fact that Asian Americans were focusing on race too much when the prosecution of the officer was accurate based on the way the criminal justice system should function, ignoring the fact that so many white officers had gone free. Though it is certainly possible that the indictment of Peter Liang was done properly, there was not enough conversation about how this should affect criminal justice reform in the future and too much on attempting to dismiss the concerns of the Asian American protesters.

I want this point to speak directly to Asian Americans reading this. Despite the criticism we may face, we do need to stand up for what we believe in and what is best for our communities. We should not be afraid to show the country who we are and unite against injustice.

4) We are labeled as the “model minority” so our issues and complaints are often questioned or viewed with skepticism. The idea of Asian Americans as the “model minority” comes with so-called “positive” stereotypes of Asian Americans excelling in academia and careers, and attaining stability and socioeconomic status. The term is very controversial, because it implies that because of the success that Asian Americans are seen to have achieved, they do not face discrimination or they have no need for government or public support (like welfare, affirmative action). It makes people think that we should not be complaining about oppression because of our ability to excel, is used to justify exclusion of Asian Americans from public and private assistance programs, and pits minority groups against each other by implying that other minorities are to blame for not achieving to the level of the “model minority.” Finally, it is also very emotionally damaging to a lot of Asian Americans, who try to live up to the standards that the model minority myth impose.

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One of the “positive” stereotypes used in Chris Rock’s Oscars joke and across the board in popular media that is actually very harmful and insensitive

It is important to recognize that this model minority myth is just that – a myth. The stereotypes that it is based on are not true – there are so many Asian Americans who experience poverty, who are struggling to integrate into American society, who do need assistance. There are so many refugee communities in particular who suffer greatly. Asian Americans are also underrepresented in leadership positions across the board, particularly in careers like business, government, and law. While many Asian Americans have succeeded in the United States, so have many members of other minorities. Additionally, most of the Asian American families who are in the middle to upper class have been in the country for at least 1-2 generations, if not more. We need to recognize that the model minority myth is harmful to Asian Americans as well as to the racial justice movement, and stop using it to justify exclusionary actions.

Asian Americans face racism and discrimination in the United States, and it is largely either ignored or dismissed…or made into a joke. This is not ok. We need to recognize that it is an issue, stop allowing awful jokes like the ones made at the Oscars, and integrate Asian Americans into the conversation about race. We cannot let our narrative be forgotten.

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From last year’s North Carolina Asian American Civil Rights Conference

Please feel free to let me know what you think about this. Thanks for reading.

Are We All Bigots?

The recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia has made me think a lot about a few questions that I would like to address today:

  1. Does doing bad things make someone a bad person?  Relatedly, how do you determine if something is good or bad?
  2. Does calling someone a bad person, or otherwise attacking someone’s character based on their opinions, have any real value in social justice?
  3. How can we better strive for progress both in personal relationships and in social justice when interacting with or addressing people with different viewpoints?

Disclaimer, the following is likely to be a stream of consciousness with not a lot of solid answers, and a lot of my opinions. So, I need your help with this. I clearly am still thinking through these questions, so please let me know what you think and where I can clarify things!

1. I am of the firm belief that doing bad things does not necessarily make you a bad person. A lot of people might disagree with me, but as a strong proponent of restorative justice and rehabilitation, I think calling someone a “bad person” makes false assumptions about their ability to change and potentially their circumstances. Too often do we jump to criticize someone’s character based on what we know about their actions, forgetting that we are all human, we all make mistakes and do “bad” things, we can all be affected by our situation, and that most of us can change.

For example, to give the most extreme of examples, I have in the past, and heard others do the same, called Hitler a “bad person.” Based on all of the things that he did that I think are terrible and hateful and harmful, I want to say he is a bad person. However, in doing that, I am assuming that he was just inherently a person filled with evil intentions and had no potential to change. While it is certainly important to recognize that the actions that Hitler took were horrifying so that history does not repeat himself, I think condemning someone as a bad person only promotes an attitude of hate that we are ironically trying to pin on the person in question. Essentially, we are hating someone for hating other people. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Justice Scalia is another, more recent, example of this. When he passed away, I had so many emotions. While I realized it was inappropriate and insensitive to “celebrate” someone’s death, I wasn’t necessarily sad at the loss. I found the majority of Justice Scalia’s opinions to be harmful to people, including LGBT people, racial minorities, the mentally challenged, death row inmates, the poor, etc. If he had not been on the Court, a lot of people would still be alive and/or free. So in my view, his not being a part of the Supreme Court was not necessarily a terrible thing.

Justice Scalia (1936-2016)

But then I talked to one of my friends, who identifies as conservative, and I called his opinions “hateful.” This was very offensive to her because she agreed with some of those very opinions, like his dissent in the same-sex marriage case, Obergefell. She asked me, “would you call me hateful for thinking that?” I didn’t really know what to say, because it would be illogical to say no, but at the same time I don’t think she is a hateful person. I disagree with many of her opinions on issues, but I don’t think that makes her a hateful person. This made me think about the words I decide to use and what they imply about the people and actions that I use them to describe. It could be very hurtful and presume more to call someone “hateful,” compared to calling their actions “hurtful” or “discriminatory,” which have more factual connotations. I talked to other classmates about the topic as well, and many of my very highly educated, well-spoken classmates saw his opinions as having more merit than I did; they just came at them with different values and considerations. And so I thought, who am I to try and label Scalia as a “bad person”? But more importantly, how would that help any of the conversations I was having?

That being said, how do I determine what is “bad” and what is “good”? Most of it is just my personal moral code and instinct, some of it comes from the law or social opinion…but I think that it is important to recognize that what you think is “bad” might not be bad to a lot of people. This idea comes up in life most often when discussing political sides of social issues. For example, I identify as pro-choice, and I want to say that the decisions and attitudes of pro-lifers are “bad” because they do not respect the right of the woman to choose what she does with her body. However, my friend who is pro-life might think that my decisions and attitudes are “bad” because I don’t respect the right of the fetus. While her logic might not make sense to me, mine might equally not make sense to her. And if both of us just continually think that the other view is “bad,” we will always just be at odds. Recognizing that what you think is “good” might easily not be seen that way by others could help increase our willingness to be compassionate and listen to others, which can change our mindsets about the people around us.

2. In my work with social justice, I have seen a broad spectrum of approaches. One that I see quite often is the attacking of people who don’t agree. Conservatives are labeled as narrow-minded, racist, sexist, homophobic, bigots, intolerant, hateful, ignorant. Liberals are labeled as raging, oversensitive, illogical…and also intolerant, hateful, ignorant, bigots. I mean it makes logical sense, right? “Hateful,” “intolerant,” and “bigot” mean people who don’t respect those of different opinions or backgrounds, and that can easily be said of both sides. I talked about this more in another post, but I really think that these kinds of labels and attitudes only continues to polarize the discussion around social issues and prevents united progress. We need to be willing to listen and talk to people who disagree with us to broaden our own knowledge and think about how to bridge the gaps in a respectful way. It is much easier to say this than to do it in practice, but it is something that I am consciously working on every day.

3. To summarize everything that I have rambled about, and form it into suggestions for what we can practically do:

  • Try not to hate on people for the hate that they show. For me, it is way easier to be angry at people I think are discriminating against others or hurting others. It is harder to challenge myself to show compassion for these people and try to understand where they are coming from. This applies across the board from classmates who disagree with my opinions to people who have committed crimes (ultimately who I want to work with in my capacity as a lawyer). I want to show people that I believe in them and that I understand that they are not bad people, certainly not for disagreeing with me, and not even if they have done something that society sees as “bad.”
  • Be careful about the distinction between calling people “bad” and actions “bad.” Donald Trump is one of the people currently in the country that I really want to say is a “bad person.” But I know that this only reinforces a hateful view of humanity. Instead, I try to talk about my opinions on his actions, like building a wall, and comments, like those that are misogynistic and xenophobic, and recognize that there are aspects of the context that he lives in that could have led to his beliefs.
  • Realize that your opinion is not the only legitimate opinion in the world. Going back to the example of Scalia, I try to talk about my feelings about it as my opinion. I recognize that not everyone is going to agree and, more challenging than that, that my view is not the only one that reflects a valuable perspective. In personal relationships, and in working in social justice, it is so important to understand how other people think about an issue. I am not functioning in my own little world – I am surrounded by people that I need to, and want to, work with and associate with. And part of that interaction involves respect for where everyone is coming from, not only the people who agree with me.
  • Reach out to people who have different opinions from you, and go into a conversation with them without a wall up. I used to instinctively put up a defensive wall made of my liberal beliefs whenever I talked to anyone who was likely to disagree with me, and the second they said anything that I didn’t like, I would throw the bricks of that wall at them. It was not a productive way to discuss anything; it is so much better to put down the wall and make a genuine effort to see where the other person is coming from and why their point of view could be valuable.

Are you still reading? I’m impressed you’ve stayed with me this far. Thanks for being here 🙂 Let me know what you think!

Femmegades
Part of the reason I started this blog was to talk about issues from different perspectives, so thanks for being a part of that 🙂

Featured Femmegade: Albert Yoo

Today’s featured writer is someone who is very important to me. We met in college at the Crossroads diversity retreat, and since then he has inspired me as one of the most thoughtful, reflective, and courageous people in my life. He has been through a lot, and today he writes on his experience with mental health, attempted suicide, and how it has affected the way he thinks about life. Without further ado, here’s Albert.

***

Still In The Ring

It was March 13th, 2015.  Today, I join the dead’s silent march. It had become a routine ritual. For years, my depression would come and go in droves. Too often, depression gets mistaken for its not-so-distant cousin, sadness. Let me make this distinction clear. Sadness is the feeling of loss and guilt accompanied by waves of emotional pain. Depression is the complete, utter necrosis of the mental faculties. It decays the very succulent fruit we so hold impartially, living. If sadness were to be the whirlpool that turns and churns us so and spits us back in one piece,  then depression would be the vast, icy ocean that drains and sinks you into its bottomless depth. No matter how much you swim up, the water will eventually get to you and you find no use in fighting  and

you

sink, sink

sink…..

 to……..

  ….nothing………………

I chose this particular day for a reason. There was a clarity to the day. The sun was shining, the students were mingling in and about, I was meeting a friend, and all the gaieties of a “nice, beautiful day”.  The art of self-murder takes meticulous planning. It is no different from planning a wedding or a birthday. For all of them, you want the anointed day to arrive soon enough. On a wedding, you wait for the moment to kiss your lover’s lips. On birthdays, after the raucous chanting, you blow the candles to indicate the passing of another life. On suicides, you expect no less the same. For a such an internal affair, everyone wants it to end with flair for some odd reason. I had chosen my method to end the madness.

Dexter always welcomed me with a smile. There was an unfeigned jolliness in this man’s poise. As we sat down and chatted, I noticed the dilation in his pupils. He knew something was amiss. He continued to smile, but probed and questioned my words. I smiled back, assuring him nothing was wrong and the day was going quite “fine”. It tipped him off. I never smiled like that. His hazel eyes turned to a darker shade. He saw through my lies. I grew impatient with my conversation and ended it. We both said our byes and headed off separate directions.

My brother had left for New York on the weekend and left his car for me to use. I knew somewhere in his trunk, he held the instrument. I walked to the car and ignited the engine. I desired my last moments, my last rite, to be in the forest. Parking my car, I reached into the trunk and reach for the instrument. As I waded my way through the woods, one could hear heavy crunching as my walking slowed. The oppressive sun slowed my march. It didn’t help that a earthy odor accompanied me as I stepped through rotting vegetation. I stopped at an open space in the woods. All that was left was to assemble the agent. Carefully, I attached each piece one by one.

I put it slowly against the side of my head. A clear shot at the side will suffice. It had a metallic chill that coursed through my hands, fitting for an agent of death. Now came the most difficult part. Over the eons, life has subtly engineered us such as through development of our bipedal legs, our wondrous eye sight, and our calculating brain. Each of these traits meshed into one, single thread: survival. This single command allowed us to survive tiger, cold and starvation. Even if I were the present danger, it would protect me. Never before had my instincts been so sharp, so tintillating, so distinct. Overriding this ancient network was always my downfall. Every other attempt halted by this overarching, vigilant guard. My work must be swift.

Without so much as a thought, I forced my hand on its trigger. I was the aberration in the program. A swift purification was in order.

The sooner,

the better.

I pressed.

silence……………

I pressed. I pressed.

silence……………

I pressed and pressed and pressed that GODDAMN TRIGGER

silence……………

“What happened?”, I said to myself. I examined the instrument and an unnatural laughter erupted from my throat. Of course, I forgot to load the cannons. My laughter unsettled me. I didn’t realize I was capable of producing such a laugh. It slipped from my fingers and I fell to the ground prostrate in my amusement. Existence can be such a farce. It elevates to such a level of absurdity that you cannot help but chuckle at the comedy. As they say, comedy sucks the gravity out of tragic situations. Simply put, we can’t help but to laugh at our misfortunes.

Now that you’ve read my little story, you must be wondering why I choose to tell this? Sometimes it takes a brush with death to understand our morality. Some of you who had this encounter, I know you are out there. I will not ask why you hide, but know this, you are not alone. Also, congratulations, you have fallen to the lowest degree. It is not till we fall to our lowest pit, do we fully comprehend magnitude of our depth. This is my gift to you. Over a decade of fighting against the disease and I still rise and fall in this tumultuous life.  Just as my reality does not reflect yours, so shall my ways of coping and battling differ from yours. It is my hope however, that you will take the next steps on your journey to confront the depression.

  1. On matters of Change

 

Life is joy. Life is pain. Life is beautiful. It took me years to accept this mantra. At times, my depression makes me think about why a baby cries when it slips out of the womb. Does it cry, knowing the suffering it will endure in a lifetime? Does it cry, knowing that it will die in the same helpless state?  Many times, my depression would lock me in a state of paralytic inaction. First, the fatigue, then the anhedonia, then sometimes, the trickling suicidal ideation. It all boils down to the fear of living.  Don’t be afraid of action. Don’t be afraid of change. Change is how we learn. Change is how we gain wisdom, after all wisdom translates to obtained experience. I implore you: Suffer soul-crushing loneliness. Jump with jubilant glee, Mourn in terrible grief, Worry with onerous gravity, Sigh in refreshing contentment. Above all experience, live, endure. What would life be without conflict? Conflict drives the narrative. It is the nature of a story to have an antithesis. Protagonist v. Antagonist, there you go. No conflict, no progression, no story. And will you fail many times? Absolutely without a doubt in my mind. Will I probably have more relapses? More ideations? More sleepless nights? Absolutely. However, I will seek change. Seek to better myself. Seek to understand who I am through my failures. The wise have taken all paths to foolishness to know which way is best.

  1. To kingship, to Ownership

Yes, over a decade of counseling, mentoring, swallowing a cornucopia of drugs, and confiding with close friends have aided me on my journey And to this day, I still receive the same help. Let me tell you, truthfully, no one can truly help you. They can guide you, but not HELP you. No one can fully immerse in your depth. You are the only one who can truly fathom the magnitude of who you are.You are the king of your own realm. You who have been coronated since birth to take on this mantle. Yes, depression may be part of myself. Yes, it has conquered many nights. Yes, I am deathly afraid of it. Know this, I am the king of my dominion and no other shall rule before me.  And as king, I ACCEPT and CHALLENGE what plagues my country. The burden of kingship weighs heavily as do all tasks. It will take tremendous will, spirit, and determination to address the state of affairs. For me, that is all I had. If it meant summoning impossible willpower to even survive a night, then so be it.

  1. More practical matters

Now I move unto the matter of habits and activities that facilitate my daily fight against the illness. Out of everything I do, simple listening has been the most effective. Not necessarily do I “listen”. Listening is a misnomer for the activity. Properly stated, it is more akin to observation. To listen, is to observe with all senses. The human body is an amazing biological work of art. I enjoy my time with yoga because, I can notice all the different electrical neurons firing, ordering my muscles to contract and stretch as I hold the different poses. With yoga, there is also meditation. It helps immensely when I can suppress all other outside stimulus and focus only on digging deeper into myself. Even something simple as showing kindness to others helps immensely. If there is one craft everyone is a master at, it is hiding one’s pains/scars. People may forget your action and name, but they will never forget how you lifted them during a terrible moment. We are creatures of sentiment as much as we  like to call ourselves the epitome of logic. And perhaps on the most personal preference, acting. While it is entertaining to tell a story, I relish far more the idea of thinking differently. For those in the craft, you know developing a role is an arduously long process. Not only must you think, breathe, and live in another’s shoes, you must continue this process as you walk away from the stage. To be an actor, is to immerse yourself as a practitioner of empathy. Many nights, I spent thinking in the shower about the gravity of a situation in a scene. How it must feel to be say a character in a Chekhovian play? How does it feel to be trapped socially, domestically, and emotionally? How it must feel as your character finds a way to pop out of their situational bubble? Or to be a king, like in Henry V. How does it feel to be suddenly taking on the crown of king? How it must feel to know you are leading a pack of demoralized, tired men to their deaths against an overwhelming enemy? How it must feel at all to hold such power over so many souls? I absorbed, understood, and related my own experiences to these people and realize we are all not so different.

  1. My Departing Gift

To all of you out of there, please keep up the fight. To my readers, I hope my story gives you a little glimmer of hope, however small it is. If all this flew over your head, that is fine. Take this parting gift at least. As the Chinese proverb goes, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of being still”. To those to those who battle against this plague, know there is one tiny, timid boy who chose to take arms against his ills and says “I am still in the ring, Motherfucker”.

1461381_10153360792193525_737098611611153038_n
Meet Albert!