Monday, June 1, 2020

Things I've learned

I don’t even know where to start, but I feel compelled to write. So I will just go. 

A few years ago when things really went south here in St. Louis, specifically the suburb of Ferguson, one of my friends I met on an online shopping forum pointedly asked me why I wasn’t posting about it on my blog or social media. She is a huge activist, and my silence was hurting her. At the time, I truly felt in my heart that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Everything I post about on this blog is superficial. I was not purposely trying to ignore but it honestly just didn’t cross my mind that I SHOULD post about it. And if I was going to post about it, I wanted it to be organic, and not forced, because the last thing I wanted was a post like that to come across as insincere. Ultimately, she unfriended/ unfollowed me, and looking back at it now, her reasons are clear as day to me and I’m a ashamed and saddened that I let her down. 

So what has changed from now since then? I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe my heart has actually changed. Maybe me listening to people’s stories and reading the thoughts of others has truly started to sink in. Regardless, I wanted to share a few things that really hit home for me in case you also are sitting there thinking, “I’m not doing anything wrong.” 

Let me back up a bit. Obviously, I’m not white. I was born here in the States, but my parents are first generation here from the Philippines. Growing up, if I’m being honest, I hated being Asian. Other kids would always ask me, “What are you?” When I tried to tell them I was Filipino – they had no idea what that was. They didn’t get that it was different from Chinese or Japanese. It caused so much confusion, eventually, I just started to tell people I was Mexican. It’s sad really. I grew up in San Antonio which is very diverse, but how crazy that parents didn’t educate their kids on other nationalities. It's not like I grew up in the 50s!

Fast forward, and I was constantly bullied. I can remember my dad having to go to a boy’s house down the street because he physically kicked me in the butt for no reason. Another time I was standing in the aisle on the bus waiting to get off on my street and a different kid grabbed hold of my ankles and pulled back so that I fell flat on my face; everyone pointing and laughing, and the bus driver legit doing nothing about it. I constantly was picked on for my lunch money. I hated standing out and being different. I resented my slanted eyes so much so that I would try and make them “round” every day after school, holding them as wide and as round as possible in hopes that one day they would eventually change shape. 

It didn’t stop in high school. You cannot even imagine the amount of racist comments I received waiting tables. One customer told me he would have the Chinese send me back to Hong Kong after I told him we were out of Lemon Meringue Pie. I had people assume I wasn’t born in the States and compliment me on my English. I was at the movies with my boyfriend at the time, a man asked my boyfriend where “his wife” was from. When I answered him myself, he looked at me then looked right back at my boyfriend and said, “It’s good to know she understands what’s going on around her.” Fast forward even more and a different boyfriend was told by one of his friends, “How can you even date an Asian?” (implying that I was gross.) 

Most recently, right before the quarantine, I was standing at a crosswalk with a friend waiting for the light to turn. This guy hangs out of the truck yelling at me saying "SHE HAS CORONA VIRUS!!!" I looked at my (white) friend and said, "I'm going to pretend that wasn't a racial slur because I'm Asian." 

I really could go on and on and on. 

So what is my point to all of this? Racism undeniably exists. People are uninformed and uneducated on diversity and how harmful innocent words can make others feel. All these stories, while they are annoying and made me self-conscious of my ethnicity, were never life threatening. I know how much these incidents hurt me, and they sound very insignificant. But over time they culminate and build-up. If these types of things were happening to ME as an Asian-American, the reality of what happens to People of Color terrifies me. I will never truly understand that kind of fear, hurt, and anger. 

Racism is a Spectrum.

And that leads me to my first learning. Racism is not a yes or no type of stance. I learned that racism is a spectrum. An excerpt from this Momstrosity post that really spoke to me:

"I'm inclined to believe that most parents are not setting the example of being openly racist. Overtly cruel. Racism is spread in more subtle ways. It is kept alive through generations by "jokes." By little comments with racist undertones."

Based on my social media feeds, many feel that so long as they have POC friends or they don't physically hurt or murder someone based on the color of their skin, they are not racist. The way the info-graphic above breaks down racism makes things very clear and eye opening. Instead of saying, “I’m not racist!” stop and think, “HOW am I racist?” We can all be better at this.

Black lives matter.

There's often the "all lives matter" response when someone says "black lives matter." Just because someone says "black lives matter" does not mean that other lives don't. Period. Imagine going to a Breast Cancer Fundraiser and people coming in angry that money wasn't being raised for ALL cancers. Seems like a silly analogy, but it resonated with me. 

Black Lives Matter is a movement and it gives POC their voice. So yes, they will get angry if you try and downplay it by other lives and other scenarios. The other very powerful video I watched was this one. She asks white attendees to stand if they want to be treated the same as black citizens do in society. No one stood, and she said this proves "you know what's happening. You know you don't want it for you. I want to know why you're so willing to allow it or to accept it to happen for others."

Educate yourself.

It is heart breaking seeing posts from my friends who are in so much hurt over these current events. Specifically, Rachelle, Charnele, Daphnee, Renata. I want to support them. I want to do SOMEthing. So many of us do. And I see a lot people asking their POC friends - what can I do? I learned that this, once again, puts the burden on the POC community. It is not your POC friend's responsibility to educate you. Yes, learn from their posts, learn from the resources they openly share. But don't expect them to go out of their way just for you. Imagine a friend going through a terrible loss. Would you bother that friend in that moment to teach you how to make their famous lemon blueberry dessert? No. They're emotionally exhausted. They're angry. They're reeling. Do the legwork yourself. Do your own homework. Be respectful even if you can't fully understand their pain. Learn how you can support them without further burdening them. Then help educate others so they don't have to.

Another post of Momstrosity's that I have watched a couple of times is this one. She talks about how her family was super racist. Later in life, she adopted two African-American children and her family not only loves them as if they are from her womb, but they have completely changed hearts and are now activists! She went on to say that what truly changes the heart are relationships and that truly is key. Meet, engage, discuss, learn, empathize, trust, try and understand the struggles of all cultures. Be kind. Just because you aren't a person of color doesn't mean you can't use your voice on their behalf.

Screenshot of this video

Focus on the illness, not the symptoms.

The rioting, the looting, the fires - all of that makes me sad. That said, I understand it is a symptom of the overarching illness, it is not the problem in and of itself. Yet, it's often the one thing that is focused on. You begin to notice that people are quick to post about the riots yet those same people say nothing when the murders happened. Why is that? Can you see how that could raise an eye to the POC community to only speak about the rage but not the injustice?

I've watched this CNN video a handful of times now. There are a few quotes from that video that really impacted me. The screenshot above reminds me of how my parents told me I could not have a boyfriend until I graduated college. That's not really realistic - I was a teenager. I was social. Dating was inevitable. And that restriction on me just caused me to lie to my parents. To not tell them anything about my boyfriends. And again, that's a very simplified example, but it makes sense why the POC community is forced to act out. Because they have been repeatedly let down by the same people that are supposed to protect them. 

Talking to a colleague today and he mentioned that he was all for peaceful protests but didn't understand or condone the violence and that he has a lot of friends that disagree with him. I told him that I was in his same boat a couple of years ago. I didn't get it either. But I told him that what helped me understand was - picture being so defeated, so helpless, so outraged, so desperate, that you felt the only way to be heard was to act out. I mean. I am so passionate about BASEBALL. And that has nothing to do with me, or my family, my culture, my beliefs. Just stop and think about that magnitude of hurt.

That said - I also understand that there are many people who simply want to jump on the bandwagon and camouflage their looting and vandalism within these protests. Do I agree with that? Absolutely not. But it's merely a symptom. Let's focus on the illness. I also understand that the media likes you to assume that these malicious acts are being done by POC and that is not the case. So do your own research. Do not trust the media as you're passing judgement.

Posted by Rachelle here

Silence is the same as being complicit.

I will wrap this up by bringing this post full circle to how it started. I am well aware now that my silence was the same as being complicit. I should have spoken up then. And I still really don't know why my heart wasn't quite there at that point. But the past is the past, how can we focus on the future? Rachelle's post was so spot on. There is a new energy around this right now. Let's keep that going. Let's work on truly changing ourselves, not just letting this fade away and we go back to being passive. 

COVID forever changed my awareness on germ spreading, and the things I touch, and how quickly things can spread. I hope this moment in time also forever changes my awareness on racism and social injustice. I don't want to post just to post. I don't want to post just because everyone else is talking about it. I want to post because I do want to be part of the positive change and to share some of the things that truly changed my heart. 

I hope I can be as brave as my shopping forum friend who wasn't afraid to call me out or unfriend me. She could have easily tried to ignore it, let the resentment build, then lose her sh*t on me one day. Instead, she had a calm, but albeit difficult, conversation with me, spoke her case, and when she saw I was not on the same page as her, she cut me out of her life and moved on. Even though it took me some time, I more than understand I was wrong, and she was the one that planted that seed of change.


  1. Very nice. Tnanks for sharing this. In this country, we don't want to address the problems because if we did then people might unite and try to change the system to make it better for all. Just my little take on it.

  2. I had a shopping forum friend who cut me out 4 years ago when I didn’t speak out and I felt the rioting was wrong back then. I will say over the past 4 years it has made me really evaluate my heart, racism, what I teach my boys, and I have a very different mindset on all of this now. If she hadn’t cut me out would I have changed? I’m not sure. We had met in person and I felt we’re close. It hurt me deeply how I felt she threw our friendship away. I’m sure it hurt her deeply how she possibly thought I was racist when that was never my intention.

    Living in California was very educational to me on Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans. I learned the difference, their cultures, their foods, and realized how much racism they face too.

    1. I just love that she is so convicted in her beliefs that she only surrounds herself with people who uphold those same standards. I certainly can't say that for myself. By doing so, she doesn't get bogged down by trying to bring people up to her standards - she can focus on moving forward towards positive change. That is what I tell myself. And I don't want to be sad about a lost friendship because this truly is not about me. If I had to lose a friend for my heart to change, then to me, my changed heart makes the world better than my previous version.
      Of course I loved her as a friend, but in reality, I needed her in my life more than she needed me and she still was able to plant the seed without having that contact with me. How great is that?! I would love to be an example and a legacy to others even if I'm not actively a part of their lives.

      California is certainly diverse, so that is great that you had that exposure. I realize not all parts of the country have that luxury so it's nice to be able to share learnings and experiences with others to help bridge that gap.

  3. By the time I got to the end of this I am in literal tears. Thank you so much for taking the time to share not only your own story but to amplify the stories and experiences of POC in this country. Like Rachelle said, I pray this isn’t like a brand new pair of workout clothes we wear and then forget about. We’ve got to keep this same energy, and take it all the way to those polls in November. As a country armed with allies like yourself and many others we need to show the government, business, and other institutions that have perpetuated and kept this system of racism going that we will no longer stand for , support or tolerate hate IN ANY FORM in our country.

  4. I bookmarked this post when I saw it this morning, and I just sat down to read it after lunch. Caryl, I feel like I've learned so much not only about you and your experience growing up, but also through the video you shared and how racism is a spectrum. I've honestly never thought about it in that way, but like most things in life, there is nuance. I have experienced some nasty things myself, especially as the child of an ethically mixed couple. I grew up in a very white area, and people made fun of my mom's heavy spanish accent all the time. People chalk it up to kids being kids, but when there are racial undertones you know that it's learned behavior and that those kids overheard things from adult conversations. My hope is that things finally begin to change, but I'm not super optimistic yet. Thank you for all of this, and I'm really happy I get to call you a friend.

  5. I <3 you. Thanks for your voice.

    1. Weird, why am I coming up as unknown? It's Kezia.