Yesterday Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election. Around San Diego there was a lot of celebrating. Cars passing by honking, people hanging out their windows with cowbells, others cheering back from the sidewalk. It was like a huge collective out-breath, a big sigh of relief!
Biden and Harris have a lot of work ahead of them to address the racial, gender and class inequities and injustices. Now that all these white supremacists are out of the closet, we can see we have a problem and we can’t just stuff them back in – they’re there and need to be addressed with sincerity.
Total transformation of this hidden hierarchal caste system must take place. Creating a hierarchy based on race (how America was established 250 years ago) is not only unjust and immoral, it’s awful.
I was born in 1975 in a white middle-class home to white middle-class parents in Southern California. There was nothing noteworthy about it because you could say that I was born into the dominant caste so I could take for granted and not even notice the privileges given to me because of my skin color. And yet even at an early age, I felt like something wasn’t right.
My earliest memories of race were charged with negativity and discrimination. The set and setting is at my paternal grandparent’s house. By the time these memories happened, my parents were divorced so I must’ve been 8 or 9 years old. In the small, linoleum-floored kitchen with the white Formica table in the corner sat my dad in his police uniform, me in the opposite corner barely noticeable, not that it mattered, they weren’t speaking with any concern for young ears. My body and mind were an unwilling sponge soaking up the horrific stories of car accidents, murder investigations and theft, sometimes with actual pictures that would be circulated like vacation photos, which I avoided. But actual pictures were nothing in comparison to the images that at first were hazy, then began to fill in right before dozing off to sleep, getting clearer and sharper and darker as my imagination had time and quiet aloneness of the night to allow forms to take shape.
Along with these nightmares that unfolded before me, also came a new language, one that I don’t recall hearing from anyone else in my family, but I think it was no stranger to their ears or tongue. It was just that my dad had more context in which to use the language. The foreign words could pretty easily be translated into meanings even a 9-year-old could understand. They were names given to people who had brown skin, who had small eyes or who had an accent.
For reasons unknown and I can only thank my guardian angel for (and the many other ways I was protected during this time), I didn’t believe in the blatant and sometimes violent negativity toward people of different races or colors than my own.
It’s not to say that I sailed through the adolescent finish line without learning racism. My version of racism tended to lean more toward my mom’s actions and beliefs which were to “avoid”. To seek out like-minded, like-skinned, like-upbringing. Safety of herd mentality. Safety of doing, saying, performing like the rest. There were no talks of appreciating differences, only talks of what color skin took care of lawns and house cleaning, what color skin did the dry cleaning and what color skin went to offices to work wearing business suits.
I would be mistaken to say those judgments and pigeon-hole notions didn’t influence me, of course they did, but my heart has never been able to acquiesce, to give passage or permission to the idea of declaring something without contemplating it first.
The truth is, I love different cultures and languages, rituals and traditions. I’ve always said that if I could have a superpower, it would be to touch an object or person and get a story download of all the places and people that have interfaced with that object or person. Human stories touch a part of my soul. The rawness of life and people on this planet with all their trials, struggles, persistence, strength, compassion and striving in the ways that their own cultural structures either help or hinder. Those stories keep me going. Those stories help me to know that we’re going to be ok. According to John Lennon, “Everything is going to be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end”.
I cherish the opportunities I’ve had to travel to different parts of the world and learn about other cultures. I love being a part of my husband’s Vietnamese festivals and traditions and I’m grateful to have a childhood friend and business partner who taught me about her father’s Persian music and her mother’s Japanese food.
The dictionary definition of curious is to be “eager to know or learn something”. My hope is to be able to pass on to my three kids the desire to stay curious. I also hope to show them what courage looks like when standing up to societal bullies.
I have a vivid memory, a transmission of sorts that was given to me in my early twenties. An image of me standing beside and looking into a whirlpool of rapidly moving water (the flow of water being herd mentality). I stood with a long wooden stake in my right hand.
With the stake and the strength of my entire body, I began to slow the flow of the circulating water. The water halted its steady and relentless current, and with my entire body at work once again, I began to circle the water the opposite way, instinctively knowing it was the direction of divine flow.
With that being said, we all have to take personal responsibility for our actions. Whether we learned hatred at home or avoidance of “others”, it’s our responsibility to change the direction of the flow to curiosity, acceptance and love.
Artwork by: Maya Vu