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I recently read a story about Li Ching- Yun who supposedly lived to be 256 years old. He attributed his longevity to one thing: inner quiet.

I have never enjoyed inner quiet.

I was an anxious child, plagued with worry about anything I couldn’t possibly affect, much less control. Sister Mary something or other always told my mother that I was 5 going on 40.

When I was 8, we moved to a small town where my brother and I were the sole Asians in a literal handful of minority kids and I was often the subject of ridicule.

Once, I walked into the girls’ locker room where a conversation was in play.

“And I heard that her father was a GI in the war, and her mother was a prostitute…and that’s why she lives with her dad…”

Nonplussed, because it couldn’t possibly be about me, I strode in to hear more of this salacious gossip. The silence was instant and deafening as the beautiful storyteller froze, and pretended to investigate an offensive thread on her sleeve. The realization that the prostitute’s daughter had just entered the room spread across the rapt audience of tween cheerleaders with perfect hair and local lineage, who each leaned back and, as if on cue, fell into benign conversations of boyfriends and football games and anything but this, anywhere but here.

I wish I could say that I laughed it off, and confidently said, “I’d be happy to tell you the truth of my upbringing and my birth in Vietnam to a happily married civilian contractor and a respected embassy translator. Gather ‘round friends!”

But I was neither confident nor mature.

I am ashamed to say that I folded into myself, or tried to, in order to be as invisible as I desperately wanted to be.  But I never forgot. I remember utterly, everything about that room and every person sitting in that circle because it was brutal and humiliating and cruel.

And then there was the time that my 6th grade crush, annoyed by my not-so-well-disguised love glances proclaimed aloud in front of many, “Why don’t you go back to your own country?”

Now, these recollections are of cruel children who had no idea what they were saying, I’m convinced. They were simply repeating to some degree what adults in their lives had been speculating ever since we arrived in their town. Their town. Not mine.

But ignorance doesn’t end in small towns or with age.

About 5 years ago, I was at the Ravenswood Pub in Andersonville (Andersonville!) when a patron sat next to my friend and me, and asked, “Where are you from? Your English is excellent.”

“Alabama,” I snapped.

I can still taste the bile.

Because I can’t forget it. Or won’t?

I had friends over the other day, and we were discussing something about minority lending, and my dear, dear friend gleefully exclaimed, “Oh God, remember the time…”

Less than a year before, we had attended a happy hour gathering of friends and acquaintances.

Apparently, one well-intentioned acquaintance said to me, “You should apply for minority lending,” and then proceeded to lift her hands to her face and pull apart the outer corners of her eyes in a mock-demonstration of traditionally Asian features.

Apparently, I turned to my dear, dear friend and discreetly whispered, “Did she just do the ‘Chinky Eyes’ at me?” Apparently, this sent my friend over the edge into peals of laughter.

I wrote “apparently” thrice (deliberately, mind you, if you are editing as you read) because I do not remember this at all.

I remember the cheerleaders. I remember the bar patron. I remember the bile.

But this? Nada.

A quote comes to mind that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my constitution, which is more inclined to catalog every personal slight, analyze, seethe, and plot revenge against. I’m a Scorpio on the cusp of banshee, after all.

“Remember every kindness forever, and forget every slight immediately.” Aristotle? Shakespeare? Jesus? No idea.

I want to be this quote.

I want to be light, and still, and capable of inner quiet. Perhaps, in my unending quest to become an adult, I have achieved it.

I have no recollection of this comment, or even of the conversation. Therefore, I am free of its effect.

Progress.

Or maybe I’m just getting senile.

Am I Racist?

January 20, 2011

To preface, no one has called me a racist.

I was involved in a benign discussion on Twitter that got me thinking about the ever expanding usage and application of the word. To reiterate, I was not called a racist and no one was wrong or right in this scenario, in my opinion.

It was simply a conversation that I wish to share here.

Cast:

Me – Ordinary joe. A nobody with an overdeveloped sense of justice, a wicked love jones for the power of words, and a big mouth.

Guy entitled to his opinion – A smart, civically-engaged man.

Innocent – Poor guy whose tweet I found amusing and retweeted. Related: from Alabama, as am I. NOT to imply that anyone is guilty, only that Innocent did not engage further.

It begins with me giggling at Innocent’s tweet:

Guy responds with this:

I prickle, but attempt to diffuse:

Yes, I could have simply ignored it, potentially avoiding more Twitter Fatigue. But I didn’t. Neither did Guy:

I find the generalization of generalizations a bit unnerving. I believe that context should always be considered. So I push, as I am wont to do:

Now, of course I don’t believe Guy hates Alabamians and I’m 100% sure he had no idea that Innocent and I are from Alabama. I offered this unfair accusation to equate with his. And to be funny. Guy does not seem amused:

Guy is absolutely correct. Unfounded claims add nothing to discourse.

But the other part of this really gets to me. No one chooses to believe anything? They just believe? Um.

Our beliefs are informed by experience, education, cultural and environmental influences, and myriad other outside forces.

One isn’t born believing in or doubting God or rooting for the Detroit Lions. Our parents, friends, teachers, clergy, or even strangers serve to form our beliefs until we, hopefully, choose to research and explore the foundation of those beliefs in order to strengthen them or to create new ones.

All by choice.

But by now it’s late, it’s bedtime for me as well, and I’m trying to embrace the notion that I initially ascribed to him in my mind: “Dude, lighten up.”  So I attempt to diffuse again:

Guy kindly tolerated my silliness:

To Guy’s credit, he hasn’t yet blocked me, which I greatly appreciate because I hope this leads to the discourse he referred to and surely values as much as I.

Racism is evil. Identifying and ending racism is everybody’s job.

First, I get it.  Generalizing about any race as superior or inferior is, at the basest level, just plain incorrect.   Generalizing about any demographic as any one charactistic is probably incorrect.  Case in point, an earlier tweet by Guy:

Should someone reprimand him for generalizing about vegetarian girls? Of course not.  Also, blind people do go to movies. But whatever word might be used to connote discrimination about vegetarian girls and blind people probably does not have the immense power of the word racism.

The accusation of racism can destroy careers and reputations in an instant. To bandy about this term is to diminish its meaning. Paul Wachtel posits that “for some people it has lost its impact, lost its power to shock, to evoke guilt or revulsion. A term that once referred to the most deplorable and shameful of traits and actions has been extended to include virtually universal human characteristics and to include within its purview practically everyone in our society.”

I believe it is prudent to apply the term carefully and responsibly.

Second, it was a fucking joke. On Twitter. Jokes can absolutely reflect racism and be hurtful. This one seems pretty harmless to me.

I hope Guy will see this and not be offended. Perhaps he will choose to weigh in. I welcome his feedback and yours.

And yes, I clearly have way too much time on my hands.

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