Racism, but make it Asian: Part II: Growing
Before I dive further down this rabbit hole, let’s all remind ourselves that this is my (Molly’s) explanation of my memories and how I remember seeing the world as a tiny (literally, because I’m short) Asian, raised in a tiny town (not literal, just population size was small) in Nebraska, and adopted. Remember in the first post, we discussed the R-E-S-P-E-C-T…
This part of my series on my own experiences of racism, I’ve got three stories. Three stories that [to me] were significant touch points that changed something within me. I don’t know what the changes were exactly, but I do know that something has to change within our society. I see so many things [mostly] on social media and when I listen to the news stories that discuss racism and how certain crimes are or are not racially driven…news flash, they are. The crimes where people die, and more recently, the crime where that poor white man was suffering from his sex addiction, had a bad day and decided to take it out on three massage parlors in Atlanta because they “triggered his addiction.” Bull honkey that wasn’t racially driven. (heavy on the sarcasm when claiming that bone head to be worthy of empathy…but I’ll hit on this later)
I’ve got three stories.
When I was in school, I had to walk ONE WHOLE block to the elementary school, sunshine, rain, or snow, you name it, my Mother made me walk. (I mean it was only a block…) this was more so for the dramatics…but it’s still true.
Growing up I had a class of roughly 28-classmates…we had kids move in, and kids move away. Normal. I think there are a handful of us that are OG’s. I’m talking Mrs. Engel PRESCHOOL OG’s. If that’s too serious, then we’ll bump it to Mrs. Harris OG’s…anyway, not overly important, again, dramatics. This story I’m going to tell, I’ve told before. When I we were in kindergarten, I had a classmate ask me why my nose was flat, and this same classmate also asked me why I had a mustache. I honestly didn’t know I did, and to be completely honest, I don’t remember what I replied to the mustache question. The nose part though, my clever babysitters penned me a note to give to this classmate the next school-day and it said something about me running into a wall. It was funny at the time, and my babysitters had accomplished what they had set out to do, which was to distract my child-brain away from the confusion and the hurt I had felt. You see, I knew I was different, I knew my classmates were all different too, so why did it matter that tiny Asian Molly had darker skin, and dark hair (even on her upper lip)? It didn’t matter, adult-Molly knows that. Elementary-Molly, she was MIGHTY confused. Why hadn’t any of her friends told her? Why hadn’t her family told her? Was this classmate sure there wasn’t just snack-crumbs on Molly’s face? Was tiny Molly going to have to start shaving?!
That last part is to make you giggle, because while I can’t remember verbatim what was going through my tiny little brain at the time, I do remember getting hot and nervous, not knowing the answer, and then embarrassed because I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to have hair that was visible on my face…because ONLY BOYS had hair on their face! –I was immediately embarrassed, I felt a lot of shame and confusion, but mostly embarrassment. *TIME OUT
*I’m not going to point fingers at anyone and say this is all “x” classmate’s fault. OR again, point anything at my parents or my teachers and say, “well they didn’t do this…or this…or that,” because it isn’t any of their faults either. It wasn’t anyone’s responsibility to save me then, it still isn’t now. Ultimately, I had to learn to stand up for myself, and eventually, I did, but we’ll get to that. So, remember, let’s not point fingers, it’s just part of my story, and that’s it. *TIME IN
(I know what I just said) but I think this is where I did start to shorten myself (figuratively speaking) because of these things I felt were shortcomings. –This is adult-me looking back on these memories with the lens of a psychology degree and a lot of soul-searching-self-healing-work. I think this is when I started to really pick up on my own differences and compare them to my friends and follow up by trying to match my friends as best as I could. Always aiming to become someone else that wasn’t fully me. I can honestly tell you I have no idea who I wanted to be, I just remember thinking for the last 20-some years that I want to be someone else, but with highlights of myself. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it makes sense in my head.
If you’re wondering about little elementary Molly, she survived that day, and she didn’t cry. Honestly, I feel like the story is more traumatic in my head than it is sharing it. I know at the time of the mustache-questioning, I honestly had no idea how to respond, or even what was happening. Also, in my adult brain, my anxiety takes over and has empathic anxiety for little me because on some level, I still don’t know how I’d respond, AS A FREAKING ADULT.
Second story (I might have told this one before too, but again, it’s a touchpoint in my life):
Second grade. Dinosaur discussion. Desks were in a ‘U’ shape and I was on the leg that was closer to the door, but not at a corner, and not in the middle of the ‘U’…so to my fellow stu-co members, I definitely wasn’t in the “T” zone. I can picture the classroom and the fire-orange-red-carpet with the almond-colored desks. I can remember where different classmates even sat, so know when I say this next part, I mean this in all seriousness, no sarcasm, no jokes, just flatly serious. I believe the kid I sat next to was racist.
During our lesson on dinosaurs, he told me I didn’t belong here. He told me I needed to go back to where I come from and go back with “my kind,” that “my kind” didn’t belong here.
I sat at my desk.
I hung my head.
Did the teacher say anything? –Probably because she was and still is a very kind and caring person. Do I remember…no, definitely not. I was so far down in the shame-hole all I remember is feeling painstakingly alone and incredibly hot from embarrassment and honestly, the warmth I felt was because I felt like he was right. The pain of his words burned deep into my little heart and like I said, part of me truly believed him. I didn’t belong here. I didn’t know anyone else that looked like me, with the exception of my brother, and our family friend (the third Perkins County Asian), but no adults that looked like me. I saw Kristi Yamaguchi on television, but I obviously didn’t know her…yet (just sending this one out into The Universe).
I felt like that boy was right because I had no idea what or how to respond, so if I didn’t have the answer, he had to have been right, right? I mean, he was so sure of himself, and I wasn’t. On top of questioning what to say/how to say it, I also didn’t know how to stop the sting of my inevitable tears. I hated crying in public. I still do. I know I’m easily picked out of a crowd, especially in a classroom of 15+ White students, so I used to get embarrassed easily and to this day, I still get embarrassed easily. You see, I hate being the center of attention. My bodily response to embarrassment is always to cry…or to laugh. So, to my co-workers –past and present, I’m giggly because I’m running at a constant 33%-level of embarrassment and the giggles come as my defense mechanism. Embarrassment from what you ask…I HAVE NO IDEA.
Out in western Nebraska, way back in 2003, while standing in the concession stand line, my cousin heard a student from the opposing team use the word “chink” referencing me.
*Okay, so high school Molly is obviously a little older, her brain was more developed, so in all honesty, I knew I should be upset. I obviously knew it was hurtful, but on some level, I didn’t even want to address it. It was like the tables had turned, I went from wanting to address these words to not wanting to say anything, and just disappear, not in a suicidal way, but more in a ghost-like way. This is what racism had done to me…it had pinned me into the deepest corner of embarrassment. I had become embarrassed of the way I look and always felt like I wouldn’t ever measure up to anyone because the physical part of me will literally always be my first impression to anywhere and anyone, and all that because I’m not White. It was exhausting and I couldn’t even try to change my face, so the ‘fight’ I once had, to at least respond, had morphed into, “why even try, can I just ghost myself out of here?”
Luckily, my athleticism was equally deep, and I loved to cheer. *time in
There was part of me was seething with confusion and frustration. I contemplated the whole game on how to handle the situation. On one hand, I could leave it alone, and ignore it. Then the poor soul would continue on through life and the racism would continue to pulse through his ve
ins and could possibly infect others because that’s what it is, racism is a disease, and I honestly don’t know if it’s curable…but again…I’m getting ahead of myself.
You see, I’ve done this my whole life. Along with being in a constant state of embarrassment, I also contemplate EVERYTHING. I’ve become a master at looking at something from every angle, considering a number of outcomes and comparing those with the people I may be dealing with and calculating their personalities with the possible outcomes. Yes, I’m exhausted a lot of the time. No, my life didn’t have to be like this, but who would have stopped me?
To save some dramatics, I yelled at him. I yelled at the boy, and to this day, I’m even embarrassed about what I said. I told him I knew what he said, what he called me, and I told him [as I pointed my finger at him] that I hoped he would know what it felt like someday for someone to call him a racist name. Rage-Molly was born.
Rage-Molly in her early stages wasn’t the best at the meaningful jabs that were meant to leave thought bombs. OF COURSE, that White boy was never going to hear a racist slur slither in his ear, EVER. HE’S A WHITE BOY.
But I can guarantee that whole gymnasium had a tiny party-popper-thought in the back of their minds, either to A) not ever mess with that Asian cheerleader from Grant or B) hmm…racism, not cool. It’s hard to tell what the ripple effects were from this incident. All I know is, I didn’t get in trouble, even though I was in my uniform. There were plenty of important school adults there, and thankfully enough, my superintendent was concerned about me. Maybe I was seen?
So, what’s the take-away from this part in the series?
Our next generation, our kiddos soak up everything…their environment, the food, the oxygen, the junk on television, and what they hear us say. No, I don’t have children, God-willing I will one day, but believe me when I say, I do my darndest to be mindful of the things I say to the young minds in my life. I might not be raising them, but I know I make impact on their little lives and I am helping shape who they will become…maybe not in a big way, but I don’t know. You don’t know, either. You never know how impactful your presence is in someone’s life.
So, I leave you with this. Joy Cho is truly the human I look up to most. Joy is a creative, she’s a mom, and she has a small company that’s done HUGE things. She’s collaborated with big brands and literally put the JOY into some of their products. Oh, and Joy is Asian...so is her husband, who is also a pretty BA dude, and they've got two girls and a new dog. Joy has also written some pretty cool blog posts about racism and how we can help. Here is her first post—discussing how to talk to your kids about racism. She also has a part two blog and part three blog highlighting diverse children's books.
Now the fun part, just kidding, this is just where I tell you the next part to this series will be coming along…get psyched!
…now take a deep breath, and another, and another. Maybe have a drink of water or find a patch of sun to shine in your face. Racism is hard. It’s hard for everyone. I believe it’s even hard for those that are racist. It has to be so hard to go balls-to-the-wall all the time—at 1000% –full throttle hating people so hard with every fiber of oneself to make sure everyone that could know, DOES know their opinion that THIS group of humans doesn’t deserve the same rights and privileges as they do. Again, I might be over-thinking this one, I might be giving too much credit to hate, but remember, my blog, my feelings, and this is how I view racists.
Part III is coming soon...and as always, thanks for pardoning any spelling and/or grammatical errors, my name isn't Miriam.
**Side note** I want you to know how grateful I am. I'm grateful you're taking the time to read my posts, I'm grateful that you share my posts, and I'm grateful to those I know I can talk to about these things, knowing full and well that I am seen, just exactly as me.