Monday, June 1, 2020

What the brown community can teach you about surviving racism

If it were the Filipino community in the U.S. that had the black experience (history and contemporary times), what would we Filipino Americans be saying to each other, publicly and in private?

If it were a single Filipino family, let's boil it down to that. Say there were two teen sons in that family, one a peaceful, productive person, the other a, oh dear, let's call it what the older generation used to call it—a "black sheep" of the family.

Say the parents were baby boomers. (I have to imagine they are because I am, and I cannot presume to know what younger generation parents might say.) I could see the father warning both sons: Walk the line. Draw no attention to yourselves. Study hard or you'll end up like your great grandparents, building the railroad, working the fields, washing white people's children's butts, not that there's anything wrong with honest labor, but it doesn't pay doctor-lawyer-CEO salaries, and people here look down on the poor, and to be poor along with being brown will be a double strike you will bear all your life.

I could see the mother saying to them: Be home before curfew. Treat women like the queens that we are. Be respectful to your elders and to people in authority. Show them they are not better than you by making yourself better—not by acting out. And if you shame the family name and we have to bail you out of jail, you can spend the night in your cell thinking about how long you'll be grounded when you come home and how long it will take to clean the toilet with a toothbrush.

Now zoom out and go wide angle.

And here is where I pause to ask myself if I might be oversimplifying or overstepping as I make conjectures about a culture not my own.

I'm wondering: What has the black community been saying to each other and to those on the extreme margins, who over decades have acted out their rage about a history of oppression and dehumanization?

Because I distinctly remember quite some time ago seeing a short clip of a young black man about to be pummeled by authority figures when his mother steps in and takes hold of him. I saw how he deflated from a puffed up troublemaker into his mother's humbled son. I saw how the cops recognized that this mother had the power in that moment over her son.

Does the black community need clearer parenting? Does it take a village? Is there a village to speak of, or is there a divide between black marginalized and black mainstream? Do they even speak to each other across that divide?

Wouldn't it be better—less fatal, for one—to start with strict parenting rather than brutal policing?

Because we cannot only say to white people, "Treat blacks like you would treat whites. I insist" and think that's the solution. We cannot only say to the world, "Love our black sons. They may grow into 6-ft intimidating figures but we still see them as cuddly." We also need to tell the other side, "If you commit crimes you color the way people view the entire black community. It's what prejudice is partly based on."

"We" are not the ones to say the latter, though. The black community needs to hear it from their own. Maybe they've been saying it all along. I don't know because I'm not in that community.

Who needs to be educated here? Everyone.


UPDATE: It is the next day. I just viewed a video of black man pleading with rioters. "Don't burn down my business! All right, you mad at the white man, why destroy my business? Why destroy my truck? Why steal my computer? I tried to make it. I came from the ghetto like you. Could you understand that? I tried to make it."

My heart broke. 

By the way, this footage is from the 1992 riots, and it recently resurfaced. But his sentiments can't be far from those of black business owners this year.

Friday, May 29, 2020

My 40s were an awkward stage. Backtrack a little: In my 30s I began to feel legit as a grown-up. (I got through a lot of pain without running to my Mommy. Because now I'm the mommy!) That realization was my passport to adulthood—not losing my virginity or being old enough to drink or vote. It felt empowering. But almost immediately I was "pushing 40" and the menacing shadow of middle age camped just outside my tent. There wasn't time to mourn the loss of youth, it was time to fight off old age!

What happens to a woman in her 50s when she still hasn't learned what it is about her that makes her beautiful, desirable and intriguing? and perhaps an object of envy, or a threat? A woman lacking in that self-knowledge is vulnerable, and not in a good way. She's at risk. She may default to relying on men's approval and attention to be assured of her worth. But men pay attention to a woman in inverse proportion to the signs of her aging. She may compare herself to other women—dewy younger women will leave her cold; brittle older women will break her heart and women close to her age will bring up the acid in her stomach.

In fact it's this obsessive comparison with peers that slingshots a woman into angst the likes of which she hasn't felt since puberty. Friendships erode, self-esteem plummets and sanity skips town.

Fear of seeming stupid holds you back

Our youngest and I had a four-hour long phone call the last time we talked. A small part of it had to do with her not wanting to appear naive should she take a certain course of action in her relationships.
I said, "You and I, we've been valued for our brains more than our looks most of our lives. So I get it. Having people think less of us in that respect cuts close to the bone."
But many women, once we cross into our 50s, don't care what people think of us. That is, of the surface things they associate with us. Of course we care that we're seen as people of integrity, competence, stout-heartedness, all that. It's being the individuals we've grown into that we take pride in, and that hard-earned pride is an armor.
Being thought of as stupid takes many forms.
"Eccentric" was how a young co-worker at CSU Stanislaus once assessed me. Considering she was a graphic designer, and presumably creative, I chose to take that as a compliment 😏 even though I wasn't quite 50 yet.
"So silly, but so me!" was how a potential customer my age reacted to the Titania gown I sewed for our lyrical performance at the Art to Wear show a couple of years ago. She couldn't bring herself to buy it, and her husband talked her out of it with an appeal to the practical: "It's fall, and that looks like spring." As if spring would never come around again...
"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" was how my journalism professor nicknamed me, perennially tardy and always cheerful upon arrival.
And then there was "You're stupid," plain and direct, leveled at me by the Kaufman and Broad maintenance troubleshooter to whom I confessed that I'd figured out that the vent over the oven of our new home (28 years ago) had a switch that was "Off" in the middle, "Low" to the left and "High" to the right.
Now that one, when it sank in only after he left, stung. But I was 28, and me-at-50-and-beyond was another lifetime away.
The nice thing about the age I am now is that no one has called me stupid, or any of its derivatives, for a very long time. They call me "ma'am", "older patient" and such, but we can't win everything.