A Daily Struggle

using children to block my body

using children to block my body

“Everyone say ‘Cheese!'”

Pictures – I love taking them. I don’t love being in them. When I do get into pictures with friends and family, I position myself strategically behind everyone so that only my face is visible. Or, I am the one who says, “I’ll sit down in the front!” or more likely, “No, no, YOU get in the picture. I’ll take it!”

I am a full bodied woman. I have been for most of my life. As an Asian American woman, I’m quite unique. Most of my family members, my Asian friends, and Asian acquaintances, are small boned, slender, and petite. I’m petite at 5’3″, but I’m certainly not small boned nor slender. I’m a heavy woman.

It took me a long time to get comfortable in my identity as a heavy woman. I’ve tried every single weight loss technique in the book. And, as an educator, I know that the only way to really and truly lose the weight is to EAT LESS, MOVE MORE. Should be simple enough. Yet, it’s a struggle for me. A daily struggle. I love food. I love the way good food tastes. And, I don’t discriminate. I love vegetarian dishes. Meat dishes. All types of cultural foods. I just love food. And, I know that it’s doing a number on my body. I recently had a physical, and while I’m inarguably overweight (by a lot!), my blood work comes back fine each time. Normal cholesterol. Normal thyroid. Normal blood sugar.

Each day, I have to choose what will go from the refrigerator, to my mouth, to my body (and hence, to my

my enemy

my enemy

butt, hips, thighs, etc). It’s something I think about all day. I face food and think to myself, “Is this right? Is this good for me? Will this help me be healthier for my children?”

Because I know my inner dialogue and struggle with weight resonates with others, I often use this example as an introduction to anti-racist work. I meet with so many people who ask me about anti-racist work – what it takes, what has to happen, and how they can go about doing it. I always tell them that it’s hard work (in the same way that nutritionists and weight loss coaches have told me losing weight is hard work). It’s a lifestyle change. Some days will feel like you’re truly impacting the world and the future. Some days, you’ll feel like giving up. Working towards anti-racism will leave you beat up and encouraged all at the same time — in the same way that I hate being on an elliptical machine, but love that sweaty feeling when the 30 minutes are up.
Truth is, I’d love to wake up a Size 6. Hell, who am I fooling — I’d be happy even waking up a size 8 or 10. But, it just isn’t going to happen — not without thinking about it every day. Thinking about the choices every day.

Here are some of the “diet tips” I’ve gotten that best parallel anti-racism work:

It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. You can’t “diet” from racist thoughts or prejudiced feelings. It has to be a life style change. It has to be something you commit to in your every day life, and commit to it being a part of your every day life forever.

A grocery list is good, but knowing what to do with that list is better. Lots of diets start off with giving you a grocery list. You’re supposed to take it to the store, buy the recommended items (assuming you know how to select those items), and take them home. But, what do you do if you can’t figure out how to cook the food or prepare the meal? Oftentimes, diversity folks give people a “checklist” of things to say or things not to say, but what good do those lists do if you don’t know the meaning of what’s on there.. if you don’t know how to unravel your own feelings and teachings about those things on the checklist. A list does you no good if you can’t figure out what to do with it.

Dieting out of guilt is no diet at all. Whenever I tried to lose weight, I often did it because someone said something about my appearance or made me feel bad about myself. So, I would lose weight to gain that person’s acceptance. And, in some cases, it worked. I lost the weight. But, I never lost the guilt. Learning to be an anti-racist, and successfully unraveling your biases, has to be because YOU want to do it. It’s helpful that maybe someone schooled you and told you to do it, but truly embracing an anti-racist way of living has to come from within.

You’ll slip up, and that’s okay. There is never a set formula for how to be an anti-racist all the time. For example, an offensive word to one person may not be offensive to another. So, for people who like “formulas” they often get frustrated at this diversity stuff. You have to HUMBLY let yourself slip up, and HUMBLY own that you did. Only then, can you get past the embarrassment, the hurt, and the fear in order to move on.

What are some other ways in which people parallel the difficult work of anti-racism in a way that you and others can understand?

Nursery Rhymes

Got inspired by my buddies over at Anti-Racist Parent with this one about nursery rhymes and the racial undertones (and overt messages) of many of them.

I realized I had a post in “draft” form about my family’s visit to Storyland. In all honesty, we did have a very fun time and will absolutely return there at some point (when gas prices go down, perhaps?).

But, imagine our surprise when one of the first exhibits we saw was this:

 Funny.. this isn’t how I imagined “Little Miss Muffett’s” spider when I read that story.

 

 

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, we went to the next exhibit and saw this:

I had never ever heard of this nursery rhyme, but apparently there is one about a young Indian boy named “Sambo”. What was most disturbing interesting was when a white mother was reading the nursery rhyme (posted next to the cut out figure with brown hands) and the words “Sambo” just floated off her lips effortlessly. From Wikipedia:

The Story of Little Black Sambo, a children’s book by Helen Bannerman, a Scot living in India, was first published in London in 1899. In the tale, an Indian boy named Sambo prevails over a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter. The story was a children’s favorite for half a century, but then became controversial due to the use of the word sambo, a racial slur in some countries.[1].

My husband and I are pretty good-humored anti-racists, so we went on a quest to find ANY positive images of people of color at Storyland. Here’s what we found:

That’s right. The only dark skinned positive character is a guard .. and you really had to look to find him!

So, back to nursery rhymes … we routinely change the words to nursery rhymes with our kids. We won’t sing that “Rock-a-bye-baby” song, instead opting to create individual songs for each of our children. Even, “Ring around the Rosie” gets some lyric changes, too.

It’s amazing how much violence, racism and sexism is ingrained in these songs that we have memorized and then teach our own children. Now, not to be mistaken – we don’t totally innoculate our children just for the sake of doing so. And, yes, “we turned out fine.”

When my kids were born, we asked that people not give us toys but rather books. Naturally, we received a number of “Children’s First Nursery Rhymes” type books. I had put them away until recently when I started working with my 4-year old on reading skills. Well, I found that we had to get rid of the books because *I* (not she) was freaked out by the messages. How many more times did some one have to get eaten by a random wild animal? How many times did we have to read about bullying and manipulating others?

We do read the stories but process them a little differently.

  • “So, kids, how do you think that wolf felt when no one wanted to let him in?”
  • “Why do you think that ‘troll’ under the bridge won’t let the goats pass?” “
  • “If the wolf wanted that little girl’s basket of cookies, do you think she would have given it to him if he asked nicely?”
  • “If you are sitting and eating your cereal, and along came a spider, would you be scared?”

We recently bought the Jump at the Sun series books that have African American lead characters, and those are pretty much the only ones we’ll read at our house. We also have other neat books like “Dim Sum for Everyone”. Drop me a note if you have some well-written multicultural children’s books, will ya?

AMA Apologizes for Racism

A few years ago, I used to watch “Desperate Housewives.” I know it’s an incredibly popular show – one of the ones where office mates gather by the water cooler at 8:30am to discuss the latest love lives and drama of the night before. I watched it occasionally, enjoying the craziness of motherhood and single life. But, a few years ago, activism in the Asian community rose up around a comment made by one of the characters on the show. While in a hospital room, one of the characters commented about the qualification of the doctor attending to her and stating, “I want to make sure (your diplomas) are not from some med school in the Philippines”. The Filipino community erupted.

Every doctor in my family, with the exception of my brother who is still in medical school, earned their diplomas in the Philippines. As Filipinos living in the Philippines, where else would they go? And, why wouldn’t their diplomas be valuable.

Needless to say, my casual watching of Desperate Housewives ended. And, every time I hear the 8:30am conversations by the water cooler, I shudder.

Growing up within a medical family, much of our lives were spent in doctor’s offices or hospitals. We would stop there on the way to church for my dad to see an emergency patient. We would stop there after church for another emergency patient, and to eat a cheap lunch in the cafeteria. When I was growing up, I would often go to the VCR to work out with my Jane Fonda aerobics tape, only to press <PLAY> and find footage of a surgical demonstration of cataract removal. Some nights, when I would go to kiss my dad “good night”, I would find him at the dining room table with his surgical tools practicing his suturing techniques on a grape. Eventually, as I got older, I worked in my dad’s office every summer to assist him with patient care.

In 2005, the hospital became an integral part of my life again when my 2-year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. We went to a teaching hospital where the residents and fellows were from diverse backgrounds – both domestic and international. And, now, I envision my Filipino brother doing his rounds at the local teaching hospital.

Racism is an interesting dynamic in medicine. In the Washington Post, the American Medical Association recently issued an apology for the racism against African Americans:

The country’s largest medical association today issued a formal apology today for its historical antipathy toward African American doctors, expressing regret for a litany of transgressions, including barring black physicians from its ranks for decades and remaining silent during battles on landmark legislation to end racial discrimination.

“The apology is important because a heritage of discrimination is evident in the under-representation of African Americans in medicine generally and in the AMA in particular,” said the report’s lead author, Robert B. Baker, professor of philosophy at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and director of the Union Graduate College-Mount Sinai School of Medicine Bioethics Program.

In many of my conversations with students – especially at a predominantly white college – we talk about representation, myths, inaccuracies they were taught, etc. In one exercise I conduct in diversity conversations, I ask participants to list the names of their doctor, neighbor, best friend, favorite movie star, favorite book author, etc. Most often than not, the list of names are all of white people. The next part is challenging students to expand their immediate circle by making intentional decisions around what movies they watch, what books they read, etc.

In every workshop, someone always says, “But, there aren’t any Black doctors.”

In challenging the students, we do get into the fact that you can likely find an Asian doctors from which to choose, there is certainly an over representation of white doctors, and unfortunately few Latino doctors, and even fewer Black doctors. The AMA Minority Affairs Consortium reports these figures:

Race/Ethnicity Number Percentage
White 514,254 55.8
Black 32,452 3.5
Hispanic 46,214 5.0
Asian 113,585 12
American Native/Alaska Native 1,444 .02
Other 12,572 1.4
Unknown 201,383
 

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Hopefully, this apology and recognition wakes people up to see the historic disparity and institutionalized racism that has existed in this field for so long. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step. Now, I hope that the AMA actually does something to increase recruitment and retention of African American, Latino, Asian and Native doctors.

Teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting

Join Carmen VanKerckhove and me as we host a free teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting! I believe it may be limited to 50 callers during the Q&A session. Within 24 hours, Carmen reported that we were up to 121 registered participants!

Carmen will likely post the MP3 online a week or so after it’s done. So, be sure to check back

On this 60-minute call, you’ll learn:

  • Why avoiding conversations about race is the biggest mistake you can make
  • How you are sending hidden messages to your children about race without even realizing it
  • Why you should never proclaim to be colorblind
  • How to transform the simple act of watching television into a profound lesson about diversity

and much, much more.

No matter what your current situation is, I guarantee you’ll get at least one golden nugget of information during this never-before-offered call.

So, won’t you join us? Reserve your spot now!

******

On a separate note, our dog of 8 years just died :(, so I’m doing more parenting than blogging these days. Will be sure to write again very, very soon!

All Too Familiar

Some days, I feel like that little kid in “The Sixth Sense” — although, the line in MY head is “I see white people.” I’m surrounded by them, by choice for the most part. In my personal life, I surround myself with all sorts of people, but the one thing they have in common – usually – is that they “get it.” I don’t have to think/talk/educate about race with my social group because they “get it.”

But, my job is to not surround myself, necessarily, with people who get it. My job, my passion, my task at hand, is to increase my circle of people who do not get it and help to facilitate learning, growth, and transformational discourse.

I love engaging in difficult conversations about diversity. And, yet, reading articles like the one from Diversity Inc give me an unsettling feeling of job-security….

Got turned on to Diversity Inc’s “Why Whites Can’t Get Over Color”.

Essentially, a white woman writes this:

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don’t talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination. We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired. I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against. Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc. If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.

Here are some other highlights:

Another point I would like to make is blacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites. I have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America. Well, my answer to that is of two fold…Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.

Or how about this one…

I teach my children not to see the color but to see the person. It is getting harder to do when all they hear about in the news, school, or articles is color.

Had enough? Here’s one more, in case you missed her point…

Get over the color!

Thankfully, the person who responded actually thinks, and therefore, responded with this joyous following:

Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don’t think you intended it to be offensive, but I’m afraid much of your e-mail is.

I’ll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, “discrimination” included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.

Too many people have forgotten (or never bothered to learn/realize) that this every day threat of lynching was happening to people we know. It’s not some way-back-when moment in history. It was still occuring just decades ago (and I would agree that this fear exists still today) where Black people were forced to fear for their families and their lives – and many still do as a result of a system of institutionalized and social racism.

The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching — until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers.

The reason why I never watched “Friends” or “Sex in the City”

A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene – with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn’t an isolated mistake — around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person – an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.

Yup. I face this same fact when I question why people make assumptions about students of color not “being available” for college.

I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss “diversity.” At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents — one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York — a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.

As a child of immigrants, I often heard the “go back to your country” threat

With the exception of recent Black immigrants from countries in Africa, Black Americans — African Americans — are descendents of enslaved people. Enslaved people were taken here against their will and were subjected to the worst deprivations that people commit against each other. Tribal languages and histories were lost because white slavers forced families apart and purposefully prevented enslaved Black people from learning to read and write. Slavery lasted for more than 200 years in our country and legalized discrimination lasted almost another 100 years during the Jim Crow era.

You knew it was coming, right? The Colorblind Comment.

Your demand that we “Get over the color!” is an expression of white privilege. It’s only possible to “get over” it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you’re white, YOU can “get over the color!” but it’s simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

I just might tattoo this one on my arm.. I love this quote here regarding the use of the word “melting pot”:

The “melting pot” is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to “melt” into the white culture. Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American.

Thank goodness for big arms, I would tattoo this one, too….

When you hear criticism, you may want to consider that it is displeasure over our country’s inability to completely live up to the promise – and potential – of what truly makes us American. The more we work toward that ideal, the more “we will get along.”

The writer is much kinder than I am… and certainly good about not silencing the very voice that needs to be heard and transformed.

P.S.: I am withholding your name because it’s fairly unique and I’m sure you would be easily identified where you work. That’s not my concern — I just don’t want to dissuade other people who think like you do from writing us.

And, the crowd said, “Amen.”