I am pretty reticent to write about this subject given the current social climate here in the United States. Chances are high that I will either spark the ire of those who are irritated with the idea of “PC culture” (others’ term, not mine) or fall short of satisfying those who are negatively affected by systemic inequalities that exist here. Or maybe both. The internet – nay, the world – is an unforgiving place.
I’m a Caucasian-looking person who was adopted into and grew up in a similarly Caucasian, affluent microcosm. Preschool was a given. A car for my high school graduation was a perfunctory gift. College was a requirement and on the parents’ dime to boot. Worries about the origin of our food, shelter, or various stipends for health and entertainment were nonexistent. Many, though not all, of my childhood/teenagehood friends came of age in similar predicaments.
Going to college in a new state afforded me the chance to experience a “realer” America, without the solace of a private beach or gated communities. I made more brown and black friends, more queer friends, more friends who grew up under differing socioeconomic hardships. I learned a little more about how various things can impact a life, impact one’s trajectory.
I was taught to be “color blind” growing up. To not judge people for how they looked or how much money they had. At the same time, the world I grew up in had very little to offer in terms of diversity. In fact, I was implicitly taught that those who were “diverse” were different from us in some way. The word “housekeeper” was often preceded by friends and acquaintances by the word “illegal” or “Mexican”. I’d be walking with an acquaintance past a homeless person downtown and they’d snicker to me, maybe making a comment about “that crazy guy over there”. And I don’t need to remind readers of the fact that my Orange and Los Angeles county origins instilled a standard of beauty within people that prides itself on being manufactured, almost unattainable, so anyone who resembled something outside of that was often mocked. No one individual taught me to judge growing up – it was a natural, almost unintentional byproduct of my aforementioned microcosm.
Due to my naturally nonjudgmental nature, I eventually returned back to a place of imagined equitability in an effort to internally elevate all people in my mind. Everyone was equal to me until proven otherwise. I wouldn’t make a big deal about race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background. I would just pretend like those things didn’t exist, that we were all the same. And I thought that would be enough.
Things were comfortable that way.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started realizing how self-centered and ineffective this school of thought was: that if I alone saw everyone equally, that the world would magically become a better place.
Then I started hearing about police brutality. I started hearing about the treatment of refugees. My Muslim friends started telling me about the things said to or about them. I experienced certain types of prejudice and discrimination hatred firsthand.
I couldn’t hide behind the guise of “we’re all equal!!!11” anymore. Because no matter what I thought, these situations were the reality for countless people. And frankly, my positive attitude alone was doing nothing.
It was only recently that I finally realized that I was not only privileged, but exceptionally so.
Later on in life, I started to learn about things that weren’t talked about much in school: the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The black pioneers of technology and aerospace. The Stonewall riots and the gender non-conforming heroes at the forefront of them. Furthermore, I started making a conscious effort to read more from and about people who were not white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or able-bodied individuals.
You get the idea.
Speaking about this topic is exceedingly difficult and I carry a target on my back for doing so. Because like I mentioned above: it’s too much, or it’s not enough.
The genesis here is that it’s okay to acknowledge where you came from and acknowledge that you are quite possibly lucky in many ways. Sure, we all struggle. One swift read through my blog will inform you of my own struggles. But I’m completely uninterested in the Oppression Olympics, so I’m not going to compare your struggle to mine. Nor should you do the same.
That said, it’s also okay to learn more about people. All types of people. And better yet, to support other people – financially, spiritually, whatever. We live in a huge, ever-expanding world. The “right” thing to do isn’t always clear, but let’s just start by being self-aware and committing ourselves to learning.
(Note: There is a LOT more that I can say here, but I’m going to keep it brief. If requested, I can expound upon my views, but I think the general message here is pretty clear: open your eyes, learn, and love.)
(Note 2: Artwork is credited to my favorite artist, Jee-ook Choi.)