Week 15 of Shelter-in-Place.
Sheltering-in-Place Week 15: Let’s talk about racism.
This is inspired by Giants’ outfielder Jaylin Davis’ decision to blog about racism in major league baseball because, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle, “unless we find a way to openly talk and genuinely listen to each other about racism, we have no hope of rooting it out.”
I grew up as an exotic in an affluent white New England town. For most of my school days, I was one of, at most, a handful of nonwhites. Sometimes, I was the only nonwhite. Being a minority of one teaches you, first of all, that you are different. You will never fit in, never look like everyone else. You will feel compelled to act like everyone else but you will doubt your capability of doing so. This occurs largely in silence: the odd looks, the rolled eyes, the failure to be selected for the popular teams, and the resentment that you feel from others when you succeed. You learn to hide yourself from scrutiny, emphasize your sameness, conform to societal norms, conceal your opinions and your talents. And you will experience overt taunts: “hey, chink”, the kids pulling the skin at their temples to appear slanty-eyed, the rare spitting event, the lewd suggestions that Asian woman are sex toys, the put-down that is far disproportionate to what others receive.
As an aging adult, I can now perversely value much of this experience: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. To some extent, what I have faced is what we all face growing up: becoming socialized, learning to cope with what we’ve been dealt in life. Fortunately for me, the racism that I faced did not break me, did not exclude me from getting an education, did not impoverish me or prevent me from buying a house, did not ruin my health, did not leave me in constant fear for my life. But it did shape me. My default appearance is nondescript. I watch carefully before acting. I do not trust easily. I see the world from an outsider’s perspective and never assume that my point of view is the norm — or even that there is a norm.
But perhaps for today, this is a key skill: not assuming a norm. If we assume that we don’t know who others are or what they experience, maybe we might learn to listen. Perhaps for today, our first step should be universal “trauma informed care” — creating an environment where others feel safe and empowered enough to speak without harm. Perhaps for today, we can step away from white-male-human-centrism and perhaps we will find a richer, larger world to be part of. That is my hope.