What’s Your Story?

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One of the most powerful ways we can undo injustice is by sharing our stories. I share some of my stories of race, immigration and perceptions of American life through the lens of a woman of color in Essays of Night and Daylight.

Something important changes as we hear others’ stories. We hear threads of similarity. We hear joy, pain, struggle and strength. We hear ourselves.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 1.33.51 AMEssays of Night and Daylight
Perspective on race, immigration and American life through the lens of a woman of color.
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Essays of Night and Daylight

I’m excited to share the cover of my upcoming book, Essays of Night and Daylight, which includes stories on race, immigration and perceptions of American life through the lens of people of color.

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How Do We See “Those People Over There?”

IMG_3296How do we care for ourselves even when we feel like dominoes are collapsing all around us? How do we ground ourselves in unfamiliar interactions so that we are having meaningful conversations rather than inciting pain?

I reflected on these ideas in a recent TEDx talk on widening our view of humanity, especially with those who may be unlike us. In cultivating my ideas, I took a closer look at the nature of humanity and the divisions we so easily make, sometimes void of reflection, love or kindness. How powerful it would be if we instead attempted to unite with those who are very different from us at first glance?

It was frustrating however, that even as I was preparing to speak on how to have conversations that push us forward, I felt my own painful experiences coming to the surface. I was challenged by the mandate to walk in love and listen intently, while also wanting to fight with angry words, hoping to force people to reverse the hate in their hearts.

And at other times, I was staring at the ugly biases insidiously rising within me. No one is immune to these complexities, no matter how aware we think we are or how deeply we contemplate these things.

I was challenged to see what lies beneath division, to find that we have simplistic, dichotomous ways in which we choose who we love and who we choose to despise.
We quickly paint pictures of unfamiliar people as others, and as the dreaded and misunderstood them over there. And the others are sometimes depicted as less than, undeserving of respect, and in the most heinous circles, even unworthy of living.

This process doesn’t surface overnight. The need to hastily throw people into categories is insidious. It is nurtured in fear, isolation and ignorance over the course of time. And yet again, no one is immune. The sweetest little church lady may harbor hate toward someone who is unlike her. She’d probably call it something different, maybe labeling it as protecting herself, even though there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Fear is powerful and vile, if fed over time. It can become one’s demise if overtaken by it, both mentally and physically.

Harboring fear that transforms into anger, resentment and hate can annihilate us. We mustn’t weaponize fear the way some do.
Then, in order to care for society in all of its complexity and beauty, we must listen intently to what others are saying. And in doing this, we also care well for ourselves, because after all, we are all others and so we are all one.

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Hear the talk: Confidently Changing the Narrative of Inequity.

What Sharing Privilege Looks Like

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A teenage girl came in for psychological services. Like most young people, she was guarded at first but eventually began talking about a difficult past riddled with cruelty followed by abandonment. She cried at times, ensuring to avert eye contact. Teenagers are so hard to reach, I was glad she felt she could share. We laughed together a little near the end of the session, often a relieving sign of a glimmer of hope. But even still, there was something unsettling about her.

She missed her follow-up appointment. I hoped she would return soon. The heaviness she carried shouldn’t have to be contained in such a young life. As weeks passed, I continued to wonder how she was doing and whether anyone was helping her hold her pain, and whether someone, just even one person, told her she was loved.

Then one day, just like that, she was back. As I was scanning the waiting area to check on another client’s arrival, I saw the girl sitting with shoulders hunched and staring into her hands. After wrapping up some paperwork, I headed over to the waiting area to call her in.

But before I could open the door, my colleague, Julia stopped me. “I’m sorry, the client said she didn’t want to see the ‘dark one.'” I’m so sorry that some people are that ignorant.” I wasn’t naive. I was working in the hometown of a former grand dragon of the KKK, but it did feel a little like I was kicked in the stomach.

As I was walking through the waiting area a while later, I saw the young lady standing at the receptionist desk with an older man. He glanced my way and immediately began throwing daggers at me with his eyes, as though he was an automated cyborg ordered to do so. As the girl noticed this silent interaction, she began to mimic him.

But her gaze was unlike his piercing and defiant stare. Hers was filled with deep emptiness. I walked away wondering if she even knew why she thought she loathed me. The lines between sadness and anger, fear and hate are so very thin.

I almost felt defeated. She was too young to despise anyone, but I suppose she was also too impressionable not to. She was vulnerable in many ways, one of those being that she didn’t yet have her own sense of self-worth, so how could she accept anyone else? I say I almost felt defeated because seeing Julia knew exactly what to say, exactly what I needed to hear, was the buffer. It was the hope that one day more people will be reasonable, less intolerant. She validated my disappointment that it’s a tragedy to feel this girl is unreachable right now,  she acknowledged that this was a case of hate having had won.

That one statement was a million consoling words for me. Julia could have said, “Oh, that’s just how it is around here,” or “She’s young,” or “She didn’t mean it that way.” But instead, she called it out for the vile thing it was. Hate begets hate.

And what hurt most was that the girl was somewhere around 15 years old. She wasn’t 70 and stuck in a different era, still calling people of color negroes or coloreds like some of my patients had. This was taught to her, passed down from those 70 year olds, and onto those 40 year olds, and now onto her impressionable young mind, once pure, as God created it. Through generations, she was given the gift of hate.

Although it was disappointing, it was a little easier to face knowing Julia was aligned with me. She was aligned despite it not happening to her, despite having no direct impact from it, despite her being white and being completely unaffected, if she chose to see it that way. But she chose otherwise. She didn’t have to sacrifice anything to align with me. She didn’t have to move aside and relinquish her privilege. She was simply human in all its beauty –  willing to hold my disappointment with me.

And this is what sharing privilege looks like.