In my 25 years of living and in the year 2018 I have found that
now, in our world, beauty means
hiding from people that your family didn’t love you well
hiding that your family growing up isn’t kind, a safe place and put together
hiding that things in your family have still not gotten much better
and hiding that this pain has shaped a part of your brain and body.
Now, in our world, beauty means
not being dark
not being sad
not struggling with confidence
or having to be reassured.
In our world beauty means
not telling the truth of how everything is hurting
and not telling how you feel about those who perpetuate the hurt.
It means to be silent about your pain
and your questions.
Beauty means you must always be smiling
You must never show fear
never show doubt
and hope for help.
In our world, beauty is confidence
and not having to consider that the world gives you this thing called “confidence”.
(What is confidence, now, in this world, except being affirmed by the powers that be?
In our world, beauty means
that those who are ugly,
those who are dark,
must find their significance elsewhere
in another world
in order to survive.
My hope: in order to survive the world
where being ugly
and being dark
is not desired
we must find our desire for another place
where being ugly is magnificent,
is nothing to fear.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
I’ll say it flat out: Interracial relationships won’t change the world. They won’t.
I say this as someone with white, Latinx, Asian and black family members. I might sound cynical, but I am not. Rather, I’m very aware of the limitations of the idea that people of different races and different ethnicities will lift humanity unto a higher consciousness simply by forming close relationships of proximity with each other. The idea that interracial relationships will change the world basically assumes that the main problem standing in the way of racism and xenophobia can be reduced to a lack of interracial intimate and familial relationships.
I believe that this is true to an extent. This idea might be so appealing because many of us have seen the transformative power of relationships. How can you love a group of people that you do not know, for instance? How can you serve them and do right by them if you do not know them? How can you form coalition with groups of people whose interests you are unfamiliar with?
But, if you think about the relationships and connections that you have with others within your own lives you realize that there are many reasons why people choose to be in relationships with each other. And those purposes may not always be transformative. Thinking that close or familial relationships can solve racism and xenophobia is dangerously naive. It underestimates the tenacity of racism and misunderstands the way that racism operates in our world.
I am skeptical about the notion that interracial relationships are a cure-all for racist and xenophobic conflict because I see racism happen daily in personal relationships all around me. Colorblind lovers who choose to marry because “love sees no color” may find themselves unable to see eye to eye about movements against mass incarceration, colonial occupations, employment discrimination and police gun violence. I was reminded of the pervasiveness of “colorblind” sentimentalism when I stumbled upon an episode of CNN’s LoveStory which crossed my Facebook timeline. The story features a black woman named Catherine and a former neo-Nazi body guard named Keith who fall in love with each other. You can see the episode yourself. When describing Keith, Catherine declares that Keith doesn’t have “a racist bone in his body”. The video reveals that Keith was concerned about the abuse Catherine was facing from a former partner and wanted to provide refuge for her. After that, they had fallen in love. I finished the video wondering what about Keith demonstrates that he worked against racism and I imagined that it was perhaps the individual acts of protection and care she received from Keith that has prompted Catherine to declare that her lover is free from racism! But allowing individualized acts of kindness to assess a person’s commitment to fighting racism deeply misunderstands the nature of racism and locates racism as solely a problem of character and attitude, as opposed to one exacerbated by passive (or willing) participation in cultures and policies which dehumanize and create social and economic inequality.
This story has been viewed over 8 million+ times. What horrified me the most about this story is that this man doesn’t renounce his affiliation with the Nationalist Socialist Movement (NSM, a neo-Nazi group) upon dating Catherine. He doesn’t consider ceasing to do so until he receives cancer and is told by his pastor that he cannot pray for him unless he renounces NSM. What I’m trying to highlight is: Dating Catherine, A BLACK WOMAN, wasn’t enough for him to stop affiliating with this racist party.
And even after he rescinds his extremist affiliation, who knows what mundane ways Keith may be normalizing the culture of racism? One has to wonder if people like Keith think their work is done simply because they leave an extremist organization and have a black wife? We cannot rely on these “feel good stories”. Besides, one has to wonder who these stories feel good to? (Because it sure doesn’t feel good to me).
You can be racist and be in a relationship– MARRIED EVEN– to a person of color. You can tell yourself you are in love with a person of color and not want society to budge an inch. Unless you are actively working against racism, you are doing nothing to abolish it. Your proximity to people of color does not exempt you from this work.
There are many friendships and relationships where racist and racial comments are excused. These comments are how racism gets normalized. Hyper individualist understandings about race and racism allow us to think that these mundane comments do nothing in the grand scheme of things. My experience with my own multi-racial and multi-cultural family reflects this.
I receive constant racial microaggressions from my stepfather’s parents. Orientalizing comments about Asian and Asian American communities persist despite the presence of my Korean stepmother within our family. But, I don’t have to look only to these explicit comments to know that understanding and fighting racism isn’t a priority in my family. Sitting in a room with the news on is enough to bring an onslaught of comments about the “right kind” of people of color, and these moments reveal the ways that family members view parties opposing certain racists policies as “being offended by everything” and being unable to accept the racist world as it is; as simply “the way things are”. “So deal with it!” Deal with the racism, is essentially what I hear from my extremely multiracial family.
Activists, scholars and racially progressive social media outlets have made our society more aware that passive participation in systems and institutions that create or excuse racial injustice marks the kind of racism that we ought to watch out for. Yet, many of us put our hopes in interracial relationships without encouraging our friends or loved ones to require more from their friends and partners. I believe that we do this because the dominant culture forgets that racism is preserved through taken for granted cultural norms, institutions and policy.
Perhaps my mother, a brown Latina, doesn’t think that these comments reveal anything significant about my white family’s worldview or character. But to me, it doesn’t matter how much my white relatives express that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man when they believe that the black liberation activists of today are destructive to society, despite those very activists being moved and inspired by Dr. King’s legacy.
I feel passionate about talking about interracial and inter-ethnic relationships because of the ways that they are discussed. Interracial relationships are lifted up as being some kind of sign of the “brave and courageous” new world that we are building. But I do not think that being in cross-race and cross-ethnic relationships alone will make a large difference.
Race and ethnic struggle are a lot more complicated than the average American gives credit to. If we want to understand why racism exists, we have to talk about power. There can be no meaningful or productive conversation about racism if power is not addressed.
Who someone chooses to date doesn’t matter to me. However, how someone decides who they want to date is important and should not be ignored or underestimated. The logics that sit behind what many cite as “racial preferences” matter severely. Often, when we cite having a preference for non-white races, it is because we are relying on stereotypes fed to us by popular culture. Remember, that racism operates through culture and policies. Much of our pop culture is racist. Yet we take many of our cues about each other from pop culture. We don’t allow people to show us who they truly are.
Conversely, when people of color say that they only want to date white people because of the ways that they view their own race, one has to wonder how much they have internalized from pop culture that white people are the only true individuals or that people of color can be reduced to the harmful stereotypes we face daily. Racism and internalized racism can play a huge role in who we choose to pick as friends, lovers and family members.
So given all the ways that interracial relationships may be used to excuse racism, we need to make sure we are examining ourselves when we decide who we want to date or form families with.
What are the stereotypes that we believe about minority groups? Where do these stereotypes come from? What purpose is this stereotype meant to serve?
For white people dating people of color, consider the idea that no person of color is entitled to date you. There are many ways that white people communicate through their lifestyles and their behaviors that they are not safe and trusty worthy enough to be part of a person of color’s life. Social and political reservations that people of color may have about white people are most likely valid given that for hundreds of years, the average white person has remained passive in the face of violence against communities of color.
White people are not the only ones that need to self-examine, however. For people of color dating non-white folks, it’s important for us to also look at what what we believe about our own race, as well as other minority groups. Often, people of color can internalize messages from the status quo that mark us as undesirable and monolithic, which may lead us to dating interracially exclusively. For instance, I often see non-black people thinking fetish stereotypes about black women are compliments, as well as non-Asian people thinking Asian stereotypes are harmless. Fetishizing another racial group is never humanizing and often the stereotypes that result from these stereotypes carry a long history of violence. When you do this, you don’t allow the person that you are meeting to show you who they are in their unique complexity, and thus, you forfeit the chance to have a true connection with them. In addition, you normalize the forces that may make their lives difficult.
In contrast, white people generally get the luxury of being percieved as individuals and because of their privileged status, stereotypes such as “not being able to dance” don’t have any dire consequences for white people, unlike the many stereotypes created to divide minority races from building coalition and exist to justify their oppressions. White folks don’t have to worry that a person of color is dating them because of an oppressive racial stereotype.
Love may be “colorblind”, but to loosely quote James Baldwin, if I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. If we are to create a healthy, joyful and just world together, we have to be willing to face that which we may initially not want to see. That may be our own racism or internalized racism. I want to have a family someday. Whoever I form family with, I hope that they would be willing to see the things that affect me, to know that part of loving me means doing their part to abolish racism in the world. I wish to always strive to do the same.
Why? Because a ton of shit happened to me during 2016. I was testing the waters of “organizing” for the first time. I attempted to work with religious communities that expressed a desire to do anti-racist work. I also struggled to find support in school from my peers and my teachers.
I experienced a lot of pain within these and many other moments in 2016. I was gaslighted by people who claimed to care about the black freedom struggle. I attended tension filled demonstrations and have been in the presence of violence. I’ve had my creative and intellectual work unfairly judged by parties who couldn’t see my work rightly. 2016 was also the year that my university’s Peace Studies department used police presence to intimidate me into compliance when I rose concerns about racism and sexism in the program’s curriculum.
2016 left me burned and wasted.
You could even say that 2016 broke my spirit. In retrospect, 2017 went a whole lot better for me, even though the first year of Trump’s presidency brought with it so much maliciousness.
I don’t know if I have yet to fully recover from what 2016 did to my mind, my body, my spirit, but most days, I expect myself to be better by now. It’s been over a whole year, after all.
I tell myself that I shouldn’t be afraid of picking up my camera, taking new clients, doing new gigs… That my fear should be gone by now. I should be better. I shouldn’t still be carrying around a fear of running into ministers and activists who hurt me deeply. I shouldn’t be carrying around the fear of running into members of other organizations and coalitions that didn’t do their part to respect me and see my rightly. But, I do.
I don’t always know what to do about these fears. I try to power through them, but it doesn’t seem like enough on the days that I can’t.
As I work a few hours during the week, I get to enjoy roaming the isles of the library in solitude. I use this opportunity to catch up on podcasts that I’ve been wanting to listen to and I also get a chance to discover and listen to new ones as I quietly shelve books (and occasionally shed a few laughs here and there).
One of the more meaningful podcasts that I’ve been able to listen to this year has been AFFIRM, a podcast from the website Redefine Enough. Between listening to AFFIRM and taking a break from Twitter, I feel like I’ve been receiving the breath of air that I need… and will reluctantly say that I deserve.
I say reluctant, because I often forget a lot of what I say that I believe. Or, I forget to take seriously certain truths about mental health and caring for myself. I don’t always believe that the things that I whole-heartedly want for other people, I deserve as well. And so, it’s been so helpful for me to listen to the podcast and to listen to the host describe and name things that I forget or experiences I don’t always have words for.
One of the topics in the podcast that I found to be very affirming was the topic of “secondary trauma”. Essentially, secondary trauma isn’t trauma that you personally experienced, it’s trauma that you may have witnessed or trauma that you hear about. Trauma therapists and other healers often experience secondary trauma from listening to people’s stories and witnessing their pain.
I’m a person that typically listens with enthusiasm… but I’ve noticed my capacity to listen growing less and less. I have noticed within my body the desire to retreat into my own personal space. My capacity to hold others has shrunk. I often fear that this has meant that I have grown to be less big-hearted, less caring. I think to myself that I must be selfish now (which is the worst thing to be if you’ve grown up being told your worth is defined by how well or how much you care for others). However, the podcast reminded me that secondary trauma is still trauma. It makes sense for me to be tired after listening to others share their own pain. It makes sense for me to not always have the capacity to listen to others if I myself am in a dark place.
The podcast also affirmed a lot of my own experiences and struggles with mental health and anxiety. Within the last year, I’ve struggled to leave my house and have felt the kind of tiredness that lingers and overstays her welcome.
I believe now that my body has been shutting down… it’s been telling me that I need help, that I need to find healing and care. I couldn’t see the messages that my body was giving me: the lack of energy, the inability to leave home, the lack of excitement that I found sitting on my chest when I woke up in the mornings… I couldn’t understand the messages my body was giving me because I couldn’t find affirmation from myself or from many others that I was carrying a lot and that a lot was hurting me. In my mind, I downplayed everything. But, between Twitter drama, racism, sexism, biphobia, spiritual abuse, family trauma, rejection, life-changes, loss, flashbacks — all of it was affecting me. And most of it still affects me.
There were days when flashbacks made it difficult for me to leave the house. I would feel the emotions of the flashbacks hit my body right before placing my hand on the door. I’d find myself winded from the pain of those memories and needing to recover from the flashback. Then I would be late for something. And then, I couldn’t tell anyone about why I was late, because we don’t talk about mental health in our society well. Not in activist spaces, not in church… many spaces still hold stigmas, discomfort or general cluelessness around mental health.
Listening to women of color affirm each other’s mental and emotional health is doing something to me. I don’t know if I can call it “healing” necessarily but it’s encouraging me enough to get out of bed and to feel like I can do something about my anxiety and depression. The women on the podcast are reminding me that I deserve rest and care. They are reminding me that my trauma and pain matter, that the world’s bigotry, interpersonal messiness and systematic injustices affect me because I am human. They are reminding me that my trauma and pain won’t just just go away overnight. Trauma doesn’t just magically disappear. Healing and care has to happen.
Thankfully, I am in a place where I am seeking therapeutic support. I’m also trying to take advantage of this slower time of my life by making sure that I fight for my care time. I want to enjoy this life. I want to be happy. I want to have meaningful relationships, and I want to be filled with purpose and love when I do my work.
I think I deserve that.
A few of my favorite personal affirmations:
Rest is as important as work. Rest makes magic that work can’t do.
What I went through is real. I am not weak for feeling pain from my past, no matter how far back. I matter, my pain matters, and I deserve to have my pain attended to and healed. I deserve to be cared for and loved.
I deserve to be celebrated and respected in my work.
I have enough faith for today. I am spiritual/religious/Christian enough even if others can’t see it because of their religious boxes. I don’t have to do more to prove it.
I deserve to be celebrated, loved and respected in a religious community.
I have a lot to offer and to give, even when I don’t always feel like it.
I deserve to protect myself. I don’t owe anyone my gifts or my vulnerability.
The promise of life abundant is for me, too.
Please check out AFFIRM podcast if you get a chance, especially if you are a woman of color. Also, AFFIRM should not take the place of real therapeutic help. I grew up being afraid of therapy and being taught that it was bad and meant something was “wrong” with me. If you are intimidated or scared of therapy, I’m always willing to talk to you. AFFIRM is great about addressing fears about mental health and reaching out to a therapist.