Before Paula Deen was exposed for being racist and ignorant, I made tons of her recipes. One of my favorites was her homemade apple pie recipe (which included her recipe for a homemade crust). This is a classic southern recipe with shortening and butter. I tried to lighten it up and make it healthier by using wheat flour for the crust, but it just wasn’t as good. Serve it a la mode with vanilla ice cream on top.
at age ten,
a weasel-faced blonde boy calls you fat
because you consistently get
better grades than him
& insists a brown girl doesn’t belong
at a school with (superior) white kids.
you quip that you live in
a nicer neighborhood than his,
but the real reason you’re better than him
is that he’ll always be a covetous jerk.
at age twelve,
a freckled ginger boy scrubs your arms
with a pool brush after swim practice
& claims that he thought the white splotches
(of sunburn) on your dark skin was dirt.
you shove him into the pool
& watch him sputter,
coughing water in surprise.
your coach’s punishment is that
you have to swim extra (victory) laps.
at age fourteen,
a thin brunette girl snidely snickers,
“you’re not pretty. you’re cute like hello kitty.”
you weren’t allowed to wear makeup
or dress like her eighteen-year-old sister.
after braces straighten your crooked teeth
& your only growth spurt sheds baby fat,
you decline her offer to be friends —
even then, you’d rather be alone than have
catty friends you didn’t like (& vice-versa).
at age sixteen,
(until almost a decade following)
a parade of basic white guys marvel
over the fact that you’re the first Asian girl
they’ve admired who defies stereotypes —
you’ve inherited your mother’s feistiness
& your father’s no bullshit attitude.
though your temperament mellows over the years,
you loudly continue to refuse to be fetishized
& mock white guys who should check their privilege.
at age twenty-three,
your handsome ivorian friend becomes more.
you’ll never look like models in magazines,
but you’ve learned to appreciate that
your black hair is unruly
& your skin’s base tone is deep tan.
the ways that you look different
no longer (solely) define you.
he knows all of you & loves you
because of (not in spite of) it.
when someone says,
“I don’t see color.”
she asserts (colorblindness)
that she isn’t racist.
instead, she means,
a(n inherent) part of you
because I can’t relate.”
when someone says,
“I don’t see race.”
he insists he treats
everyone equally (regardless).
instead, he emphasizes
the fact that
he (purposely) ignores how
society favors people like him.
when you say,
“white people are clueless.”
don’t be surprised that
many get defensive &
wonder why you don’t
acknowledge their (imaginary) plight.
The night before Andrea’s law school graduation, we had drinks with her mom Mrs. S, her stepdad Tim, and her uncles Lee and Jamie. Mrs. S and Tim are Republicans from Florida. They love Sarah Palin and hate President Obama. They’re outspoken Fox News conservatives.
Adding alcohol to this outing guaranteed one of two outcomes. Either Mrs. S and Tim would have fun and not bring up politics or everyone would get into a screaming match by the end of the night. Andrea was willing to risk the latter, in hopes that the former would occur.
By the third round of drinks, Tim surpassed drunk and proceeded to belligerent.
“I’m not represented in this country — not with the current president!”
I rolled my eyes and took the bait. “Really, Tim?”
“I’m a minority where we live!”
“Y’all live in Orlando.”
“Most of our neighbors are Hispanic!”
“Let’s backtrack. How are you oppressed as a straight white man in America?”
“I’m not oppressed, I’m just sayin’ that more…y’know…”
“More what? Or whom?”
“More minorities are — ”
“Procreating? Living in your neighborhood? Taking jobs that were previously held by white people?”
“Must be tough to feel isolated and shafted out of opportunities because of your skin color.”
“It’s very tough.”
“Imagine if generations of your family had to deal with that.”
Tim paused, pondering this.
“The thing is, they haven’t and it’s highly unlikely they will.”
“But what if — ”
“If we minorities outnumber y’all white folks, we’re not going to inflict reverse racism on you.”
“Not outta spite?”
“You’ve got white (and male) privilege. You’ll never know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of your race or gender.”
“I still don’t feel represented by Congress — ”
“The majority of Congress is made of middle-aged white men.”
“Who you callin’ middle-aged?!”
“Plus, President Obama is biracial. He’s half-white. Which you white dudes tend to forget.”
“Not that it should have any bearing on his leadership abilities. Just pointing out facts.”
“Obama may be biracial, but he’s still a socialist!”
“I need another drink before we continue this conversation.”
Swaying slowly & off-beat
I twirl around & you dip me,
laughing because neither of us
has a natural sense of rhythm,
in spite of myths claiming we should
because of the colors of our skin.
During high school, I was one of four Filipinos.
It made sense that we were two of the “exotic friends”
at a (high school) friend’s wedding.
When they stared, I squeezed your hand
(we exchanged smiles).
Birmingham is (perpetually) decades behind.
“I’m not racist — I prefer that folks
stick to their own kind.”
Upon returning to Atlanta,
I breathed a sigh (of relief)
because here, when they stare,
(we exchange smiles)
and brush off comments like,
“Y’all will have the most beautiful children!”
A childhood in Alabama
consisted of fielding
ignorant questions daily.
What are you?
I mean, where are you from?
Born in New York and lived here since third grade.
But where are your parents from?
Where is that?
Then why does your last name sound Spanish?
Spain colonized the Philippines for centuries.
A brown kid in Birmingham
is a novelty and source
Say something in your language.
You mean in Tagalog?
Whatever it is.
I don’t speak it well.
Didn’t your parents teach you?
They didn’t want us to sound fresh off the boat.
I would love to be bilingual.
You still can be — you just have to learn a foreign language.
Blending in is impossible,
but not lashing out is
the only option.
If I could’ve, I would’ve asked,
Are you pale during every season?
Since your grandparents are Irish, do you speak Gaelic?
Is your hair naturally blonde?
Are you actually one-sixteenth Cherokee?
If I could’ve, I would’ve said,
Your English is great,
for someone born in Bessemer.
Enjoy the rest of your life, thinking
Alabama is the center of the universe.