the beauty in differentiation

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.

colorblind

when someone says,
“I don’t see color.”
she asserts (colorblindness)
that she isn’t racist.

instead, she means,
“I’m dismissing
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 reclamation of beauty

When I was four years old,
I drew (fair-skinned) mermaids
with huge breasts & light hair
that flowed down to their tiny waists.
The mermaids’ faces never looked like mine —
their eyes were larger (& not almond-shaped),
their noses were smaller (& pointed),
their mouths were fuller (& bright pink).
Every night, I’d pray that the next morning,
I’d wake up transformed into Ariel,
a beautiful (white) mermaid.

When I was fourteen years old,
I watched Gilmore girls obsessively.
While I could relate to Lane (Rory’s Korean best friend)
she never considered herself pretty,
nor was she sought after by cute boys
(the measure of a teenage girl’s beauty & self-worth).
Her first (unrequited) love was music &
her failed attempts at dating were a repetitive punchline.
The sarcastic brown girl was always the funny foil
to the doe-eyed protagonist with a porcelain complexion.
I wasn’t the heroine in my own life.

When I was twenty-four years old,
I lifted my chin defiantly & looked in the mirror.
My eyes were dark brown (& almond shaped)
my nose was wide (& round)
my mouth was small (& pale pink).
I’d never be a tall, restrained, universally liked queen,
since I was a short, loud, unapologetically honest woman.
There was a newfound freedom (& power) in being myself.
I (finally) recognized that when
my handsome man said, “You’re beautiful.”
it was the truth.

“I’m a minority where we live!”

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?”

“Yes!”

“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.”

“Hmph.”

“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.”

What are you?

A childhood in Alabama
consisted of fielding
ignorant questions daily.

What are you?
Human.
I mean, where are you from?
Born in New York and lived here since third grade.
But where are your parents from?
The Philippines.
Where is that?
Southeast Asia.
Then why does your last name sound Spanish?
Spain colonized the Philippines for centuries.

A brown kid in Birmingham
is a novelty and source
of entertainment.

Say something in your language.
You mean in Tagalog?
Whatever it is.
I don’t speak it well.
Didn’t your parents teach you?
Not really.
Why not?
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.

“Who’s that broad Molly?”

I try not to write about where I work very often, for fear of my boss finding my blog. As mentioned in my poem yesterday, my office is in Buckhead and as I wrote in my rant about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case, many of my coworkers are conservative white men (the majority of whom are middle-aged or older).

Most days, my coworkers’ offhandedly sexist or slightly racist comments frustrate me. However, there have been several hilarious occasions that have made up for it. (I’ll be sharing one today and others in future posts.)

Silence is the ultimate productivity killer for me, so I need to have music on while I’m working. When I’m chugging through tedious reports, I either listen to hip-hop or obnoxious dance music. About a month ago, I was listening to Trinidad James’s album when Old Jim walked into my office.

Old Jim is a brusque yet friendly man who’s close to retirement age. (The other Jim in our office is Big Jim, since he’s a huge man who acts like The Hulk during tax season). Old Jim usually asks me about pop culture so he can have some common ground with his kids.

Trinidad James was rapping in the background.

Pop a molly I’m sweatin’ (woo!)
Pop a molly I’m sweatin’ (woo!)

“Who’s that broad Molly? All the rappers talk about her. She must be pretty popular.”

“Molly isn’t a lady; it’s a drug.”

Old Jim pondered this for a moment.

“So can you smoke it like dope?”

I was too busy dying inside to reply.

A broken system: the perpetuity of racism, ignorance, & lack of empathy

There have been countless articulate responses to the verdict from the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case that people have posted already, but I wanted to collect my thoughts (and not repeat what many have already said) before contributing my opinion.

There aren’t words to properly express the simultaneous outrage and incredulity that I felt when Zimmerman was found not guilty of all charges. The American court system has proven to be ineffective in other cases, but this is the most recent case that showed justice doesn’t exist for everyone. There are legal and political reasons for the system being broken, but I think it comes down to the perpetuity of racism, ignorance (and harmful stereotypes), as well as a lack of empathy.

My coworkers are mostly middle-aged (or older) white men. While the trial was going on, they would make comments like:

“What if Trayvon was a thug and Zimmerman was just protecting himself?”

or,

“Trayvon sounded like he was acting suspicious and could’ve provoked Zimmerman to shoot.”

and my all-time favorite,

“I don’t think this is about race.”

There are too many white people who don’t have empathy. They’ve been insulated from prejudices and stereotypes that are inherently working against people of color. They believe that people deserve whatever their lot in life is, not that the system is designed to work against certain people. They can’t see outside their white privilege, because they don’t acknowledge that it exists.

A white young man doesn’t have to worry that if he’s wearing a hoodie and walking by himself, that he’ll get shot down by a neighborhood vigilante. He will not be pulled over by a policeman for driving “too nice” of a car. Or be followed around a store, if he’s just browsing. A white young woman wouldn’t be labeled as a hoodrat if she used slang or had long nails with intricate nail art.  A white young woman wouldn’t be presumptuously asked if she has a baby daddy. (Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” video is proof of this, but that’s another rant for another time.)

There are too many white people who don’t recognize these are things they have never dealt with, which people of color deal with everyday. The fact that Zimmerman’s attorneys tried to defame Trayvon’s character, by attempting to prove that he was a thug implies that “he deserved to be shot.” That Zimmerman was protecting himself from an eminent threat — an African-American teenage boy.

It’s not enough for people to claim that they’re not racist because they don’t use the n word. It’s not enough for people to have one token friend who’s a person of color. It’s not enough for people to be outraged at this court ruling, or others like it. People have to change their way of thinking. Neighborhoods that are mostly comprised of minority families shouldn’t be considered sketchy, just because of its residents. Poverty shouldn’t define a person’s life trajectory, nor should there be a stigma attached to one’s socioeconomic status.

This should be a wake-up call. It’s 2013 and the U.S. is still dealing with institutionalized racism. Change needs to happen.