I'm sort of a mutt: part Taiwanese, part Vietnamese, part Sioux, part white, part Mormon, part post-Mormon, part Virginian, and part Utahn. "Otherness" feels like it's in my blood. I've been wondering why, and what to make of it all. And some recent discussion about allegedly problematic representation in Master of None (more on that later) has gotten me thinking a lot about how my racial politics inform my other ideological and social constructs. To that end, I've put together the following collection of short stories and moments that have somewhat shaped my ideas--for better or for worse--about ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious identity in America. This collection is brief and subjective, and is not meant to be comprehensive, universal, or prescriptive in any way. These are just some stories about "otherness" and representation that stand out to me for personal reasons:
It's 1832. The United States Supreme Court decides that American Indian tribes will no longer be treated as sovereign nations, no longer needed as allies--they are to be looked upon as merely being in the way. Within a few decades, the population of the Sioux (some of my ancestors) is reduced by 50%, thanks to imperialism, measles, and murder.
It's 1844. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum are attacked and shot to death by a mob while confined at Carthage Jail in Illinois. Religious, political, and economic tension had been bubbling in Illinois for some time (just like it had in Missouri the decade prior), And these tensions had "coalesced around Joseph Smith," who was not only the Mormon prophet but was also a mayor and the commander of the Nauvoo Legion state militia.
Naturally, throughout the next century and a half, this story (and the context surrounding it) is told with different emphasis and tone depending on who's telling it. But to me as I'm growing up it becomes iconic. And through it, I understand my Mormon identity as an "outsider" status. During religious disagreements throughout High School, I often see myself as an underdog "defending the faith," as if I am some sort of martyr myself.
It's 1944. President Franklin D. Roosevelt shoves 120,000 innocent American people into internment camps because apparently their differently-colored skin and differently-shaped eyes makes them seem disloyal. In the paranoid atmosphere of post-Pearl Harbor America, anybody with vaguely Japanese roots or connections represents a threat. (Official apologies and reparations for this act of government-sanctioned racism don't arrive until the late-1980s.)
It's 1954. My grandmother has left Vietnam; she's in her third year studying childhood education, pedagogy, mental health, and developmental psychology in Geneva (working with Piaget). She's a studious, thoughtful young woman--about my age at this point--and she's been through a lot. Yet some folks still reduce her to a generalized ethnic token. Later, she writes: "I once had a classmate, Heidi, who planned to go to Laos with her fiance to work as a missionary translating the Bible. Her parents believed the Laotians [were] like savages, so to ease their minds, Heidi asked [me and some Vietnamese friends] to stop by her home in Interlaken to prove that we are 'normal' people. Even though none of us were Laotian."
It's 1961. In the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, white actor Mickey Rooney wears "yellowface" to portray a landlord named Mr. Yunioshi (this is just one entry in a long history of examples of Hollywood's whitewashing of non-white roles, but it's a particularly glaring example given Rooney's extensive use of cringe-inducing Asian caricature and exaggeration in his performance).
It's 1964. In the Spider-Man comic books, you're starting to see street scenes where not everybody is white. William H. Foster III recalls, years later: "You'd see black policemen, or a black doctor, just little things like that to highlight some of the diversity in American culture. My mind was blown," he says. "At the high school where Peter Parker went to there was black students going. And he spoke to one of them! The guy said, 'How's it going today?' 'Fine.'" Foster's smile widens as he tells this story; his eyes light up and it seems he's holding back tears. "You can't imagine what that was like in the early 1960s to see."
It's 1965. Some leaders of the Mormon (LDS) Church meet with the NAACP and agree to publish an editorial in a church-owned newspaper (the Deseret News) supporting civil rights legislation. The Church fails to follow through on this commitment. Eldon Tanner explains: "we have decided to remain silent."
It's 1966. Whoopi Goldberg is ten years old and the original Star Trek series has just started. Whoopi runs throughout her house, screaming: "Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick--there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!" Years later, she recalls: "I knew right then, I could be anything I wanted to be."
It's 1967. Interracial marriage is still illegal in the United States.
It's 1976. George Gerbner and Larry Gross put together some research for the Journal of Communication about television and violence; in a section about representation, they explain: "representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation."
It's 1973. Bruce Lee's film The Big Boss is released in the United States. Despite being a Chinese production, the film definitely makes ripple effects in American cinema. With his films throughout the 1970s, Lee takes the traditional Hong Kong martial arts genre and brings it to a new level (like Sergio Leone did to the Western a decade prior, and like Christopher Nolan would do with comic-book adaptations three decades later).
(A quick fast-forward: when I watch The Big Boss, Fists of Fury, Enter the Dragon, and Return of the Dragon for my first time in 2003, I'm struck. Lee's screen presence is so bold, brash, and cool. My dad tells me a story of how he used to have longish hair, back in the 1970s, and one time a passerby saw him playing basketball and mistook him for Bruce Lee. It's a story I carry for years with a weird mix of offendedness--can't you white folks tell us Asians apart?--and beaming pride.)
It's 1978. The Mormon Church finally decides to lift its ban on people of color receiving the Priesthood and entering the Temple. Two decades prior, Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie had written that "Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned," but now in '78 he is saying, "Forget everything that I have said ... we spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world."
It's 1980. My parents become LDS and get married in Provo, Utah. My dad is a mix of Vietnamese and Taiwanese, and my mom is a mix of Caucasian and Sioux. I don't know much about the racial dynamic of their young relationship, but it's 1980, so I imagine there's a lot of big-picture context at the time. (Three decades later, when I'm texting my dad about some of these questions, he writes: "Mom says she never thought of me as an Asian even when first meeting me. Just saw a guy." He sends me a grateful 'heart-eyes' emoji. "She's a special catch, and I hope you get as lucky one day.")
It's 1983. In the United States, more folks disapprove of interracial marriage than approve of it, according to Gallup polls.
It's 1984. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is seven years old and is starting to write stories. But she writes exactly the kinds of stories she is reading: all her characters are white and blue-eyed, they play in the snow, they eat apples, and they talk a lot about the weather. Later, she recalls: "This [was] despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn't have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to." What this demonstrates, Adichie argues, "is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children ... I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify."
It's 1987. I am born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a young child, my interest in my roots is limited, almost cautious. I hang out with my dad's parents and sometimes ask them questions about Buddhism. And relatives on my mom's side give me a Ojibwe "dreamcatcher," which I hang above my bed at almost all times throughout my childhood (I am afraid of everything, so the idea that this charm could prevent nightmares is VERY appealing). I don't know that my ancestry is Sioux, not Ojibwe. I don't know what the Pan-Amerindian Movement is. I don't know what cultural appropriation means. And if someone were to explain these things to me at the time, I wouldn't have an opinion.
It's 1994. The Lion King is released in theaters. I watch it and am awestruck (to this day it's still one of my favorite films). I listen to the soundtrack throughout most of the mid-1990s. I sometimes crawl around and pretend to be a lion. I don't think twice about the subtle racial undertones in the film's depiction of its villain (Scar is drawn noticeably darker than the "good" lions; see also Shan-Yu in Mulan, Jafar in Aladdin, etc). I also don't think twice about the fascist themes in The Lion King, in which "only the strong and the beautiful triumph, and the powerless survive only by serving the strong." I take its worldview for granted; I assume that if Simba were not morally worthy to reclaim Pride Rock then he wouldn't have been able to; I assume that, most of the time, good people win.
It's 1996. I'm baptized into the Mormon church. I'm asked if I feel anything. "I feel good," I say. My best friend Ryan draws a picture of God's "plan of salvation" for the baptism's printed program. For the next decade and a half I am thoroughly convinced that Mormonism, while flawed and multifaceted and ever-changing, is based on a foundation of perfect doctrine and therefore any racial or sexual issues within its theological constructs are incidental, not fundamental.
It's 1997. I'm nine years old in Herndon, Virginia. I parrot a stupid "Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, money please" joke I'd heard in school and I mirror the offensive hand gestures I'd seen (stretching my eyes so they look more angled and thin). I don't quite understand that the joke was almost certainly told at my expense. My mother asks where I heard the joke. I shrug. "School." Mom explains to me that it's a mean joke. Later, I look in the mirror at my thin, somewhat slanted eyes. They look normal; I struggle to understand why a classmate would want to tell mean jokes about my eyes. Maybe my friends didn't know what the joke was about either, I think. Maybe they meant well. But good intentions don't change the fact that I'm looking hesitantly in the mirror now, feeling weird about my own eyes, feeling uncomfortable about the facial structure and sociopolitical baggage that I've inherited.
Later that year, the principal of Herndon Elementary School calls my parents and says I'm in trouble because I referred to a classmate as "the black kid." I feel at once both guilty (because I shouldn't have used a tokenizing racial description in lieu of knowing his name) and defensive (because I didn't think any less of him for being black, and I didn't think racial descriptions ought to be considered an insult).
During the next few decades I continually learn from 1997. Tokenizing signifiers (no matter how "obvious" or "objective" their intentions) feel different to the tokenized than they do to anyone else, and even if somebody doesn't mean any harm, that doesn't mean no harm has been done. Often, harm is unintentional. And when you're the one doing the harm (as I've been), it's tempting to get defensive--you might feel like your actions are being shoved into a historical context to which you haven't contributed and for which you aren't to blame--but nobody learns from getting defensive. Listening is much more effective.
It's 1998. I start practicing martial arts (my teacher focuses on Tae Kwon Do but mixes in a bit of Shotokan Karate and Aikido). When I tell my white friends and acquaintances about it, most of them shrug and say "that's cool." But others snicker. Throughout the next seven years I hear the same jokes over and over: "Of course you do that," or "don't you have an unfair advantage because of your genes?" Some remarks are more like threats than jokes: "that's not gonna save you if we get in a fight. I don't care if you're Chinese; I can still kick your ass."
Later that year, Rush Hour comes out in theaters. It's my first introduction to Jackie Chan. He's phenomenal, I notice. He's funny. He's a heck of an actor, and he's a heck of a martial artist, and he's a rich movie star. Despite the weird, often problematic dynamic in the film's racial humor, I feel represented. I feel legitimized. I feel like I have someone to look up to on the big screen.
It's 1999. My oldest sister is accepted at Brigham Young University. As a family we all travel across the country to bring her to her new home. An extended family member gives her a gift: it's a book. I don't know what the book is called or what it says, but I notice that a lot of people get upset. The air is tense for a couple of days. I am told it is an "anti-Mormon book." For the first time I directly confront the idea that some of my relatives hate Mormonism. I wonder what that means, or why they think we're so crazy. We're just normal people. I start to develop a feeling of tension between cultural curiosity and soteriological urgency. I start sorting ideas, cultures, and traditions in my head as "right" and "wrong." I start to wonder and worry about which of us will be saved.
It's 2003. Outkast releases the hit song "Hey Ya!" which name-drops the incredibly beautiful and talented Lucy Liu. That same year, Liu stars in Kill Bill: Volume 1 and in a sequel to Charlie's Angels. She's a superstar. Some of my classmates tell me they assume I'm more attracted to her than I am to Drew Barrymore or Cameron Diaz (the other "Angels"). It's an absurd conversation. I tell them they're wrong, and for a number of years I even convince myself that they're wrong--indeed that I'm not attracted to Liu at all. I am trying to keep from being racially tokenized, from conforming to stereotypes, from being forced to stay "in my lane," so to speak. I am trying to be radically integrated and accepted. But unwittingly, I am indulging in sexual prejudice and I am doing myself a great disservice.
It's 2004. I'm a senior in High School and I feel pretty good about my social circle. Sometimes there are jokes about me being the "token Asian" in a particular friend group or the "token Mormon" in another. I shrug and laugh along with these comments because I don't feel offended. I don't feel tokenized. I feel like people who know me see me as I am, as a full person with ideas and likes and dislikes and context and feelings and problems.
This comfort level has made me complacent and thoughtless. I write some idiotic and insensitive blog posts (well, probably LiveJournal entries) about Black History Month--arguing that as a minority I know things are hard but I don't need to toot my own horn for thirty days about it. My uncle sends me a couple emails gently asking questions about what I've written. We have a productive dialogue and I learn a few things. I still leave the conversation sort of believing in the post-racial myth, though.
It's 2005. I watch the film Crash. Yeah, I know. It's a problematic mess of a movie. But at the time it was sort of an eye-opener for me. I believe that film helped me understand the harsh realities of modern-day racism on a deeper, more visceral level. I'd known about slavery and internment and the genocide of the Native Americans, but all of those things felt far away--"historical"--until I watched Crash and felt the heavy discomfort of personal, intimate, fearful and mean racism face-to-face. Sure, I'd been called a "chink" and kids had done obnoxious fake accents in my face. But until 2005 those experiences had felt more like incidents of isolated stupid malice rather than part of a systemic cultural problem.
It's 2006. The third entry in the Fast and Furious franchise (subtitled Tokyo Drift) is released. It becomes Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin's first big-budget film. And Korean-American actor Sung Kang plays Han Lue, a character who becomes an important and compellingly dramatic part of the Fast and Furious ensemble. The film makes $158.5 million dollars and is followed by five more sequels. It feels great to watch the success of an endeavor like this, with prominent Asian-American presence both in front of and behind the camera (it's just too bad that the film itself isn't very good).
It's 2007. I'm on an LDS mission in Roseville, California and a man rushes up to us on the street, yelling at me and my companion about how crazy our church is. He tells us "the Mormons were racist in the 1970s, and they only stopped because of outside pressure, not because of God." I shrug it off; I say that leaders aren't perfect and that we don't understand everything. The man looks me in the eyes. I can tell he's making note of my race. He lowers his tone and tells me that this isn't just about black-versus-white; he says that before 1978, even folks who look like me would have been kept from having the Priesthood.
I don't know what to say to this, because I don't know if it's true or false. But the more I think about it, the more I'm disturbed--not because it might be true, but because what if it's false? Would I breathe a sigh of relief? If so, why? Why should racist practices disturb me any less if they don't affect me personally? Why should it bother me any more to imagine my father in the mid-1970s being denied entrance to the Temple, when I know for a fact that plenty of black folks his age were so denied?
This moment is my embarrassingly belated introduction to intersectionality. I begin to realize that if Mormon persecution matters to me, Muslim persecution should matter, too; if Asian and Native American persecution matters to me, then the struggles of Black America should matter, too; if race and class are important, then gender and sexuality are, too.
It's 2008. I'm almost done with my mission and the Church decides to aggressively push for Proposition 8, particularly among its Californian members. A lot of good people are devastated. I'm young and stupid; I don't see what the big deal is. I am not friends with any openly LGBTQ folks and I have little empathy for the struggle. The Mormon hierarchy encourages its members to mobilize on a local level and help Prop 8 pass. Their statement on the topic is read from the pulpit during worship services. A progressive family that we're teaching at the time is visibly distraught and storms out of the building. My companion and I follow a couple hours behind and try to do damage control.
We chat. With pious, helpful intentions, I say some really ignorant and dismissive things. I carry guilt about that conversation for four years until I eventually reach out via Facebook in 2012 and apologize.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me (missionaries aren't supposed to listen to "worldly" music), Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon write a song for Commentary! The Musical called "Nobody's Asian in the Movies." It's a satirical (but sadly spot-on) lament about the lack of Asian roles in Hollywood. "If there is a part there for us," the song goes, "it's a ninja, a physician, or a goofy mathematician."
It's 2009. I get into a romantic relationship for the first time. Our first kiss is on the roof of my apartment building under a lovely full moon. We're young and we don't know anything. We date for ten months. Throughout the relationship (and basically every relationship since then), I feel a tiny bit of racial anxiety. She's white, her friends are white, everyone in her family is white. For the record, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being white--but I start to wonder how they look at me. Am I seen as weird? Exotic? Emasculated?
At this point this is maybe the most introspective I've gotten about my race, because when you start dating, you look more closely at yourself than you ever had to before. Romantic and sexual desire are really vulnerable feelings to start exploring, and starting in 2009 I spend years experiencing quite a bit of self-consciousness mixed in with that vulnerability. If I date someone whose previous boyfriends were Asian, I worry that I'm being exotified and fetishized; if I try to date someone and it doesn't work out, I wonder if it would have worked out had I been white. And if I pause to realize that all the girls I've dated have been white, I worry that I'm being sexually prejudiced (more on that in a moment). I'm not saying these fears are justified or reflective of my reality necessarily. But they exist.
It's 2012. Researchers Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison put together a longitudinal study about television, race, gender, and self-esteem. Their findings indicate that exposure to television may increase self-esteem in white boys but decrease it in white/black girls and in black boys. In other words: watching movies may make you feel worse about who you are unless you're white and male. "We feel pretty comfortable [concluding that it's] lack of representation that could be responsible for this effect," Martins says. "If you don't see people like you in the media you consume, you [feel like] you must somehow be unimportant." I'm not aware of this study at the time but the ideas it's uncovering feel very real to me. I begin to notice that in my entire life I haven't seen any romantic comedies with Asian male leads. No wonder I have trouble thinking of myself as attractive, I think. (In 2012, I'm sure part of my anxiety is fueled by simply being 25 and single, regardless of race. Being 25 and single is unremarkable, of course--unless you live in Provo and are knee-deep in Mormon culture, in which case it feels like being at an Italian restaurant by yourself ordering heart-shaped lasagna for one.)
It's 2013. The BLM movement begins with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman is acquitted despite having shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death on 26 February 2012. I realize that I haven't learned my lesson from 2007, and that I haven't been paying proper attention to oppressed groups whose struggles with systems of racism and violence have been happening all around me, all the time. I start getting into [armchair] activism and [lazy] politics (I don't intend to reduce human beings and their experiences to a mere hashtag, but I haven't quite learned my "don't tokenize" lesson from 1997, either).
It's 2014. I get an acting gig because of my race (this experience is not unique). The specific pitch: "I work for a film production company and they are looking for an Asian that looks like you. Would you be interested in acting as a few different characters?" I feel a little bit like a token, but I take the gig anyway. It turns out to be pretty fun. We shoot a short commercial. I realize while looking through the script that my character doesn't need to be Asian. I'm glad to have the part, and I'm excited to be on a set, and I make some new friends whom I respect very much. But I feel a little weird that the primary reason I got the job was aesthetic. As if my face and racial identity were some sort of prop or costume.
That summer, John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, and Rock Waterman are threatened with excommunication from the LDS Church. Dehlin had started a podcast discussing Mormon-themed stories; Kelly had organized a movement calling for the ordination of LDS women; Waterman had written a sort of neo-fundamentalist Mormon blog discussing scriptural and social issues. I feel like someone has punched me in the gut. I feel like these three people had been important and appropriately provocative Mormon voices, and I feel like the institution I love (from which I had inherited a weird sort of persecution complex) is persecuting its own people. I feel ostracized by proxy; I feel unwelcome, unwanted, underrepresented. I regard the faces looking down on me during General Conference and I don't feel like they know me. I wonder: are these my people?
It's 2015. I do some modeling for an "Ordain Women" photoshoot. I feel a little more like a boots-on-the-ground activist who's helping get things done. But I still struggle to figure out how to be an ally for important issues without overriding other voices with my own. I have disagreements and arguments with other Mormon feminists on social media a few times.
Later that year, the LDS Church prohibits children of same-sex couples from getting baptized (until they turn 18 and disavow their parents' sexual identity). I'm reminded of the mass excommunications from the year prior. The LGBTQ community is heartbroken, and so am I. I write a 4,000-word letter to the First Presidency of the Church and I organize a campaign to encourage others to do the same. I wonder if I can make my progressive/humanist/agnostic flavor of Mormonism work anymore. I wonder how to be a good ally to my LGBTQ friends. I stop going to Church for a little while. A gay friend of mine--who is at the time trying to be an active Mormon--gives a sermon soon thereafter. I feel really, really bad for missing it. I start attending again to support him. I don't know what my religious identity is anymore but I know I want to make my friends feel heard and loved.
It's 2016. The whitewashing of Asian roles in films gets national attention again. It's been happening since the 1920s, but people are talking about it anew because Emma Stone thinks she's allowed to play a Chinese-Hawaiian character in Aloha, and Tilda Swinton thinks she can play a Nepalese monk in Doctor Strange, and Scarlett Johansson thinks it's okay to play Motoko Kusanagi in the American remake of Ghost in the Shell. Margaret Cho speaks out against the phenomenon, and Swinton reaches out to her about it (read about their dialogue here).
The good news is that Rogue One also comes out this year, starring a beautifully and impressively diverse cast. I watch Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker fill the screen and I get really emotional. A fan takes his Mexican father to see the film, who has a similarly delighted and emotional response to Luna's accent. The fan reports their beautiful conversation on Tumblr. (The bad news: Donnie Yen's character in the film, while badass and entertaining, is still a prime example of the ever-present trope of the mystically exotic Asian wise man that we've been seeing in Hollywood films for decades. On the other hand, I'll take problematic representation over no representation at all; baby steps, I guess?)
Other good news: Mahershala Ali becomes the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. And Moonlight, a beautiful film with nuanced and stereotype-breaking depictions of Black Americans, wins Best Picture. (The bad news: at the Oscars where Moonlight won, Jimmy Kimmel decided to tell a lot of lazy and racist jokes about Asians and other groups.)
Also this year: MTV Decoded releases a video about the history of sexual stereotypes regarding Asians. It explains some tough concepts like sexual prejudice and fetishization, and gives historical context (including laws against interracial marriage as mentioned earlier in this post) for why some of these stereotypes exist. It talks about why Asian women are hypersexualized in Western media while Asian men are de-sexualized. The video is excellent. You should watch it (here).
It's 2017. A man whose entire campaign has leaned on the idea of "otherness" becomes the President of the United States. Despite having mocked Serge Kovaleski for his physical disability, despite having dismissed Mexicans as "rapists," "criminals," and "bad hombres," despite having bragged about literal sexual assault, he wins the Presidency. I feel disheartened, even furious--but more importantly I feel emboldened to stand up for the downtrodden and to pay more attention to the issues that have been around for a long time and to which I simply hadn't been paying good attention (studies show pretty strongly that racism--more than income or authoritarianism--played the biggest role in electing the man; and it's clear that racism wasn't invented yesterday. It's been around for a while and it's our job to help stop it).
Meanwhile, Nahnatchka Khan's Fresh off the Boat finishes its third season and it's excellent. It's a sitcom about an Asian-American family; it's fresh, it's funny, and it's racially aware without being exploitative. Its main actress, Constance Wu, says it helped her shift her focus "from self-interest to Asian-American interests."
And Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's excellent Netflix comedy-drama Master of None (now in its second season) continues to be thoughtful, nuanced, and hilarious in its exploration of some of the things I've written about here. It wants to talk about romance, sexuality, religion, race, ethnicity, and privilege. It wants to talk about the difficulty of trying to carve out your own cultural identity in modern America while learning about and being true to your roots (without either dismissing or pedestalizing them yourself). It wants to talk about the relationship between allyship and appropriation, the relationship between representation and tokenization, the relationship between feminism and intersectionality, the relationship between racial politics and romance, and so forth.
But it's not perfect. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Nadya Agrawal at Quartz writes that "brown actors like Aziz Ansari have reduced brown women to a punchline." Her criticisms remind me that once again, I've forgotten to take off my blinders. I've been so excited about the radically positive, charming, multifaceted, normalized portrayal of Asian men as fun, funny, and sexy in Master of None that I forgot to notice some of the problems with its depiction of Asian women. And Agrawal's piece reminds me of my own problems, too: it reminds me that my tendency to romantically prefer white women might not just be because I live in Provo (where the demographics are predominantly white). Maybe there are some problematic sociological factors at play, too--factors worth looking at and trying to address.
Also this year, I finish editing a book called "Mormonism and the Movies" which I've been working on for over two years. A couple months before turning in the manuscript to a publisher, I have a panicked moment because one of my contributors has dropped out (and the topic which she'd planned to address feels important). I start asking friends if any of them are available and willing to join the project at the last minute. I purposefully only ask female friends (the project at this point, despite having started with about 50% of each gender, is now about 2/3rds male, and feels imbalanced). One of my friends politely tells me she doesn't have time, and then immediately thereafter posts publicly to Twitter about how she feels tokenized as a woman of color who is only asked to join projects because of her gender and race, as opposed to her academic credentials.
I feel terrible. I feel embarrassed. I also, truth be told, feel a little defensive. Like the accidentally racist kid I was in 1997, I feel like I haven't intentionally done anything wrong (and I honestly hadn't even considered her race as part of why I was interested in her writing). But that's not the point. The point is my friend's feelings have been hurt and it's my fault. Doesn't matter if it was on purpose. I reach out and try to apologize. And I try to take note. Like the lessons I've been learning nearly every year for the past three decades, this is one I'll probably have to re-learn a few times. I'll probably screw up again. Because I'm human. But I'm trying.
Onward and upward. One step back, two steps forward. Always improving. Other than that (and a handful of other cliches I could throw your way), I don't have a conclusion. I don't know how I fit into the Asian community, the Native American community, the Mormon community, or the post-Mormon community. I don't know how to navigate my shifting sense of identity, while standing up for others without unwittingly blocking out their voices.
But I'm doing better than I did yesterday and I aim to keep improving.