COVID-19, The Battle For Our Safety…and Our Mind

The effectiveness of cotton masks. Who should take caution with Hydroxychloroquine. Transmission to/fro people and pets. Infection vs. fatality rate. When we might expect the next pandemic. Relapse vs. Reinfection. The New York Times, April 19: It is not clear whether recovery from the virus and antibodies confer immunity. Professor Kim knows.

 

This interview follows up Part 1 which went viral. Professor Kim explained the need for masks long before the U.S. and CDC got a clue. I disagree with him in this video that there’s nothing we can do for our immune system. I don’t believe we’re sitting ducks. Well, those of us who’re not bedbound in a nursing home. But this humble man has shared what he knows with no apparent agenda beyond the saving of lives, and has explained the mechanisms of the virus better than anyone I’ve heard.

Notice the government and media in the West have tamped down all talk of natural ways we can keep up our health. What? Remind people that that they have control? Acknowledge the driving power of the mind and emotions in our well-being? We couldn’t bottle fear then, peddle it in a prescription drug and rake in the money on a vaccine. No, no. Something as uncomplicated and accessible as vitamins can’t help boost our immune. Actually, a blood test (called a G6PD) will determine if you have the enzymes needed to process high doses of vitamin C. The I.V. revived a friend of mine from pneumonia a few years back. But no, the solution is in the hands of experts. And we can’t worry about the chances the virus will have mutated by the time we come out with a vaccine. Here’s Dr. Shiva from M.I.T. on government control and understanding of health:

 

Cordyceps and OPCs also do wonders for our immune, but that is no blanket assertion. You have to do your research and make sure nothing you take might interact with medication or threaten a preexisting condition. EFT, also known as tapping, a simple way of energizing the organs and balancing the body, has raised the oxygen level of COVID patients who had trouble breathing. But this is only anecdotal testimony. Please do your research.

My parents are in the eye of the storm in NYC, and concerned for them, I am so grateful for the luxury of space we enjoy in this part of California. I’ve been vigilant in the face of this virus, and send my sympathies to those who have suffered. But these stats might give us some perspective.

My Race, Coast to Coast: Part 1

I designed this series because I thought it’d be interesting to glimpse stories from around the globe. But I found myself feeling almost apologetic writing my own; I didn’t consider my tale really worth telling. Then I warmed to the rich potential this project held out as a forum for safe, honest talk about our biases and personal struggles.

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I prefer Asian-American or Korean-American. I grew into the American part with time so in looking back on my childhood, I speak of myself as a Korean kid but it bugs me to have to check “Asian” on forms. Tip-toeing on politically correct ground, we don’t call black people Africans in the States but acknowledge their American status. I don’t know why Asian-Americans are not accorded the same respect. Actually, I do know. We are not vocal about it.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in California. My family joined the biggest tide of emigration that brought South Koreans to America in the 70s. After the formative years in New York City, I went to Pennsylvania for college. I ended up nesting there until the move across the country 13 years ago. Given the diversity in major American cities I didn’t notice significant cultural differences between them, at least ethnically.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

My childhood in NYC was your unoriginal melting pot. From neighborhood to school and city, we had white, Hispanic, Black, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and of course many Koreans. Out of my motley neighborhood, I entered the most homogenous class at P.S. 89 when I started my school career in first grade; only as an adult did I realize how unusual the roomful of Korean kids was, under the tutelage of the only Korean teacher in all of NYC at the time. (I won’t get into whether she would’ve insisted on the -American.) Mrs. Cho was Korean and Americaniz, one fully immersed in her culture but comfortable and proficient with the mores of this country. Because I was still clinging to my native language at seven, Mrs. Cho sent me out for a season of English as a Second Language services.

I was at ease with fellow Korean immigrants but as you’d expect, there was plenty of race consciousness on everyone’s part. I didn’t escape being called chink in elementary and walking home one time, was slurred with a kick for good measure. This, by two white girls I saw all the time whose parents, I now remember, were European immigrants. It was older black or Hispanic kids who wrested your bike from you and made off with it on our street – not older Asian kids. The Mexicans didn’t blare mariachi with the Chinese. Life was what it was. It would’ve been weird for the neighborhood to go all white. I wouldn’t call what we lived with tension so much as it was subtle racial abrasion. But for the most part there was peace. We had subcommunities in high school too, though there were the kids who mingled. The magnet school I went to was over 50% Asian-American, the majority being Korean. So I obviously didn’t have much occasion to feel left out the first two decades of my life.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

Straight out of college, I ended up one of three Korean-American teachers in a Philadelphia school. But the diversity of the city represented in staff and students kept me from thinking twice about myself as a minority. On a field trip one day with my class, I was struck seeing a line of golden-haired children from another school. It was the first time I really noticed I was Asian – and this, in my early 20s. It vaguely crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be as comfortable teaching that class.

Two years later I transfered to a neighboring district where I felt the keen finger of self-consciousness as never before. White upper-middle class suburb, old money. In the meetings that prefaced the start of school, I found myself one of two Korean-American teachers among the 100 in the entire district. My African-American principal was a colored minority. Ten percent of the students in my school were Asian and as few black. In other words, I felt very Asian surrounded by staff, parents, and students. The Korean kids lit up and greeted me when I passed by even if they were not on my roll. As the Gifted and Talented Education instructor, I was a status symbol and my principal said it was important that those children see themselves in me. Despite the politeness of many teachers, I did feel awkwardly different among them. When a group of us went out to try some Korean food, I saw for the first time the profound, basic relationship of food to culture. Those who passed nervously on the invitation gave away their indifference to the Korean culture, and to me.

Others were outright mean (on things not having to do with food), even conspired to get me, with things eventually coming to a dramatic head. Though it’s hard to say, the malice didn’t seem fueled by racism as it was by the position I held. Suffice it to say I was a walking omen of more paperwork for the classroom teachers. Anyone who stepped into my position was doomed because, servicing the high achievers in the whole school, I worked with everyone and no one. As a specialist, I had no colleagues by grade to team with. The cultural distinction felt sharper for the rejection.

My sense of self remained unshaken. It never has been. I enjoyed deep friendships with teachers who shared my faith and also knew the kindness of those who didn’t – some black, some white. I’m not sure how I handled that sense of separation from the masses. I kept my head high, even managed to break through some walls and feel accepted by some cliques though I refrained from trying too hard. I also refused to stoop to the level of my enemies. Not one retort, confrontation, or curse escaped my lips though I can’t count the times I came hairline close. I had dirt on them, too. But this way, I had won. No one could accuse me of a bad word. And in time, they were served their due. I have never looked back on those few years with anything but a dull negativity. As trying as it was, I now feel it was good for me to have experienced the cold heat of exclusion. The real world isn’t a bubble and if you insist on staying in one, it’ll burst on you. I’d say it’s important for those who usually sit among the white majority to have to work through this sense of isolation at some point, too. Of course I don’t mean we should perpetuate hatefulness across racial lines. But some discomfort out of complacency challenges us to grow.

Continued in Part 2.

The LIKE Epidemic

So if you can like help me figure out about when and where this linguistic virus like grew, I’d really appreciate it. People use this curious filler like all the time, even on news radio. I worry hearing moms talk like this; they depend on the word like every five syllables like oh my god. Their children start like picking up the like off the floor and mopping like every breath with it and the saddest part is like I’m not exaggerating.

So like is this originally like an American phenomenon? I really don’t mean to like offend anyone but like didn’t this start as a caricature of the blonde American Valley Girl*? I know East Coasters are also fond of their like. Did it sweep in from the West, fly over and spare the Midwest? Hit mostly like the major cities? Can older readers tell us if you like remember Americans talking this way like in the 50s or 60s? Hey readers like in the other parts of the world, have people like forgotten how to talk over there too? If the like virus does run amok there, is it like an airborne disease from the States or has it like grown from native soil?

As a linguist, I’ve been trying like hard to uncover the subconscious role of this filler. There must be like a rhyme and reason to the madness. Seems it like began with the strange substitute for the verb to say.

So he said, “I’m freezing!”  —-> So he’s like, “I’m freezing!”

How in the world did this like happen? Words take root, like have a purpose. This one’s got me. The filler doesn’t like seem to discriminate the part of speech that it wants to like introduce. We’ve like allowed a linguistic aberration, an unnecessity, to make its home in our speech like a five-headed monster that we’ve like taken in for a pet. Language takes the path of least resistance, will like look to save spit. It’s not supposed to grow weeds. Why is it that people like depend on this word? What is it they feel that they can’t quite like express without it? Why are we like wasting b r ea th?

This is like one of the serious posts on class and language like coming out of the Race Around the World.

*Wikipedia: Valley girl is a stereotype depicting a socio-economic class of white women characterized by the colloquial California English dialect Valleyspeak and vapid materialism. The term originally referred to an ever-increasing swell of semi-affluent and affluent middle-class and upper-middle class girls living in the early 1980s Los Angeles bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley.

The Race Around the World: Behind the Scenes

So I’m taking a breather, slowing my pace, taking stock. Behind the unassuming titles in the series has been a lot of work. I have combed through the submissions and tapped some contributors for as many as six drafts for the clearest chronology and descriptions. I would not be surprised if my “Would you please clarify what you mean…” has pursued the poor writers into their dreams at night. The feedback on the Race has been overwhelming. I am deeply grateful for responses like K’lee’s from Obzervashunal:

“[You] touched upon something so universally potent, you have created something so unbelievably amazing here, a groundbreaking series. I know you feel it, but I hope you REALLY feel it. If this were a book I had the privilege of sampling, I don’t doubt I would buy it. It feels so GLOBALLY impactful. Thank you for taking this on!” Other awesome readers who also saw this project as an ebook forced me to consider it, and consider it from several angles I did. I’ve decided it’s not feasible. Even if I had the time to put a book together, the legalities, pricing, copyright present themselves a thicket I don’t have the wherewithal to cut through. You not only have embraced my vision of exploring what is unique and universal across cultures but have dreamed for me. And you pull me up to higher ground. I wish I had more than thanks for you.

I was also taken aback by the response on my own story. One reason writing is a challenge is that you’re so deeply in it. When you’re your own topic, objectivity is even harder, if not impossible. You just don’t see what others do. I was surprised by and appreciated how you took to the glimpse of my autobiography. What I, in turn, found interesting was observing you, my reader. Watching you graciously welcome guests, investing time in their stories, willing to broaden your mental horizon. My own perspectives are limited by my experiences, and so it’s been neat to see others find fascinating an opinion or event that happened not to hit me in any particular way.

LESSONS SOME OF US LEARNED
I learned how ignorant I am. The back-and-forth with the contributors and readers taught me so much. I kept imagining Simpel Me (who wrote Part 5) was black just for the word Africa – until I added white in the title White in North Africa. I literally had to spell out what color he is to get it. Asian-Australian. Modern-day Lakota Indians. A reader mentioned Black Canadians. I hadn’t realized such groups existed. I also noticed that how we approach life and view ourself very much drive our view on race. It doesn’t go just the other way around, as the questions I’ve posed imply. Elizabeth, for instance, revealed that the fear of being hurt that she carried from old traumas impacted her relationships across racial lines. She, along with two other contributors, shares a bit about what the dialogue over her story did for her:

“Participating in the Race was a fascinating experience. I told my story somewhat hastily, truncating rich experiences and failing to articulate that appearance and accomplishment matter less to me than character and kindness. The responses were overwhelmingly supportive and encouraged me to now engage, rather than stand idly by in the face of intolerance and ignorance. It was during these rich exchanges with the readers that I realized the nebulous hostility I’d sensed from non-whites while growing up was due to this unwillingness on my part to engage and to my own perceptions, rather than reality.

Reading the other contributors was inspirational and daunting. Living as ex-pats, relating the divergent existences of being called a king one minute and living as one of the crowd in a big city the next, and following God’s response to intolerance are some of the highlights from this series for me. Thank you for including me on this journey, my passport and soul heavily stamped with broadened understanding and appreciation from my travels.”  The Race: American Cities, Part 4

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Jenni says, “Firstly I’d like thank HW for coming up with this idea and having the tenacity to see it through. The editing and back and forth alone would have taken time as well as balancing the diplomatic knife edge of ‘suggestions’ about another’s writing style and format but I cannot argue with the results. Reading the stories from the Race so far has been fascinating and participating in it myself was a unique experience. It was so strange to put into words ideas that had been nebulous feelings rather than direct insight and having to delve into the whys and wherefores of the past and the role my ethnicity played in it was a more than a little humbling.

It is one thing to ‘know’ that one has been fortunate. It is another to see it baldly exposed with the obvious unfairness between my life and that of those who’ve not been as lucky. Humbling doesn’t really quite cover it – mortifying is probably closer to the truth. I think I would feel worse if I had not realized much of this years ago when I was reaching for ways to rebuild my world. While I had been aware of the doors my ethnicity and class opened for me, I had taken it for granted and not really looked at the why. Writing for the Race I was forced to put into words and so clarify to myself how being a WASP had impacted my life. When I went through my break/melt/shatter down all those years ago I had to rebuild my life all over again. In the process I realised that while the world in which I had always swum was ‘easy’ it wasn’t what I wanted or who I wanted to be, and thus I started to reach for the new and break down some of the ingrained attitudes and test my boundaries regarding how I saw the world and people in it. But it wasn’t until I participated in this project that I gave it ‘formal’ thought or clarified it in a way that could be explained to another.

The honesty in the different posts and the genuine interest and connection others made to my piece and the other participants made me glad that I had been as forthright as I had. I hope to continue to grow into my life and I think the lessons pulled from my subconscious during this task will be of great assistance in the future, giving me a kind of clarity I had lacked regarding the direction I am taking with my journey. Thank you for walking with me for part of the way.”  The Race: Down Under, Part 8

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Shazza says, “I’m blown away that anyone cares. My story didn’t seem interesting to me. But I guess when you write it down, it does resonate because so many people have experienced some form of racism. Some of the stories really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to stop reading those. I wanted them to continue.

The dialog, feedback, and follow-up did make what I had to say more meaningful. This exercise opened up my narrow view of racism, and that’s the most exciting thing that happened. I must admit I’m a narcissist when it comes to racism, making it seem as if it only happens to black people for the most part. I know that is untrue, but sometimes I’m short-sighted in my thinking. So I’m glad I’ve been corrected with the bigger picture. I love the bigger picture. It’s so much better. Being in a box is bad, and you just opened mine up. Thank you for that, D!” The Race: Black Canadian in California, Part 9

It struck a chord in me that Elizabeth said being white is important to her and Shazza discovered she loved being black. Being unapologetic about your race. It is what I shared in my own storytelling, that I have come to feel more fully American and more fully Korean than in years past. I thoroughly appreciated Jenni’s humble acknowledgement of and appreciation for the way she’s considered color to have stacked life in her favor at times.

Your encouragement has been fuel for the road. The race continues, onward and upward.

 

 

The Race: American in India, Part 7

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

When I was a kid I just called myself black as that was what society taught, that if you’re part black then you’re all black. My father is African American, my mother European American. I thought that makes me all American, but people always wanted to know more, esp as I grew older. So in my teens I started to answer that I was half black and half white. Only as an adult, when the biracial tab was added to questionnaires did I start to identify with that.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington (U.S.) where I experienced only subtle forms of racism. White kids if they liked me would say, “You’re not really black,” and black kids if they liked me would say, “You’re all black, man,” as if I didn’t know what I was; it tended to leave me feeling hurt and insecure. I moved to California when I was 19 where I started working and going to college. California was the first place I heard outright racist comments belted without shame.

Amritapuri Kitchen 9Because I’m mixed but have an Indian name and a beard, rather than thinking that I’m mixed people would just think that I was an immigrant. So at work I would often hear people talking about black coworkers, calling them lazy asses, and worse. And no matter how many times I would stand up and say that’s not right, people would quickly forget that I was black, having decided that I was something else, and repeat remarks they wouldn’t have otherwise said in front of me. I also received the comments people reserve for immigrants as some said to me, “You people come here and don’t even know the language!” Confused, I would answer, “What people? Me? But I’m from here!” “Sure you are, man,” they would laugh.

Now I live in India which is a different experience altogether. Here, everyone is shades of brown, and all are Indian so they reserve the color of black for really dark skinned, black people. So although I am as dark as many in India, because I am a foreigner and am not black by their standards, they call me white. I was raised as black and this goes against everything I grew up with. All this leaves me with the understanding that race is very much about what others perceive you as and has little to do with who or what you really are.

3) Why do you have an Indian name? What took you to India? Did you know any Indian (language)?

When I was 15 I met a saint from India, Amma, known as the Hugging Saint. The following year wanting to devote my life to her cause I asked her for a name and she gave me the name Sreejit. I immediately changed my legal name from Michael to Sreejit wanting to start my life anew with this idea of service to humanity that Amma espoused. Everyone started calling me Sreejit so I have lived many more years as Sreejit than Michael. I elaborate on the name change and my spiritual journey here. I have been traveling to India since 1992, working and living in Amma’s ashrams.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

All of my schools were completely mixed with all races getting along fairly well during school hours. Seattle is a pretty laid back place compared to other cities, so it was only later that I really experienced the perils of diversity. Though among the older generations I heard very set opinions on the wrongs of race mixing, the kids my age were pretty decent.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

As I said, there was never really a time when others were not trying to define for me what I was. And if they asked me, I often heard on the heels of my answer, “No you’re not, you’re really [fill in the blank]” when I started to say I’m half black half white. Then an old black person might get offended and say, “No, you’re just black man.” And when I would tell an older white person that I was mixed, “How awful that your parents could do that to you. You should speak out against such things.”

6) Why do you think those people imposed their own race on you? Why do you suppose they wanted to?

My generation is the one that was birthed by the hippies. Both my parents tried to make a more beautiful world than the one they grew up in. For that reason they didn’t talk much, when I was a child, about the horrors of racism, because they didn’t want me to grow up with the same prejudices that they grew up in. Whereas the generation before them was had very strong ideas on what is right and what is wrong with race mixing. There were still segregated eating areas when my parents were kids. Neither of my parents stayed in contact with their own fathers; my mother’s father disowned her for marrying a black man. So when I would talk with someone old enough to be my grandfather, as a kid I was coming in with a very free, there’s no right and wrong attitude, whereas they had a lifetime of education that told them it was better for everyone to stay in their place.

7)) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I can be shy if I don’t know somebody, but I tend to get along with everybody. I grew up in a very international neighborhood where we would have Chinese New Year’s celebrations; I later worked with mostly Latinos and lived with mostly Indians. I feel comfortable with pretty much everybody.

8) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

All relationships are meaningful to me. That doesn’t mean that I fully give of myself to anybody. Most call me a loner but I get along with pretty much everybody.

9) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

I tend to enjoy being around people of similar interest: the artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. These are the things that bring joy to my life. Though I can’t dance I love to watch it. I love to play and listen to music, watch theatre, love to read and to write.

10) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No

11) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I have always been “I am who I am”. Either you accept me or you don’t but I won’t change for your acceptance.

12) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

America has a very politically correct sense of handling situations, and even then people step on each other’s toes. But when you step out of America there is no such sense of pretending that you don’t notice the differences. Although people are becoming more accepting of others as our world is shrinking, I don’t see stereotypes and judgments fading anytime soon.

13) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

For many, race creates a sense of belonging, but I think the more the world begins to blend, the more the younger generations will be bound by things other than race, whether it be economics, interests, nationalities, locales, or religions. Still, the sense to divide and fit in seems to be a need that people look for and is sadly not fading anytime soon.

Sreejit in The Seeker’s Dungeon

The Race: White in South Korea, Part 6

South Korea was, and still is, a means of escape for me. On a practical level, it offered me a ticket out of my depressing neighborhood in Nevada (U.S.) with the meth lab across the street. On a slightly higher level, it released the contradictory pressures I felt as a refugee between two “racial” categories – educated white and white trash. I couldn’t really join the first group because I didn’t have enough money and I didn’t want to join the second because that’s effectively a death sentence for an ambitious person like me. In Korea, I rightly assumed these identity tags would fall away and leave me the space to carve out an international, upwardly mobile niche for myself and allow me to play to my greatest strength – the willingness to adapt. That attitude, I believe, is what made my transition from the deserts of Nevada to the megacities of South Korea so satisfying and now, such a huge part of my identity going forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I arrived in Korea in 2008, I found that roughly 50% of what I saw looked familiar and 50% like the product of a Martian civilization; I could walk into a totally familiar 7-11 and walk out with peanut-crusted squid jerky as well as a box of “placenta essence masking.” I found this incredibly exciting. The language became this wonderful puzzle, the 2,000 years of history a playground, the whole new cast of cultural heroes (like King Sejong) and villains (like the Japanese occupiers of 1910-1945) a great opportunity to look at the world differently. Korea, by being so different, almost forced me to broaden my perspectives and for that I am very grateful.

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I define myself as white, though it’s not important to me at all. Frankly, the notion that there’s an ideal of whiteness that I should pursue is insulting. I am the product of my human agency, and reducing all my choices, all my work, all my individuality to an accident of birth like race is to treat me like a plant or deep sea sponge – a passive organism defined by nothing more than chance. It is to deny my humanity. My family name is from Spain and I believe most of my ancestors are from Europe.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up mostly in Reno, Nevada, though I also bounced around California and the Midwest. Reno had a very diverse demographic, though not in the traditional sense. There were (some) blacks and (a few) Asians and (many thousands of) Hispanics, but I think Reno’s most important demographics broke down like this:

a) Immigrants. Mostly from Mexico, mostly illegal or illegal until recently, these people were omnipresent in Reno. When I first arrived in Reno from Central California I was 11 years old, patriotic and conservative, which means I despised this group for invading “my” country and stealing “my” jobs. My attitudes, to say the least, have evolved on this matter.

b) The rural poor. Mostly white, although sometimes Hispanic and occasionally black, these people are Reno’s underclass. The really scary attitudes in this class of people are the same attitudes that scare me about black ghettos in Sacramento or Los Angeles – a deification of ignorance, taking real pride in one’s race and deriving identity from said ancestry.

c) Rich people and the middle class. These people are, by virtue of their money, above racial classifications. If you’re Asian or Hispanic, you will fit in here without difficulty. You can even be black in this social setting, so long as you have enough money.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Some of them were very diverse, some of them were lily-white and, if you include my graduate school, overwhelmingly Asian.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

I made friends with a black kid in the third grade and this offended his mother, who accused my new friend of selling out. At the time, I took this to mean it was offensive to people of other races when a white kid tries to befriend them. I just wrote it off as my friend having a dumb mother. I’ve always been pretty comfortable ignoring or breaking rules I consider stupid.

I should explain what I think is the central advantage of being white – it doesn’t mean anything. I can be straight or gay, conservative or liberal, a businessman or a pimp and nobody is going to blink. White pride, to the extent it exists, to me implies shameful affiliations like the KKK, Neo-Nazis or whatever depressing nationalistic rally Vladimir Putin is currently hosting.

I know I said this before, but if someone were to make it clear they were accepting me because I’m white, I’d be offended. This is why [insert ethnicity here] pride has always baffled me. Why the flaming hell would you want all the expectations and limitations that a racial identity puts on you? Why would you want to stereotype yourself?

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I gravitate towards people who have the strength to reject the easy, cheap identities that come from the accidents of birth. If I think you are stereotypically white/Asian/black/Hispanic/whatever, I probably won’t respect you. If, on the other hand, you have the strength to build your identity from an act of will, I will be very interested in your company. I’ve found strong people of that type come in all shapes and sizes.

There is a social tendency in my national group, particularly white people, that I wish would go away. That is the assumption that, simply by virtue of being an American, everybody should listen to you. I call this idea inevitable superiority and I hate it. You were not born special, you were not chosen by God or anybody else, you are an American/European/whatever because your Mom and Dad decided to conceive you within the arbitrary boundaries of America/Europe/whatever – nothing sacred about it.. If you want to be special, earn your specialness and stop expecting people to listen to you just because of your passport.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Yes, and for obvious reasons. The two most precious people in the world to me are both members of my immediate family.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

The idea I would need to use my race to find a community is pretty offensive to me. I’m a writer, thinker, educator, basketball fan, shade tree mechanic, second language learner and about a million other things before I’m white.

And Korean food is waaaay more delicious than most American food.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No. It happens naturally when you treat people as individuals and not as representatives of their particular birth accidents. It also happens pretty easily when you live in a foreign country and make most of your friends from the local community. I guess I only consciously do this in the sense that I try to make friends in Korea who aren’t going to leave after a few years – most of whom are Korean.

9) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I rejected the accidents of my birth and presented myself as a creature of will. I expect to be treated as an individual. I expect to be accepted for myself and not as a representative for some identity group based on chance. I extend the same courtesy to everyone I meet.

This has proven invaluable in Korea. I can’t tell you how many times my Korean friends or acquaintances have said “you don’t act like an American, you just act like a person.” I’m very proud of that.

10) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

I think the best way to defeat the effects of race or tradition is to do what the Romans did – move all around the world, borrow the customs and ideas that work and marry the locals. The trade-off between advancing as a human species and protecting the purity of one’s blood or traditions is a no-brainer to me.

This might sound like I’m advocating imperialism. Imperialism is the belief that Culture X should impose its inevitably superior ways on the inevitably inferior Culture Y. I don’t accept this at all, mostly because I find the idea that humans are destined, inevitably, to be anything, bothers me. I don’t like it because it’s an attack on our nature as self-determining beings.

My belief is that we should stop treating cultures and traditions as sacred or even innately valuable and start treating them like tools. If my American culture is a 5/8th inch wrench and I need a 14 mm socket of the type they make in South Korea, there’s no reason for me to agonize about how I’m betraying the proud heritage of 5/8th inch wrenches – I should just go get a different subset of 14 mm cultural norms.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

It made me sad. A lot of people spend a lot of time fighting to preserve their proud racial identities. It’s like watching emphysema patients fighting over a carton of cigarettes.

Ben at Literary Adventures in South Korea

My Race: Coast to Coast, Part 3

Here’s Part 2.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

No. From my 20s on, some of my closest friendships have been with white and black Americans. The only other Korean-American coworker I’ve mentioned could not have been more different from me in values and lifestyle. She came from more money and attracted a white crowd. Incidentally, she married Jewish.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Christians define themselves by their faith. Hence the term born again. Because the Christian journey is really a new life, believers share a depth of intimacy and understanding that supersedes race, language, class. But I enjoy an ease with white Christians that I swear is missing in the Korean-American culture, even with those of my faith. Though I was conscious that my family was a slim minority in the two fairly white Christian homeschool groups we joined last year, I have never felt self-conscious. Our son plays well with a Caucasian classmate; they whack each other with swords like brothers. We were bemused last year to find that our little man also happened to gravitate to blondes in their tweens. I enjoy the most ready connections with people who share my values, which include lifestyle, faith, and all that goes into child nurture. So racial ties do not determine my social network as they did before my working years.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

It is not a strained effort but yes, I do. I find myself wondering, though, how many whites share this mindfulness.

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

The challenge of explaining race hit me when my son was about four. I was elaborating on the slavery we had just read about. We also had a new blended family on our colorful block, an African-American man with a white woman and her two kids. I think I’m the one who put black and Korean on the radar of a child who never seemed to notice color in himself or others. I almost regretted bringing up the categories at his age. We have not had to deal with any racial insult. I am not sure if we can attribute this to our fairly well-to-do neighborhood (that is, class) or the fact that we are not with the public schools.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I’ve always been told I was noticeably unique, even among Korean-Americans. You love me or hate me. I’m Pistachio ice cream, not Vanilla. The contrast that called for a vote for or against me has softened over time but I always embraced my individuality. Being different doesn’t mean you have to feel alone. What kept me rooted? I was told even as a kid that I carried myself well. I think the confidence that has not easily shaken stemmed from the unfailing faith my mother expressed in me ever since I can remember.

My values, perspective, even personality also did a 180 when I really understood the gospel of Jesus at 17. Through the many challenges I went on to face in the years ahead, I’ve remained secure in who I am knowing Whose I am. Christians often give pat answers. In this discussion, some would say their identity as a child of God is the source of all assurance and self-definition. God indeed has been my deepest anchor but to say He is all that matters in contexts like this discussion bores me. Faith doesn’t nullify the importance of ethnicity, upbringing, or the many factors that shape us. It so happens that biologically I am a Korean daughter of God. As such I can learn from others outside my race. Thinking in platitudes doesn’t do justice to the richness of God’s designs. It is my God who gives meaning to all aspects of my life. He cares to redeem them, make them all beautiful. Interestingly, we are said to be adopted by the Father – one big multiracial family. And behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…Revelations 7:9

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

Every culture offers its own hue, rhythm, voice. You could not confuse Brazilian women with Korean, as a group. The first are more vocal, even physical. My husband has seen Brazilian women fight tooth and nail, stew, then kiss-kiss on the cheek and make up. Korean women don’t put the dukes out on each other but will hold onto the enmity. The air is different in each company. The problem arises when we make value judgments on the differences. One’s strength is one’s weakness, and this duality holds for groups as it does for individuals. It hit me as I worked through this post that the Korean preference for like company is actually an extension of the fierce loyalty that’s part of the culture. All traditions, in their imperfections, hold out qualities worthy of respect.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

I was surprised at the internal resistance to writing my story. First off, my life was all I’d known, that it didn’t feel special. It was my normal. Knowing many in my community with similar experiences heightened the sense that I had nothing really unique to share. Secondly, this was the first time I’ve explored when and how I have navigated social streams, which communities I have sought, which have embraced me. I was split in the culture I aligned myself with as I wrote. In speaking of Americans and Koreans, I wasn’t sure when to use our or their. A thought also struck yesterday. Did I shy in sharing because the Korean culture seemed to bear less weight on the global platform than the African-American drama that has achieved validation in the history books and media? Have my own perceptions been influenced? Finally, my story was difficult to write for feeling bared. I’d just finished saying I give you my all on this blog. I was speaking as an artist. Here, I’d shown you into the rooms of my past as a human being.

The gestures of intolerance or bigotry leveled against me were mild compared to the ugliness many have known. And it is the pioneer generation that breaks through the gates of a culture that has it the worst. My parents lived the friction everyday. My mother was spit on by a customer in the delicatessen she owned. I remember how it pained me, a kid. But my parents were not faultless. All groups harbor distrust of foreigners.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks at the signing of the Immigration Bill on Liberty Island, New York seem fitting here. October 3, 1965:

And this measure that we will sign today will really make us truer to ourselves both as a country and as a people. It will strengthen us in a hundred unseen ways. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country – to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit – will be the first that are admitted to this land.

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources – because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.