I’m not really one to seek out confrontation, especially when it comes to my family.
I think it ties back to my parents teaching me to respect those in authority over me from a young age, whether it was them, my grandparents, or teachers. That’s not a bad thing. You should respect those who have more experience in life than you or who have a position of superiority.
But this year really made me realize that I can show those close to me respect while still disagreeing with them or having a conversation about why I disagree with them. I’ve known this for a while, yet I still tend to skirt around topics that might get uncomfortable. And that, my friends, is my privilege showing.
I grew up in an environment that allowed me to avoid uncomfortable topics. I went to a high school of mainly white kids and I never wanted to step on other peoples’ toes or confront others, but looking back, I should have.
There were times I just felt like the token Asian kid at school. Peers would ask me for help with math jokingly, even though I’m terrible at it. Squinty eyes were made at me, or jokes about how I can’t see. I let it slide, because that’s just how it was.
I shouldn’t have had to feel that way. But no one wants to be the kid who “overreacts” to “harmless jokes.” It still happens in college. Even my siblings crack jokes like that. That’s how ingrained in our heads it is that our ethnicity is just something that gets joked about.
When I think about how this bothers me now, it really hits home what Black people in our country go through on a much more serious scale. What I face as an Asian woman is practically nothing compared to what Black people go through every day in America.
I’m an avid news reader, naturally, so I’ve read countless stories this year about the experiences of Black people in our country. I’ve read countless stories about what is happening in our current administration and our cities. I would consider myself to be decently educated on our current events.
However, I wasn’t always like this. As a teen, I hardly read the news. I wanted to know more about politics or current events, but I never made the effort. This year and the astounding number of tragedies and injustices that have happened really hit me like a slap in the face: I could no longer be uneducated. I cannot say I care about my friends who are people of color and not educate myself.
Educating yourself is just the first step, though. I haven’t taken the next step as much as I feel like I should have, and that’s having hard, meaningful conversations with those close to you. I’ve had several conversations this summer with my older brother and parents, since we had ample time together in lockdown and usually ate dinner together as a family.
Those conversations seemed productive at times, but other times I kept my mouth shut. I struggled to understand why that was my first reaction; I wasn’t scared of what they thought of me. I know they love me and would at least listen. But there was still that hesitation to say anything.
I realized that my hesitation was strongest when I was the most upset by something they had said. After reading and hearing what I have, I’ve become very passionate about many issues. I was afraid to speak out of turn and disrespect them when I was upset.
That’s something I’m still learning, how to be able to address something like that properly when I’m fired up about it. It’s a difficult balance, speaking respectfully when your first reaction is to be angry and upset. But it’s hard not to be angry when people are dying.
The most productive conversation I had this summer was with my grandmother. I had gone over to her house to pick up some of my stuff and she started talking about the issues she believed there were with mail-in voting. Oh boy.
But I took the time and sat down with her and shared the things I had read and researched. I ended up sitting there with her for an hour, talking about other issues along the way. The craziest thing was, she didn’t get upset with me for it. In fact, at the end of our conversation, she said it gave her hope for the next generation.
Our parents and grandparents have gone through so many experiences, and a lot of them are much different than ours. They had entire lifetimes before we even existed, in a world that most of us can’t even comprehend. The world has changed so much in the last 20 years and I think we sometimes forget that our parents and grandparents at our age lived much different lives.
They have a lot of wisdom to impart on us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have wisdom to share with them, too. Our society becomes better when we listen to one another.
It’s our job to educate ourselves and the people around us. It’s not an option to sit on the sidelines and watch anymore.