Then, I woke. I had this nightmare a week ago. It spoke to me as symbolic of the way in which I felt the white world sees me … to use until I am no longer of use.
Bill O’Reilly knows how to use me. The mere fact that he uses my race, “Asian,” as a means of discounting white privilege illustrates something. He is actually using his white privilege to perpetuate the stereotypes that pit me against my black sisters. You see, I have a history. I was white in Appalachia. But not. The words “colored” and “negro” and “nigger” were commonplace in the community where I grew up. In school, I never spoke up about the prejudice I witnessed for fear of the tables turning.
Surprisingly, my family did not use these words. Obviously, we were often more likely to be called names since my father spoke in a very thick Spanish-influenced accent. My first friend in Tennessee was a young black girl. My daughter is named after her, and she moved away shortly after I moved into the community. After she left, I had fewer black friends.
Often, my tormenters were blacks. I understood that this was a case of “Shit rolls downhill.” There were few Asians to come to my rescue. But when I cycled over to the whites, I faced more bullying because I was reminded that I was not white.
When I went to college, I received a full scholarship to Austin Peay State University. That was my ticket out. The whites in my small community taunted me saying, “That’s a black school.” Their view of APSU was painted by college sports. The basketball team, predominately black, offered their only exposure to the college where one-fifth of the student population was black.
Over the years, my confidence has grown as I matured and formed my identity. I have friends of all colors. But the ones I hold closely now are my mothers of color. We fear for our children. The bullying and the profiling, the needless deaths … I hear their stories and my own son’s.
Since our President began his tenure in 2008 with fanfare and a renewed optimism, I have instead witnessed the old guard of racism rear its head. I am frightened for our sons and daughters. Law enforcement scares me. Amidst all this fear, I also hold hope that there will be more dialogue … and I see the likes of Jon Stewart and Megyn Kelly coming to save us.
It takes those with privilege to open the doors and introduce us.