In a blog post that I wrote for NPR’s intern edition back in 2007, I started with, “I moved to the United States four years ago, but I never felt more like a foreigner until I was back in my homeland of Taiwan last summer.” I then told a story about how I was kicked out of a taxi in Taipei because I didn’t speak a Taiwanese dialect. I ended by saying, “I don’t feel Chinese or Taiwanese and I certainly will never be a real American.”
Fourteen years have passed since that post was written. Now I feel American, 100 percent. America is home, with no doubt. Funny how things change.
One thing remain the same, though. I still feel like a foreigner when I am in my birthplace of Taiwan, or among my fellow Taiwanese.
Not that finding a place in America is easy. I have to constantly prove that I am an American, that I belong. Fourteen years ago, I tried to prove it to myself. Now, I try to prove it to everyone around me, from strangers I encounter to my fellow Asian American people.
Recently my family went hiking and as always, my little hikers got a lot of attention. In the shade of an old tree two white ladies started to talk to my 8-year-old.
“What’s your nationality?” they asked.
“I’m American,” he replied.
“No, where are you from?”
“No, how do you say ‘hello’ in your language?”
He was confused, but I knew what those people wanted to hear. So I said, “We’re American. If you’re asking about ethnicity, I was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents. The children were born in San Diego. And we try to speak Chinese at home but as you can see, they are more used to English.”
Then we moved on. My children asked me what all those questions were about. I told them that because we look different, those people assumed we were foreigners.
“How do we look different?”
“How not being white is different?”
“…Oh look at that blue butterfly!”
The kids went to chase the butterfly and soon forgot about the conversation.
On our return trip we saw those ladies again. They apologized for “not being sensitive.” I told them we got a lot of questions but we never got apologies. So I thanked them.
And I meant it. With the delicate distinction that lies between curiosity and insensitivity, we face this kind of behavior all the time—some people call it “micro aggressive.” To me, it’s a constant reminder that we still need to prove that we belong. It is uncomfortable, but nothing close to the hardest part. The truth is, racism against Asians has been there ever since, or even before, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. However, people have never talked about it as we are doing right now. Conversation is always a good thing and a sign of change. I don’t mind proving this to myself again and again, as long as it guarantees a better place in this country for my offspring.
The hard part is walking between two worlds as an Asian American. In the last year—the pandemic year— I have found myself caught between the maliciousness from different Asian groups, particularly between Chinese and Taiwanese. I contribute to a variety of Chinese and Taiwanese publishers. And to this day, the standard language in many Taiwanese newsrooms for COVID-19 is still “Wuhan virus.”
I had hard time communicating with some editors I work with that it is unbearable seeing the words “Wuhan virus” under my by-line. In my neighborhood, my children have never heard any white people using slurs against Asians, but they hear Taiwanese kids use the term “Chinese virus” a lot. My Taiwanese friends who are determined to stick with the term said it loud and clear: “Taiwanese will always be Taiwanese! Chinese will always be Chinese! Nothing changes when we move to America! And as Taiwanese we will always hate Chinese!”
Some of these people have been living in the States for decades, yet believe that they will never be American, and their determination to hate people of certain national origins is ever solidified. Identity is indeed a most curious thing.
These are the hardest things for me: explaining to my children how the hostility between different Asian American groups is deeply rooted in politics back in Asia and fueling the hate crime at home in America, and how long it will take to eliminate such hate. These conversations are just draining.
Recently I have come to the conclusion that I will be honest to my children and tell them that I do not have a good answer. But there is one thing I can assure them: we should all have empathy. Not because we are American, Chinese or Taiwanese, but because we are human beings.
And hopefully, with a little more empathy, we will get a little bit closer to a day without hate.
When I was six years old, my father’s job took us from South Africa to the United States. The year was 1976, and South Africa was reeling from the Soweto uprising, a student-led protest against the Apartheid government that ended in the deaths of at least 176 Black school students, with thousands more being injured.
Being a six-year-old child on the privileged side of Apartheid, I didn’t really know what was going on. I was vaguely aware of something big happening in the news, but I didn’t know what any of it meant. At that age, all I really understood about Apartheid was that Black people only ventured into white neighbourhoods if they happened to work there, usually as someone’s maid or gardener.
When we moved to a quiet suburb of Connecticut, things didn’t seem much different. The small town we lived in was decidedly WASP by nature. Formalized Apartheid may not have existed in Connecticut, but the segregation was just as real. If anything, I had even less contact with Black people in the United States than I ever had in South Africa.
My first week of school in Connecticut was uneventful – until the bus ride home one afternoon. What my brother and I didn’t know was that some of the other kids on the school bus were hiding rocks. As we got off the bus, these kids stood up and threw the rocks at us, taunting us for being the bad South African kids. I remember walking from the bus stop to our house under the protective arm of my brother, with blood gushing from a wound on my head.
It took many years for me to understand that as traumatic as that experience was for me, it was a curious embodiment of the privilege that I had grown up with. For us, this was an ugly isolated incident. For Black South Africans back home, being on the receiving end of attacks like that was a part of everyday life. They woke up each morning with no real certainty that they would still be alive at the end of the day.
When we returned to South Africa, I was three years older than when we had left. I was beyond the age of accepting things without question: now I was observing the world around me and asking questions about what I saw.
When my mother was driving me to school one morning shortly after our return to South Africa, we were stopped at a traffic light. As we waited, a police van drove up and parked on the shoulder, where several Black people were walking and chatting to each other. Two police officers jumped out of the van and approached the group. A few of the people showed papers to the police officers and were allowed to go on their way. The rest were forced to get into the back of the van.
“What did those people do wrong?” I asked my mother, as the van drove off, leaving a cloud of desperation in its wake.
“They didn’t do anything wrong,” said my mother. She looked immeasurably sad.
“So – why did the police take them away?”
“Because they’re not supposed to be in this area.”
When I got home from school that day, my mother offered me a fuller explanation. I got a lesson about “pass laws”, a draconian set of rules that made it illegal for Black people to be in white neighbourhoods without documented proof that they were employed by someone there. What I had seen was a typical police arrest of people who were, quite literally, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As I adjusted to being back in South Africa, I frequently saw these arrests taking place. It bothered me every time, especially in the context of other hallmarks of Apartheid South Africa. The Group Areas Act, for instance, meant that South Africans were allocated areas that they could live in. The land allocated to white people was proportionately far greater than that set aside for other races. This led to chronic overcrowding in most of the Black neighbourhoods, which in turn resulted in a shortage of resources like water and access to healthcare.
From time to time, the government would reallocate land, usually in favour of white people, and whoever was living on that land would be forcibly removed. In many cases, there would barely be time for families to gather whatever belongings they could before bulldozers moved in and destroyed their homes right in front of them.
I was too young at the time to understand anything about politics, or to question why such grave human rights abuses were being allowed to take place. My parents, like other white people of their generation, couldn’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs, and possibly their freedom. But when the wheels of change finally started turning during the 1980s, the vast majority of white South Africans were in full support of reform.
The abolition of pass laws in 1986 was a major turning point for the country. That era also saw an end to the prohibition on interracial marriage, and the desegregation of public facilities such as parks and public restrooms.
There was still a lot of work to be done, though. The fight for change was not over. My aunt, who in earlier days had lost her position as a teacher because she refused to recognize the national anthem of an oppressive government, spoke to me about complicity.
“Every white person in this country who does not contribute to change is part of the problem,” she said.
I carried these words with me to university, where student protests against Apartheid were the norm. I was not a central figure in the protests by any means. I was never the one standing up front with a megaphone and an angry message, but I was there. I was part of several crowds speaking up for reform, demanding the unbanning of Black-led political organizations, calling for equal voting rights for all.
On a hot summer’s day in 1990, when I was in my final year of university, I joined the throng of students who went to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. I couldn’t see much from where I was standing, but that didn’t matter. The intensity of the emotion of that day swept through the crowd like a wave, going back and forth and back again. Strangers clung to each other, sobbing – partly from joy, partly from the pent-up sadness and despair that had built up over decades.
To me, the true end of Apartheid happened on April 27, 1994 – the day of South Africa’s first election where people of eligible voting age from all races were allowed to cast a ballot. My parents and I stood in line for eight hours to be part of this momentous occasion.
Those were eight of the best hours of my life. No one minded being in line for so long. Impromptu barbecues sprung up here and there, and everyone was invited. Every now and then, people or groups would break out into song, or start to dance. There were no strangers that day: just millions of people nationwide who were participating in history. For that day, all that mattered was unity and healing.
But the spectre of Apartheid is still very much there. Millions of Black South Africans are still impacted by the damage done by Apartheid rules. The inequities in education will take generations to rectify. Overcrowding from the days of the pass laws persists to this day, along with the associated problems relating to healthcare and access to resources. The poorest 60% of the population, most of whom are Black, own just 7% of the wealth.
My experience growing up as a white kid in Apartheid-era South Africa impacts my life to this day. It is on my mind every time I hear about a Black person in the United States being murdered during a routine traffic stop. It was part of my visceral reaction of grief when George Floyd was murdered. The tears I shed that day were shed for George Floyd, and for the thousands of lives that were taken by Apartheid.
Most of all, it is present in my conversations with my children about race, racism, and white privilege. My husband and I are raising our kids to be agents for change and not bystanders. We encourage our boys to call out racism when they see it, to acknowledge their privilege, and above all, to keep quiet and listen to the voices that really matter – the voices of the people who have been marginalized because of the colour of their skin.
How has systemic racism shaped your view of the world? How do you talk to your children about racism?
Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).
Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.
When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.
Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.
Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!
As we rejoiced in the “Guilty on all charges” verdict of Derek Chauvin, 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant had just been murdered by a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The use of a taser would have been effective in stopping Ma’Khia. It would have given the police officers the opportunity to form a clearer picture of what was going on.
Why is it that a trained police officer’s first reaction to a scene involving people of color is to shoot first and ask questions later? Violence is the first thing that seems to come to their minds. How many more lives must we lose to the people who have sworn to protect and serve us? Or have those police officers only sworn to protect and serve people who look like them?
I am not saying that all cops are bad, but more and more I am starting to think about their motives. In April of this year, 20-year-old Duante Wright was murdered by a female police officer outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, after being stopped for possible expired tags. The police officer, Kim Porter of the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Minnesota, reported that she thought she had her taser out. How can a 26-year veteran of the police make such a costly mistake?
As I sit here writing this, tears flowing, I am struggling with being happy, angry, and afraid.
Happy, because even though George Floyd’s life can never be restored, the conviction of his murderer can bring some peace to his soul and his family. I want to believe that this is a positive sign that police officers will now be held accountable for their actions when they discharge their weapons.
Angry because Black lives are still being taken at the hands of police officers.
Afraid that we will lose more Black lives before something is truly set in place to stop these murders.
How is this not a crisis? Why are we not training officers to handle situations better, without defaulting to violence? Why are Black people like Ma’Khia Bryant and Duante Wright met with bullets? If the roles were reversed – if Black police officers were routinely shooting and killing white civilians – would society not have already come up with better alternatives?
Happy, Angry, Afraid.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Dr. Denetria James-Brooks.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms
Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.
In May of 2020, the world was forced to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After Memorial Day, people from around the world watched as George Floyd took his last breath while former Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. For nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, we watched a man’s soul leave his body. We watched as his life was taken. We listened to him call for his Momma. People of all skin colors – from black, brown, gold, and white; from suburban moms to urban fathers; from politicians to clergy – took to the streets to protest this injustice which was not new to the Black community.
Two days ago, as I sat in my car looking at an alert that the verdict would be announced, I went through a series of emotions. I felt angry, sad, and disappointed before even knowing the outcome. Had the justice system failed us again? I felt physically ill not knowing if this man who so casually knelt on another human’s neck with his hands in his pockets would be held accountable, or if he would be allowed to go home and sleep in his own bed while George Floyd sleeps in his eternal rest. Would accountability finally occur in one of these cases?
A jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers took a little over ten hours to decide what we visually knew. Until the last of the verdicts was read, I did not realize I had been holding my breath. I exhaled for what seemed like the first time, yet there was no relief. Just minutes before the verdict was read, a fifteen-year-old Black girl in Ohio was gunned down by an officer.
The cycle continues.
Accountability in one case does not provide accountability in others. Sandra Bland’s family still wonders what transpired in her cell. Tamir Rice is frozen in time as a twelve-year-old child while his killer walks free. Officers who commit crimes against Black and brown people can often jump from city to city and state to state to find jobs, and their bad deeds are covered by unions who believe that Blue Lives Matter and they deserve more protection than the average American.
A surgeon, nurse, or any other health professional who voluntarily takes a life is held accountable. I do not fear seeing my doctor, seeing a nurse, but I fear seeing blue lights in my rear view mirror. I fear letting my six-foot-tall autistic son walk fifty feet to our mailbox. My son has been deemed a threat since he was born because of the color of his skin. I fear letting him just walk around in our front or back yard and having an overzealous neighbor call the police on the brown person lurking in his own yard.
In nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, my life could be over. Yesterday’s verdict does not bring George Floyd back. Chauvin’s attorney attempted to use the big Black guy defense. But the only thing we saw was a Black man being ripped from his family, his life placed under a microscope for the world to judge.
The verdict has been read, but he is still gone. I did not know Mr. Floyd, but in his cry for his Momma, I could hear my son’s voice and I could not reach him. One person was held accountable, but the whole system needs to go on trial now to fix what is broken.
“For Trayvon” by artist, A’driane Nieves. Acrylic on paper.
In college, I had a black professor for a “Racism in the Americas” class. The students were overwhelmingly white and there was one brown girl, who had to give the opinion of what it was like to be black in America for everyone who is black in America when it came to discussion. The professor came to class every day with a nice suit jacket on, which wasn’t common of all the liberal arts professors in the building during that time. It was a little fancy. He explained that he had to wear it. He explained that it helped him from not being pulled over by the police.
This was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing. I was 19 or 20 when I took the class, yet, I had no idea that racial profiling existed.
The professor said that he had been arrested 6 times just because he fit the description, 6 foot black male. Sometimes on his way to the university to teach his class, “Racism in the Americas”, at an esteemed private university. He said that if he was dressed up, he hoped he was less likely to get stopped. That was in the mid 90s.
Fast forward to the 2010’s and the internet has shed a great big spotlight on racism across America. And it’s HUGE. And racial profiling, IT’S STILL A THING. A really big thing. And black people being MURDERED FOR NO GOOD REASON IS A THING. We can’t turn our heads, America.
So today, I’m asking you to follow two black American women who have been very vocal in the conversation of the social injustice of black people in America. I have learned more and more about my own country from following Kelly Wickham, who founded “Being Black at School” and US veteran and artist, A’driane Nieves, also known as addyeB.
Through the site, Being Black at School, Wickham empowers “parents and educators to make the school system a safe place for black children.” You can also donate to make this happen, too.
And Nieves says, “I live for sharing my thoughts, heart, and stories through my work, be it on a canvas or written word. I also live for seeing and loving those in the margins because that is where I’ve always existed.” Not only can you read her passionate stories of activism, but you can buy her gorgeous art.
Wickham and Nieves’ messages are strong and needed in this country. They are pushing to make a difference to help end racism. They are both a HUGE inspiration to me, and I want to share them with the world.
This is an original post to World Moms Network by founder, Jennifer Burden.
Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India.
She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls.
I used to think that racism didn’t exist any more.
Growing up in the Caribbean, in a cultural mishmash of a class, I learned about the slave trade and the underground railroad as part of history. Our teacher read to us about Harriet Tubman. We saw videos of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. We learned about Rosa Parks.
Carol from If By Yes has lived in four different Canadian provinces as well as the Caribbean. Now she lives in Vancouver, working a full time job at a vet clinic, training dogs on the side, and raising her son and daughter to be good citizens of the world.
Carol is known for wearing inside-out underwear, microwaving yoghurt, killing house plants, over-thinking the mundane, and pointing out grammatical errors in "Twilight". When not trying to wrestle her son down for a nap, Carol loves to read and write.