The Others

I’m still processing the election results. I’m still in mourning. I hear the calls for unity and graciousness in defeat and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting the good fight. And I promise you I will get there.

But for now I am bone-weary, on the literal verge of tears or nausea – or both – every second of the day. Anything could tip the balance; everything will. A text or several from my dearly beloveds checking in on me and on each other; a corporate lamenting with acquaintances the shock of it all; a wordless, heavy-sighed hug.

The best way for me to digest this is to write. I need to shout into the void why this particular election and outcome felt deeply personal, and deeply wounding. I want you to understand.

I am a woman of color. And let me be very clear in qualifying those labels: I am a woman, but a dual-income middle class one. A real-life, SUV-driving, church-volunteering soccer mom, raised in a loving, secure home with plenty to eat, drink, and wear. My husband and I work hard at decent jobs every day to earn our livelihood; we live responsibly, ethically, charitably, BUT we both received a leg up from the word go, standing on the shoulders of our hard-working, white-collar, college-educated parents.

I was taught by my parents that my femaleness was not a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome; it was merely biology.

And my color has always been a source of cultural pride and ancient rooted heritage. Outside the walls of my home, I was a person of a different ethnicity, but one that was more a curiosity than a danger, one less threatening and less threatened. As a woman of color, I somehow ended up with a corner-store privilege other women and people of color only hope for.

But here is where I need you to hear me. If not to understand, then at least to know. To acknowledge my story, even if you don’t care to buy it.

Growing up in Alabama, I learned pretty quickly all about my Otherness. Every year each school had to take a census based on gender, age, ethnicity, even household income. And every year I checked a box literally labeled, “Other.” I was not White; I was not Black. For years, those were the only choices I was given before having to label myself, “Other.” It was a small thing but damaging nonetheless, particularly to a young girl just trying to fit in somewhere.

As an Asian, I was called many things, out of ignorance or jest or both. A very short list of the more creative nicknames about my brown skin, given to me by my white friends: Kiwi; Wheat Bread; Ethnic Kim. One classmate in fifth grade refused to call me anything other than Connie Chung. She wasn’t the only famous woman of color I was compared to, not because I mirrored their success or talent, but solely based on my approximate resemblance to them. There was also Kristi Yamaguchi, Margaret Cho, Mulan. Not one of these women are Filipina.

One particularly heartbreaking reminder of my Otherness came when a boy I went on a blind date with turned down a second one because I wasn’t white and his mom would flip out. His hard pass didn’t break my heart; his racism did. Surely he was just not interested, but to use racism as a valid reason in this century?

Ever since junior high, my loud, outgoing personality attracted this same wry observation more times than I can count: aren’t you Asian women supposed to be quiet/meek/submissive?

To this person of color the lesson was clear: I don’t behave the way I should; alternately, lighten up, it’s just a joke.

My father taught me from an early age to work hard and right and bold, to fight for every inch, and to deserve every inch I won. Not just because hard work is something to be admired, but because there are plenty of people who can’t wait to watch us fail. Because there is very little room for error when you’re a minority.

As a person of color navigating a very white south, I learned to laugh at the jokes and to make some myself, to thicken my brown skin, to stay alert to and aware of my Otherness, lest I forget I don’t really belong here.

As a woman, I have fought the same battles nearly every woman in this country has fought, regardless of color or station or class. I have never been sexually assaulted (thank you, Jesus), but I have been sexually harassed. I have been catcalled. I have been pressured or guilted into catering to a man’s will, physical or otherwise; I have been dismissed or name-called when I would not. I was told, presumably complimented, by a male coworker, when I was eight months pregnant (and married), he would still definitely, “hit that.” I have been told, as a young girl figuring out what exactly to do with my body, “modest is hottest,” and to not be a “stumbling block” for my “brothers in Christ.” That my femininity and virginity were my greatest attributes, my most honorable offerings to the world of men.

Hear this: this is a daily reality for women everywhere. Every woman knows what it feels like for a man to determine her worth, every woman knows what it feels like to lose a piece of herself, her spot, her value at the rough hands of male privilege.

Hillary Clinton’s emotional concession speech is a speech we women know well. It’s the same speech we have given ourselves and our daughters time and time again, loss after heart-wrenching loss. Her speech was all of us taking it on the chin while knowing our work and worth was not quite enough, may never quite be enough, played out on the grandest stage.

Outside the warm walls of my home and family, I was taught this world is not built to be kind to women, and every battle will be hard-fought and barely-won, in constant danger of slipping from our fingers if we so much as breathe too heavily.

To this woman the lesson was clear: I don’t own my own inconvenient body; alternately, who am I to want to take up equal space in this world?

This week my country scrutinized a more qualified, more experienced career politician who just happened to be a woman, and gave her job to a man whose entire career and campaign were built on exploiting and bullying the marginalized, the minority, the perceived weak. My country saw a politician whose missteps overshadowed the good, hard work she had accomplished and found her less electable than a man with no political experience and buckets of gross misjudgment, the very embodiment of white male privilege who spoke and behaved from that privileged place irresponsibly, condescendingly, hatefully toward women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled…in other words, toward us the Others.

Half – HALF – of my voting neighbors and fellow Americans weighed their options and decided this man was preferable to that woman. A flawed woman blamed for everything from her appearance to her husband’s infidelity, but a woman more qualified, more compassionate, more experienced, more proven.

To this Other the lesson is clear: today, in 2016, we are not meant to feel safe in our own skin.

Alternately?

We will always be the Others.

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