Forgiveness, A Personal Contemplation on White Supremacy and Asian American Identity

I’m lucky to be in a place in life where I can go to therapy regularly.  It started a few years ago when traumatic events entered my life.  After months of coming to terms with the horrors, I found myself in a new but recognizable place.    I had arrived back at myself.

The old me before the wounds, the me that had always and will always exist. And the me that wanted forgiveness. 

I did all this hard work to shine a light on the past, so now what do I do? How does the past pull me from the present?  Can I let go and live fully in the present? Can I achieve the clarity I desire?

The past is defined in a lot of ways in therapy, as trauma, as cognitive distortions, as past events, as our whole identity. We think we are real because of the memories our brain has stored. The good and the bad blend together to be the truth. I guess I am really knee deep into that truth.

Enter the #StopAsianHate hashtag.  Watching the video of the Toisanese grandmother howl at her attacker in San Francisco really triggered something deep for me.  It brought to light a significant truth I’d been holding on to, a memory of when the world became White for me as a child on the playground. 

It wasn’t just the fists or shoving or name-calling or multiple kids cornering me around the sandy pit of the jungle gym, but the deep othering of my existence in this society of the United States.   Bruised but at least not too bloody, they chanted “Chinese opera woman” as I swore every word I knew at them.

I got on my bicycle and peddled away furiously.  I ran through my mind over and over, how this truth would now come to define my entire worldview, as if I must now endure the unendurable for the rest of my life.  

I was a young child trying to settle this disturbing idea that I didn’t belong, maybe never belong.

It was probably the start of turning the lens onto myself in negative ways. I couldn’t be proud or comfortable being a child of Chinese immigrants, I was sort of this ambiguous blob of being. 

Even though my school and neighborhood was primarily white, I had for a while simply understood I was a unique person in a collective. I remember aligning myself with other classmates with fully European names, the Swedish girl, the Irish boy, as if I lived in the United Nations.  For a time I emulated them in creative arts and sports.

Body image, self-image, self-judgement, it all neatly ties itself back to this beginning of being othered and gazed upon.

The early 1990s wasn’t an enlightened time, and I have to accept that nobody knew the answers then. In the vein of all self-help advice to “live in the now”, why do I continue to judge myself against the expectations of a child. The child didn’t know, couldn’t know, and it’s time to put those conclusions to rest.

I can’t banish the Whiteness that is perpetually this country’s foundation, nor can I ignore its effects on my life and Black lives. But to move ahead means banishing one’s perceptions and self-limitations of that supremacy.  It is a paradox of survival.

Of course I do not mean to forget it does not exist, or that it has a history, or what it does today, but to understand how it holds you in the past, is no longer important. What letting go of White Supremacy is for you will be vastly different and meaningful. 

Simply, I can’t bear to hold the victimhood any longer.   It strangles me and creates a story that insidiously leads me back to pain.   There will be attackers in the future, but if I defend myself from that child’s worldview, I will already be down for the count.     

Instead, I’ll take that child’s strength to defend themselves, to defend their honor, to protect their inner truths.  Transfer power from the past to your present moment and as Eckart Tolle says, forgiveness will become unnecessary.

I think about the bullies in the playground and wonder what came of them, perhaps they’re now part of “militias” and alt-right groups.  Then again, I wonder how did they even find out about Chinese opera in a middle class suburb before the internet.   Perhaps, people learn.    

I also think about the friendly classmates who I admired in those early days.  I’m thankful to see some have become prominent officials in charge now and even advocated for black lives publicly.   I guess these geriatric millennials might have a chance at turning things around.