I started reading in English in 2002.
I studied Puritan Literature in undergrad. I used to wholeheartedly want to write my PhD dissertation on the Civil War poetry of Melville and Whitman; my twin heroes of a time, at the time. Eventually I recognized that white men dominated my reading (read: thinking). So in 2013 I made a conscious effort to diversify. I read mostly women, and when I read men, they were often from other continents.
In August 2014, during the first wave of the Ferguson Uprising, I read the news. I thought I knew what I was reading, for all of its history, and all its scope in the present, but I was wrong. Eventually as media coverage went away, and my attention was led with it.
January to April this year, I was deeply anxious about Covid-19 in general and in particular I feared racists singling me or my family out because of our visibly East Asian appearance. One day in March, after our governor temporarily shuttered nonessential businesses, I read news coverage and saw pictures of people standing closely (not physically distancing), in line at a gun store half a mile from my home. That sent me down a spiral of “what is ‘essential business’?”, and, what is the place of guns in a home. I couldn’t imagine harming someone in defense of property. I also thought, what desperation and hurt beyond the hope of material gain could put someone to barge into my home, to threaten my life and risk theirs, for whatever ordinary objects can be found.
In April I read in the news that Black Americans feared wearing cloth face masks would lead to racial profiling. Whereas I avoided medical masks for fear that others will see me as sick with the “China Virus” or a weaselly hoarder of PPE needed by medical personnel. I knew racial profiling disproportionately affected black and brown Americans, but I thought my lived experiences as another non-white minority was more or less similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I happened to read Gwendolyn Brooks for the first time.
In May I learned of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. It woke up a mixture of feelings I’d known in passing in my almost 20 years in this country. I realized so regrettably late, due to my privilege, that being black-skinned in America isn’t being my color to some worse degree as I imagined. Gwendolyn Brooks writing about Emmett Till went from an internet search evincing faint sorrow, to shock in my bones hurt, at my first glimpse of how little progress had been made in 65 years. I recognized I had so much to learn.
Just last year I became an American citizen, and besides voting I hadn’t thought much about what it meant to be American. I see now that I must be pro-Black to be American. I must make sure to celebrate and champion, protect and support the people who truly built up and continue to give so much to the place I’m calling home.
This last picture makes up part one of my book haul from Uncle Bobbie’s, a black-owned bookshop in my city. I know my buying from local black-owned businesses, and reading Black-American writers won’t heal my community and the black bodies, minds and souls around me. This is just the first steps I’m taking as a true to my core ally. I will teach myself to show up in more ways.
PS. Thanks to Mini’s initiative, we’ve also gotten to make conversations with my parents on anti-racism. I’ll always be grateful she showed me how to step up and reach for meaningful change.