Branded Rhetoric

Anti-black sentiment is long-standing in Asian communities and has impacted me personally with regard to colorism. The issue is so extreme that skin bleaching or color-fading products are given to young people in efforts to lighten skin. One only has to look at K-pop or Asian models to understand how strongly beauty is attached to whiteness. We don’t often talk about this because Asians are often “the good ones we let in the country” (with exceptions) but just watching Tou Thao, the Hmong officer who blatantly kept his back to Floyd’s murder, tells you all you need to know.

My ancestral lines run deep into Vietnam, Cambodia and China. I was raised in a white family in New Mexico. That puts me everywhere and nowhere. I am hyper-aware of my privilege (education), my whiteness (keeping my tongue in check), and my life as a dark-skinned PoC. Those identities are so in conflict right now I realize nothing I say or do will make anyone’s pain go away. Including mine.

As an educator, I chose to work at schools where invisibility was the norm, where students, either students of color or the ones that got expelled from their previous schools, were not to be educated more than handled. Managed. Forgotten. Seeing students was my gift. Their invisibility ran parallel to my own. You know you have a true ally when someone sees you.

This is why Black Lives Matter means something to me. I see color. I see pain. I see injustice. I even see those who would like that color to go away; the skin cream of white supremacy and universal systems of racism infiltrating into the lives of so many whose labor toiled for the industrial nation and eventual capitalism we “enjoy” today.

I remember a student giving me a negative evaluation at the Community College of Denver. It is not the school of opportunity; it is the segue to the possibility of opportunity. The student said I cared too much about social justice and my lessons were indicative of that. That is truth. I was hurt. And angry. Who doesn’t want social justice? Well, a lot more than we’d like to acknowledge, apparently. And I was wrong to assume that all students align the same. I forgot to see him, too. As painful as it is for me to educate those who wish to maintain the status quo, that is my job.

I wrote yesterday about my apathy which was meant to be ironic in light of the work I do “behind the scenes.” I am constantly building for others to honor the foundation of community as central to survival. People wouldn’t get that because my writing is complex and multilayered. It is not meant to be consumed in a vacuum with blithe lessons glimmering on the surface. I can do that, but that is not my way. I am ever the educator—being evaluated every day on what I am doing right and wrong and it is the latter that gets the most attention. Sometimes, the messages aren’t clear. But let me make this clear:

Black skin cannot be erased. It cannot be blotted out with indifference or laws or segregation or violence or racist, anti-color creams. Asian communities cannot hide behind the Model Minority Myth and purport to raise the U.S. flag of “opportunity comes from sweat” while forgetting that flag was raised on the sweat of black bodies who lived and died for those colors. Blackness is not the shadow. It is the source. It is the beginning; it is the chaos.

My chaotic skin aches for those who would be king if it weren’t for those still brandishing whips and chains. Black bodies are still commodities. Black labor still brings economic gain and a bended knee at halftime should remind you of that. Black souls brought the words of our discomfort not to be harnessed for well-meaning rhetoric but because they knew the only lasting impact they could make was on paper.

“I am not your negro.”
“I am an invisible man.”
“There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
“The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, even righteous anger.”
“You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels.”
“There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures.”

The black, educated voice still drifts over the heads of white founders who see such men and women as exceptions to the thugs whose power can only be harnessed through mass incarceration, police brutality, gerrymandering, gaslighting, redlining, gentrification…the list goes on. The whip comes down every day and black bodies are still subjugated to its crack.

I laid my pen down for more than 10 years only to resurrect it when needed for a paper, a thesis, a dissertation—all writing that becomes the evidence that I am not my skin color. The other writing, that which seeks the opportunity to destroy the preconceptions of who I am or who others want me to be, I have only just recently started to regenerate. It is as uncomfortable for me as it is for those who might take time to read what I write. And this is key.

We must take the time to educate ourselves. We must read. We must research, and we must be able to be educated on the myriad of issues that accompany not just Black Lives Matter but anti-black Asian ideology, colorism, colonialism, race as a social construct, white privilege and fragility, Indigenous genocide, anti-Semitism, and so much more. It’s tough, I know. I’ve spent more than half my life being educated and still feel like I know nothing. I remain uneducated; that is necessary for me to grow. I am the voice of white oppression in a brown body with degrees that rank my value and not my person. I am still clamoring for visibility with nothing to complain about whatsoever because I am not black. My words are just branded rhetoric. Let them fall by the wayside because it is not my voice that commands the pulpit. I am still of the people. My job it is to see you even when it pains me to do so.

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