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When Obama cried

Image: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty

One of the things that struck me most about President Obama’s farewell speech the other night was his emotion while thanking and praising his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha. As someone who is interested in masculinity and the ways in which society punish men who openly share any emotion other than anger, the fact that President Obama cried – and not just glossy eyes, but needed-a-hankie cried – is a huge symbol.

There is much I will personally miss about President Obama. I didn’t always agree with his policies but I considered him to be a leader with a lot of integrity, and one who thought carefully about the consequences of his actions as President of the United States.

President Obama was willing to be vulnerable, to show his emotion and love and tenderness for his family, to the world. In this moment, he taught everyone that it is okay for a man to express tenderness as well as strength. Unfortunately there are men and women alike who consider a man’s tears as evidence of weakness; I think about all of the males who were told, “boys don’t cry.” We see the results of that every day – violence, suicide, addiction – suppressing tears does not eliminate feelings. And those feelings don’t just disappear, they get channeled into actions that are usually self-destructive or enacted on to others. Although men and women both work to suppress any hints of vulnerability, men are particularly prone to this because our society has told them that men are not supposed to show any weakness, and tears have become synonymous with weakness.

In the Diversity and Social Justice course I teach, I have students watch the film, The Mask You Live In. This is an important film for everyone to see and this film does such a good job of showing how shaming men who express emotions has dire consequences for everyone.

In a short time, President Obama will leave office. But among his many accomplishments achieved during his presidency, I will count the moment he allowed himself to cry during his farewell speech as one of his best.  In those few minutes, he provided us all with an example of what it means to be human, and to be connected to one another.

Veterans Day

Last night in my class, one of my African American students shared that her daughter had been told to “go back to Africa.” My student is a military veteran. She said, “I fought for 20 years to defend this country and now we are being told that we don’t belong by the very people we have defended.”

On this Veterans Day, I want to give a particularly deep thank you and appreciation to all the people of color/LGBTQ who have served to defend this country, despite being segregated, targeted, harassed, and under-appreciated. Their commitment and service to defending the rights of a country, even during times when they themselves were not the beneficiaries of those rights and privileges, is the ultimate example of patriotism.

 

An incomplete list of resources to learn more about the experiences of people of color and LGBTQ military communities:

“Go back to your country!”

[Photo credit: Trisha Arora. This image is from the Asian American Student series, “So where are you really from?” The goal is to challenge the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner” that impacts Asian/Asian Americans in the United States.]

A couple of days ago, I read the NYT article, “An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back To China” by Michael Luo.

In the ensuing days, Luo started collecting stories of similar experiences of racial discrimination from Asian Americans in the U.S. He is using #thisis2016 on Twitter.

I immediately identified with Luo’s piece. Being assumed to be a foreigner is so commonplace that I have developed a “spidey sense” when it comes to preparing myself for these comments. I am also prepared for the inevitable responses by others that I should not make a big deal about these types of comments; that they are small microaggressions or just comments made by people who are not educated or don’t know better.

I reject those opinions. These comments in total suggest that I’m not a real American based on my ethnicity, race, or presumed citizenship status. Without knowing anything about me, these comments let me know the other person assumes I am “foreign.”

As Luo writes,

This was not my first encounter, of course, with racist insults. Ask any Asian-American, and they’ll readily summon memories of schoolyard taunts, or disturbing encounters on the street or at the grocery store. When I posted on Twitter about what happened, an avalanche of people replied back to me with their own experiences.

Here are some of the examples from my own life (some shared on Twitter):

  • On a recent flight, was asked by a man, “Where are you from?” When I asked why he wanted to know, he responded, “Because I thought maybe you were from a foreign country.”
  • When I refused to provide my name for a retail store’s marketing database, the salesman said, “Okay, how about if I just put your name as Suzy Wong?”
  • My son and I were once followed by a woman who kept muttering, “You f-ing chinks!” over and over.
  • My husband and I were in a neighborhood park when a father and son (about 10 years old or so, in a neighborhood baseball uniform) walked by. The dad said to my husband, who is white, “You must have clean laundry.”
  • I had a teacher who once scribbled some things on the chalkboard and said “This is what Chinese looks like. Well, not really, but you get the idea.”
  • Once, at a child welfare training, the speaker asked me, “So what are some of the things child welfare workers should know about when interacting with your people?” He was referring to the Hmong population in the state; I am Korean.
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 1): “Your english is so good!” or, “you don’t have an accent!” (usually said in surprise)
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 2): “No, where are you REALLY from?” If I insist I’m from the U.S. they say, “I mean, like, your parents?”
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 3): “Learn how to drive/walk/_____ you chink!”
  • In the category of Too Many Times to Count (part 4): White men who greet me with, “Ni Hao,” “Konichiwa,” or bow with their hands folded together.

 

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Most of these I file under”everyday racism” and go on with my day. Some of the people who say these things say them because they are curious about me; others are intentionally trying to let me know they don’t like me because of my race and ethnicity. All of these comments tell me that to the speaker, I am not a “real” American.

Heartbroken

Photo credit: Benson Kua. Image used through Wikimedia Commons

Some ways you can help the victims of the Pulse shooting and their families.

 

 

Shamespiration

For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I have been fascinated with organizing my world and being “productive.”

Because I like organizing, I’m drawn to sites like LifeHacker and I have a little bit of an obsession for planners, organizers, calendars, to-do lists, etc. I’m always looking for those technology tools that will help me be more efficient, more productive, more more. In my last blog post, I talked about how I often listen to a podcast called Unmistakable Creative, a podcast that is all about productivity and creativity. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Rahaf Harfoush, titled, Technology’s Impact and Our Productivity, Creativity and Humanity. In this podcast, Harfoush talks about having a “meltdown” after seeing a meme that says, “You have the same amount of hours as Beyoncé.

This got me to thinking about a discussion I had in my Diversity and Social Justice course a couple of weeks ago. The topic was on ableism, and we were discussing the concept of “inspiration porn.” That is, the use of a photo image of a person with a disability who is excelling at something – typically some athletic activity – as a motivator for those of us who are able-bodied. These images often include the saying, “What’s your excuse?”

For many of the students it had not occurred to them that an image that on the surface looks to be about changing our beliefs about people with disabilities might actually have deeper problematic messages (click here for a good article discussing ableism and use of images of people with disabilities).

Although these images are quite different – one featuring a successful pop star and the other two feature a person with a disability, the message is the same – if other people can achieve great things, then your so-so achievements are completely your fault because you’re not trying hard enough.

Both of these images are “shamespiration,” shaming people as inspiration. “Shamespiration” originated as a critique of weight loss culture that shames people into losing weight such as shows like The Biggest Loser, for example. Perhaps for some people, being told that you’re lazy and that you could achieve success if you just tried harder is motivating, but for most of us, shame actually inhibits our productivity and more importantly, our ability to relate to others with compassion and empathy.

Shamespiration causes us to be competitive towards others, rather than cooperating. Shamespiration causes us to judge others who are struggling as being weak, lazy or unwilling to change. Shamespiration causes us to define success and productivity for others and allows others to define success and productivity for us. Shamespiration reduces the ability for us to have true empathy for others, and doesn’t acknowledge that some of us have more privileges than others. Shamespiration assumes each of us comes to the starting line with the exact same tools, skills and opportunities and that we could be the best if we only tried harder or stopped making excuses.

Shamespiration tells us to value others for what they do, rather than for who they are.

As an antidote for the shamespiration, it might be worth re-visiting Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Listening to Shame. If you haven’t seen this before, I recommend watching it every time you see a shamespiration meme that tells you you’re not good enough.

 

Walking

When I moved to Tacoma to begin my new job last fall, one of my priorities was to live within walking distance to campus. By walking distance, I meant no more than 2 1/2 miles or so. I was fortunate to find a place that is 2.3 miles from campus and my route allows me to walk through a lovely park.

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Walking through Wright Park last fall.

I am not a speed walker. My commute typically takes about 45 minutes. And if anyone is familiar with the University of Washington Tacoma campus, you know that it is on the bottom of big hill. From my home, that means my walk to work means going down the hill and my walk home is all uphill. Let’s just say that for the first couple of weeks, my calves were burning. I typically walk to work 3 days a week. Whenever possible, I walk on the weekends too, though often not as far.

Spending an hour and a half walking on work days might seem like a lot of time when a person is very busy acclimating to a demanding job. And in many ways I do have the privilege of being able to do this since I am no longer driving children to school or activities and I have only to manage my own time. Even so, with teaching 5 new classes this year and maintaining my research, publishing and conference activities, there were many days when I wondered if it was really worth the time to walk to work.

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A snail I saw on my walk to work

What changed my outlook was when I realized that walking to work was, in a way, working. Most of the time when I’m walking to work, I’m thinking about work – about my upcoming class lectures and activities; activities or meetings related to department, institutional or community service; my research; and my writing and publications.

There have been many times when I’ve felt stuck or uncertain about content for a class I’m teaching that day, and am able to work it out during my walk. I have mentally re-outlined articles I am writing or realized that I want to take something in a different direction. I’ve sorted through the pros and cons of difficult work decisions I’ve had to make.

I also sometimes listen to podcasts, my favorites this year include the Unmistakeable Creative, Teaching in Higher Ed, and The History Chicks. These podcasts are full of inspiration and information that I’ve incorporated into my work and personal lives.

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A sign of spring – cherry blossoms!

This winter there were a few months when I didn’t walk to work, partly due to  teaching night classes and partly due to the rain (I’ll still walk if it’s a light rain but after one experience walking in heavy rain – never again!). I didn’t realize how much of a benefit it was to my well being to walk until I stopped. I missed the exercise but more than that, I missed the undistracted thinking time. With my phone in my pocket, and just my thoughts to keep me company, I learned how important it is to have regular “thinking” time. It’s not a new concept, of course. Many othersparticularly creative people – have written about the connection of walking to one’s work.

I started walking to work again the first day back after spring break and was rewarded with gorgeous cherry blossoms in the park.

My brother-in-law was the one who inspired me to walk to work. His walking commute is 3 miles, each way. Since spring quarter began I have only driven to work once and in retrospect, I could have walked that day. I remember how awkward and strange it felt those first couple of weeks, and now it’s such a habit that it seems unusual if I don’t walk to work. And I don’t think you have to devote 100% of your walking time to “the mind.” After Prince died, I spent most of my walking time listening to his music. In the past nine months, I’ve walked through grief, I’ve walked through joy, I’ve walked through anger, I’ve walked through confusion. I walked.

Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act – S. 2275

I have exciting news to share, and a call for your support.

On Tuesday the bipartisan bill S. 2275 Adoptee Citizenship Act was formally introduced in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-authors Senator Dan Coates (R-IN) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is legislation that many of us in the adoptee community have been seeking. Back in 2012, this was one of our main talking points that we brought to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative (CCAI) meeting of adoptees and legislative staff.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act:

  1. Gives retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted, ensuring that all intercountry adoptees are citizens of the U.S. – even those adopted prior to the 2000 Child Citizenship Act
  2. Gives a clear pathway for deported adoptees, who’ve served their time/resolved their criminal histories, to come back to the US.

 

In essence, the bill fixes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 which only granted citizenship for children brought to the U.S. for adoption who were under 18 years old at the time, creating a situation where those adopted at a time when our adoptive parents had to naturalize us to become a citizen fell through the cracks.

 

We know there are thousands of adoptees whose adoptive parents did not follow through with their naturalization and thus, risk deportation. This bill is significant for the thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given their citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. The bill also provides a pathway for deported adoptees who have already been deported or who are currently detained because they lack citizenship.
 
 
But there is still work to be done and legislators need to hear from you about why this needs to pass. What we need from you:

  • Call your lawmakers. Go to this website created by 18 Million Rising.
  • When contacting your legislators, we are asking that you don’t discuss this in terms of adoptee rights or immigration rights. We are asking that you frame it as “righting a wrong, and remedying a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.” Please tell your legislators that you support the bill as it corrects the CCA 2000.
  • Spread the word. Although we believe the bill has a strong chance of passing, it still needs to go through committee before it’s sent to the floor for a vote. The more Senators hear from you, their constituents, the better. Please tell everyone who is an ally to call.

 
 
This bill is a significant accomplishment for the adoptee community. It is the first legislation pertaining to adoptees that was crafted by and significantly informed by adoptees. We are so thankful that Senators Klobuchar, Coates and Merkley responded to our call for action and understood that this has been an injustice for thousands of intercountry adoptees. I am also beyond grateful for the adoptees and adoptive parents that have put in countless hours of work into working with the legislators who authored this bill.

Please spread the word and tell your friends and family to call your legislators to support S.2275!

Endings, beginnings and transitions

University of Washington Tacoma - JaeRan Kim

Yesterday was my last day at CASCW, a place I’ve called my second home since 2009. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to have a small part in the great work that the center produced during my time there. I’ve grown as a person both personally and professionally. I will miss my colleagues. And now it’s time to transition to a new chapter of my life.

In just a couple of months I’ll be moving to the Pacific Northwest to begin my new job as Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma. This blog will undertake a little bit of a re-design as I transition it into my new job. I’m excited about the new adventure but of course, any new undertaking is sure to include a little trepidation. Plus, I’m making a major move outside of my long-term community and it takes time to develop new relationships (both community and personal) in a new city.

I’m excited to get to know a new city. This will be the first major move I’ve made as an adult and I’m looking forward to starting new. There is something appealing to me about transformations and having a chance to really reflect on what I want going forward. For the past 7 years my mind has been overwhelmingly aimed toward one specific goal and although I have taken several pauses to reflect on my goals and think about what it is I want to do moving forward, this summer will be one of reflection and contemplation as I transition from a graduate student to an assistant professor. Exciting times are ahead!

Updates

Is it really November already? I had promised myself that I was going to do a better job of keeping up with the blog. Clearly that did not happen! 

I have an over-commitment problem and that often gets me into trouble. Working full time, teaching, presenting at conferences, working in collaboratives and volunteering on top of working on my dissertation and parenting and spending time with my partner and friends is exhausting and I need to work harder on saying “no.” Problem is, I truly love all these things that I am doing and it is hard to take any of them out of the equation!

Now that I have only one conference in the near horizon to prepare for, I’ve been working more on preparing my IRB for my dissertation research. I should have things in order within the next week – in fact my goal is to have it submitted before I go to this conference next Thursday.

And then maybe I’ll find time to blog more. I particularly want to share my thoughts about some of the conferences I’ve attended over this past year.