A Hard Look

Two days ago, my husband posted something that was painfully honest, and beautiful. I read and re-read his post and each time became more emotional over it. I am brought to tears by the pain that he has experienced, yet I’m so impressed with his resilience. That Jason desires not to shield our daughter, but to raise her to see injustice and to fight against apathy puts an appreciation in my heart that I cannot describe.

It also shames me.

Just five days ago, ESPN came under fire for a seemingly-racist headline on its mobile site. The outcry against them was swift, and it was strong. When I woke up on Saturday morning and came down to join Jason and Eden in the kitchen, he caught me up on what had happened and I viewed it for myself.

“Maybe he didn’t mean it that way.”

What?

“Well, it seems like a pretty commonly used expression. It does have a literal meaning. Maybe he wasn’t actually referring to Jeremy Lin as the ‘chink’… maybe it just describes the Knicks.”

There’s a picture of Jeremy Lin right above the headline.

“Yeah, but who knows if the same person even chooses that. I mean, the author of the article could’ve written about the Knicks having a chink in their armor, meaning they lost, and then someone else could’ve chosen the picture without realizing it.”

*long pause*… Why are you so determined to defend this?

I wish I could say that I stopped there, but I was actually pretty annoyed. It seemed like maybe he was jumping to conclusions, and that maybe there was nothing to it after all. I tried to soothe my husband by insisting that I believed it was horrible either way, and that even if it was two different people who wrote the article and chose the picture, the editor certainly should have caught it. I wasn’t saying it shouldn’t mean anything, but I wasn’t sure it should mean everything.

I’m so embarrassed by my response.

I didn’t get it.

It took me a few hours, actually, until Jason’s words lodged themselves firmly in my conscience: why are you so determined to defend this?

For my personal life, the intentions of the people at ESPN are completely irrelevant. Rather, the incident served to show me what is true about me, and this is what I saw:

I wanted it to be unintentional.

I assumed it to be unintentional.

I am quick to defend other Caucasians, and to explain away their seemingly-racist actions as innocuous.

And now that I see it, I am horrified by this.

Yes, I believe that we should, as a general rule, assume the best in people. But we should also take a close, hard look at why and when and especially who we are most inclined to believe the best about.

Why was I more determined to defend a stranger than I was willing to put myself in my husband’s shoes and try to see the situation through his lens? More importantly, how does my “default” setting to defend perpetuate the marginalization and silencing of ethnic minority voices, despite what my intentions are?

I am slow to interpret things as “racist” because, as a white person, I can be. This is sobering realization. Once again, I see how easy it is for myself, as a Caucasian person, to remain oblivious to the bias of my perceptions. Without the mirror of Jason and other friends, I would never have to call into question my motives or assumptions, and I most likely would never be able to see the prejudices therein.

This showed me that, while I have made much progress in my own journey of understanding cultural identity (most because of my involvement with Epic Movement), I still have much further to go. I am only beginning to understand the story of my Asian-American brothers and sisters, and to be able to enter it in a way that brings understanding and healing, instead of further damage.

I am so saddened when I think of how my assumptions and reactions have caused further pain to my husband. (The above incident, sadly, is not the first time something like this has happened.) Yet, Jason is a gracious person, as are all my ethnic minority friends, and they are patient with me and show me undeserved grace and compassion even when I blow it. As I reflect upon it, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness toward the people in my life who have invited me into their stories, even when I haven’t made a very good visitor there.

Eden is beyond blessed to be surrounded by people who will be able to mentor and guide her in her “unique opportunity in bridging two worlds together bringing forth healing, reconciliation and understanding.

Maybe she can teach her mother, too.

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12 responses to “A Hard Look

  • chink in the armor | change is good

    […] the second is from his wife, TJ, who is caucasian. https://jasonandtjpoon.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/a-hard-look/ […]

  • Holly

    “we should also take a close, hard look at why and when and especially who we are most inclined to believe the best about.”

    That was an eye opening statement TJ. Thanks for writing about this!

    • TJ Poon

      Thanks for reading, Holly! I felt like that was an important sentence, too, because it reflected something in my heart that has been mostly invisible to me until now. I’m thankful for how God is revealing new things to me in this season of life through the people I am so lucky to know. (Like my amazing husband!)

  • Kathleen

    Wow. TJ I often wonder about how I would feel if my feet filled the shoes of an ethnic minority instead of a Caucasian.

    John is hosting a girl from Germany at his job this week and one of her first questions was “how is the racism problem here?” John was flummoxed at first about what she was even asking about. When she clarified he said he didn’t think it was that bad. When he told me that I asked him if he thought his answer might be different if he were latino or black. I think so and, upon reflection, so did he.

    I think your post (along with Jason’s) helps shed even more light on the “racism problem” and how we can look into our hearts and find a way to help. Even if it’s just one person at a time.

    • TJ Poon

      Kathleen, thanks for sharing that story! Those subjects can be scary to broach, but I think the insights that you came to through that are so valuable. Our cultural background shapes our views in ways that are hard for us personally to see. Glad for your willingness to engage in that honest self-reflection and conversation with John!

  • steph

    Thanks, TJ. I too latched onto the sentence Holly pointed out.
    Reading this confession was humbling – it surfaced a very specific memory that I’m ashamed of too… I remember being so in conflict with my ethnic identity in high school that I’d be at an asian supermarket with my family, encounter a Caucasian person roaming the aisles and feel like I had to talk a little more clearly and loudly to my parents or sister in English to make sure these perfect strangers didn’t think I was just as foreign as everyone else in the store.

    It reminds me that as an Asian American who speaks unaccented english, I’m guilty of the bias that people who don’t speak “TV english” are somehow less intelligent or less qualified to speak for themselves just because I (believe I) can pass. All that to say… you’re not completely alone in privilege! I need a new heart all the time.

    Also, a book recommendation that somehow seems to fit: “Covering” by Kenji Yoshino. changed my life in college.

    • TJ Poon

      Steph, I’m so glad you read and commented! Thanks for sharing your experience in the supermarket. I appreciate that you were willing to share how you came to recognize that bias, and completely agree that we all need new hearts all the time.
      I put the book on my official “to-read” list, thanks so much for the suggestion!

  • Brian Virtue

    Great job TJ! Really appreciated that.

  • Caroline

    I am Asian and I wasn’t offended by the “Chink in the Armor” headline. Apparently, the now-fired editor apologized and said he has used that phrase 100’s of times before and it didn’t occur to him to edit it out in this context. I can understand that. Do you think it’s possible that he was so racially UNsensitive (meaning: the issue of race was a NONissue) that the idea of this commonly used phrase being potentially racially insensitive truly did not cross his mind?

    • TJ Poon

      Hey Caroline, thanks for reading and interacting here! To answer your question, I do think it is possible that the ESPN writer did not see a potential issue with his headline.
      For myself, the ESPN incident is not the issue really, but rather it was the way that I was able to see my own biases clearly for the first time. I saw how quick I was to assume that there was no racism there. For a Caucasian person such as myself, it might even be hard to see how that is a bias; it might just seem like giving the benefit of the doubt, which is supposed to be a good thing. But I think the revealing thing is that my heart and mind looks for ways to excuse or justify potentially racist behavior, because I am hesitant to admit that it exists. The hesitancy to see, of course, is a luxury I have as a person who has not experienced systemic racism against myself. If I had, I don’t think I would naturally look for ways to explain it away.
      For me, that was eye-opening.

      Total sidenote: I don’t disbelieve the ESPN guy, but I do think it’s unlikely that anyone would come out and said, “Yes, I meant it: I’m a racist.” Haha, that doesn’t seem like a good PR move 🙂 So while I don’t get the impression that he’s being dishonest, I don’t think that we can ever conclude that a person’s actions aren’t racist just because they said they weren’t intended that way. Hopefully that makes sense 🙂

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