Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Do Teachers, Comedians, and Meeting Facilitators Have in Common?

Act #138:  Include (but don't call out) the Asian girl in the room.

Dear Teachers, Comedians, and Meeting Facilitators,

This is an apology letter of sorts so I hope you bear with me.   I've been confusing you for years so I wanted to try to offer some personal reflections, maybe even some clarity - not only for you, but maybe for myself too.  You see, I was always that only brown girl in class in elementary school.  You know, the one you'd ask to stand up to share with the entire class my experiences with all things "Asian".  Jane, you speak another language don't you?  Do you mind saying something for the class?  Jane, can you tell your friends what different holidays your family celebrates?  For some reason, this felt particularly embarrassing to the 7 year-old-me, to have to do so in front of my first-grade crush, Baron.  As I grew into adulthood, I developed an aversion to stand-up comedy because after a while it started getting old being on a date with a guy and having to sit through hot Asian chicks, me-love-you-long-time, and Hello Kitty jokes.  And when I first became a professional, and found myself serving on committees, I had no idea I was actually representing an entire race of people!  That is, until it became pretty common for everyone in the room to pause, turn all of their heads towards me, and ask, what do YOU think about this, Jane?  We want to make sure that your perspective is heard.  How about bald, white guy in the corner, Frank?  Doesn't anyone want to hear his perspective? 

So, I guess the point of this letter is to first and foremost, apologize for being so darned confusing.  One moment I celebrate my Asian-ess, the next I'm embarrassed being called out for it.  Trust me, for years I was just as confused as you, which is why I sort of went along with the flow and just gave you what you asked for. So what is it that I want?  Well, for starters, I want to be treated just like everyone else in the room.  If you call me out, I want it to be for something I accomplished, did, achieved - and not because of who my ancestors are.  Now this doesn't mean that I want you to pretend I'm white, middle-class, straight, and Protestant.  Because, while that may be the going desired standard, it certainly is not reflective of the diversity of all life experiences.  I want you to consider that those experiences may vary greatly.  I want you, as the captor of your audience, to frame your remarks and your thoughts, with this diversity in mind.  Even bald, white guy in the corner, Frank - he could be Jewish, gay, or married to someone of color.

I'm sorry it took me so long to finally figure out how to articulate this 40-year discomfort - in a way that I hope, makes some sense to you.  And now that I have a little brown boy of my own, I hope he grows up embracing the beauty of his heritage, but I also hope that he can simply enjoy just being a regular little boy in first grade,  being someone's charming date at a comedy club, and being a contributing member of a committee -without having to represent anyone but himself.

The only Asian in the room

P.S.  Some of the people I admire most are teachers, comedians, and have led some very productive meetings.  I hope you know that my intentions are not to call you out or to blame you for anything, but rather to finally invite you to my table.  There's room for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking about a story my daughter related to me a few weeks ago about the topic of an impromptu discussion in her 7th grade Honors English class. One of the kids (White) asserted that their school did not have much ethnic diversity. Another kid (also White disagreed and, to prove his point, stood up and began pointing to each of the other students in the class who clearly had ancestors from somewhere other than merely Western Europe (aka non-White or Other) and saying their names. It took a while for the resultant vocal furor to subside; the teacher was able to guide the discussion toward at least a fleeting discourse on whose ancestors came from where. But while my daughter was sharing this, all I could think of was what probably was going through the heads of those kids held up as examples of ethnic diversity...I'm going to share this post with her teacher, Jane, in the hopes that the conversation can continue.