Monday, October 31, 2016

Parenthood: Week 176 – Thank You Mr. Kirk

One of the reasons that racism is annoying is because it reminds people of their own race. You might think, “well, if you have pride in your own racial identity, why would that be a bad thing?” Let me explain. Being reminded of good and bad things related to parts of your identity that you cannot control choose feels awkward at best and offensive at its worst. “Doesn’t that woman’s accomplishments make you feel proud to be woman?” These comments don’t usually have their desired effects and the reality is that the vast majority of the time that people make comments that remind you of you gender, sexual orientation, and race, is that it’s not in a positive context.

So when Mark Kirk made this dig, “I forgot that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” at Tammy Duckworth during an Illinois Senate Debate, he offended me deeply, not because he reminded me of something about myself, but something about my son Ollie.

Tammy Duckworth is mixed race like my son. She is half-Thai and half-Caucasian. My son is half-Taiwanese and half-Caucasian. I don’t think about this fact very often, and lately, I’ve been avoiding thinking about this part of his identity.

I’m not ashamed of the fact that Ollie is mixed-race, I’ve just been worried lately. There are many experiences that I will be able to help him with because I’ve been through them too, like learning how to play piano, and going away to college. But I’ll never know what it’s means to be mixed race. It worries me, that my son will have struggles that I cannot completely understand related to his racial identity.

What Mark Kirk said, is exactly what I fear my son will have to deal with: people who will “round” Ollie's racial identity to being Taiwanese. When Kirk made that statement, he was saying, that it didn’t matter that Duckworth’s father was Caucasian. He saw her as a minority. Kirk made false assumptions related to her race and used these assumptions to make an insult based on his ignorance.

When you “round” a person to the minority that you see, that you assume takes over their racial identity, you are telling that person that part of their parentage is not significant, not relevant and simply does not exist. When someone "rounds" my son to Asian, they are be expressing to my son that my wife, his mother is not part of Ollie’s identity. Calling Ollie Asian is telling him that the part of him that comes from his great-grandfather who fought in WWII, who’s family died in Auschwitz aren’t there in his eyes and in his soul.

Kirk apologized with this tweet: "Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family's service." This apology is devoid of any meaningful acknowledgment of the hurt and offense that his words caused. Kirk’s words echoed the disgusting and shameful “one-drop rule” in American history (e.g. the Floridian act in 1865 that stated "every person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood shall be deemed and held to be a person of color.”) Kirk’s words were one more verse in the “you are not American, because you do not look white, and it doesn’t matter how much of your ancestry is white, because you look different.” Kirk’s words reek of not only of racism, eugenics and white privilege. His tweeted apology only confirmed his ignorance, stupidity, insensitivity and lack of understanding of the over 9 million mixed race Americans.

Don’t make assumptions about peoples' race. If you’re not sure, it's best not to ask until you become friends with them. If you have to know for some odd and crazy reason (I can’t think of one instance where this knowledge is essential) ask them, “how do you racially identify?” And then take their word for it and move on. You do not deserve to know this knowledge and if you are bothered because your brain feels better putting people in racial boxes, than deal with it. Be uncomfortable not knowing.  This is only a small taste of the discomfort, we feel every day when people make insensitive racial assumptions to our face.

I am proud of Ollie’s heritage. He has ancestors from Taiwan, Poland and many other countries. People in his family have fought for freedom across the world from each other in WWII. However, I’m still working through this “mixed-race” label. It doesn’t seem accurate. All it does is say that he is a combination of two different categories on a form. It doesn’t capture any of depth of his racial identity.

Thanks Mark Kirk for the reminding about the racism and ignorance that my son will face. I hate that people like you not only make these disgusting comments but also don’t have the character and wherewithal to make things right after saying something so stupid. Don’t worry though, I’ll be around to help my son understand what these comments mean and how they are expressions of fear and racism that cannot touch the pride that I will help my son build within his heart.

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