Let your pain become your change-making tool rather than your source of shame.
Mainstream culture will keep you SMALL. Finding your own VOICE through resourcefulness, healing, and activism will make you FREE.
As an Asian-Canadian/American, I’m no stranger to racism. I clearly remember my grade 4 teacher explaining (to a class of impressionable 9 year olds) how Chinese people were “stinky” and he would hold his breath walking past us.
I felt the sting in that moment (the only Asian kid in the class), and suddenly felt ostracized as the other white kids laughed and agreed. For the rest of that year, I would eat my lunch sitting in the hallway where I hoped to draw the LEAST amount of attention to my “stinky lunch”.
But I’m not telling this story for your sympathy. There’s a bigger conversation at stake. This is the kind of racism that’s known and familiar …
The other side of the coin (and probably more insidious) is how many Asian, black, and colored folks internalize this treatment and CHANGE our own behaviour so we would remain UNSEEN and safe from harm.
How do we preserve our culture within a society that wants to silence us? How do we bring these conversations to the table so Asian-ness is not only measured within its proximity to whiteness?
Rage bubbles up in my heart when I see the media white-washing Asians with shows like “Bling Empire” and “Crazy Rich Asians” that diminish the richness of our culture. This represents less than 6% of the Chinese population … but about the 6% of the extremely POOR?
As business owners, marketers, and change-makers, we must become aware of our own internalized oppression before we can truly stand in our power.
Where do we HIDE to remain unseen and safe? Where do we believe our own identity is based on what we’ve learned in mainstream culture?
For me, Asian-ness is NOT defined by if I slippers in the house or drink hot water. It’s defined by my connection to my people’s history, our traditions, and remembering the stories of my people WITHIN a culture that tries so hard to FORGET us.
This means asking myself where I’ve adopted ideas about my identity and culture that were instilled out of oppression and racism, and actively changing that through my marketing, decisions, and behaviours.
This means remembering the lives of over 15,000 of Chinese labourers who died building the Canadian Pacific railway, including the one worker who died for every MILE of track lay through the Rocky Mountains between Calgary and Vancouver.
This means remembering my ancestral people’s exile from China to Taiwan during the Communist regime and the collective trauma that it created, so I can heal and create my own definitions of home, instead of feeling displaced in my life.
This means supporting movements like #BlackLivesMatter not because the pain of oppression is the same no matter the color of your skin and I can demonstrate solidarity by exercising MY VOICE or else we become silenced.
I deeply thank Kelly Diels for helping me to move past my own fear of being condemned, and recognizing that my story has a place at the table too. (Check out her “We Are The Culture Makers” year long program and sign up for her Sunday Love Letters. It’s one of the rare newsletters I’ve love to read and learn from.)
When we share our stories and experiences, we create a bigger dialogue and VOICE that stands against white supremacy and oppression.
Because only when our source of pain can be acknowledged, honoured, healed, and expressed in healthy ways, we cannot possibly be free.
And THIS is what culture-making and visibility is about.