Moving Forward From Here
Have you ever had a screaming debate with your family about diversity? I don’t recommend you test drive it. It is a scorching hot topic that most people are nervous to talk about openly, and the complexity requires training, not explaining, until smoke is streaming from your ears. Still, a recent quarrel on racism that I experienced was an awakening because I had avoided rocking the boat on racial topics for a few decades. I finally admitted it was time to stop being withdrawn from the broader conversation because, after all, I am a former hillbilly raised by an Asian mom.
The intense family dispute was in our backyard for the entire neighborhood to hear. I told my family that I would start writing articles on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) topics, and when asked what that meant, the reply was, “You aren’t one of those.” I could not believe my ears. My husband impatiently shouted: “YES, she is! Her mom is Thai!” Then, the following comment revealed an interesting perspective, “But…you aren’t ashamed of your heritage.” I suddenly understood what happens to people who watch too much Fox News. I immediately explained that BIPOC people are not ashamed of their heritage; we are proud of our ancestors. From here, with my very white, redheaded husband courageously defending BIPOC people, we engaged in an hour and a half debate about the importance of diversity, whereas, usually, I entirely dodge these discussions.
At one point, I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs with raging fury on how the workplace is not always a safe place to tell anyone about being discriminated against for gender or race. It is arduous to prove. Usually, we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t. I do not feel discouraged about my career life, but I don’t waste time dealing with this issue. Looking back, these limitations are often the main reason I change jobs. However, this family argument was my wake-up call; I had not been that infuriated in a long time and surprised myself for going that far.
My mother was there and later scorned me for reaching that level of anger toward people I love and treasure. She was right. It was not the high road. On the bright side, we did give our neighbors the gift of education on race. I should email them the guided discussion questions!
One part of me experiences white American camaraderie, and another part of me has emerged in Asian pride. So, do I focus my educational efforts to help non-BIPOC understand, or do I create content for fellow BIPOC to embrace our elevated level of acceptance? The answer is both; but I will not explain diversity issues to people who will never get it—if they don’t understand this by now, they will never get it.
To convey the layered life I endured as a kid, being “In-Between” was a concept I titled my graduate thesis at Arizona State, examining mixed heritage, missing pieces, and our environments. For example, my paternal grandfather was a charming teddy bear of a man—a respected Baptist preacher in West Virginia. We would ride in his beat-up truck, singing silly songs for hours, and we howled with laughter. He created hours of mountain-living fun; we loved our Papaw. He had black hair like the color of coal with a big tummy like Santa Claus, and he wore suspenders over his white t-shirt and jeans. I adored him, and he loved me, but it was clear he was not fond of Asians. I remember sitting in his double-wide trailer listening to him refer to the Japanese as “Japs.” Pawpaw was in the Navy during WWII. He could not get past the overarching enemy and lumped all Asians together. I was never comfortable because of the obvious, and yet, I knew he relished our time together, and I loved him dearly.
While growing up, my position at school was clear because I was not entirely white, but deep inside, I wondered where my place in our family was. Today, as a software sales professional, the tech world embraces our collective critical thinking around diversity, inclusion, and equality (DEI) to stay competitive in the marketplace. Yet, the remaining millions of BIPOC people share a displaced outlook on how we fit in.
I don’t blame my grandfather for his view on people of color; I empathize with his inability to see people for who they are. Although he was a man who lived in a rural world, it had nothing to do with shaping his outlook on minorities. I have examined many individuals and considered their upbringing, current environment, social status, education, and more. A person’s ability to accept another person free from bias requires a humbling inner perception; one must admit how they genuinely do not know everything.
As I came to terms with being selectively vocal, the startup world taught me to strategize user adoptions by the masses. Some would say each baby step is essential, but I know where and when to persist with family matters. Intense arguments are unnecessary when the people you are arguing with are possibly the kind who may never understand. Their lack of understanding is not my problem; it is theirs. Still, I am choosing to focus on a different approach, aiming to be scalable, as we say in tech. Taking that approach for an impactful DEI expansion, I have to consider time and effort; so, in short, arguing with family will not cut the mustard, plus it can be too damaging.
It is a significant error to associate being BIPOC with victimhood because it will hold us back. It is our superpower. It is no longer our weakness. People in the mixed-race clan possess the ability to move among multiple worlds, which is an advantage. Moving forward, we must concentrate on how the magic of diversity enhances. The real journey begins with every one of us taking a long, hard look in the mirror to uncover our biases. Those fighting for equality have our battles with how we also perceive people, both racially and politically. My observation is that everyone is racist to varying degrees.
With the discipline to expect the best while omitting to target white people as the only racists, we can advance the profound progress we crave. It is not “us against them.” That is a self-defeating position; we must aid in our greater understanding and run with these times as our chance to deepen our reach. We can identify occasional sour racial realities while making choices to reshape a modern world in real time. As a kid who grew up with a persistent mother who comes from a strong history of courageous trailblazers, self-pity is not an option. My Thai ancestors created a prominent city and have statues and shrines to honor their significant contributions. My family has an ingrained practice of looking at what we want and staying the course until the finish line.
Diversity has earned a spot on center stage, and this is astonishingly positive. In general, America expects inclusion, and as my grandfather would roar like Appalachian thunder when he was happy, “AMEN!” Many come together to represent misunderstood and underrepresented populations. Our work relies on more storytelling, awareness of our perceptions, forgiveness, and adaptation. Stories are the highway to the heart and enable us to touch our humanity.
People who want to understand the depths of inclusion will move upward. The willingness to empower diversity indicates that either you are a part of the journey or you are not. Beginning with myself is the most complex challenge, because who wants to admit they have racist tendencies? The meaning has evolved to an ugly accusation, when it is more effective to be self-aware of how we make decisions about other people, what we say, and how we treat one another. To see a person beyond their given stereotypes is to live in each minute of your life with attentiveness. Many call it “living in the present” and “being mindful.” I call it “opulent living.”
My chosen conversations about race are with people embracing our fresh, fashionable reality. There is no disdain for those who do not get it; think of it like eating at a buffet—select whatever food you want and meet me back at our table to break bread. I’ll enjoy my stir-fry while you dig into your brisket, because this vision exists and is available to savor.