Last March, a few weeks into California's Stay-At-Home Order, an American Studies major at Georgetown asked if she could reference one of my stories in her thesis. She was researching how Korean Americans remember the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, a topic I wrote about for The Margins. Curious about a bit of dialogue referencing a "post-racial world," she asked what I was trying to say in that scene. Rather than speak for my characters, I shared what I believe to be true outside the story: pretending race is something to "get past" is not an admirable, let alone viable, solution to the problem of racism in America. Race and culture are best when celebrated, right?
When my story was forthcoming back in 2015, my friend and editor called concerned. We were planning to publish that April in commemoration of the twenty-third anniversary of the L.A. uprising. Would publishing my story be insensitive given the echoes between the beating of Rodney King and the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of police officers? Baltimore was protesting. It was tragic and hauntingly familiar. We ended up delaying the story's publication out of respect not really knowing what was the "right thing to do."
Growing up in L.A. county back in the 80s and 90s, I felt like a weirdo for being a half-Korean, Syrian mix die-hard vegetarian at a time when kale was the gross decorative leaf you threw away from your McDonald's Happy Meal, the Middle East exported so-called terrorists, and there was no such thing as K-Pop. Now I can buy vegan kimchee at the Silver Lake Farmer's Market. Awesome. Glad the world is changing. But the situation we are in is not changing fast enough, not nearly.
While I wish I felt powerful enough to heal the whole wide world, I've been admiring the courage of those already forging paths toward a society that rallies against the horrors of government-sponsored violence and systemic oppression. A significant portion of our country's population is afraid of our nation's law enforcement. Clearly that is NOT okay. People are literally being murdered in front of their children or are children being murdered because racism is so engrained in this country that folks, including an alarming number of our nation's leaders, are colorblind to it.
What I'm hoping is true is this: no one person will change the world. But together, in small and myriad ways, from storytelling to marching on the streets to casting our mail-in-ballots, the world can change.
Meanwhile, I'm trying to do as much "little-by-little" good as I can while acknowledging my own prejudices & privilege.
Any ideas? How are you helping your fellow humans be less terrible? Do you think Americans can redeem themselves and maybe someday even be great?