Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Deferred

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

I grew up among a handful of Chinese families in Hollis, Queens. I have been mugged three times in my neighborhood. When I was 12, two or three kids around my age tackled me off my bike, kicked me, told me: “This is our neighborhood! Go back to China you Fuckin’ Chink!” They rode off on my bike, celebrating and Hi-fiving.

When I was 14 or 15, three kids asked me for a quarter. When I said I didn’t have any money on me (which was true, I had just stepped out to pick my mother up at the subway station), I was hit from behind and pushed to the ground. On the ground, one kid pounded my head on the concrete pavement, while another rifled through my pockets. They were angry that I was telling the truth – I had no money. As they left me dizzy and bloodied on the ground, I heard one kid scold another: What the Fuck, man? I thought you said they all had money.”

After college - and failing to make it on my own – I moved back into my father’s house. Coming home in the wee hours (I think it was 2AM), two men approached me. I thought they wanted cigarettes. They wanted money. I only had five dollars on me. I offered them the wrinkled bill. They got angry and beat me. When they rifled through my pockets and found out I was telling the truth, they left me on the ground and bloodied, laughing: “Shit Nigga! You broker than me!”

That night they took my wallet. It had irreplaceable family photos. Over the years, other members of my family have also been victimized by muggers. In all the instances the assailants were black.

Having had these painful experiences it would be easy for me to become bigoted and believe all black people were street thugs and criminals – especially having grown up through the generation of Gangsta Rap that celebrated violence and victimization.

But I don’t.

I don’t because – having been judged myself - I know it is wrong to judge an entire people based on the actions of a few. I don’t because growing up in America I am shaped by the “Black Experience.” For every black mugger there are two or more black artists or social activists who have inspired me to dream bigger dreams despite the expectations that come with stereotypes and social biases.

Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Mother Hale – are just some of the people – black people – who have inspired me to do more inside and outside my social sphere.

When the Anti Defamation League (ADL) implies it is OK to be bigoted because you have suffered an emotional loss -

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he [Foxman] said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

It is particularly upsetting for me because it is the temptation I fight the hardest whenever I read about blacks victimizing Asians like at South Philadelphia High School. Adding to my disappointment is my admiration of the ADL for expending the resources to extend its campaign against anti-Semitism to a broader campaign against bigotry (including post 9/11 anti-Islamic sentiment).

I do not have the words – nor do I ever want the words – to describe the pain of losing someone in such a horrific manner. I am fortunate not to have lost anyone close on 9/11 (though I know family and friends who have). I am afraid the anguish of losing someone like that never really goes away. But this doesn’t mean these emotional wounds are just left to fester. They need to be treated – to be cleaned and bandaged to bring about proper healing and reduce scarring.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross changed the face of grief counseling with her book, On Death and Dying. The book organized and introduced the general public to the emotional stages a terminal patient experiences. These stages are commonly referred to as the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Since its introduction, it has been applied broadly beyond counseling terminally ill patients to people “affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change.”

People writing about the Five Stages are quick to note that grieving is an individual process. Patients (or the grieving) should not be rushed through stages. However, there is also a concern that patients do not also linger too long in any one stage. I don’t know what the timeline is for an emotional wound to heal but I do know you need to treat it.

Is accepting bigotry as a salve for healing the right treatment for the pain? I want to know about “collateral damage” – those who the grieving target their anger and pain on. What are they to do while they wait for the grieving to heal? How much are they expected to endure?

I understand loss and I understand the temptation of bigotry – it’s easy to use hate to sooth the pain and grief. However, I just can’t accept it! – It’s not what I was brought up to believe – It’s not what I am raising my children to believe. You can rationalize accepting bigotry but it doesn’t change the fact that is it wrong.


bigWOWO said...

Sorry, Vincent, I meant to comment on this a few days ago.

I don't think the ADL statement was done right. I see what he's saying, but he said it wrong. (I don't know what I think about a mosque near Ground Zero, so I'll leave myself to ponder that one...)

What I think Foxman meant to say is that the emotions that they feel come about for a reason. Experiences shape emotions, and people need to see that.

I just posted up something about Asian women married to White guys who speak out against White imperialism, colonialism, and other -isms. On a logical level, it doesn't matter whom someone marries or dates. But emotions are shaped by experiences, and when an Asian male sees that a rant comes from a demographic that has historically shut us out and continues to shut us out in nearly 100% of cases, you can't really expect Asian men to get emotionally pumped up, regardless of the logic and intelligence of said rant.

It's probably the same for Jews who endured the Holocaust. Where Foxman errs is that there is a difference between emotion and action. There is no such thing as bad emotion, but there is such thing as bad action. Opposing a mosque based on prejudice is, at the very least, an irrational action.

When you talk about grieving, I think part of grieving and recovery is acceptance. Maybe we all need to accept our emotions. And then take appropriate actions afterwards.

Vincent said...

@BigWOWO: I think you are right. The distinction between action and emotion is important to make. I am also mixed about the mosque. I support their right to build but then I think "c'mon what difference does a mile make?"

Another interesting thing in the Foxman statement is the difference between being "right" and considering the feelings of those who feel "wronged."

Looking forward to reading your post.

bigWOWO said...

I agree with you, Vincent. What's a mile? If enough people are angry, build that mosque a mile away. And just to be fair, they should prevent churches and synagogues from going up around there as well.

I think Christopher Hitchens said it best: "Religion poisons everything."

Pervaiz said...

I like this.

Roms Mom said...

Well done.

It pains me, any time I hear someone close to me say, "well, all the so-and-so people I know are like that, so you can't blame me for thinking they're all like that." It's not fair to generalize, and I have to check myself too, when I start to think my own personal experiences with a group of people translates to the ENTIRE group of those people.

It is so much more difficult to let go of hate. It's easy to blame things we hate, things we fear. When those fears are rooted in experience--like the times you were mugged--it takes THAT much more effort to let it go.

I'm reminded of Azim Khamisa, whose 20 year old son was killed when delivering pizza. He was killed by a 14 year old gang member. Instead of hating the boy, Mr. Khamisa joined forces with the boy's grandfather (a former Black Panther) and began the Tariq Khamisa Foundation to help teach kids non-violence. He took that pain and did what he could to make things better. That's freakin' amazing.

One of the things we have to remember too, in this constant struggle to fight bigotry, is that if we don't stand together, the whole effort fails.

I know this wasn't the whole point of your post but I just had to stick in my 10 cents. :) Thanks for sharing your experiences. I applaud your not succumbing to hate.

Vincent said...

@Rom's Mom. Thank you for the comment. You are totally on point. Khamisa used his grief to build something positive. Thanks for sharing the story.