On our way home from meeting friends in Tennessee, my husband H turned to me and said, "You are so brave to date a minority." I looked at him and told him that I wasn't brave at all. That in every way possible, I still benefit from white privilege, and that no matter how caring or great he thought I was, I could never fully understand what it's like to be an Asian-American living in the South.
The night before, we were looking forward to taking a day trip to Gatlinburg to see friends who were there doing the same thing, taking the weekend to go somewhere new and explore a new town. We met our friends at the Log Cabin Pancake House and had a normal breakfast. We ate pancakes (big surprise), drank coffee, and caught up on life. H is a classmate with our friend so they talked about school while my friend's husband and I listened. Our friends are both white, but the topic of racism was brought up pretty early on in the breakfast. On our drive out to TN, we went through a few small towns, many of which proudly displayed the confederate flag on front porches and businesses. The sight of the flag still jars us, as if it's a personal note written to us that states, "We don't want you here." It's alienating and hurtful. Our friends commented on the huge confederate flag on the next door business and we all were sort of baffled, that someone feels so certain that others agree with their stance, their love of the flag, that they are free to place it in the front window. The store even had a confederate flag bikini, which I found extra curious.
H and I, both proud Northerners, have had a challenging time adjusting to life in the South. We mostly live in a tiny bubble where we know we are accepted and feel safe. I have a great job with wonderful people who are progressive and open minded. We have made friends with like-minded people here. While small and limited, we have places where we feel relatively free and accepted. So, when we travel outside that bubble, even to places less than 2 hours away or to the local grocery store, we feel agitated, nervous, and even out of sorts. In retrospect, I understand why H and I get crabby when traveling to unknown cities, why he can get short and why it takes him longer to laugh at my jokes. But, as a white person, I can get irritated with his inability to just snap out of it. Snap out of it! The fact that I can even say to him "Try to not let it bother you. Let it go. Let's have a good time" is an example of how I will never fully understand what he goes through, how he feels when in uncomfortable environments, or what it is like to be constantly aware of his own ethnicity.
Here's the thing, it's easy for me, when I am by myself, to ignore and even momentarily forget about my own privilege. So, that's not being brave, that is me still being the recipient of my own privilege.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
It's been over a year since I've written here but I am excited to share my review of the new poetry book, Under the Kaufmann's Clock by Angele Ellis, photography by Rebecca Clever.
Upon opening Under the Kaufmann’s Clock, Angele Ellis takes you to the streets of Pittsburgh where you immediately feel at home. The narrator seamlessly interweaves the characters and relationships in her life with the city, and insists that you sit down with her at the local café to study the ground beneath. To compliment the gritty and oftentimes stark moments of pain, are photographs by Rebecca Clever. Clever captures the vulnerable and iconic elements of Pittsburgh without pretense or ego. Community and relationship drive both the works of Ellis and Clever.
Ellis walks us through the four seasons which take on a unique tone in the city. The first poem, “Landscape,” from the “Spring” section of the book, vibrates with a sense of longing and beauty that can only be found when entering the city from the Tubes. The author respects the city but also has a deep love for it. Pittsburgh not only informs the work of Ellis but also the relationships she fosters within the confines of her home base. It is as much a celebration of the rhythmic changes of life as it is a portrait, delicate and honest, of the city itself. Whether or not you have ever traveled to or lived in Pittsburgh, you will walk away feeling like you know the culture of the town and will end up wishing you were there. Like the mica found on the streets and in the ground of Pittsburgh, history and renewal embrace and invite the reader to absorb the words and photographs, one more time.