Heard across an uncrowded room “. . .Asian women are submissive. . .” My ears perk up. Hey, I represent that remark. Though his comment is not directed at me I respond gratuitously.
“I’m Asian and I’m not submissive!” I add without pausing, “None of the women in my family are submissive.” Then to snap my argument shut I aver, “I don’t know any submissive Asian women.” Sorry to be so coy. I ought to tell you how I really feel. I’m feeling perky. Resilient. Yesterday I had a personal best. I ran uphill 3.97 kilometers in 38 minutes. I know, you had to be there. If you could only see the rise and ruts of this trek you’d be as impressed. The first time I met this mountain I required about an hour. I melt the mountain by repetition. Miles and miles of practice. The last time (before yesterday) I got to the endpoint, my time was 48 minutes. Zowie! A personal best by ten whole minutes.
My accomplishment makes me confident, but apparently not couth.
WD half turns in his chair, noticing me. He sits slightly straighter, rebuffed. “You’re not the only Asian person I know,” he calmly replies. “I know lots of Asian women and they are submissive.” LG nods her blonde head in agreement. “Besides,” says WD taking charge for the both of them, “We don’t think of you as Asian.” ouch.
I am afraid to learn what they do think of me. ‘Cause if I’m black, that’s ridiculous. I may suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous assumptions but I never suffered Jim Crow. And if they think of me as white. . . our clientage would certainly disagree. People do a double take when they see my name on a card. I pronounce, spell and pronounce again. For good measure I assure them if they can’t quite remember my name, that I’m known colloquially as ‘the long haired girl.’ Or sometimes I assure them I am the only ‘Kumari’ at Mtn Properties.
“Well I think of me as ‘Asian.” I retort shortly. “And as far as this submission thing-“
“They are submissive, it’s a cultural thing. It goes back hundreds of years.” WD slices his hand through the air as if to gesture this topic is settled. Here’s a prime example of what I call the feedback loop. WD established his belief based on I don’t know what, information from an authority, marketing, advertising, post WWII propaganda – and he hardens this view by accepting and remembering all information that matches his bias and disregarding, dismissing all evidence to the contrary. His mind attaches to the bias-affirming data like a steel trap. To the truth? like teflon. I mean he’s known me over 20 years. I been Asian the whole time.
Apparently I’ll have to remind him.
“”If we’re going to judge people on the mores of a hundred years ago,” I continue, “the Christian religion puts submission for women, right into their doctrine. For centuries women who were Christian women, were submissive. Some still are.” I think of the ladies I used to know through church. Being “covered” is how they describe submission to a protective spouse. Most of them enjoyed being submissive as it freed them from responsibility. The man is the spiritual head of the household.
WD turns back to LG and chuckles. “I think she’s fucking with us,” he says – referring to me.
Grrrr. I’m not kidding. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. Really. In 2017 crissake I still got people willing to trump observed reality with stereotypes. Unflattering stereotypes. Unhelpful stereotypes. WD and LG remain victims of their own self-reflecting narrative loops. If only I weren’t so close to them, tightly-knit, woven into their everyday life, I might have more sway. But apparently I’m so close they can’t see me. I could point out the many ways I am not submissive, but, since they don’t perceive me as “Asian” that won’t change a thing. The case, is closed.
Possible skillful actions at my disposal?
I notice what’s out there with distinction and what’s in here with compassion. I don’t have time to change their minds. I don’t have power. The only person I can really control is me, my response to this unmerited remark. The room can be divided over this difference of opinion overtly or silently or I can change my mind. I don’t mean agree with the morally reprehensible position. I mean distance myself. Step away from the fray. Name the truth, then disengage from the tunnel that has no cheese. There’s no reward, no merit in further discussion. Ignorance doesn’t need a platform.
No one was talking to me anyway.
I meditate on my uphill climb. What a great metaphor for life. The road didn’t get easier, I got stronger. My feedback loop is confirming my ability to overcome. I’m either sick or I’m not, the biopsy won’t cure me. The test results will only set my course. If I’m not sick, bravo for me. I plan on spending a fine time away from these people, celebrating – with people who are glad to see me. See me. See me as I am. Asian and all. If I am sick, I have all the more reason to keep running. Treatment takes endurance. The difficult feeling of being un-seen, invisible, misunderstood is nothing compared to the arduous feeling of cancer.
My small and brief pang of loneliness, purposeful deliberate disengagement is followed by an expansive feeling of love for people who see beyond skin color. There are some. There are some people who value me despite my weight, my gender, my tax bracket. There are some who laugh at my jokes. I have experienced, on occasion, a sense of belonging. Those moments are fleeting if I don’t chose to absorb and cherish them. Keep going, I tell myself. There are flowers by the side of the trail. I train myself to hold onto the good like velcro, because the bad? The bad takes care of itself.
The next race I want to run takes place in October. The second biopsy is slated for September 11th. Should I pay the substantial entrance fee before I know my results? It’s non-refundable and I might be taking a nasty amount of medication. But only if I still have health care. It could be all a moot point. Hmmmm. The fee only gets higher closer to race day. And don’t I need to keep going forward no matter what? In a commencement speech at my old alma mater Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said:
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
– Kurt Vonnegut Jr., AM’71
Now y’all play nice.