Unpacked anger

I have been quiet these last couple months. I am trying to re-locate myself. I have not written because my axis of belonging has flipped — X has become Y, and Y has become X.

If you read my blog, you will come across the same themes: displacement, sexual trauma, the frustration of being unable to create meaningful connections, shame, a sense of longing for home, familial tensions, etc.

All of these are edges of the web that still pin me down. I am still trying to piece together the “why” of who I am, and these are major elements of that. I recognize that I am angry because there are still unreconciled pieces.

In this post, I will tell you more about myself, and highlight the parts that I am (still) angry about.

When my family moved to a distinctly different culture than the ones we grew up in, we took no time to process the transition together. I am still angry about that. We were all trying to survive. While my mother and older siblings were working night shifts at casinos and fast food places, I was forced to learn ‘ad-hoc mothering’, babysitting my 6-year-old brother and 6-month-old niece before school, after school, and until the moment I would lay down to sleep. I had to grow up quickly. I am still angry about that.

I was not taught the specific behaviors that would allow me to be more easily accepted by people my own age. Through mistake after mistake, I had to learn that on my own; none of my family knew what I was going through, or gave me the space to tell them. I am still angry about that. When I moved, I was 12. Because of my impressionability at that age, I was painfully aware of my social shortcomings, stumbling into interactions stiffly, uninformed on which conversational cues to use to continue them, helplessly unaware of how to make people comfortable with me. The question I constantly grappled with from the age of 12 to even now, is how do I make them like me? I am still angry about that. I spoke English perfectly — but I couldn’t speak “the language”. I could speak — but I couldn’t communicate. I became silent because my real voice was not acceptable. I am still angry about that.

I am now 25-years-old. Assimilation has become a science to me as a result of painfully nitpicking at myself for over two dozen years. I am angry about that. Assimilation has become my way of survival in whatever arena I am in: work, friendships, romantic relationships… I become whatever the other person needs me to be. I am angry about that. I have learned to observe interactions between people so acutely that interpersonal dynamics start resembling process diagrams in my head.

Seeing patterns between people like this has recently started weighing heavy on my heart. I am constantly at intersections where I recognize and empathize with the pain of people I care about, and find myself ill-equipped to positively influence them. Yet, I blame myself for lacking the courage to try. Every day has become an emotional battlefield. I am angry about that.

I have lost myself at the over-exposure of my heart and my soul (or is it that I never really found myself, and I’m only recognizing that loss more intensely now?). I am angry about that.

The only way I am now able to relate to someone is through their struggle; everyone else who has anything other than pain to share with me, I reject. Unpacked, unprocessed anger is such a contagious emotion, and it’s especially hard to fend it off when I harbour it within myself.

How can I be free of a habit that I have used to survive all these years? How can I accept anything positive when I have fed off of the melancholy for so long?

A close friend told me recently that I deserve to ask myself why I am so angry — why I choose to stay in that place of anger. Maybe this post is the beginning of that.


Daily Post prompt: Relocate

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A raisin drowning in milk

“I feel like a raisin drowning in milk,” the black woman said. “White, white, white all around me. I’m drowning in a sea of white.” Thus was the statement that captured the essence of the People’s Institute Undoing Racism workshop.

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There were about 50 of us in a circle in that room, the room that laid our souls bare and dissected our biases for two and a half days. White people, black people, and every shade in between — hearing each other’s stories. Listening to the words, I got a sense of each person having left something behind; their soul fragmenting piece by piece for every year they have assimilated into our white-dominated world. It may have been a family. It may have been their values. It may simply have been that elusive, once-in-a-lifetime feeling of home.

I struggle to write this because I straddle the line between those who have privilege and those who do not. As a young Asian woman who grew up with a North American mainframe, I have the ability to be ‘diverse’ enough to be edgy and different, yet Caucasian enough in culture and language to navigate this Pacific Northwestern sea of white. I am a crossover, a music album accessible to many audiences.

The most tangible indicator of this was when it came time in the workshop to compare the everyday experiences of white people to those of people of color. My immigrant background made me nod my head at stories of hardship and loss; my lifelong privilege made me bow my head in shame as I related to my white counterparts.

I teared up in horror as I heard a half white, half black woman repeat what her transgressor said on a bus to her one day: “You’re a nigger, but you’re worse than a regular nigger, you’re an UPPITY NIGGER!!!” I heard her humanity shatter in half as she told us in a cracked, raw voice that nobody, nobody said anything to her—not even after the fact—to offer words of comfort. And I thought to myself at that moment, would I have stood up and said something? Would I have, at the very least, stopped at her seat afterwards to see if she was okay?

The workshop has opened my eyes to the madness and blindness of our society. We may not think we are racists. We may think that just because we work painfully hard not to offend anybody, we are not racists. We may think that because we even try to be diligent about reserving judgment on people, we are not racists. But the fact is, we all harbor biases and prejudices formed from childhood, from the minute we could think in structured thoughts.

This is why we go around hurting people without even realizing it. This is why, when encountering a person different from ourselves, we shy away and stay at the shallowest level of interaction, because we don’t know them, and we’re afraid of what we don’t know. And in the meantime, while we’re over here freaking out about this “different” person, (God forbid) experiencing some discomfort over someone new, that individual is suffocating in a place that shuts them out and makes them feel unwanted and unwelcome. That person is then forced to shed their skin and don a new one, a more palatable one, just so they can survive and make it through the day. And then, day by day, year by year, they lose themselves in this quest of assimilation.

This is why it is not enough to make sure you say the right thing, or don’t say the wrong thing. We have to engage each other in painstaking, but meaningful conversation about our experiences in a safe environment. In these conversations, we may stumble across each other’s ignorance and accidentally offend somebody, but because we’re coming from a place of love, we apologize, ask to be corrected, and move on. We move on and embrace our differences in the hopes of reaching common understanding.

I’ve changed. I can never be the same again. But at least my sense for empathy is sharper, and I am one step closer to helping enable the change that we all so desperately need in a world as needlessly cruel as ours.