Saturday, September 03, 2005

Why Colored Folks Must Have the Souls of the Phoenix

I wanted to share with you a piece I put together last year for the Fighting 44s site. It is about the atrocities that have been committed against the Asian American community and how the individuals suffering those atrocities might respond. I thought it was relevant because this week the African American community has suffered what is likely the worst racial atrocity to be inflicted in our country in this era.

This piece is not a call to violence, it merely asks a question, "Where will we go from here and where are our leaders going to come from?"

I realize the potential misogyny present in me casting my voice into a grown victim of contemporary American kidnapping. Am I replicating the injustice by stealing her voice? If when Anna Mae He can speak for herself, she wishes me to change it, I certainly will.

By the way, the references in the piece are all 100% real events (with some future speculation on my part), so if you want to learn something hunt them down or ask me and I'll illuminate. Some of them have seen further progress in the last year such as the David Wong case.

What's in a Name?

Fighting Feature

It is a movement with humble beginnings—changes so subtle they are undetectable to the untrained mind. It is a yellow teenager learning to see the beauty in his own countenance; a little brown girl discovering that art and power flow from her hands, her mind, her body. It is the first time a black boy realizes that it is not his instincts that are twisted but the judgment of a system that attaches value to wealth and skin tone; the time that a poor white woman realizes that her poor black neighbors hold more love than the empty words and missing deeds of the white politicians and TV preachers in whom she has placed her trust. It is a long journey that starts with the person next to you beginning to appreciate the significance of her race and class, and matures into an ability to teach others how to see beyond those confines to something better.

Then, while no one is paying attention, it grows into something slightly more significant. It is a couple of frat boys stuttering, frustrated on a balcony after their vulgar comments directed at a yellow man walking with his girlfriend are met with sharp, quick-witted ridicule. It is a white woman being thrown off a plane after expressing one too many reservations about the small group of brown men and women who engage in behavior that seems, to her, to be suspicious, and “Why do they fly in groups anyway?” It is a small group of rich kids walking out of a class mid-period, never to return, having found it not slanted in the “objective” direction that they have grown accustomed to. It’s the first time that a major election is not just one candidate in the pocket of one group of rich, white men opposing another candidate in the pocket of other rich, white men. It is a three-dimensional yellow man who speaks perfect English sucking up every inch of the spotlight as he vanquishes his foes, finding glory and love, in a real motion picture that millions of people actually pay to see. It is a few less teenagers saying, “I’m sorry I just don’t date people who look like you—it’s not prejudice—it’s just my personal taste.”

Then it picks up momentum. Many are terrified, but don’t know what they can do about it. “How could this happen in this community?” “We learned today that we are not as safe as we thought we were!” Others feel invigorated. It is that feeling of a Serena winner that’s a generation faster than her opponent, a Barry Bonds blast that quiets haters with a finishing splash, Nancy Kwan leaving a ten-year trail of ice around her foes, or Yao Ming spinning and dunking over the man who used to be the best center in the world. It is all of these feelings except it lasts not for a fleeting moment, but substantially longer, it is a deeper feeling that is etched permanently on to the soul of every underdog, downtrodden soul in the country. It is the realization someone has tipped the scales and the daily climb will never again be so steep as it was yesterday.

A single shot explodes through the Louisiana evening and a man falls dead, prey to his own .44 Magnum. While his neighbors mourn, “He was such a good man!” a family in Japan finally feels a sense of justice that a racist court system has long refused them. A small group of youths sing, “Batter-up” but instead of taking aim at hard sliders and curves, they decide to use a couple of former Detroit men’s heads for batting practice. It is gruesome—an eye-for-an-eye—but on some level, an entire ethnic group takes solace in this grim sign that their lives are worth more than the paltry sum of three thousand dollars in criminal court. A naïve, loving, hard-working, young immigrant is finally exonerated of a crime he did not commit, he emerges a wise, piercing social theorist, his words shaking all those he encounters to the depths of their souls. Those who lied, cheated and threatened to keep him interned are heckled and spat upon as they attempt to defend their soulless actions.

We smile, as we feel the motion and distance we are covering. But we know not our destination and are forced to acknowledge that we may not be on a righteous path.

When were the first stirrings? She does not know what first sparked her inner strength. What moved her fingers the first day she Boogled her own name? Where did she find the nerve to respond the drunk calls of “Me love you long time” with a solid slap instead of a nervous giggle? At what point did she leave the tracks of her three weekly Bible studies and begin to seek for herself God's teachings of love? She doesn’t know the exact answers, but she does know that at a certain point, her motives and actions became utterly clear. She remembers the words, “This is the last time that I kneel and pray to the sky, cuz almost everything that I was ever told was a lie” and the kinship she felt to the speaker—a kinship that drove her to make a commitment to seek better answers. These answers would deliver her to a far more difficult, but ultimately better place than those principles she had been taught would save her. She remembers the months and years of planning that have brought her to this moment. Without joy or remorse, she completes her work, strips off her gloves and never looks back at the bodies of those who fought so hard to call themselves “Mom” and “Dad,” and were so sure that only they knew what was best for a poor little yellow girl like her. She remembers her name, and pauses.

My name holds everything. It holds the unjust suffering of my ancestors, the brutal arrogance of those who raised me, and it ties me to the pain of every subjugated person who has ever had the misfortune of setting foot on this continent. But it also holds my own suffering, my indoctrination, my spiritual death and rebirth as a wise, sexual, strategic, and utterly unstoppable young Asian American woman. Contained in it is the promise that I will crush these racist, classist institutions and lead all of my people to a better place. My name is Anna Mae He.


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