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I Will Hang You

7 May 2023


Two weeks ago, one of my coworkers shared with me how he was missing a day of work to deal with an incident that involved his 11 year old daughter at school. Apparently, his daughter and one of her classmates had a disagreement about a pencil. During the disagreement the classmate said, "I'm going to take this rope and hang you with it." His daughter, upset, told the teacher what was said to her and the teacher approached the classmate and asked him what he said and if he knew what that meant. He responded by admitting those were his words, and that he both knew what it meant and meant what he said. My coworker and his daughter are both Black. The classmate is an 11 year old Asian-American boy.


In many of my conversations with other people regarding race, to my surprise, the perception is still often that racism is and can only be, committed by White people against Black people. In fact, the teacher in the above situation removed my coworker's Black daughter from the classroom but allowed the Asian boy who said the hate speech to remain in class for the remainder of the day. Would it have been more obvious to the teacher that the expression of "hanging a Black girl with a rope" sounds like lynching if the Asian student who said it had been White? Why was the Black student removed from class as if she were the problem but not the student who threatened to hang her? It wasn't until my coworker went to the principal himself and complained about the handling of this situation, that more actions were done. Unfortunately, this same daughter was called a "Black Monkey" by a Puerto Rican student two months prior and my coworker is still awaiting feedback from the school administration on their handling of the matter. Can people of color be racist to other people of color too?


My answer to this question is a very loud YES. To be completely honest, while I am a strong advocate for the Airmen I lead, marginalized people and speak on issues regarding Black, women, and other people of color, it is the three latter groups that I from the time I was a little kid often experienced the most hurt and overt criticism and racism from. It hurts to not be accepted by your own "racial" community. It REALLY hurts to feel harmed or betrayed or even hated by them. But what probably hurts the most is when that harm is internalized to the point where you start to either consciously or unconciously, hurt others like you and in turn hurt yourself. I am guilty of this. Why have I judged and hurt others like me? Why have I hurt my own self?


A week ago I was doing some reading and studying on the ancient African tradition of pouring libations which is a spiritual act of love in tribute to God or an ancestor, and I read this section regarding safety and it triggered a memory of one of the conversations I had with a friend. The book was referencing an episode of "The Real Houswives" a reality show series where one of the women on the show, (Black) repeatedly beat another woman in the head (also Black) and justified her actions by saying something along the lines of, "if you keep talking like that, you want to get hit." Abiola Abrams, the author of the book I am reading, made reference to this situation. Abrams' highlighted how this is "abuser-speak" and went on to describe her own experience in watching women fight as a spectator to be "disgusting to be a part of" and how the abuser (the woman who beat the other woman) justifed her own violent actions as a response to the other woman's words; further taking no responsibility for herself. Abrams went on to describe how the beaten woman shared that she experienced PTSD after the assault and the audience and many other followers of the show critiqued her. People on social media displayed no compassion and even claimed that "she deserved it." Abrams then shared this:


"I found myself asking, who have we become that displays of humanness and vulnerability seem to people like self-victimization? I then remembered that most of us live with post-traumatic stress daily. We have little compassion for someone in the aftermath of abuse because many of us are living in the aftermath of generations of abuse. You can't ask people to have love and compassion for others when we lack love and compassion for ourselves. If you asked any of the women in the audience if they loved themselves, they would say, of course. But if you believe that if you say the wrong thing, you deserve to be physically struck by another adult, you can not love yourself. You are your sister's keeper, even if you don't like her.


"Maybe we don't know what feeling safe is. Feeling unsafe and traumatized is normal to too many of us. Feeling safe is trusting your path. Feeling safe is feeling free around the people you love. Feeling safe is feeling at home in your own body." (Abrams 2021)


Maybe that's it. Maybe so many of us, to include myself, have felt unsafe for so long that we have forgotten or never really knew what it means to truly be safe. If you don't have or ever experienced the most basic need for survival being safety, how can you ever learn to love yourself and extend that love to your neighbor?


I recently did some interviews with some friends of mine who are Asian American/Pacific Islander. Some of their experiences have inspired me to write about their stories as I believe they are insightful and have the power to change lives. I plan to write about them in future posts, but reading the comment about the reality show triggered a memory from one of these conversations.


One of my AAPI friends shared with me how some of her experiences during the 2020 discussions about racism, made her feel. In one story, she shared how she opened up to one of her Black peers about how Asians experience racism too. She was immediately shut down by that peer as they explained how that racism was nowhere near as severe as what Black people have and are experiencing. This made her feel extremely uncomfortable, disregarded, and discouraged her from opening up anymore about her experience with race.


I thought about my friends' words and immediately felt compassion for her. Her experiences were real. Her fears with the incidents of Asian Hate Crimes spurred from the pandemic were justified. She needed support and empathy in that moment but did not receive that. At the same time, I understood the perspective of her Black peer. The racism AAPI people are experiencing, Black people have been experiencing (and continue to experience) for centuries. I felt a rage from the pain of my own past and present. How can I feel both compassion for my friends' experience and rage for my own experiences, at the same time? What is the appropriate response? Is their one?


A few years ago, I followed a post on the "Minority Air Force Officer" Facebook page. One of the Black O-6 officers posted about the rising rate of Asian Hate crimes in America in response to the pandemic and was rallying for more Black people to speak up and out against it. When I looked at the comments, there was much debate. Some AAPI people were thankful for the post. Some Black people sided with the author. Many other Black people were critical of the authors message and stated that Black people should not be the ones being called out to show more support for Asian people; the call out should be for the the White people and that post should be shared in a forum that White people occupy so they can see it, learn, and speak up. They then went on to explain how Black people have been supporting Asians for years as customers of their various businesses and other matters. Yet Black people have been and still do experience racism but AAPI people are either silent, complicit, or participate in the racism against Black's. The posters went on to ask how now that the AAPI community is under attack, why is the expectation for Black people to be the ring leaders to support them when so many have not been there for Black's? The argument closed with the explanation that because of racism, Black people support everyone, but do not receive the same level of support in return.


The thread was long. It caused me to reflect. My attitude at that time can be summarized by the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote of, "injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere," so I was ready to stand by my Asian friends and call out the injustice of the Asian Hate. But then I had another thought.... how many of my Asian friends have or would do the same for me?


My memories led me to my childhood. I thought about the large community of Fillipinos I went to school with. Some of the Korean's I worked with. My Laosian neighbors. Each of them had their own community of family, language, and oriental food nexuses that I could occasionally visit but not fully be included in because, I was not one of them. I remember my Fillipino peers who would complain about becoming "so black" during the summer months that we played tennis together. It was confusing to me that becoming darker or in their words "black" was a bad thing. "How did they see me?" I thought. No matter how dark they got, they were never close to my complexion of Black. I learned later that some of their parents would get mad at them for getting darker, even though it came with the territory of playing an outdoor sport. They would legitimately get in trouble by their parents. At least, that's what they told me. I then wondered, why is developing darker skin something to be reprimanded for?


I remember one of my Fillipino classmates in High School, handed out invitations for her Cotillion (a birthday party where Fillipinos celebrate turning 18; there are other names for this like "Debut" but this is what she called it). She gave an invitation to everyone in the class except me. She then went a step further and gave me an invitation to pass on to the person behind me in order to ensure that I knew I was not invited. The whole class saw what she did, and nobody said anything.

During college, I remember one of my half Korean-half White peers asking me, "why do YOUR people complain so much" as we volunteered as part of a fundraiser, at a San Francisco 49er Football game where the majority of the staff hosting us ROTC cadets were Black. This person went on to say, "When my people [Korean's] came to this country [America], they just worked hard for everything they got. They didn't complain." I remember being the only Black person in our ROTC group and as we stood in a circle waiting for directions from the staff, despite the comments being said publicly, the circle of White and Asian cadets next to me didn't say a thing. I was left to defend myself.


In my memories, I was frequently left to defend myself. This became so normal to me that I stopped believing that others would stand up for me when disrespect or injustice occurred. Somehow my belief system evolved into believing that I wasn't worthy of being stood up for. I wasn't worthy of gentleness or compassion, not even if given by my own self. Any of these actions rendered towards me could not be trusted as they would expire or prove to not be true. So I would just keep my head down, give everything I have to work and serving others, stand up for others as I don't want them to feel how I feel. I would internalize everything bad forged against me. Because in my reality, I deserved it.


During 2020, one of my friends from college was cross-training into an Aviation careerfield. She was Fillipino and was becoming more aware of her heritage, and specifically the impact white supremacy has had on her view of herself. She was experiencing racist comments almost daily from her classmates and one of the instructors while going through her tech school training and just really needed someone to talk to. Someone who could understand. We chatted on the phone a couple of times. I would hear her out and try to encourage her. She was dealing with heavy stuff. During one of her stories I interjected and explained how none of what she is experiencing is brand new. That it's been happening for a long time and that she may not have been able to recognize it before (I lacked compassion, I know). She said something that stayed with me, " We [Fillipinos] don't know our true history and because of that, we hate ourselves."


My friend was having a lot of self-discoveries and challenges and while I cared for her, I didn't have the energy to be there for her and support her in the way she desired. I felt the triggers happening to me in our conversations and while I agreed with the work she was doing on herself, simple phone calls and listening to her racial challenges and discoveries was more than I had in me to give. Maybe I was a bad friend for turning down her desires to talk. I just unfortunately had nothing left in me to give on this, during that time.


Whenever a White person kills a Black person and Black protests follow, a frequent conversation that rises in the media is "What about Black on Black Crime?" While I was deployed, one of the NCO's I worked with asked me my thoughts on crime in Chicago and Black people Killing other Black's. He went on to share with me how he read Dr. Maya Angelou's, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and how she overcame all of her struggles, and didn't understand why more Black people weren't like her. He saw Black people as choosing to be victims of their own circumstances. I chose to hear him out but did not offer any of my own perspectives. I did not have the energy to participate in this conversation with him. Especially if he is going to put every Black person to the standard of Dr. Maya Angelou, than concern himself with sources of oppression of Black people.


For a long time I was skeptical of the premise of the "Black Lives Matter" movement as on the surface it seemed to me, to only care about Black lives when White people or authority figures (like police officers) took them and harmed them. The clips, at that time (prior to 2020), were often short and didn't always show the full story. As a person who grew up trusting the police officers in my community, and disagreed with how I personally was treated by other Black people and disagreed with some of the behaviors I observed with us, I leaned in favor of the police. My thought, at that time was, what about all of the harm we, Black and Brown people do to ourselves? Are protests only warranted when a Black life is taken by a White person?


A few years ago I watched a documentary called "Crips and Bloods: Made in America." It investigates African American gangs in Los Angeles, CA and follows several former gang members from as early as the 1960's to today. What I found interesting was, according to the documentary, the origin story for gangs in LA was a direct result of youthful Black boys being denied the opportunity to become boy scouts. The documentary explained how racial discrimination by White people forbid Black's from participating in Boy Scouts, so the youth decided to create their own "clubs" which consisted of young Black boys in their neighborhood. The documentary goes on to explain how over decades the impact over policing had on the neighborhood's, drugs, economic disparity, mass incarceration, all contributed to creating a hopeless environment and served as a key ingredient to the creation of the gang problem existing today. The documentary described how attributes of being "culturally disoriented" and harboring a mindset of "deep seeded self-hatred and feeling less valuable" can make one vulnerable for joining a gang. They described how for many youth, gangs can provide, "Love, unity, protection, and being a part of a family."


After the George Floyd Murder, one of the activist said something that stuck with me. She said something along the lines of, "People want to blame Black on Black crime, but we learned this from you.... we learned that Black life doesn't matter from you!" I perceived her target audience to be the White people. I then wondered. Did white PEOPLE teach us Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow people how to HATE ourselves? Did they teach us how to erase our cultural identities, destroy our families, rob ourselves of peace and joy in order to adopt and align with their way of life or the social order they desire us to be in? Even the entire racial construct of "black, white, yellow, brown" is a social design; it's not biological but the majority of us are well aware of where we fall in the social hiarchy of it, whether we acknowledge it or not. How many people who are NOT White contributed to the above things, and is it really "White people" who are the problem or is it more so the ideology of White Supremacy, that anybody regardless of skin color, can possess? I found some direction to finding an answer in one of the quotes from the documentary:


"Part of the mechanics of oppressing people is to convert them to the extent that they become instruments of their own oppression." -- Kumasi, participant in "Crips and Bloods: Made in America."


Our own oppression. Without awareness, education, and truth of who we really are and the environement we live in, the oppressed oppress, and we keep ourselves in an oppressive cycle. So how do we get out? Is liberation possible?


I have to believe that yes, there is a way out. but the way out is not in solitude but in community. And because a community is larger than anyone persons span of control, the work must start from within. Perhaps it's the transitioning in a mindset from external and internal criticism, blame, and fear to a devotion to seeking truth. The decision to share responsibility for this problem; for taking ownership in continuing to elevate ones own consciousness through education, awareness, and humility. The persistent action to address the day to day injustices one may encounter that may appear visibly small but have profound ripple effects. It is the actions that call for courage, compassion, empathy, and honesty. Actions that call you to imagine or be a light even when there is no light visible on your path. Choosing this rather than remaining complicit with the status-quo because viewing the problem at full-scale is massively overwhelming and hopeless, so in turn, no work is done. Maybe that's a start in how this is overcome. Maybe that's how the oppressed can stop oppressing. And with the full participation of the oppressors, the oppressed could know through experience that they were never meant to be bound but to be free. If this were achieved, everyone could be free.


When I look at the incident with my coworker, his daughter and her classmate are 11 years old. No human being let alone a child, deserves to be threatened with a lynching. The cycle of trauma is already being passed on to the next generation. What can each of us do to use the power we each possess to keep doing our part to build a safer and more free world, for all of us?


Reference: Abrams, A. (2021) "African Goddess Initiation: Sacred Rituals for Love, Prosperity, and Joy


Photo: One of the balloons my brother's grade school student's made for art. They had a competition to determine which balloon was best and my brother asked my sister and I to vote to help with a tie breaker. I chose this balloon because I liked the variation in all of the colors used. Ironically, all of the balloons are hanging by a rope from the ceiling.



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