|"Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts."|
I first "met" Suey Park on Twitter in the early hours of #notyourasiansidekick. I was speechless as I read through all the heartbreaking stories of racism and oppression. I was amazed that someone could touch on a nerve so raw, so painful with just a hashtag. I was in awe.
I started following her and watching as people from all parts of the spectrum of society tried to assess how she, a seemingly meek, quiet little Asian girl could stir up so much trouble by calling out the systems and structures that have perpetuated violence and oppression against minority culture. She made white people MAD and they came out of the wood work to defend themselves.
I kept reading, kept listening. Suey didn't back down.
As she stood her ground against the vitriol she was provocatively sharp with her words, often so blunt it made me uncomfortable. Her straightforward style was cutting to the quick of white privilege and the more backlash she received the more she seemed to gather courage and momentum.
But then something strange happened.
She began to call into question MY intentions, MY belief systems, MY racism and I didn't like it. I was all, "Women should be on the same side here!" White feminism was put on the dock and Women of Color were joining their voices together to decenter whiteness in the struggle for equality. This hit a nerve in me personally. I didn't like feeling accused of things I felt innocent of when she used labels that potentially describe me.
White Women. White Feminists. Person of privilege.
I felt defensive as hell and with each accusatory tweet, I was silently like, "Suey, you don't know me!!!". I was angry at her anger. I felt awkwardly squeamish under her Twitter Scrutiny and my distaste for her raw allegations grew.
You see, I have worked so hard in my life to undo my own ignorance and racism and complicity and here she was, in essence, saying it wasn't enough. I have grieved and mourned all the ways in which I have participated in oppression and the way in which I was raised to subconsciously believe I was better than others. I have put my grief to good use by building relationships and bridges and friendships with the poor, marginalized, oppressed people of my culture. I have worked so hard, dammit!
I went to the unfollow button several times thinking to myself, "I don't need to listen to this shit." Removing her from my feed would make me feel so much better. I wouldn't have to feel guilty if I just shut out her voice. It seemed like a simple solution.
But then something strange happened.
As I waited I began to think. I've been an outspoken voice to people groups who I believe are unjust. I have pleaded with people to see their ignorance and complicity. I have written and spoken to and crafted workshops and had countless painful conversations with obtuse people who refuse to give up their power over others. I tried all the tactics I could conjure up from brutal honesty to subtle metaphors and everything in between. And I have paid the price. Dearly.
These people who I believed needed to hear my words had power and they shut me down. HARD. They silenced me by making me seem crazy, by tone policing, by shaming me for being unbecoming. People who didn't like feeling accused of injustice used religiosity to remind me how we are supposed to be loving, kind and gentle. I can't count how many times I have been told that if I could just change the WAY that I say things, perhaps then people will listen to my message. My anger enraged them and they felt justified in their dismissal of me.
I realized that my defensiveness was telling me something. It was proving to me how much I still have to learn and how uncomfortable it is to admit it when you DO NOT KNOW you've done something wrong when you meant it to be right.
So I stayed and listened. I read all her tweets and blog posts and articles she posted. I started following people she follows and listens to and learns from. Each time she mentioned a book or a podcast that she felt was important, I tried to get my hands on it. Over time my defensiveness began to fade.
I let Suey Park teach me and instead of defending myself I listened as she addressed my heart. I wasn't always comfortable with the WAY she spoke about my complicity, but I worked hard to not let the medium detract from the message. Suey Park has helped me learn the painful art of being accused and leaning into the truth of the accusation. She taught me how to LISTEN, quietly, even WHILE feeling defensive, to others who are angry for the way I have benefited by their oppression.
There is something to be said for getting to a point in your life where you are able to stand firm in your convictions and be unwavering in the wisdom you've gained from years of mistakes and redos. But there is also something to be said for holding those things with open hands, knowing that if you believe you've arrived at the apex of knowledge or conviction then you have lost the gift of the journey.
Most of us don't know it when we have lost the ability to listen and learn on any particular subject. It is the instinct to fiercely defend our accomplishments that uncovers this for us. My defensiveness helped me see that I had fallen into this all-to-easy trap and I am grateful for prophets like Suey who don't back down.