Saturday, March 31, 2012

'racial bias is not the exception. racial blindness is'

Trayvon Martin was black. So why are some afraid to talk about that?

Let's talk about race, ladies and gentlemen, because I think here's something we should all recognize and acknowledge: we do not live in a post-racial society.

This morning on Melissa Harris-Perry's show, her "Did She Just Say That?" segment dove straight into this topic: "That sick feeling in your stomach is not a reason to avoid the topic, change the channel, or tune out. Do not flee the discomfort, embrace it." Harris-Perry went on to give a "guide" on "how white people can talk about Trayvon Martin."

There are some who will point at this and say, "The fact that you're talking about race is the problem! You brought it up!" I've heard from several people before that race is not an issue. Take a look at our own Republican presidential hopefuls, who've blamed President Obama for making Trayvon Martin's death about race.

Harris-Perry's segment is smart. It's sharp, and forces us to take a look at our own racial biases. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable--well, then her job is complete. Because we need to talk about race in this society in order to work past the issues that still prevent us from true equality. Talking about race won't divide us; not talking about it is what is keeping us apart--something that Harris-Perry notes in her "guidelines":
"Rule #4: Take your time and think before you speak, because 'white guilt' can make you say really stupid things like, "I don't even see race!" Because here's the deal: even if you voted for Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama, you still notice that they are black. In fact, data shows that we all see race and react to it, even if we're not aware of it. So racial bias is not the exception. Racial blindness is."
Another rule worth highlighting:
"Rule #5: Remember that you are white. It's okay! It's not your fault, and acknowledging your whiteness as you discuss Trayvon's blackness is half the battle."
Mario Tama/Getty Images
You can apply "white" to other races here too, and here's the point I want to make: just because you cannot place yourself in someone else's shoes because your skin color or economic status or family history is different does not mean you do not have the "right" to discuss it, to learn about it, to advocate. (In the same vein, if you are not part of the "99 percent," it doesn't mean you cannot acknowledge their movement.) To add to that, the question of "privilege" is one that is not black and white: what gives one more of a "right" to discuss something that someone else? You cannot close our ears to the voices of those who do not pain in the same way that you may know it.

I've had some people I know, who are white, say to me, "I don't want to say anything about Trayvon Martin because I'm white and people are just going to look at me and say, 'Well, you can never understand what it's like to be racially profiled or you've never had to deal with racism.'"

And while I can do nothing to ensure you won't receive those comments from someone out there in the world, here's what I can say: no, in America in this day and age, you are better off if you are a white male or female, but your voice can be used in a powerful way to fight injustice. Rather than ignore an issue because the topic of race is too big, too scary, fight the adversity you may encounter and use your privilege to be an agent for change.

Friday, March 30, 2012

fill-in-the-blank friday: light and personal.

  1. My greatest strength is   keeping my promises   .
  2. My greatest weakness is   being impatient at times    .
  3. People always compliment me on     sending them interesting things to read, even though sometimes I bombard people with longreads    .
  4. If you found me procrastinating you'd probably find me    watching Netflix; waffling on Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest; playing word games on my phone .
  5. The most cozy place in all the world is  my bed or the couch. I could sink into it with a book/newspaper, a cup of coffee, and/or some good academic discourse on TV (nerd alert!) for hours .
  6. Something new that I tried recently was   couscous! It's delicious and I'm addicted, and searching for new and interesting recipes   .
  7. This weekend I would like to   relax! Grocery shop, play my ukulele, have a food adventure or two... David, Diane, and some of their friends are visiting the city, so it's nice to have familiar faces around. I hear it's suppose to rain though :/   .
(via Lauren @ the little things we do)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

celebrating the bald (and beautiful!).

Via the Beautiful and Bald Barbie advocate group on Facebook.

On Tuesday, Mattel announced plans to create a bald doll to join Barbie & co. in shiny, plastic doll world. After a strong push online for a "Bald Barbie," Mattel responded with a statement via Facebook:
Play is vital for children, especially during difficult times. We are pleased to share with our community that next year we will be producing a fashion doll, that will be a friend of Barbie, which will include wigs, hats, scarves and other fashion accessories to provide girls with a traditional fashion play experience. For those girls who choose, the wigs and head coverings can be interchanged or completely removed. We will work with our longstanding partner, the Children’s Hospital Association, to donate and distribute the dolls exclusively to children’s hospitals directly reaching girls who are most affected by hair loss. A limited number of dolls and monetary donations will also be made to CureSearch for Children’s Cancer and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

Through a thoughtful approach, we made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience, demonstrating Mattel’s ongoing commitment to encourage play as a respite for children in the hospital and to bring joy to children who need it most. We appreciate the conversation around this issue, and are interested to hear what you think! 
I am thrilled that Mattel is not only creating this doll, but donating the money to such wonderful causes. For children growing up with alopecia, having a doll from such an iconic company that looks like them is a powerful symbol. Some will want to argue that dolls are not good representations of beauty--sure, I wouldn't want to have a too-tiny waist and permanently en pointe feet--but I think that this is an important step toward fixing the negative perception of beauty that exists in society.

"Free to be me" bracelet from the
National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
I know that if Mattel had created a bald doll when I was growing up, I would've been more comfortable in my own skin. Many of you know that I began losing my hair when I was seven years old. For more than half my life, I've lived without my natural hair, and began wearing a wig when I was 12; currently, at the age of 23, I still wear a wig (the sixth one in my lifetime!).

A couple of years ago, I took a Personal Essay workshop as part of the wonderful Literary Journalism program at UCI and wrote what is now the starting point for a book I plan to write on the subject. People still want to tiptoe around the issue with me, but I have no problems (any longer) about saying, "Yes, this is a wig." The journey it took to get to that place of security and confidence was not an easy (or short) one, and it really was not until after I explored my entire life in workshop (that practically doubled as a therapy session too!) that I understood what my journey really meant.

I think there needs to be more positive role models and images out there that don't reinforce the type of beauty society has come to worship. I want to see more bald photo shoots on reality TV shows and I want to hear more people talk about alopecia--about what it is (and what it's not)--and I want more of us all to celebrate inner beauty, and I mean really celebrate it.

I blogged an excerpt from my piece awhile ago, and wanted to share it again, as it expresses exactly what I feel about Mattel's announcement. You can read it...after the jump!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

in response to the request: 'just get a job.'

"Just get a job."

I'm sure every twentysomething is familiar with those four words, and I'm sure most of them hear it from their parents. I know I have.

Let's be real: it is hard these days to be a college graduate. I would argue this fact is undeniable, but when you're up against an older, stubborn generation who insists it's not hard, arguing is exhausting. Jobs are rare to come by. Paid internships are hard to obtain. You could sit in front of your computer and send out three applications a day for a month, and sometimes you won't hear anything in response. And the more you try to tell you parents this, the more they don't understand. "I don't understand why you can't just get a job," they cry.

The most recent New York Times Magazine had an interesting feature about this subject. They followed a group from the class of 2011 at Drew University to see what they were doing. The sample size is fairly accurate of the people I know myself: there are those who are working their asses off and still not even getting a rejection letter; they're just being ignored. There are those who are just hanging out, and barely trying...just being "comfortable" with reliving college. There are those who refuse to apply for anything but a job in their field. There are those who've lucked out and found jobs or paid internships in their field.

I recognize that I am one of the very, very, very, very lucky ones. The path was not easy, and it definitely was not met with understanding from my parents--as well-intentioned and supportive as they may have been. I finished a quarter early before walking at commencement with the intention of job searching and finding something so I wouldn't have a hiatus in the summer. I wanted to go straight into an internship, a job, something. I had Mengfei as a model for the path I should consider taking. Between March and May, I sent out cover letters and resumes regularly, while still working at the School of the Arts and New U, and freelancing on the side. I gave myself some breaks, looked at it as my own summer vacation since I didn't intend to have a "summer" come June.

I got two potential interviews out of my efforts--one I didn't get offered, but had counted on, and one I got offered, but turned it down because it was unpaid. Both were in D.C. and both strung me along for nearly a month.

I ended up heading back to Sacramento for about a month, and forced myself to apply for at least one job a day. I sent out multiple cover letters to everywhere I could find--internships, jobs, temporary work. I looked in San Francisco, Sacramento, D.C., New York. I got two interviews in San Francisco for internships that had nothing to do with my major. I got rejected from one, and the other never even responded after my interview and follow-up emails.

When I finally got a phone interview with Education Week, I was starting to give up. I got the internship offer on Fourth of July while up in Portland, and nearly fainted. It was a step in the "right" direction--to the east coast, in a field I was interested in. But moving was a headache and stressful, particularly with the questions and the "Are you sure you really thought this through?" probing from my parents. "Why can't you just get a job here?" they asked. Take a look in my "sent" folder in my inbox! Tell the dozens of employers who never even responded to me to tell me something!

Me and Jenny at the NPR News Desk hub.
After a month at Education Week, I ended up at NPR and it was a dream come true. I worked with amazing interns and gained the experience I was dying for in the "real world." But as my time at NPR began ticking to an end, I went back to sending out cover letters and resumes twice a day, and praying somebody would throw me a line.

Like before, of the dozens and dozens, I only heard from three places: one rejected me, two wanted me.  I looked at my fellow NPR interns--they were all so much more talented than me, and so many of them are still left hanging. What does it take for someone to offer us a position...anywhere? I told everyone who asked me that it was 90% luck, and 10% who you know. I'm sure my NPR application wouldn't have been looked at if the woman who interviewed me (who actually wasn't my supervisor) hadn't known one of my references personally. With Education Week and MSNBC, I feel like I really lucked out and just happened to apply at the right time. But I worked damn hard, and sometimes it's as if the older generations don't see that in the youth.

It's not uncommon to jump from internship to internship these days, which is impossible to explain as well. And it's also not uncommon to not be hired after an internship. "Why can't they just hire you?" my parents have asked on multiple occasions. Well, it doesn't work that way anymore.

Also...enough with the "unpaid internships" already, would-be employers! You could at least offer something...or call it what it really is: a volunteer position. Oh, and "entry level" doesn't mean "3-5 years of experience"...c'mon. And the least you could do is send a generic rejection letter to people who've applied or that you've interviewed. And you could do it in a timely fashion--not a month later, which is how long some people I know have waited to hear back after an interview.

"There are plenty of jobs!" some will say, pointing to coffee shops and restaurants. I don't want to disparage those industries. Yes, "someone needs to work those jobs," but it's so discouraging to go through four years of competitive undergraduate courses, and work toward one field, one career, and then be told you're not good enough for it. Also, most service industries won't hire you if they look at your resume and see you've been training for something else. Why would they want to hire someone who will just leave as soon as they get the opportunity they're "really" looking for?

(Above: Charlie expresses his thoughts on "getting a job" on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)

To answer that, I know plenty of people who have various versions of their resume: one for those coffee shop and restaurant jobs, one for secretary work, and one for the career they really want.

So...this is my really long way of answering that all-too-familiar request of "just getting a job."

Postscript: Sorry for the rambling. You're lucky I didn't go off on a tangent about debts and loans...yet. Also, I know that I'm lucky to have the work experience I've had, and I'm not brushing any of it off as unimportant for the future. Just ask my friends and family how many NPR postcards I sent them, and ask anyone I Gchat with regularly how much I talk about MSNBC. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

turning silence into words.

Photo by Grace Brown/Project Unbreakable
All it takes is two letters that can keep a person from feeling safe sometimes: it is because I am a fe-male, a wo-man, that I was taught to not get raped, not get assaulted, not get abused. Because I am a fe-male, I need to watch what I wear and be careful not to drink "too much." As a wo-man, I have to make sure I don't give someone a reason to take advantage of me, because they will. As a wo-man, I should keep my lips closed and my knees together, or else live with the consequences of another person's actions.

Two letters. That's all that keeps me from the privilege of the other sex, but it's two letters that should also keep me safe: N. O.


No, I don't want your catcalls and your stares and your hands on my body when I walk down the street or ride the subway. No, I'm not "asking for it" if my jeans are too tight or my shirt reveals "too much cleavage." No, I don't like the degredation and the intimidation and the demands to fuck you, because I am a person. I am a real person. I am somebody's daughter and sister and cousin and friend. I am a real person with emotions and thoughts and a career and a future, and, no, you are not welcome to ruin it.

Society tells me not to get raped, but I am telling you now: don't rape. Don't attack. Don't hoot and holler with your loud, booming voice, because I am not here for you. My life is for me.

(Above: Safiya Washington and Kai Davis perform "Stares" - an incredible spoken word piece about both sides of receiving unwanted attention.)

Victims are not just fe-male; anyone can be a target, and we need to recognize that and not judge when anyone steps forward and says they've been attacked.

Assault, abuse, rape are all real. They all happen, and they happen to people you know, whether you know it or not. According to RAINN, somebody is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. Over half of these attacks are never reported and almost all rapists are never put in jail.

There is a desire in society to not talk about unpleasant matters, to not address the widespread existence of sexual violence. But we need to address this. We need to talk about it. No man or woman should have to ever feel scared to simply walk down a street. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

fill-in-the-blank friday: colors.

  1. My favorite color is     red  .
  2. My home decor color palette includes    blues and beiges, mainly  .
  3. Other people always tell me I look good in the color     red and black, though I do like bright colors too! I just don't know if I can always pull them off, haha   .
  4. The color I detest is     orange...I don't know why, I'm just not very keen on it  . 
  5. If you were to look in my closet most of the colors you'd see would be    black, blue, white  . 
  6. A color that I simply cannot pull off no matter how hard I try is    yellow or orange...who knows, maybe I could do yellow, I'll just have to test it out  . 
  7. The color of my favorite dress is   dark teal, but the zipper is broken on it :(   . 
(via Lauren @ the little things we do)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

'big fish, little pond' syndrome.

For those of you who don't know me (or maybe for those who you do, but I've just kept this a secret from you until now), I'm an unapologetic America's Next Top Model fan--a fan in the "oh my God, this is so awful" kind of way. I won't disagree that I used to find it a legitimate competition back in its early days, but in just a few cycles, it became pretty obvious it was just one big lol-fest.

Or at least that's how Andrea and I see it; no offense if you sincerely beg to differ.

Anyways. I could go on and on about the politics of representation in ANTM (and I'm sure I have on some level in the past), but the main point of subjecting you to this topic is that I've just marathoned my way through Cycle 17 that aired this past fall: the All-Stars Cycle.

Which, if you know ANTM and Tyra, you know that "all-stars" is synonymous for "whichever former contestants would agree to come on the show."

It’s one thing for a show like Survivor or The Amazing Race to do an all-stars season, but for Top Model—remember when these girls actually wanted to be models?

ANTM shows you what 'high-
fashion' modeling is.
It’s long been accepted that ANTM isn’t a real modeling competition, but these girls had those dreams once, right? For someone like Cycle 1’s Shannon to go back on ANTM (16 cycles later, nonetheless) has to make you wonder: have you not moved on? Because the majority of these returners have had careers in modeling (not "supermodel status" careers, but they've been signed and things like that).

It’s like people who graduate from college, and then stick around, finding ways to be involved as an alum (whether it's in your respective sorority or fraternity, or if you tried to give campus tours or be orientation leaders) or finding ways to keep writing for that college newspaper you used to write for or performing in those college theatre productions you used to be a part of or drinking regularly at the college pub you used to frequent.

In college, you may have been the big fish in the small pond, but once you’re out in the real world, you can’t keep going back to that pond. You’ve gotta grow and move on to the bigger ocean, and if you can’t be at the top out there, then find a way to make it work. If you keep hanging around your old stomping grounds, people expect you to be the kind of person they remember (the first All-Stars photo shoot was a rehashing of their “ANTM personalities,” and Bre was constantly fighting to prove to the judges she’d grown up and was no longer the crazy teenager they used to know), and where’s the growth in that?

It’s great for girls like Shannon and Bre and Lisa to get the exposure, but at the end of the day…where are they heading?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the journey.

A carefree afternoon in Virginia, Fall 2011

"Life is about the journey." How often do we hear that? As I look back on my blog over the last year or so, I realize how much personality has disappeared. Does this mean my journey is over? Did I reach some sort of "end point"?

I could blame it on time or location or mindset, and while it's a steady combination of all three, I think I still remain insecure about my writing in general. And knowing that other people will be reading it and judging it--well, that's enough to stop from hitting that publish button.

But being candid is more important as a writer than I think many imagine it is. We go through every day being edited and holding back so we're not in danger of editorializing too much or being subjective when objectivity is key. But when it comes to topics like my love of the Kings or talking about being Chinese-American, it isn't bad to be opinionated and honest. It isn't like I don't like writing about my feelings; I think I'm just more used to holding back.

But I've been telling myself I need to keep writing and keep writing more--whatever it is about, whether anyone wants to read or not.

Finally picked up that diploma!
So--about that "journey." I was thinking about how much my life has changed in the last year since I hung up my status as a student for good. To go from being surrounded by people you know and who know you and "get" you, to moving back home and feeling alone, to moving across the country and being even more alone, to finding people you mesh with in an amazing way, and then having to leave them's scary. It's a rollercoaster. It's exhausting.

The one thing I've gathered in my time out of the Irvine bubble is that it's important to be happy and comfortable with being yourself and being alone. I thought that my life was going to be dismal without the midnight drives and kicking sand up beneath the moon, and while it was painful to not have those opportunities anymore, I know that missing people and missing college aren't worth shedding tears over. We'll find new memories and hopefully grow together, even if we are apart.

That having been said, life isn't always a party for me now, but I'm okay with that. After blowing too much money while on an intern salary, it's nice to have some time to calm down and get my bearings straight. I'm almost about to be debt free (maybe) and I'm focusing on figuring out what I want to do and who I want to be.

So here's to writing more without fear or hesitation, and also because I told Kristen to force me to write and she's really good at mothering me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

more than fabric and fur.

Last summer, Amanda and I spent a lot of time during the day on our couch in our newly-inhabited apartment. We'd wake up to days that didn't involve class or work and do the only acceptable thing there is to do as fourth-year college students living on our own: we would eat cereal and watch Sesame Street.

A lot has changed on that street since the days I used to watch it from the floor of my grandparents' living room. There were new characters and new segments and a new opening sequence too, but there was still something very familiar about it all. Decades have passed since Jim Henson brought Sesame Street to life, but it's only grown more endearing and wonderful.

Every person I've ever had a "what was your childhood like" conversation with always agrees that Sesame Street was an important part of his or her upbringing. I remember storybooks we'd read with Mom before bed and video tapes of bedtime stories Mom would let us watch before she tucked us in. We had Sesame Street toys and clothing, and we'd be mesmerized every afternoon as PBS took over our televisions. And years later in college, I was just as mesmerized.

But what is it, as a twentysomething young adult, about Sesame Street that held my fascination? Was it the innocence? The cheesy jokes? The familiar feeling of being a child? I thought about this as I watched Being Elmo (now streaming on Netflix!) and it seemed so obvious: it's about the magic behind the scenes.

Being Elmo is about the journey of Kevin Clash from Baltimore to New York City and the Sesame Workshop. As a teenager, he spent his time indoors sewing puppets and creating characters while being chided by classmates and siblings for not going outdoors to play sports. But his dedication to puppets paid off because it led him into Jim Henson's inner circle eventually, and by the time he was 25, after working on Captain Kangaroo and Henson's film Labryinth, Clash was a regular puppeteer on Sesame Street and had given life and energy to an old red puppet laying around the studio that nobody knew what to do with.

I won't give you a play-by-play of the entire documentary; you really need to watch it for yourself. I found myself reaching for the tissue box on more than one occasion, and what's wonderful is that, by the end, you realize you just witnessed the path of a man who had a dream and didn't stop until he had achieved it.

And that's the kind of inspiration I think we should all strive for, and it's also the kind of encouragement we should always be giving one another. Clash was lucky to have parents who supported him through his endeavors when others didn't. What if his father had yelled at him for cutting up his trenchcoat to make his first puppet? Or if his mother had forced him to play outside instead of piecing together scraps of fabric and foam?

We might not always receive widespread support for the things that drive us, and we may not always feel encouraged to pursue our dreams, but if we persist and work tirelessly to get "there," then we'll make it. Realize your dreams, say them aloud, and don't be afraid to mess up along the way. It's that kind of tunnel vision that produced Henson's vision and Clash's career. It's that kind of tunnel vision that will help carry us on our own journeys to becoming who we want to become.

Friday, March 2, 2012

manifesto for 23.

  1. I will sleep more.
  2. I will walk slower. Unless I'm midtown.
  3. I will not let social networks define relationships.
  4. I will smile more, despite the annoyances of day to day life. 
  5. I will close my ears to potential negativity. I will not take things so personally.
  6. I will do more of what I say and say less of what I do.
  7. I will network (ugh).
  8. I will focus more on the positive.
  9. I will read more, and I will read slower. I will take time to digest words.
  10. I will learn new things and new skills every day.
  11. I will drink from the glass, rather than analyze whether it is empty or full. 
  12. I will pick up my phone more often. 
  13. I will not impose my thoughts on others, and vice versa.
  14. I will spend less time on the outside looking in.  
  15. I will not force myself to be somebody I think I should be.
  16. I will let love be louder than my emotions.
  17. I will not keep reopening doors that closed themselves for a reason.
  18. I will let go of those who have let go of me, or are in the process of doing so.
  19. I will not be scared to speak up.
  20. I will celebrate others as much as I can.
  21. I will apologize. I will forgive. I will always forgive.
  22. I will put my dreams into words and I will pursue them harder.
  23. I will actually believe in myself.