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Tinderp Tale #6: Accidental White Dude

Over the past few years, I have garnered the reputation of being the anti-white bitch on social media. But let’s be clear: I am anti-whiteness, not anti-white people. I take issue with the oppressive structure that upholds whiteness as the superior racialized social construct, not with individual white people. (Why is this so hard to understand?! Oh wait.) Basically, if white supremacy didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have a problem with white people as a whole. Actually if white supremacy didn’t exist at all, white people wouldn’t exist either, come to think of it, but that’s an underdeveloped train of thought for another time/blog post.

Anyway, ever since my women’s college shook me out of my apolitical stupor and opened my eyes to the necessity of a liberatory social justice praxis, I’ve been doing my best to abide by the feminist mantra of the personal being political, and I decided no exception could be made when it came to dating. Well, I decided that no exception could be made when it came to race within the dating realm, which is a pretty huge factor. White supremacy is everywhere; it didn’t have to get all up in my vagina too. Which basically meant I was reverse racial profiling on Tinder. On occasion, I would stumble across a really cute white guy with a semi-interesting, allegedly progressive profile and be sorely tempted to swipe right. But then I’d do a check-in with myself–Are white supremacy and white privilege over with, Learkana? No? Then swipe the fuck left like the decolonized ho you wanna be–and the moment of temptation would pass.

Racial profiling is pretty hard. I’m not sure how racists do it so effortlessly (well, being ignorant hateful fucks kind of explains it). Whenever a racially ambiguous/maybe just white passing dude popped up on my screen, I had to quickly decide whether or not he was white enough to have unconditional racial privilege, and honestly, I erred more often on the side of caution than not in that split second of determination.

But there was this one dude. Let’s call him Antonio. He looked super white: fair skin, light brown hair, blue/green eyes. But! He didn’t have a typical white boy name! And I think he had international flag emojis in his bio! So maybe he was Latino or something and was just really white passing in which case it wouldn’t be fair to swipe left because he wasn’t necessarily like full-blown white or anything and I mean he is pretty cute and seems nice enough okay damnit I’ll swipe right!


You matched with Antonio on 8/23/15

Antonio

Hey! Good morning!


Me

Good afternoon lol [Was not actually trying to be clever with this comment, I’m just compulsive about taking things literally and by the time I responded it was no longer morning ok]


Antonio

Hehe! How are you? Rough night yesterday?


Me

I’m a little tired but otherwise doing all right. I stayed up late hanging out with friends *beige OK hand sign emoji* how are you?


Antonio

I’m good! Sunday off, sunny day! Took a walk around lake merrit [sic] and done a few other stuff! I’m feeling productive:) haha


 

We made more boring small talk. I learned Antonio was born in Brazil, moved to Italy  with his family when he was young, and came to the U.S. for work, which meant he spoke like 3 languages, which was cool considering I barely spoke 1.5 (I blame Amerikkka). While this conversation was kind of informative, it didn’t really help me figure out whether this dude was white or not, and this became kind of a burning question of sorts for me.

tinderp 6.1

I was pretty well-informed on racial politics in the United States, but shamefully didn’t have much of a clue of how race plays out in other countries and cultures. Well, Antonio was Brazilian, right? I mean I guess he was Italian, but Brazil was his national origin, right? So, Latin American. Right?

“How does race operate in Latin America?” I casually asked my friend Andrea.

“The fucking same,” she replied.

Goddamnit. So I had matched with a white dude. An international, “exotic” brand of white dude, but a white dude nonetheless. Oh well. I wasn’t literally a bigot, so when Antonio asked if I wanted to meet up and get a drink with him, I said yes. He was probably a somewhat decent guy. (Maybe.) When I tested the sociopolitical waters by mentioning to him that I had recently attended a trans rights rally addressing the recent killings of transwomen of color, he took no issue with it and just made a weird joke about transwomen liking karaoke. Maybe his sense of humor didn’t translate very well. (Was that somehow racist? Oh, I give up.)

I remember feeling completely unexcited about this date. The novelty of using Tinder had worn off at this point. I was tired of going on disappointing dates, and my past record was strongly suggesting that this one wasn’t going to be any different. The only thing that stopped me from giving up altogether was this theory my roommate Mackenzie had mentioned to me one night when I was griping to her about my mediocre dating life. “So the theory is, somewhere between the 38th and 100th person you make a connection with will be the one person who is the most suitable for you to end up with.”

“Connection? Like, just messaging with them counts? Or do you have to meet up?” I asked.

“I don’t know, whatever falls under the definition of connection,” she replied, shrugging.

Keep in mind, this was one late night conversation I had a while back, so the details are a bit fuzzy and obviously I just paraphrased what I thought my roommate had said. But my takeaway was that I wasn’t meeting up with enough dudes to find someone to be in mutual like with. It was all just a numbers game. (A point that had been reiterated to me by my former boss–I rant about my mediocre dating life to everyone, okay.) So all I had to do, in spite of my anxiety and impatience and insecurities and uncertainty and judgments, was keep trying. I mean, there are so many fucking assholes in this world who are happily married! Didn’t I deserve the bare minimum of actually dating someone, at the very least?

So far on Tinder, I had met up with 5 dudes. Factoring in my numbers from OKCupid created a combined total of 21 dudes who hadn’t worked out. Which meant I needed to meet up with at least 17 more dudes to hit that window of possibility for meeting Mr. Good Enough. Antonio couldn’t be him, but he was #22 and therefore a necessary stepping stone, which meant I shouldn’t cancel on him even though I was kind of tempted to. (I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. But, like, we’ve already established this! Also Pottermore Sorted me into Slytherin, just FYI.)

Antonio and I met up at Beer Revolution, a divey sort of bar in the Jack London Square neighborhood of Oakland. Damnit. I was less attracted to him in person. He had a really big head on top of a slender body. And unfortunately, his bodily proportions would go on to bother me throughout the rest of the night. “Hi! I’m Antonio,” he said cheerfully. “Is it okay if I kiss you? I’m Italian, it’s how we greet people.”

“Uh–okay,” I said, and let him plant a kiss on each of my cheeks. I didn’t kiss him back. I was wearing lipstick so I didn’t want to leave marks on his face, but even if I wasn’t wearing any lipstick, I wouldn’t have kissed him anyway because ugh, that’s weird. I was even weirded out by him just kissing my cheeks. I hadn’t had a guy’s mouth touch me in over a year because I was too physically awkward for that (among other things).

We sat down, got a couple of beers, and talked. Blah, blah, blah, the usual stuff. He told me he worked at a pizza shop. I tried really hard to remove my internalized classist lens and not make a silent judgment on that, because whatever! It’s not like we were getting married and his income would determine the quality of life for our imaginary children, or something. He also talked about how Bay Area public transit sucked and how Australians were racist (although my guess was that he meant xenophobic in his particular case). I distinctly recall my conversation with him not feeling very datelike. It was almost like we had gone into that bar separately, happened to have sat next to each other, and struck up a conversation just for the hell of it. We were simply two polite, emotionally detached strangers passing time, trying to keep loneliness and awkwardness at bay and failing at it.

After finishing our beers, Antonio asked if I wanted to take a walk. I agreed, mainly because I needed more time to sober up. We left the bar and strolled up and down a few blocks. Some part of me was waiting for him to become attractive to me. Like maybe if the night went on long enough, and he talked long enough, and he smiled and said some of the right things, I would feel something. It never happened. He was still an uninteresting scrawny white dude with a big head to me by the time we called it a night. I wasn’t sure what was going on in his head. He probably felt a similar way, right? Or else he would have made a move by now. Ugh. I hated this so much. The ambiguity and nonchalance, the reification of gender roles. Was this really the only viable channel through which I could get laid? (In my situation, yes.)

tinderp 6.2

Antonio walked me to my car. He respectfully asked to kiss me goodnight. I let his lips touch my cheeks for the last time, got into my car, and drove away feeling empty.

We never hit each other up again. The usual mutual apathy and disinterest, as I suspected.

I inexplicably found myself on a semi-hiatus after this date. I chatted with a few guys, but never met up with any of them. There was one good-looking dude who expressed interest in devirginizing me, but we got into a huge fight about whether or not some John Mayer song was sexist (IT WAS AND IS) and we never talked to each other again. Story of my life. (Much later down the road, I would stumble across his Facebook profile and see a public Valentine’s Day post in which he sweetly referred to his mother as his Valentine and thanked her for raising him. I experienced some weird cognitive dissonance, reading his status. I couldn’t quite reconcile the sentimental mama’s boy on social media with the horny fuckboy who wanted to send me dick pics and got aroused at a picture I sent him of just my bare legs. Yeah I know, people are complex or whatever. But like, do cishet guys not get how hilariously fucked it is to act like fucking saints to the women whose vaginas they exited, then turn around and be fucking dickholes to the women whose vaginas they’re always trying to enter? Like, is this an Oedipal thing where they’re just mad that they can’t return to the safety of the womb because that would mean fucking their mothers and society makes that unacceptable so they displace that pent up sexual frustration and anger onto the hapless women they try to get it in with, whose vaginas don’t and will never compare to their original home? #FREUDIANFUCKBOYTHEORY #LongestParentheticalEver)

Anyway, a few months passed without a single date scheduled in my calendar. I hung out with friends, worked on creative writing endeavors, worried about the state of the world. I holed up in my room, my primary source of freedom and comfort. I went to bed alone, except on the rare occasion when a friend or family member spent the night. Sometimes I’d long for someone to curl up under the covers with. A cuddle buddy who wasn’t my plush Olaf from Frozen. A guy who could just come over on weekend nights and hold me until the ache went away. (You know, like that Sam Smith song, except hopefully like way less needy-sounding.) Why was it so hard to name that desire? To ask for it? To put it out into the universe in some way and wait for someone to answer?

You’re okay, I would tell myself. You are way better at being alone than most people. So what, you might potentially be unlaid and perpetually single for the rest of your life. These aren’t things that take away your self-worth. The ache will come, and it will go. You have learned to live with it. You’re okay. You’re okay. And for the most part, I believed it.

tl;dr Learkana is not racist! Learkana meets up with her first white dude in a while! Learkana survives another cold and bitter virgin winter by hibernating in her premature spinster cave! (Oh, and masturbating)

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Beer Revolution
Rating: **
Review: Too noisy and not enough seating. A good place to kick back with a good friend or two, but definitely not an ideal place to meet up with strange men from Tinder who want to put their penises inside of you.

 

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OKBye Story #15: The Fault in Our Date

A year ago, I visited New York and fell in love (with the city, not with an actual person, obviously.)

New York was cold and ableist as fuck, but everything there was invigorating and exciting and things were always happening. Save for the freezing ass weather, it really did feel like a second home to me. I didn’t visit New York for the sole purpose of seeing the east coast, though. I went to visit one of my good friends, Shana, whom I had not seen in a long time.

Being the high-strung individual that I am, I demanded we have planning sessions in advance via Skype in order to map out the logistics of what we would do for the one week that I would be there. She complied.  After careful consideration and some half-assed research, we planned to visit at least one art museum, go to Times Square for New Year’s, eat a New York bagel, check out Chinatown, see an off-Broadway play, and…

“You should go on a date in New York!” Shana exclaimed.

I gave a dismissive laugh or something, then moved on to analyze the best building to get to the top of for that incredible view of the New York skyline.

I thought Shana was joking about going on a New York date, but she wasn’t. A couple of days after I arrived at the Big Apple, she brought it up again.

“Ugh, okay whatever,” I said, and changed the location of my OKCupid account to New York. Within the span of 24 hours, I had received 5-6 messages from a flock of horny East Coast dudes who were drawn to my self-deprecating, cynical slacktivist OKC profile. I skimmed through their messages, most of which were unappealing. But there was one that caught my attention:

RandomDude15 I’m jaded, but I still believe gender and sexuality are constructed, and fuck the police 24/7. Wanna kick it?

This response impressively managed to be informative, succinct, and straightforward all at once, which I greatly appreciated. I showed Shana, who weirdly oscillated between gushing excitement for me and extreme annoyance. “OH MY GOD! This isn’t fair! You’ve been in New York for like two days and you get a guy who actually sounds cool!” She went on to look at his pictures. “AND he’s hot! I hate you! I hate you! Oh my god, you have to meet up with him! And write my OKC profile for me! Oh my god!”

I looked at…uh, Jack’s profile. He was 29 years old and a 90-something percent match. And he was white. He had all the trappings of the kind of guy I was trying to avoid. He was hot though, in a douchey sort of way. I felt a weird mixture of flattery, irritation, intrigue, skepticism, and insecurity at the thought of a conventionally handsome grown man taking an interest in me, a scrawny and rather androgynous-looking 23-year-old Asian chick (still sporting the glasses-and-no-makeup look at the time, plus a super short haircut that was a former pixie awkwardly growing into a bob). “I don’t know…”

jack1

Shana was having a fit. No seriously. She was crying and laughing so hard that our fellow subway passengers were glancing our way. “I’m…I’m flustered,” she gasped out as she wiped away tears of…I don’t know what. (We’ve had many moments together like this, whether it was just one of us or both of us in hysterics, moments I consider to be the highest mark of friendship.)

“Meet up with him!” Shana kept insisting.

I thought about it. What was the point? I was only visiting New York for a week. I would never see this dude again. But then it dawned on me: maybe that was exactly the point. It’s not like I had seen any of the other guys ever again, and they had been local to me. The one-date deal was something I should totally be used to by now. So what could it hurt, having a New York date? It sounded like something a spontaneous and optimistic individual would do, and didn’t I want to pretend to be a spontaneous and optimistic individual?

But what would we do? What activity could we possibly undertake that would be so awesome and kickass that it wouldn’t matter if this guy wasn’t awesome and kickass?

That’s when it hit me.

CrumpleHSnorkack Let’s do karaoke
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 30, 2014

RandomDude15 lol what
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 30, 2014

RandomDude15 How’d you know I love karaoke
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 30, 2014

RandomDude15 Are you free tonight? I just got flaked on by a Tinder date 😀
Sent from the OkCupid app Dec 30, 2014

Tonight?! I was thrown off by his genuine spontaneity. (And his blunt admission of trying to hook up with other girls and failing at it, thereby making me his Plan B. In any other instance I would have been turned off, but given the circumstances, I let it pass.)

“He wants to meet up tonight,” I said to Shana, horrified. We were on the subway, having just gotten back from viewing the Statue of Liberty via ferry.

“Ask him if he’s free tomorrow for New Year’s,” Shana suggested. “Maybe he can party with us after midnight.”

He wasn’t free tomorrow.

Goddamnit. So it was now or never. I looked down at my outfit. I was actually being a sensible person for once and had dressed for comfort, not style, which meant a baggy sweater, heavy jacket, jeans, and a pair of childish-looking furry boots. I did not look like date-with-a-29-year-old material. Ugh.

“Could we take the train back to your place so I can change?” I asked hopefully.

Shana shook her head. “It would take too long. We’d miss out on Chinatown and Little Italy.”

I sighed.

Quit being so fixated on your appearance, a voice in my head criticized. Who the hell cares if you’re not dressed up? It’s this dude’s fault for being all spontaneous and last minute and shit. If he wanted you to look good he should have asked you in advance. Also, you are definitely never going to see him again, so dressing to impress is pretty pointless when you guys don’t have a future together. Stop being insecure and superficial, your internalized racism/sexism is showing and I think you–

OK SHUT UP LEARKANA I GOT IT.

So with my zero-fucks-given attitude and Shana as my unwanted cheerleader, I made late night plans to do karaoke with Jack at some lounge Shana had recommended. I wondered if I was going to regret this. I usually did. It’s not about him, I reminded myself. It’s about karaoke. Which was totally going to be awesome.

Although I understood that there was no future with Jack, I still wanted to look somewhat presentable. The headband I had been wearing all day had given me a really bad case of headband hair, which can happen if your hair is as thin and oil-prone as mine.  So when Shana and I ended up at a crowded Chinese restaurant for dinner, I excused myself to use the single stall bathroom, where I immediately began splashing my face and my hair with water. Then, using a travel size brush I had purchased at the convenience store, I attempted to smooth out my wet strands of hair while drying myself off with paper towels.

jack3

This was a rather long process. There was a lot of knocking at the door. Whoever was waiting to use the bathroom was getting really impatient. Ok, ok. I opened the door. The middle-aged Asian man waiting outside found himself staring at an awkwardly smiling, soaking wet prepubescent Asian Daniel Radcliffe who skirted around him to make her way back to the table where her friend was sitting and probably still sulking over the fact that the waiter had given her the “white people” menu.

“Wow, you look like you just showered,” Shana commented.

Success!

-:-

“So, I’ll text you when I’m done?” I asked.

Shana and I were just outside the karaoke lounge, saying our goodbyes-for-now. I suddenly felt awful and antifeminist for leaving her just so I could meet up with some dude. I briefly considered having her be the third wheel, like she had requested of me all those times back in college. Nah, that would be way more awkward. Anyway, this was all Shana’s idea and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hanging out with this guy for very long.

Shana nodded. “Let me know how it goes!” We then parted ways: she to a random bar, and me up the stairs and into the lounge.

I requested one of the smaller rooms to rent and found myself sitting alone in the semi-darkness. Jack had texted that he was going to be a little late and I didn’t care. Not with a mic, sound system, and thousands of instrumental songs at my disposal.

What should I sing? I went with the obvious choice and tried doing “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. “New Yoooooooooork….yeah, uh huh uh huh uh huh…” God, I sounded terrible. I couldn’t imitate Jay Z’s rap style or hit Alicia Keys’ high notes. Oh well. At least no one was around to witness my fail. Halfway through the song I gave up. That was when Jack showed up.

He was a little bit different from what I expected. Somewhat shorter. Bigger head. A strong accent that was the opposite of sexy. (I wasn’t sure what it was. It sounded like the stereotypical Jersey accent my 8th grade history teacher would put on for cheap laughs.) He was still handsome enough to make me nervous, though. (Picture a less hot version of Adam Levine.)

Jack gave me a hug. “Already getting started?”

“Yeah….I’m gonna do a different song.” I grabbed the…um, karaoke controller to input a favorite, “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj. I’ve done this song a hundred times by now, and it’s consistently been a hit with people, probably because seeing a scrawny Asian girl rapping, “Yes you get slapped if you lookin’ ho” provides some pleasantly surprising entertainment.

Jack was fairly impressed. “Nice.”

“Thanks. What are you thinking of singing?” I asked.

He began rattling off the names of rap songs and artists that I had never heard of in my life. Must be the age difference. I politely smiled and nodded in response. 

We took turns performing. He was actually a pretty good rapper himself. I strained my ears and tried to catch him slipping up and saying the ‘N’ word, but from what I could gather, the slur never left his lips. Okay good.

While Jack kept doing obscure rap music, I kept singing really cheesy pop songs. At some point I became acutely aware of the overtly sexual lyrics of all my song choices. God. Why hadn’t I noticed how sexual they were before? I wondered as I self-consciously sang “Closer” by Tegan and Sara:

All you think of lately is getting underneath me
All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me…”

Fuck, does he think I’m singing to him? That I picked this song to not-so-subtly let him know that I wanted him underneath me, when in reality I was leaning towards the side of “nope, definitely not”? (His bad breath was cancelling out his fairly good looks.) It’s just a song though! Right?! I was afraid to look at him, and instead kept my eyes trained on the screen.

jack5

I suggested we switch things up and do a song together. He was game. We did an enthusiastic rendition of a Backstreet Boys song. (Probably “I Want It That Way.”) I was totally down to sing 90s pop music all night, but Jack for whatever reason wanted to take a break and have an actual conversation so he could get to know me, or whatever.

I told him I hailed from California and was only visiting New York for the holidays. He seemed to take that news pretty well. He told me there was a small Southeast Asian community in the Bronx, which he knew about because of the immigrant rights group he organized with.

Okay, you’re probably gonna judge me for this next part. I wasn’t totally clear on what he meant by “organize.” (I don’t know all the functions involved with social justice work, okay–I’m just a slacktivist! Leave me alone!)

“What do you mean you’re an ‘organizer’?” I asked.

“You know, I help out with the cause,” he replied very vaguely and unhelpfully.

“Well…what do you organize?”

“Whatever needs to be done. Like putting on events, or promoting stuff.”

“Oh.”

The next half hour or so was spent discussing white privilege. “My people are treacherous,” he kept saying, which I found kind of funny because it brought to mind a mental picture of white people as pirates saying “Arghh!” which, I mean, is probably also historically accurate.

“How do you be an ally without letting your white guilt get in the way?” I inquired.

“I don’t have any guilt,” he answered.

“Do you think it’s racist when white people prefer dating other white people? I had this argument with some other white guy. I think it’s racist.”

“Nah,” he said, annoying me. “If you grow up in an all white community, of course you’re gonna have a preference for white people.”

“But–that’s racist!” I spluttered.

“It’s not something you can control, your dating preference. I have a friend who also does social justice organizing. Said he could never be with anyone other than a white girl. That’s just what he grew up with. What he’s used to. What’s he gonna do, try to find himself a black girl to prove he’s not racist?”

“Hmm.” Jack’s argument was kind of convincing me to see the point that Colin had been trying to make (See OKBye Story #13: When Awkward Met Awkward). In the moment, anyway. I now still think it’s racist to have a racial dating preference, especially if you’re white (exception includes any person of color trying to preserve their cultural heritage).   Race is a social construct, people! No race of people looks one type of way or acts a certain way. No racial group is a monolith, no matter what white people would like you to think. If you find yourself falling for the same race over and over again without consideration of anyone else you better think long and hard about why that is. Just because you can’t really control your racial bias doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. I’m just saying, fall in love with people without bringing your fucked up preconceived ideas of who they are, and what others are not, into it.

Anyway, it was getting kinda late and I didn’t want to be charged for yet another hour for the room if we weren’t going to be singing, so I suggested we head out. We ended up splitting the bill, which was cool. As we left the lounge, I started feeling nervous. As I’ve said before, I think the goodbye is the worst part of any date.

“So…I have to meet up with a friend…” Ugh. It sounded like I was lying, which I was not. Shana was waiting for me who-knows-where and I had to return to her to mitigate the irrational guilt I was feeling. “Where are you headed?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”

“It was nice meeting you,” I said. We were at the curb. I was hoping he would just go away.

“Yeah.” Jack grinned and walked the other way.

Whew. I texted Shana, asking where she was. As I was waiting for her to respond, I saw that Jack was coming back my way again. Goddamnit, the awkward see-you-again-even-though-we-already-said-bye scenario.

jack7

I put on a smile as he got closer.

“Went the wrong way?” I said lightly.

He laughed, then gave me a hug. Like, a forreal hug. He even buried his face into my shoulder. I held still, feeling somewhat weirded out. Then he was gone.

-:-

A few days later, Shana and I were planning an impromptu hotel party/fake wedding to celebrate our homosocial love. I invited 5 different OKCupid dudes in the area who had messaged me and didn’t seem like serial killers, because the more the merrier, right? One of them being Jack. He said he had gotten sick but would try to make it.

On the day of the party, we had a text exchange that went something like this:

Me: Hey are you still down to come to our party? It’s at 7.

Him: Can’t. Too sick. Coughing up phlegm

Me: Ew. Okay well, hope you feel better. It was really nice meeting you! You’re a pretty cool guy.

Him: I thought you didn’t like me lol

Me: Lol I just come off like a bitch when I don’t know people. Didn’t you read my profile?

Him: Thought you were joking. You were a 90 something match and the girls I match up with at 90 have radical politics and are DTF

Wait, WHAT?

DTF? As in Down To Fuck? Was he trying to say he thought I was down to fuck?

Me: Hahaha uh well I don’t think we’d be sexually compatible anyway

Him: Yeah sure lol

Wait a minute.

Was it possible that I could have actually gotten laid that night, had I quit with the resting bitchvibe and had he popped a mint?

Oh, well. I wouldn’t want my first time to be with some smug Adam Levine lookalike I would never see again anyway. Maybe for my fourth or fifth time (provided he brush his teeth), but definitely not my first.

Yeah that’s right, I said my first time.

If you don’t know me very well (or haven’t been keeping up with my blog), you might be gasping: Learkana, you were a 23-year-old virgin at this point in time? 

Oh, shut up.

The party was a blast (except for the part when it ended early because the hotel threatened to call the cops–not that exciting of a story), New York was a blast, and no, I didn’t get laid or fall in love with a tall, dark, and handsome New Yorker. However, I did end up crushing really hard on the short, dark, and handsome Californian I had already scheduled a date with the night after I got back from New York–which is another story for another time.

tl;dr New Yorker boy messages Californian girl who is just visiting, girl and boy meet up to sing karaoke and talk about white privilege, girl is cold and detached as defense mechanism against boy’s good looks and age, girl and boy never see or hear from each other again

2

OKBye Story #12: Bitch in Berkeley

My retelling of previous OKCupid dates might make it sound like I was done with white boys. But I wasn’t done with them just yet.

What’s with this fixation on white boys anyway, you might be wondering. Well, living in a white supremacist world helps a lot, quite frankly.

And to be further honest, I don’t think I cared for white boys much until I got to high school. Probably because I didn’t see very many of them. Once I was a teenager, however, those messages from the media about eurocentric beauty standards started sinking in, reinforced by seeing a plethora of cute white boys at my school. It was ugly and awful internalized racism, of course, but it didn’t really register as such at the time. Ironically, white boys were a foreign species to me. Except for my next door neighbors, I knew little of the ways of my white male peers, except for what I saw on TV. So perhaps that was the appeal for me: a nice and wholesome, good looking white boy whom I could project all my heteronormative, vanilla fantasies onto. (I know, I make myself want to vomit.)

Online dating had unfortunately become an entry point into better understanding the white male as an identity, an identity deeply entrenched in privilege and entitlement. The more I interacted with white dudes, the more I wondered why I was interacting with them to begin with. I guess I didn’t want to come off as “racist.” (Social Justice 101: you cannot be racist against a people who benefit from structural racism, aka white people.) But if a guy was cute, kind, sociopolitically aware, laughed at my jokes and just so happened to be white, would I really hold his race against him?

Well, no, I grudgingly admitted. I just had to really make sure that this elusive white boy was actually sociopolitically aware though.

Which was why when a seemingly cute, kind, sociopolitically aware white boy messaged me, I decided to respond.

connor1

Our conversation went exactly like this:

RandomDude12 Hey, just wanted to say that I found your profile entertaining to read. What do you find fun about writing an OKC profile? Most people seem to hate it. Sent 9/13/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack I think the fun is in being able to create an impression of myself that isn’t totally restricted by standard social norms. I’ve noticed other people (friends included) who treat their profiles like a resume and write to impress, but who am I trying to impress on here, really? I figure if I’m going to go on and on about myself I might as well try to make it kind of entertaining, even if I’m the only one being entertained.

Also I’m a writer and a social media narcissist so the OKC profile is both a good exercise in character development and an excuse to talk about myself without actually talking to anyone about myself.

Do you hate it? Sent from the OkCupid app  9/14/2014

RandomDude12 I don’t hate it. It stresses me out, but it’s an interesting challenge. I tend to post very little on social media, but since OKC doesn’t really work that way, it gives me an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and try to differentiate myself from the hordes of other users. It’s a balance, I suppose, of writing to impress (shameful, I know), and trying to express the unfiltered me.

I find exchanging messages to be trickier, since I’m not only attempting to express myself, but also trying to emulate conversation in the absence of social cues. So to follow up on that, would you be interested in meeting up and continuing this conversation over coffee, maybe this Thursday? Sent 9/14/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack Okay maybe I’m interpreting your invitation too literally, but I don’t drink coffee lol. How bout drinks Sent from the OkCupid app  9/14/2014

RandomDude12 Sounds good! I’m less familiar with drink places in Oakland, how does Jupiter in Berkeley sound? Say at 6:00? Sent 9/14/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack Okie dokie. See you then! Sent from the OkCupid app  9/15/2014

RandomDude12 Cool, see you Thursday! I’m Connor*, by the way. Sent 9/15/2014
CrumpleHSnorkack Cool, I’m Learkana. Sent 9/15/2014

*name changed to hide true identity of generic white guy you are unlikely to successfully cyberstalk even if I had revealed his actual name, which is only slightly less generic than “Connor”–presuming you would even care to cyberstalk him, which you probably don’t, so whatever idk

I headed over straight after work. I ended up being kind of late because traffic was a bitch, trying to find parking was a bitch, and trying to find the damn pub was also a bitch (ugh, fuck Berkeley). Connor seemed pretty nonchalant about it however. In person, he was pretty cute. His voice was a little too squeaky, I noted. (I have this thing about voices. Don’t ask.) We briefly hugged, sat down at the table he had secured for us, ordered our drinks, and commenced with the awkward small talk.

God, what did we talk about? I think we went all over the place. We talked about all the boring stuff: work, family, school, interests. The more alcohol that went in me, the more I was willing to say whatever the fuck came to my mind.

“I really hate awkward pauses,” I told him. “Don’t you hate having pauses in the conversation?”

“I don’t mind them,” Connor said.

“Oh. Well, I just think they’re really awkward.” Thus making it all the more awkward, of course.

I wish I could blame it all on the alcohol, but all I had was a hard cider.

“So…can you define what rape culture is?” I asked. This had been my go-to first date question for a while now. A very straightforward approach to screening dating candidates. A method by which I have separated the decent guys from the rest. A litmus test for sociopolitical awareness and feminism (or a lack thereof).

Which was why I was completely thrown off when Connor pursed his lips and said, “I would rather not.”

“Wait, what?” I said. “Are you serious?”

“I don’t want to talk about rape culture,” he replied.

“But…why?” My mind was spinning. Obviously it’s an awkward subject to bring up on a first date, but it’s totally relevant! And if a guy knows what rape culture is, he’s less likely to be a thoughtless perpetrator of it, right? And if he was a feminist, he would totally be down to talk about it, right? Right??

“I just don’t want to,” he insisted.

I dropped the subject. For now.

We finished our drinks and a waiter came by with the check.

“Wanna split it?” I asked.

He said sure. He put down his card. I pulled out all the cash I had, but was short a couple of bucks. That was when I started counting out change for him.

“You don’t need to do that,” Connor said. “It’s fine.”

Still, I kept pulling out more change from my wallet. For some reason I was fixated on paying him the exact amount I owed him. It took a few minutes of him watching me helplessly as I very meticulously counted out pennies and dimes and nickels before I realized that I was being weird and should stop, immediately. “Uh. I’ll buy you a drink next time if you want,” I said.

He agreed to that. I got up. “I need to use the bathroom,” I announced. “Um. Feel free to leave if you want, I promise I won’t get offended.” Oh my God what the hell was I saying. Truth be told, I was kind of freaking out because this date seemed to be going terribly and I wanted to give him an exit if he needed one.

So I went to the bathroom, came out and couldn’t find him. Oh shit, he really did leave me, I thought. But then I spotted him waiting just outside the venue. Whew.

He asked if I wanted to take a walk and I said sure. We wandered through the streets of downtown Berkeley, talking about dating and relationships. Things quickly went downhill from there–figuratively speaking.connor2

I started ranting about how awful online dating was, and how I would go on dates with guys, make awkward small talk, then never see them again. All my pent up frustrations with being a heteronormative intersectional feminist came pouring out. I told him I was too awkward and neurotic and blunt to be doing this, then apologized for doing this while being awkward and neurotic and blunt. Nothing I said was charming, sweet, or alluring. Everything that came out of my mouth was enough to shrink the boners of the most sexually deviant and easily aroused men, and ward off any guy with even the slightest propensity for romance: just 100% unfiltered, self-sabotaging word vomit.

Connor kept reassuring me that he was having a good time, though, and that he was happy I was being perfectly honest with him. I was not convinced.

“You’re very interesting,” he said.

“Well thank you,” I said, somewhat gratified. “But it’s probably because I’m slightly inebriated right now. Although you did think my profile was interesting and I was sober when I wrote that, so actually I guess I am interesting without alcohol, so thanks.”

I started running out of things to say, so I brought up the subject of rape culture again. “Would you be okay with defining rape culture now?” I asked.

He didn’t seem upset that I asked again, and did a decent job of defining it (uh, don’t remember the decent definition he provided, but I would have definitely remembered if it was shitty).

After walking up and down and around several blocks for the umpteenth time, I offered to walk Connor to his car. On our way there, a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk looked up at us and remarked, “Cute couple.”

Awkwarddddd.

We ended the night with the lighthearted conversation topic of racism (he talked about racist microaggressions experienced by a friend of his). We finally reached the parking garage where his car was. Again, a brief hug. No sparks. My bitter feminist monologue had ensured there was nothing to ignite. Then I walked away as fast as I could before realizing oh fuck I don’t remember where I parked my car fuckkkk.

By the time I got home, it was late and I had already revisited the night a hundred times in my head. Every time I thought back to all the things I said to Connor, I cringed and groaned and facepalmed and probably smacked myself a few times as a reflex. But there was nothing I could do now.

Except apologize, specifically for nagging him about rape culture when he had explicitly stated he didn’t want to talk about it to begin with.

So the next day, I wrote him the following message:

Hey! I just want to apologize for being so pushy about talking about rape culture when you were clearly uncomfortable with it. I can be a pushy person in general but that’s no excuse. I usually bring up the topic as a way of screening out dudes who are ignorant/apathetic/disinterested in feminist issues, but I guess I’ve never really thought about other reasons why someone wouldn’t want to discuss it (aside from general awkwardness). So yeah, sorry for being a jackass.

To my relief, he responded soon after:

Hey, I totally get that if there’s a dealbreaker issue, you’d want to know as soon as possible. Honestly, I found it refreshing to have a completely honest conversation with someone, it made me happy. So you shouldn’t focus on the negative (says the eternal optimist).

Evidently our conversation didn’t make him that happy, because I never heard from him again.

Not that I was surprised or anything.

This may have been one of the worst dates I’ve been on. And the worst part of it is, ~I~ was the reason it was one of the worst dates I’ve been on. I wondered if Connor had secretly thought the same thing.

Then I wondered, is it possible to be even worse at dating than you were to begin with?

tl;dr Boy messages girl, girl and boy meet for drinks, girl word vomits all over boy, girl and boy never see each other again

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Aw Hell Yes: Why Fresh Off The Boat is Fresher Than Youuu

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

[5/8/15 update: I wrote this blog post before the Eddie Huang Twitter debacle occurred. As of now I am no longer a fan of Eddie Huang. Any expression of admiration and awe displayed below was during a brief, blissfully unaware time.]

The long awaited ABC sitcom starring the first Asian American family in 20 years has finally arrived, and it’s so cool yeah, it’s totally awesome~! I will admit, I had my doubts when I first heard about it via social media. The name itself made me wary: Fresh Off The Boat. F.O.B. This particular racial slur has been somewhat triggering for me. It never meant anything good as I was growing up–just a harsh reminder that in other people’s eyes, I was just a chinky-eyed outsider who talked funny. At some point it became my personal goal to put some distance between me and the F.O.B. label, so much so that the possibility of reclaiming it is personally unfathomable to me. I projected that shame onto those in my family who spoke accented English: my mother, my cousin, my aunt. They were the ones who talked funny, not me, I thought rather defensively. I was an American born citizen, and knew how to speak proper English, goddamnit. This anxiety around being perceived as a F.O.B. is still something I struggle with today. So learning that this show would be named after a word I associate with my childhood trauma didn’t exactly leave me brimming with enthusiasm and hope.

But watching the promo did. It was a bit cheesy, but showed a lot of promise–in large part because of the mom, Jessica, played by the talented and gorgeous Constance Wu. More than once, a joke that had been perfectly delivered made me laugh out loud. At last! I was finally, finally, finally going to see a show starring Asian people on mainstream television. (Yeah yeah, there was All American Girl, but I was 3 years old when it aired and it looked pretty mediocre anyway from what I watched of it on Youtube–I blame white supremacy.) But would the white gaze fuck this shit up too?

According to Eddie Huang, author of the memoir from which the TV show was adapted, it was all sorts of fucked up. My friend Laura wasn’t particularly enthused by the upcoming premiere of the show, either, given Huang’s criticisms. But the complexity of Huang’s article intrigued me further. He refused to say “America is great,” swore a lot, and used phrases like “reverse-yellowface” and “monoculture.” His article conveyed someone who was way more fucking awesome than I had initially imagined. Clearly Huang is too awesome for network TV, but instead of making me cynical it made me optimistic for the show. In my eyes, even a diluted version of his radical racial politics would make for great, conciousness-raising TV.

Seven episodes into the season, and I’m already a huge fan. In the first episode alone, white people/white supremacy are the butt of at least five different jokes. I loved it! While I can’t relate to every single instance of the Huang family’s shenanigans (which is fine), a lot resonated with me: being raised by a mother who is the epitome of frugality, expressing love through actions and not words, being perceived as an outsider, navigating white culture with caution and confusion. Through the specificity of Eddie Huang’s experiences on the show, I connected to something universal that isn’t coded as white. And it’s not just me: I’ve seen people of all races, ages, and genders commenting online that they love the show, think it’s hilarious, and could relate to it in all sorts of ways–proof that whiteness doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be our sociocultural default, our only reference point in American culture.

There are questions raised around authenticity–for example, that Eddie’s parents speak in accents that don’t sound quite right. While I understand those critiques, I would say poorly done Taiwanese accents don’t detract from the overall quality of the show. (I, personally, haven’t noticed anything wrong with the accents, but that’s because I grew up Cambodian American. We don’t all talk the same or know the particular nuances of other Asians’ fobbiness, okay.) I actually think the show is pretty subversive for a family sitcom on network television. What I especially enjoy about the show is how it challenges the Model Minority Myth: the idea that Asians have it just as good as (if not better than) white people. That is not true to my lived experience as an Asian American, and I know it’s not true for many other fellow Asian Americans. If it really needs to be racialized within the black-white binary, I would say that, just like Eddie’s, my childhood can be more readily associated with black culture than white culture. “If you were an outsider, hip hop was your anthem,” the real Eddie Huang narrates in the pilot. I grew up with the sounds of (admittedly mainstream) rap, hip hop, and R&B, never became close friends with anyone white until after college, and developed a no BS attitude and potty mouth that white people are generally uncomfortable with. So I appreciate that Fresh Off The Boat explores one Asian boy’s family and their exploration within this racial binary in America, and how it’s not as simple as, “Oh, Asian people and white people are one and the same.” When you’re not white and you’re not black, how do you fit into America’s cultural landscape? This is a question that I wrestle with all the time, and it’s refreshing to see it being reflected in mainstream media for once.

Eddie’s father, Louis, believes in the American Dream (TM), yet his race and class become obstacles in his path to fulfill it. In the very first episode, he comes to the tragically funny conclusion that his business isn’t doing well because there isn’t a white host to greet customers, leading him to propose to a skeptical Jessica that they hire one: “Instead of people coming in and seeing a Chinese face and saying, ‘Huh? I thought this was an Old West steakhouse,’ they see a white face and say, ‘Oh! Hello white friend, I am comfortable.'” Louis ends up hiring a predominantly white staff. The business starts generating a lot of buzz and income. Then in the most recent episode (Episode 7, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle”), we see a flashback to how Eddie’s father comes up with the idea of the restaurant in the first place: he stole the manual for the Golden Saddle franchise to create a similarly-themed steakhouse of his own. The most pivotal moment as I see it is when Louis is told by the owner that he must pay $50,000 up front in order to buy a Golden Saddle.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

The look on his face is heartbreaking, especially as the others (notably, two white men) come up and fork up the cash they have, and he doesn’t. Louis’s struggles with running a successful business is a great example of how there are many minorities in America whose dreams are hindered by racial and class barriers (both of which are not mutually exclusive, of course).

Eddie, our protagonist, has his own battle with white America. He is one of only two kids of color at his new school. In the pilot episode and on his first day at school, the white kids make fun of him for his “nasty-smelling” noodles, which propels him to beg his mom for “white people lunch.” Here, we see that the desire to fit in is rooted in a desire to not be ostracized, which complicates the idea that Asians want to be like white people: Eddie isn’t so much embracing whiteness as he is trying to use it as a cover to hide his otherness. The flawless Jessica tells her son, “Well those kids, they just don’t know, that’s all. It just takes time to get used to something different,” but he refuses to listen. He ends up getting his socially acceptable Lunchable, but butts heads with the only other kid of color, Edgar, who is black. Edgar shoves him aside in line for the microwave, telling Eddie, “Get used to it! You’re the one at the bottom now!”

“No, I’m not!” cries Eddie.

“Yeah, you are! My turn, chink!”

This is a moment that makes me cringe, but also one I can appreciate: a heated exchange between two kids that is complicated by their races. We often center our discussions of racism on white people vs. one minority, which is incredibly important, but racial prejudices exist between minorities as well, and this scene is a perfect example of that. A black kid and an Asian kid, duking it out in front of staring white kids: the perfect allegorical Hallmark card for American racism.

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The minorities can senselessly hate each other all they want, but in the end, it’s white people and white supremacy who benefit from the clash between them. This all just goes to show that racial prejudice transcends race. Black people can be prejudiced against Asians, and vice versa. Black people can be prejudiced against themselves, and so can Asian people–otherwise known as internalized racism. As depicted in this moment–Edgar’s argument that Eddie is “at the bottom now” presupposes he was already at the bottom, a deeply sad and implicit admission of being inferior on the basis of race.

Here’s the one thing about the show I’ve been disappointed by: way before the fight occurs between Eddie and Edgar, Eddie asks if he can sit with him at lunch, only to turn around and jump at the chance to sit with the white kids (another fine allegory for American racism). This is precisely where I am concerned: Eddie idolizes all of these black male rappers, yet he’s going to diss the one black boy in favor of the honkies who made fun of his mom’s food? Oh hell no. It seems the irony is not lost on the show, however. “A white dude and an Asian dude bonding over a black dude?” Edgar says aloud to himself before scoffing. “This cafeteria is ridiculous!” While I appreciate some level of awareness on part of the show of the racial politics at play, I’m hoping that Eddie and Edgar will ultimately become best friends and fellow underdogs at a school that’s blindingly white. But several episodes have gone by and it seems Eddie’s social circle has only gotten whiter and more male, so I’m feeling cynical about the prospects. Damn. I can’t deny this dynamic parallels the reality of racism however. It’s true that many non-black people parodoxically have a love for black culture, yet a total disregard for black people. It’s true that anti-blackness/colorism is a thing in many Asian cultures. And it’s true that white people see Asians as more ethnically palatable than black people (which is NOT the same thing as saying whites see us as equals–to use a racial hierarchy/gross metaphor, whites see us as the lapdogs and blacks as the yard dogs). Although I can appreciate the realistic portrayal, I still would prefer the happy ending.

Focusing on the brighter side: what definitely makes the show is the one and only Jessica, the mother of the family, who is an all-around badass and breakout star. She praises her son for physiologically rejecting white culture, takes all the free samples at the overly excited grocery store, blames douchey white teenage boys for hitting her car with their bodies, and knows when a song she’s beautifully singing is NOT a duet. Better yet, the actress who plays her is also pretty kickass. Jessica is fearless, fierce, funny, and shamelessly herself. She was made even more perfect in Episode 5, “Persistent Romeo,” in which she teaches Eddie about consent and date rape by attacking him with a plush bunny.

Jessica:

Jessica: “LIKE THAT? YOU LIKE THAT?! NO? WELL GIRLS DON’T EITHER! NO MEANS NO! RESPECT GIRLS!”

YAAAAASSS. Not only is her character inherently feminist, but so is the dynamic she has with her family: they may fear and resent her at times, but through that is a deep respect for her as the matriarch. In Episode 6, “Shaq Fu,” Louis tells his family, “My father, your Ye-Ye [sp?], made me work hard for every penny. And that work ethic is how I’m able to keep the lights on.”

“But not the AC!” retorts Evan.

“That’s your mother’s thing, she runs the house, don’t pull me into that,” Louis quickly responds before returning to his lecture on work ethic–a one-liner that says a lot about the power and influence of Jessica as a stay-at-home mother and wife, power that everyone else in the household recognizes and acknowledges (okay, not too sure about the grandmother, but it’s significant that in a house primarily full of males, Jessica is the goddamn boss). Too often, the sitcom mother is portrayed as an uptight, controlling fun-sucker whose domestic labor and role in the house is often exploited, scorned, or taken for granted. Jessica subverts that trope through everyone’s deference to her, and of course, through unapologetically being herself. “That woman was tough. She could handle anything,” narrates Huang over the scene in Episode 6 where little Eddie ceases and desists with “phantom-flickering” Evan when Jessica threatens him by saying, “I could get by with only two sons. Think about that.” Through Jessica’s toughness, her dismissal of white culture, and her deep love for her family (and karaoke!), we are gifted with the opportunity to embrace an Asian American female character in all of her glorious complexity.

Fresh Off The Boat isn’t perfect. Huang’s concerns of course are completely valid. As the show progresses, there is the danger of reinforcing the status quo, of promoting white supremacy through assimilation, of giving up authenticity in favor of universality (white people love their binaries). I sincerely hope the show doesn’t go in that direction, even as the Huang family become upwardly mobile. The show will probably never reach the level of radicalness Huang envisioned, but I would be incredibly happy if it continues the way it has: questioning white culture, making jokes at the expense of white people, exploring race relations and API identity in America, challenging notions of gender within an API context, deepening and complicating its cast of well-rounded Asian American characters. The show is the first of its kind in two decades, which explains the pressure of it to be well received and successful, by both white and Asian audiences alike. That pressure is the age-old burden of representation that befalls all marginalized groups who can’t afford to be mediocre the way privileged groups can be. While this is unfair, the cast of Fresh Off The Boat is game. As Randall Park, who plays Louis, puts it perfectly in an interview with DisneyExaminer: “The hope is that, you know, the success of our show can lead to more doors being opened for Asian Americans to tell their stories.”

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

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Model Minority

She grew up in a ghetto. By ghetto she means a neighborhood where a bunch of poor, mostly Hispanic/Latino and Southeast Asian immigrant families lived, where the sounds of gunshots and wailing sirens were woven into the fabric of their frayed and tangled community. Minorities were the majority here. Black, Asian, and Latino kids alike were racist to one another, but it’s not really racist when everyone’s identity had nothing to gain from hating on each other. Poverty begets violence. She didn’t realize she was poor at the time, though. Poor meant starving in a developing nation. She was never starving–there was always a cup of noodles or corndogs to microwave, at least, when her mother didn’t feel like cooking.  And sure, the blonde ESL lady who kept treating her like she didn’t know English would keep giving her clothes for her mother to wear, but so what. And she secretly hated it when they didn’t have to wear uniforms to school anymore because she didn’t have enough regular clothes to wear, but so what. And she always hated it when teachers gave her that dumb assignment of writing what you got for Christmas since she never got anything worth writing about for Christmas, so what, and Santa Claus could never be real because she never got what she wanted and their rat-and-roach infested apartment didn’t have a chimney, so what, and what would a white dude be doing at their home anyway unless he wanted to shove Christian dogma down their throats, fuck that, and she rarely invited friends over, out of embarrassment of how she lived, so what, and her dad died when she was seven so she and her three siblings depended solely on their mother who depended solely on social security so the family could scrape by, so what. She had a Nintendo 64, and people who had Nintendo 64s were not poor, so there.

She was submissive like you expected her to be. She was quiet. She was scared. Talking to people made her want to cry. Authority frightened her. They told her, she was smart. She wanted to do what she was told. Her mother told her to do what she was told. So, she became smart. She learned this meant talking like white people and trying not to sound like a FOB. Trying not to sound like her mother. Trying not to be her mother. Her mother had no power. She learned this when she was five years old, when the white teenage girl with the freckles across the street stole her toy harmonica and refused to give it back. She burst into tears. Her mother came out and yelled in her broken English. The white girl just laughed and mimicked the mother’s garbled language. It was a nice day. The sun was shining. The white girl was riding her bike in circles in the street, laughing. Laughing because she had the stupid toy harmonica, and the stupid little chink girl and her dumbass FOB mom couldn’t do anything about it.

Her mother couldn’t do anything normal moms did, she learned. Her mother couldn’t speak English. She couldn’t write it. She couldn’t read it. She couldn’t help her daughter with her homework. She couldn’t drive her kids to places, so they walked and took the bus, or caught rides with pitying acquaintances. She couldn’t give her daughter a heart-to-heart, the way mothers did on sitcoms. She couldn’t give her daughter the right apology, the way families did on sitcoms. They fought and she yelled at her mother, you didn’t say sorry. Her mother would say, I don’t know what you want from me, because she didn’t understand the weight of sorry to a child with weirdly built expectations of familial dynamics that stemmed from internalizing how the lives of white and black middle class families played out on TV.

Being raised by a poor immigrant mother meant accumulating cultural capital that was measly in quality and quantity. Going to the movie theater was a special occasion. Getting her own stereo from Walgreens when she was 11 was a big deal. She grew up on what her friends and older sister were listening to or watching: mainstream hip hop, r&b, rap, and pop, and whatever was available when you didn’t have cable or Internet (sometimes they had cable, when her mother felt like it, and later, there was Internet). Her mother had her Khmer CDs and tapes with the lyrics that were difficult to pick apart and understand, and there were those heteronormative Khmer karaoke videos and poorly dubbed Thai lakorns that normalized rape culture, which her mother loved to binge watch but she grew to dislike the older and more aware she got.

Her mother was, is crazy. She said so herself. She fled Cambodia when the Khmer Krah-hom took over and murdered two million of their own people. Silent genocide, no justice even now. You know how it is. They were killing intellectuals and she wasn’t one of them. She never finished elementary school, but it didn’t matter. She was a farmer at heart. She escaped to America, the land of the free, home of the brave. You know how they fall for it. She told them her name, Mey, and they changed it to May. They asked her for her birthdate, she got the calendars mixed up so that her official birthday on all her papers is 6 months off. She never got the hang of English; it broke into pieces in her mouth, blurred into strange spots before her eyes, flew over her head and never into her ears. She was living in a land where everyone and everything was barely intelligible to her. She got scared. She closed up. She lived a narrow box of a life. She depended on everyone else for everything, and she hated herself for it. But she survived. She adapted without adapting and she survived. She cleaned hotel bathrooms for a while, then stopped. She couldn’t work anymore. She decided she was crazy instead. Or she became crazy. Or she accepted her craziness. Who knows. Her children would never really know, their minds and their tongues would be colonized like the country to which she has yet to return. Perhaps, like her country, her children would break free, only to be destroyed by themselves. All four of them had inherited her trauma. They were always at each other’s throats. So angry, all the time. No reason, every reason, any reason. Volatile. Trying to kill each other, thinking about killing themselves. Verbal abuse became a form of affection. Crying became a favorite pastime. She taught them this, although she rarely wears the blame. You hold it inside of you, letting it rot and spoil, until it leaks out in an outpour of vitriol. This poison is immune to time and space, generations and diaspora. It festers in your soul, drips into your children’s souls. A cycle of disillusionment and despair, fueled by the silence, the silence stretching from your lips to theirs, because it is in the silence you are safe from others but never yourselves.

Her second daughter, she was the one with the most potential. Book smart, like her sister who had died of who-knows-what, long ago. But her daughter lacked sense. Book smart got you nowhere if you lacked sense. On second thought, they were all failures. Every single one of them. They did not know how to respect their mother, save money or, most important, respect their mother by saving money. Maybe she was crazy, maybe her teeth were rotting, maybe she relied too heavily on medication, maybe she sold drugs, maybe she dived into too many dumpsters, maybe she spent too much time looking in the mirror hoping her skin would get lighter, maybe she had post-traumatic stress disorder from the sociocultural upheaval of genocide or postpartum depression from all those goddamn kids or depression in general because her compulsive liar of a husband and her remaining sister were both murdered at the hands of cancer, and maybe she spent too many years hoarding love and illicit money and being stingy with both, maybe she was trapped in a place where she had no power outside of her rundown apartment, but in the end, she was right, and they were wrong. She clung to that truth and survived, staring longingly at pictures of the land and cows she had bought in Cambodia and which she dreamed of seeing someday in the flesh, before her death, the death she would casually foretell to her children to trigger the guilt complexes she had instilled in them.

In spite of and because of her tactics, the children were all leaving, one by one. She feared this. She still needed their shitty translation jobs, needed their proof of income, their abilities to drive cars and go to school and work and exist in white hegemony. And if their love was a byproduct or a cause of this, she would have it too. She never married again after their father died. She could not sleep alone, could not live alone. Yet she could never, would never, leave this niche of a life she had carved out for herself. It was expected that at least one of them would prove their worth to her by caring for her as she had for them. It was their turn now. Which one of these useless brats had what it took to dutifully help her as she lay crippled on the mat, unable to wipe the shit from her own ass?

Who knows what’s in the other children’s heads, but the second oldest is already bracing herself for the sacrifice, more self-absorbed than selfless. Her mother’s biggest aspiration for her was to be a secretary in an office, and lo and behold, she had fulfilled it. (Well, basically. “Administrative Assistant” has less demeaning connotations.) Too bad she had to waste all that time and money puttering around in some ridiculously expensive liberal arts college, doing Buddha-knows-what. Things like first generation and cum laude don’t mean shit. It only means she owes the government a lot of money, which means it’s going to take that much longer to buy a house for her mother like she had promised in her nightly prayers to her ancestors when she was little (prayers that were mostly dictated by her mother). But her mother was, is good at the waiting game. It’s how she survived all these years. Waiting her life out for who-knows-what.

She could try telling her mother, money isn’t everything. She could try telling her, if you’re such a money expert why are you still living in poverty and fuck capitalism and quit being such an emotionally and verbally abusive bitch and quit buying into eurocentric ideals of beauty and please go to therapy so we can stop being entangled in your trauma and you can start loving us better and maybe I can love you better and I hate how you’re always saying good things about us instead of saying good things to us and why the fuck are you saying shit about my college loans when you’re over here buying some stupid cows you have never actually seen, do you really fucking think that cows are more valuable than a college degree well maybe they are but we don’t live in that kind of world anymore so just fucking deal with it okay. She could try saying these things, but she would only fail, in every sense. And this is not that kind of story.

The point of leaving, it seems, is to return. She would move back in with her mother, because she had both the minimum amount of patience required to live with her mother, and the minimum number of Khmer words and syntax to understand her mother and have her mother understand her. She would not gripe about it. (At least, she would try to keep griping to a minimum.) She would come home and allow the tensions to fade, the grudges to die, the personal aspirations to dwindle away. At least for now. She would resign herself to this small box her mother is so resolute on living in. She tries looking on the bright side. They had been somewhat upwardly mobile. Her mother had been literally dirt poor, and her father too, it seemed–her mother said he never finished school either; they arrived in the U.S., found each other, started a family, and became a part of the rising welfare class; she, the second child, went on to a four-year college, stuck it out, and elevated herself to the working class upon graduation. That was a pretty big accomplishment, wasn’t it? A step backwards for her friends who had the luxury of growing up middle class, but a step forward for her. She didn’t get knocked up in high school. She made it past high school, even past college. She has a job now. She can buy proper Christmas gifts now. She has a car that isn’t a piece of shit. She understands the ways of white people bedding now, with sheets and a comforter and everything, and even knows what a sham is.

She thinks back to her childhood, to her mother surviving. Her mother, the survivor, and here she is, just wanting to live her life away from anything her mother would know or care about. She remembers seeing her mother down on the kitchen floor, scrubbing away with those smelly rags she insisted were clean. “You like to cook and clean?” her naive little girl self said. Her mother’s somber face looking back at her: “No. I just do it. Someone has to do it.”

What are your dreams? she wanted to know, but never asked. Didn’t have the words to ask. She thought she knew, anyway. Everything she knew about her mother was secondhand guessing, assumptions filtered through a whitewashed colander. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn, it matters how much money you save. That sounds like something her mother could have said. And it’s a strange thing to realize that if she switches out the money with love, the same would still hold some form of true: It doesn’t matter how much love you earn, it matters how much love you save.

0

Colorblind

black and white
is really
white or black
is really
white then black
is really
white on black
is really
trembling white hands silencing
crying black voices
trembling white hands silencing
crying black faces
trembling
then steadying
steady
steady now
ready now
these ready white hands
these steady white hands silencing
these black bodies black people
people
with black faces
silenced by
people
with white hands
silencing
people
with black bodies
bleeding them
bleeding black bodies black people
people
with white faces
bleeding people
with black bodies
bleeding black bodies dry
of hope
bleeding them dry
of promise
dry of tomorrow
dry of color
bleeding them
bleeding out color
white
silencing black
bleeding black
killing black
whites of eyes
fading to black
now I know why
they don’t see color.

0

Things I Find Awkward

  1. Working on the 12th floor of a building and having to ride the elevator allllllllllllll the way up in miserable silence with strangers
  2. Running into people I’ve just said goodbye to
  3. Passing by the same people over and over again because okay I was going to leave but then I realized I forgot something and now I have to go back and then leave again but then I realized I was going the wrong way to begin with so I have to pass by them again and it’s like ughhhhh why is my incompetency so glaringly obvious even to random passersby
  4. Recognizing an acquaintance from a distance who is walking from the opposite direction of me but pretending not to recognize them and waiting the appropriate amount of time until I can attempt to nonawkwardly and noncreepily acknowledge them at the precise moment we pass each other (give or take a few seconds)
  5. Recognizing an acquaintance from a distance who is walking from the opposite direction of me and one of us giving a sign of recognition WAY too early so there’s this agonizing stretch of silence as we both are forced to wait until we are within hearing distance of each other to make forced small talk which wouldn’t have been necessary if we had both followed our social cues to begin with
  6. Saying hi to someone who doesn’t see me
  7. Saying hi to someone I thought was saying hi to me but in fact they were saying it to the person(s) behind me, like why did I even think I deserved a friendly gesture of recognition, I’m such an idiot
  8. Meeting a sort-of friend and wondering whether I should hug them or not
  9. Meeting a date for the first time and wondering whether I should hug them or not
  10. Having to partake in saying affirmative things on a co-worker’s birthday even though I don’t really know them so I start worrying about what to say and also worrying about not knowing what to say when it comes time for so-and-so’s birthday year after year after year of still not knowing them and then confronting the very real possibility of having to make myself get to know people just so I can say informative friendly things on their birthdays oh god
  11.  Eye contact
  12. Wondering if I have a period stain and trying to figure out a way to discreetly check out my ass
  13. People I don’t particularly like appearing to like me for some reason
  14. Not being sure of whether someone likes me (platonically OR romantically)
  15. Small talk
  16. Not hearing what someone says the 3rd or 4th time they repeat it so just nodding and smiling like I heard
  17. Coming out of the bathroom and seeing that my date has been waiting right outside the door for me and it’s like ackk I just peed and now I’m seeing you
  18. Going on a date and establishing the payment procedure (it’s like ahhh is he going to insist on paying and am I going to have to insist on saying no and of course I don’t think he should be obligated to pay for me because I’m a girl screw chivalry/benevolent sexism but well he was the one who asked me out technically and I know this mothafucker has more money than me but if I asked you out well I wouldn’t want to pay for you tbh so let’s just pay separately but how do I bring that up without sounding like an asshole just that whole conversation is erghhughhhaghh)
  19. People on BART who get out of their seats way too fucking early and try to bump me aside when it’s like bitch I’m getting off at the same stop as you calm your ass down
  20. Crying in front of people/in public places and knowing it’s awkward but crying anyway cuz the feels
  21. Sexile
  22. When I’m trying to make a joke and end up sounding more aggressive or serious than I intended because I’m just that intense sometimes and everyone just looks at me weird
  23. Realizing that I no longer have someone as a Facebook friend and not being sure of whether I deleted them or they deleted me
  24. Mentioning to the barista of the coffee shop I go to regularly that I’m interested in watching this one movie, later finding out the barista watched it before I got a chance to, then realizing when I finally get around to watching it that the movie is ripe with freaky sexual stuff that will be absolutely uncomfortable small talk the next time he casually asks whether I’ve watched the “weird” movie I unintentionally recommended
  25. Being around strangers who are singing/rapping along to music only they can hear
  26. Getting caught singing/rapping along to music only I can hear
  27. Having to introduce myself to someone by shaking their hand when my hands are wet because I just got done washing them so they probably think I’m gross
  28. Farting around people who aren’t my immediate family
  29. Taking a shit in public restrooms (I just can’t)
  30. Knowing that the person in the stall next to me is taking a shit
  31. Friends talking about doing something I’m not invited to
  32. Finding myself talking about doing something around friends who weren’t invited (and I don’t think I have the jurisdiction to invite them)
  33. Finding myself talking about doing something around friends who weren’t invited (and I don’t think it makes sense to invite them because they’re not really a part of the social circle involved)
  34. Finding myself talking about doing something around friends who weren’t invited (and I didn’t invite them because I knew they’d be too busy/wouldn’t be interested, but couldn’t be bothered to invite them as an empty gesture of courtesy)
  35. Finding myself talking about doing something around friends who weren’t invited (and I just plain don’t think they should be invited, period)
  36. Leaving voicemails through which I end up rambling on and on like a dumbass
  37. Talking to hot people I don’t really know
  38. Talking to hot people I don’t really know AND they’re being nice to me
  39. When people start complimenting me out of nowhere
  40. Talking aloud to myself and making weird gestures as I articulate my thought process as per usual and realizing other people can probably hear/see me
  41. Saying something that wasn’t really funny or clever but the other person didn’t hear me the first time so I have to repeat it and this time it’s definitely not funny or clever at all
  42. Saying something that was pretty funny or clever but someone in the group didn’t hear me the first time so I have to repeat it but this time it’s not funny or clever and wow, did I really just butcher the delivery of my own witty remark
  43. Being the only person of color in a room
  44. Being the only Asian in a room
  45. A stranger with a really thick accent asking me for help and I really want to understand them and help them out and I definitely don’t want to come off as some racist/xenophobic asshole but for god’s sake what are they saying someone please help
  46. When a dude hits on me and I’m not interested but I can’t outright reject him because my friend is snuggling up to his friend and now I’m like obligated to hang out with this douche
  47. When a dude hits on me and I’m not interested but I can’t outright reject him because he’s a regular at the bar I kind of want to be a regular at, too
  48. When a random dude on the street says something demeaning and I don’t say anything back because I feel scared and powerless and ashamed
  49. When a random dude on the street exercises what he feels is his right to have a one-sided conversation involving me (“Hi cutie what’s your name cutie can I have your number okay then bye cutie”)
  50. When a friend who is nearly flawless complains about the one pimple on her chin and I’m like, bitch, that’s me on a good day
  51. When I accidentally find myself following someone out in public because I just so happen to be going in their direction and now I feel like a creepy stalker, so much so that I take some random roundabout way just to avoid seeming/feeling like one
  52. When I spot someone I kind of know and take some random roundabout way just to avoid having to interact with them
  53. Seeing someone I know strictly in a professional setting (like a teacher) in a public setting (like a nightclub or a grocery store) oh god
  54. The time I told a gay friend I had “2 gay things” to tell her and then I was like well shit that came out wrong and felt like the dumbest straight person ever
  55. When I’m talking about oppression against a particular marginalized identity that I don’t have, to someone who does have that identity, and I feel really self-conscious because I’m trying to be a supportive ally and not some kind of appropriating/colonizing expert and I’m just hoping that my well-meaning intentions come across
  56. When someone with more privileges than me in society demands that I explain to him why he has privilege because he certainly doesn’t feel like he has any
  57. When a white dude points to dictionary.com’s definition of racism as proof that he has experienced racism
  58. When a white dude says he doesn’t have any privilege because he doesn’t own any slaves
  59. When a white dude has to racially code my attractiveness
  60. When a dude asks if I have any hot Asian friends who are single because I am evidently not attractive enough to merit existence in any of those categories, thanks a lot
  61. Misaligned high-fives
  62. Trying to high-five someone who just leaves me hanging like a doucheface
  63. Misaligned hugs
  64. Trying to hug someone who just leaves me hanging like a doucheface
  65. Trying to hug someone who very reluctantly reciprocates and I’m just like fuck why did I initiate that shit for
  66. Hugs in general tbh
  67. Making out
  68. PDA
  69. People who don’t know they’re being awkward
  70. Me
  71. People sneezing and me having to resist the urge to say “Bless you” in case people interpret it religiously or when people don’t say “thank you” in response which is not to say I want gratitude but more like wth they’re leaving me hanging better just avoid it altogether
  72. Having people say “Bless you” when I sneeze and then maybe 2 more times before giving up because when I sneeze I fucking sneeze a lot
  73. Jokes that are so unfunny and stupid that I end up laughing at how unfunny and stupid they are but the person who made them thinks I’m laughing because I think he’s being clever and funny
  74. People who think they can say homophobic shit around me because I’m straight
  75. People who think they can say anti-black/racist shit around me because I’m not black
  76. Sit-down dinners with people who would be somewhere further down my completely speculative list of people I would save from a hypothetically burning building