The Bus to Happiness

I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day, but I don’t think there is anything such as complete happiness. It pains me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and racism. I think when you say you’re happy, you have everything that you need and everything that you want, and nothing more to wish for. I haven’t reached that stage yet.  ~Rosa Parks

I came across this video recently.  It is an experiment, highlighting the very real existence of racial profiling in our world today.  Three people try to steal a bike in broad daylight–a black male, white male, white female.  People just look and move on as the white teen steals the bike.  People actually helped the white woman.  The black man?  Anger, yelling, more than quick to call the police.  What also struck me was that the profiling was not limited to the white passersby.  Even two black women explained that they thought the white teenager didn’t look suspicious.

Latke ended up pretty much recreating this experiment himself a couple days ago. Standing outside the BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit–the subway system around these parts), my husband found himself unable to get into his car. (Long story, but basically you can only get into that car with a key fob, and he’d lost his.) So there he is, no way to get into the car, and I couldn’t get him because I had no key to my car. (Yeah, please don’t ask. How we keep the kids alive, I’m not sure.)

He proceeded to open the trunk and try to reach through the ski hole. When that didn’t work, he asked a passerby for help. Help to break into his car. The guy obliged. There the two are, using sticks and whatever they can find to try to pop the lock from the inside through the trunk, and a BART cop is sitting in his car, watching them. Yes, the cop sat and watched as two men tried to break into a car.

Eventually, the BART cop did approach them, and Latke did explain why he was breaking into the car, and that it was, in fact, his. Did the cop ever stick around to verify the story? Nope. Just let him be.  Tell me that white male privilege isn’t real.  

Contrast this with a friend of mine whose husband is Latino.  He gets regularly stopped while he drives. No. Amend that. He gets stopped while driving after committing no infraction.  He just gets stopped for being brown.

Then there is me.  I grew up constantly being patted on the head as a model minority.  I had teachers compare me to other brown kids in my class, pointing out that they weren’t good like me.  Later, once I reached middle and high school, I had people tell me that I was probably a nicer person because “You’re all taught to be more submissive, it probably makes you more thoughtful.”  I was asked to be a math tutor in high school even though the person asking had no idea what kind of grades I got.  I had men hit on me, asking me whether I was different (tighter) “down there”.  (I know this last one is disgusting, but I include it because it is real.  I could not count how many times I’ve been asked that question.)

It became increasingly clear to me that because I am Asian, I’m “the other white”.  I don’t conjure up images of gang wars and border crossings.  Yes, I’m not them, but I’ll never be you.  

When I challenged people on these statements, the responses were almost worse than the original offense.  I wasn’t even saying anything mean.  You can’t even take a compliment?  Stereotypes are there for a reason.  Or, the rationalizations.  Those were awesome.

I can’t be the first to think this but sometimes I feel that people with Down syndrome are cast as model minorities as well. They’re so happy.  They’re such angels.  They’re so sweet.  

While we were still waiting on test results, one mother told me, if she had to have something “genetically wrong” with her child, she would pick Down syndrome.  My kid is the ideal defect.  Placed out of the norm, but somehow elevated within it.

The kind of prejudice that showed itself in that video is in every one of us.  It just is.  It is in me too.  I watched that video and know in my heart that I would have treated those individuals differently as well.  How differently, I’m not sure.  I pray I’d have the fortitude to question myself, but I can’t know for certain.  Buying into the stratification that results from letting prejudice go unquestioned is in every one of us as well.  When I was younger, I did feel relief that adults didn’t treat me the way I saw them treating the black kids in my class.  I also know in my heart that when we got the news that our son has Ds, I was a tiny bit grateful for the idea that Ds was painted as one of the “better ones to have”.

The insidious thing about discrimination is that we all buy into this screwed up stratification in some way or another.  Disability, color, sexuality, disability, gender, age, and a long list of others… We’ve most likely sat all over that bus and not even realized it.  No doubt, some have been forced to the back more often than others.  But… If we could all tap into the times we’ve been excluded from the front, couldn’t we get closer to respecting each other, no matter what?  It sounds so naive, but it also seems just that simple.  I know that minds far greater than mine have already hashed out these ideas further than I ever could.

The pernicious attitudes that prevented Rosa Parks from claiming happiness are still alive and well.  Sometimes I really am saddened and wonder, when will we get there?

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12 Comments on “The Bus to Happiness”

  1. Galit says:

    Powerful!

    It is interesting that in many contexts in America today, Jews have become “white folks”, but every now and again the stereotype rears its ugly head again. And as you said, it often comes out disguised as a compliment.

    Do you feel more prejudice as an Asian, or as a woman?

    • jisun says:

      Ah, I should give more context. Latke does not “look Jewish” at all. He’s definitely inherited quite a bit from the non-Jewish side if his family. So while I wouldn’t argue that Jews are in a position of white privilege, I would argue, that nearly everyone treats him as a white American male.

      I don’t know if I could say that being Asian or being female could be separated out like that. My experience as an Asian immigrant in this country is so influenced by my experience as a woman, and give versa. Hard to say.

  2. Jenny says:

    Interesting post! My kids face these types of things daily. My kids are part Native, but they don’t have dark skin, and their hair is pretty fair. And because we live in an area where whites are a minority they have been teased and not included at times because they are not “Native enough”. It’s sad.

    With Russell it is just as you described. People think he has the “desirable disability”. I remember a Doctor saying that to us while Russell was in the NICU…That it could be so much worse, at least he only had Ds. If she had a child that was the disability she would pick. I had mixed feelings about that then and still do to this day.

    Loved this post, lot’s to think about.

    • jisun says:

      So interesting to hear about that dynamic where you live. Yes, there is so much judgement about not being “enough” of something, as if it is a sign of legitimacy.

      I find these ideas about Ds all over the place and I’m really trying to resist it. It isn’t that I don’t understand it, but it feels wrong to me, because how would I feel if I had a cold with a different trisomy, for example, ya know?

  3. Diane says:

    I hear ya friend. “You must make such good grades cause you’re really good at math.” Um no, not really. I barely passed calculus. Like Jenny said I always get the “it could be so much worse”. “Ds kids are soooooo happy and sweet.” Just get tired of it all sometimes.

  4. At the first New Parent meeting I went to with our local Ds group when Baxter was about 7 weeks old or so, a man with an older kid said Ds is the “Cadillac of disabilities.” This is after I cried and cried in front of the group because things were still rough for me at the time. I just couldn’t believe he said that to me…and really still can’t. I’m pretty sure parents that have had to go through open heart surgery with their children wouldn’t think they had the ‘good’ disability.

    Like you, I would like to think I wouldn’t behave the way those folks do in the video, but not sure that I would…and it’s actually something I’m trying to really take notice of more in my day to day. Very thought provoking post and the Rosa Parks quote made me cry.

  5. AK says:

    I’m not sure we’ll ever get there. How sad does that make me? Plenty sad. Human beings are tribal, prejudices get passed down from generation to generation. There’s something in our wiring that makes us categorize things and people. All we can do is raise our kids the best we can to avoid bigotry, bias and stereotypes and gently educate other people about what’s offensive.

  6. Rosa says:

    Hi, love your blog , I think his video might interest you http://m.videobash.com/video/show/id/235327
    It’s about racism in Mexican kids, very sad


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