Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dear Aurora,

I have some things to explain to you. Things you clearly don't understand; things you think you understand, but obviously don't; and things you're have absolutely no clue about. Hold on to your butt, little one, because you're about to get schooled by one frustrated old lady.

When our family moved to South Korea, it was with bright eyes and an incredibly naive outlook on life. We were coming from a lovely city in America where we thought we'd raised our children to be loving, kind, and accepting of everyone. We'd taught them not to see race, but rather, to just see the human race, and that by raising them to be "color-blind," we were serving our children well.

It wasn't until we moved abroad, and our perspective was widened considerably, that we realized that being color-blind was not the correct approach to differences in race. Until then, it'd never occurred to us that by ignoring the color of a person's skin, we were perpetuating ignorance, and that by pretending differences in race--and the way a person is treated based on the color of their skin--don't exist, we were furthering the racial divide in our home country. We should've taught them the history of all races, not just white American history. We should have taught them to see color, acknowledge diversity, and to celebrate it. We should've raised them to fight against racism, rather than pretending it no longer exists--even if it wasn't a problem in our circle. Just because we weren't privy to, or a part of it, didn't mean it wasn't happening, and we acknowledge that.

You see, Aurora, we made a mistake. You'll do the same thing when you're a parent. It's inevitable. Parenting is insanely difficult, and screwing up is going to happen somewhere along the way. That's part of the whole parenting gig. You can't really understand that now, because you're sixteen, and filled with angst, self righteousness, indiscriminate anger, and sloppy conclusions about topics you know very little about. You go to school with my daughter every day, spewing judgment and hate like a broken spigot that will not--can not--be turned off, with very little regard to the folks you're dousing. And you do that because you're a kid, and your frontal lobe isn't finished developing, therefore you--by scientific fact--act like a moron. Don't get defensive, just marinate in that for a minute. It's not your fault you're acting this way. You're too young to see how foolish you are. With enough time, you'll be able to look back and see how many people were saturated by your broken spigot. But now? Today? You can neither see, nor have the ability to care.

But I am not a child. I am an adult. I'm darn close to 42, and I've been around a lot longer than you have, and I've experienced a lot more than you have. And I am here to tell you: you are misinformed about me, my daughter, our family, and our journey, and here is why...

Growing up, my family was poor. We grew up in a small town of 300 people, where we stood in a line at the local Post Office to be allotted powdered milk and government cheese to keep ourselves fed. We wore bread sacks inside our winter boots to keep our feet dry, and we got free lunches at school, because we were considered low income. My first car--which was never really my car, it belonged to my parent's from whom I had to get permission to use it--was a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Estate that was well over 12 years old, had a plexiglass window we couldn't afford to replace, and had one back door that wasn't useable. I was allowed to get my hair done once a year, when I was taken to the local salon to get a 50$ perm on my hair that my mother usually saved for six months prior to afford. The only brand name article of clothing I owned was my dark purple B.U.M. Equipment tee shirt that my friend, Lisa, gave to me as a gift, because it hadn't fit her. When my mother bought me shoes, I was given a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of casual shoes, and they were to last all year. If they didn't, I was S.O.L. (Don't know what that means? Google it.) And when I tore a contact lens during my Junior year, I wore glasses for the next four months until my parents could afford its $30 replacement.

When I became and adult, I married young and foolishly. Too young, if you ask me, but we'll save that for another post. Anyway, I got married very young to a man I scarcely knew, and I immediately popped out two children, in quick succession. The good news is, these two children turned out to be the greatest and most life-alteringly remarkable gifts God has ever given me, and therefore, my time in this marriage was time well spent. The bad news is, the relationship was toxic and unsafe, and I was left to fend for these two children all by myself for the next four years. I left with a duffel bag, a three year old, and a 6 month old infant. During this season of single motherhood, we relied on government assistance (I'm sure you've heard of it) because I was an uneducated woman in her twenties without the skill necessary to provide effectively on my own. I worked full time--40 hours a week--for minimum wage, which was, at the time $7.00 an hour, and lived in a home splitting rent evenly with my mother, who was working full time as well. My children--one of whom is your classmate that you often refer to as "privileged," "racist," a "typical white girl," among other, more offensive terms I'm sure you'd rather I didn't repeat--were put into government subsidized daycare for over 40 hours a week while I worked to support them.

During this time we relied on food stamps (or what's known as an EBT card) to feed ourselves, because my income wasn't large enough to cover the cost of rent, power, oil heat, automobile fuel, phone bills, internet/TV, and keeping my rapidly growing children clothed properly for all four seasons, most months I came up short. When the end of the month came, and we were out of EBT funds, we often relied on the generosity of our local church (that has a food/rent assistance program) to help us make ends meet. In more than one instance, usually because either I'd gotten sick or one of the children had gotten sick and I'd been forced to miss work, my paycheck would be smaller than expected, and we would find ourselves in what I can now jokingly refer to as a "pickle." But at the time, it was an incredibly frightening, terrorizing sensation that would paralyze me, as I had no means to meet my children's needs. On more than one occasion, I sold my blood to a local plasma bank for enough cash to buy eggs, bread, and milk to feed them for the additional week or so until payday. During the times when we simply didn't have enough money to refill the oil (heat) tank, we simply wore multiple layers of pajamas to bed, and gathered around the open oven while we ate breakfast in the morning to warm up.

My children were (thankfully!) covered by government provided health care, but there were times when I was not. When I got sick during these times, I paid through the nose for treatment, if I got treatment at all. When I got new clothes or shoes, it was usually given to me as a gift from a generous friend, or a hand-me-down from someone taking pity on me. When I got my hair or nails done (a rarity during these years of my life) it was usually done on trade. Either I traded floral design work (a trade I'd picked up over the years) or babysitting to a skilled professional I needed help from. There was a Christmas when my children (one of whom you currently go to school with) weren't getting any gifts from me. I simply didn't have enough money to buy gifts, and was relying heavily on their young age that they wouldn't notice the lack of gifts, and would just enjoy the presence of a tree and family and music and lights. On Christmas Eve, there was a knock on our front door, and when I opened it, there was a random box of gifts waiting for me in the snow. They were presents for my kids from "Santa", provided by an angel who still remains nameless, even all these years later. I was given a box of food at my job (gathered by my coworkers aware of my fragile life situation) so that I could make a Christmas dinner, and by a series of miracles, I was able to provide a Christmas experience for my kids, despite the odds being significantly stacked up against me that year.

When my oldest son started kindergarten, his school wardrobe came from a clothing bank located above the WIC office I attended. (Don't know what WIC is? Google it, too.) After learning of our precarious financial situation, my son's kindergarten teacher slipped tickets and vouchers for every after-school program requiring a fee into his backpack for the entire year, because she knew that we literally could not afford to attend anything that costed money. The series of cars that I drove during my years as a single mother were a car with a seized up engine; a car with a blown out transmission; a car with no heat that was loaned to me while its owner did jail time; a car that had radiator problems, therefore the heat had to run full blast all the time; and a car given to me for free that was 25% rust, and had a windshield that wasn't actually attached to the car, so when I stopped quickly, it lifted off of the car, then thunked back into place. Sometimes I actually couldn't afford gasoline for my car(s) so I was forced to borrow my mothers car, bum rides for me (and my children,) or simply skip work because I had no ability to get myself there. I did not ever have auto insurance while I was a single mother--to have had it would've meant choosing between food for my children and coverage, and food was at the top of the priority list. The backyard of our house became a jungle of weeds up to my waist, because I couldn't afford lawn maintenance, nor could I afford a lawn mower, nor could I afford to PUT FUEL IN A LAWNMOWER, even if I borrowed one. Birthday parties consisted of cakes I had to save months for in advance, and usually only their grandmother in attendance, because I couldn't afford food, drinks, decorations, or gift bags for additional kids. Meals in restaurants only happened during tax refund season, and vacations? What were those? We didn't actually have our first family vacation until I remarried, and even then it didn't happen until after we'd set aside a small amount of money to save for a year prior.

Even after I remarried and our life became significantly easier and more joyful with the addition of a dad and two more brothers, we were never handed anything. Everything we owned was either gifted, used previously, or acquired after much work, sweat, tears, and saving. When we bought all of our children shoes at the beginning of the year, it was with the understanding that they had to make those shoes work until the following spring, period. If they tore holes in their jeans (bought at Old Navy, not Escada, Guess, or Levis) then they had "distressed" jeans to get them through the year, period. If they needed extras--like toys, makeup, or additional school supplies after the ones we bought for them at the beginning of the year (oh yeah, in America you buy school supplies yourself, and it costs a crap ton of money)--they were instructed to work for them themselves. If they didn't, they didn't get them. Our children took cold lunch to school every day, because school lunches were too expensive to buy, and they weren't allowed to participate in any extra-curricular activities that weren't offered for free or low-cost, because it was too expensive for our family to afford. Braces came to our two oldest children after scrimping and saving and cutting out unnecessary expenditures like extra clothes or vacations, and outings like trips to the mall or dinner or the movies with friends happened maybe once a month, if it was a month we could actually afford it. If not....S.O.L. (Again, Google it.) Backpacks? Get them at Walmart. Shoes? Get them at Payless. Prom dresses? Call a friend and find someone to borrow one from. Private school? Uhh, nope. It's public school clear up until the day dad's job offered to pay for private--otherwise we'd still be in a rural public school with sack lunches and hand-me-down shoes.

You see, Aurora, our life was not, in any way, shape, or form, the glamorous, privileged life of the white Americans you so often accuse my daughter of being. We were, and still are (by Songdo standards) poor. Go ahead. You can say it. Poor. I'm not ashamed of it, and neither is my daughter.

It's true, racism is alive and well in America, I can't and won't deny it. And though I've never seen blatant examples of it, I do acknowledge that white-privilage is an epidemic that exist in certain areas, and that my family has likely benefitted from it at times. My children have never been unlawfully chased or shot at by a cop, nor have they ever been refused service or help in America--can't say the same for Korea, but that's not what we're talking about here. I cannot say the same for my fellow Americans of color. And that makes me deeply ashamed and sad. I cannot deny the existence of racism in my home country, and I cannot pretend it isn't a problem. It's repugnant, and it should be stopped. It will be stopped, if I have anything to say about it. And if it means I have to change some things about myself in order to help instigate this change in whatever corner of America we wind up living in...I'll do it willingly. I will not be part of the problem anymore. I will be part of the solution.

Will you?

It is imperative that you understand this: the color of our skin has not erased the struggles my children and I have experienced. The color of my skin did not make my life easier when I was a poor child, or when I was a poor single mother. It is absolutely correct that I was never pulled over by a cop because of the color of my skin, and never looked at sideways while walking through a grocery store, and that is not fair. However, the color of our skin didn't diminish the significant struggle we had. My daughter, your "friend," went without things she needed, because of our poverty. She was not handed a glorious life on a silver platter. She has had to either watch her parents toil for every scrap she's gotten, or she's had to toil for it herself. There have been very few handouts.

The girl that you openly call "whitey," "typical white girl," and "white racist" has never knowingly ever put a person of another color down, tried to hold them back, tried to exploit one for their own gain, perpetuated racist language or mindsets, or mistreated another human being based on their color. The person that you are treating with such judgmental, anger-infused, misguided, poorly researched and uneducated behavior is the very person in your circle who, unlike yourself, has actually experienced the opposite of privilege. The friend that you are perpetually insulting, mocking, prodding, triggering, and attempting to insult and minimize is the very person that if you were to find yourself in an actual racist situation (which, we call all agree, you've never actually experienced to date, as you've never actually been TO the country you so vehemently loathe) would lay down her own life in defense of yours, purely because she is a good girl who stands up for what is right--in every situation, regardless of what anyone thinks. Your words are literally stabbing the one person who can *actually* understand the meaning of the word struggle in the back.

You know not of what you speak, little girl.

Aurora, you wear designer clothing, travel the world, stay in luxurious accommodations, and eat out whenever your heart desires. You live in a million dollar high rise. You ride around in a luxury car. You attend a school that costs over 35K a year, and mommy and daddy pay for it, in addition to several school trips and activities with costs in the thousands. If you need shoes, you're given shoes. If you need makeup, you're given makeup. You want for nothing. You are an Asian young woman living in an Asian country, in the most privileged of lifestyles, with very, very little to want for. Your needs are met, and met well, by parents who work extremely hard, who--through your perpetual state of ingratitude and aggression--clearly aren't appreciated in the slightest by you.

You've never had to gather around an open oven to warm yourself before school. You've never had to go to a clothing bank for school clothes. You've never had to stand in line in public to wait for a government handout of processed cheese. You've never had to forgo a vacation because the brakes went out on mom and dad's used car. You've never had to go to bed in snow pants because it was so cold in your house. You've never had to face a holiday season without a gift because it wasn't in the budget. You've never had to wait until the one day a year your parents can afford to take you out to dinner. You've never had to go to an underfunded public school where you weren't allowed to participate in any activity that struck your fancy, because extras just aren't in the budget. You've never gone to bed with a growling stomach because the fridge was empty--not just because you decided to watch your carb intake. You've never wanted for one material thing in your sixteen years on this earth, and daughter is your favorite example of "privilege?" It's true, my daughter has never been shot at, arrested, or passed over for employment because of her "whiteness," but let's be real, Aurora, neither have you.

What the actual heck? You cannot punish an innocent person for mistreatment that she has never participated in, never would participate in, and that has never actually occurred in your life. It's disillusioned. You are a girl of extreme privilege who "identifies as a poor person who has been mistreated." You are a poser, Aurora, and the worst type of one. You are a rich, well treated girl who has never seen a moment of the bias you rage at everyone else over. You're creating strife that doesn't actually exist in your life. Yes, it exists elsewhere. But here? In your life in South Korea? With your friends at your pretentious private school? Nope. Doesn't actually exist. You are creating reasons to be pissed off at the world, and to fight and argue with literally everyone in your life, and for what? Attention? Sympathy? A fight?

If you want these things from me, then congratulations. You've got it. You have my attention for practicing the very racist behavior you so adamantly despise. Guess what? We despise it, too. And we'll fight racism with you, if you can slow your roll enough to see the error in your approach. Because it's wrong. Fighting racism with racism is not an effective means of rebellion. You are misguided and childish in your approach.

You also have my sympathy. I feel sorry for you because you are an incredibly intelligent, bright girl who is so grossly misguided and mixed up, that it's almost comical. You are perpetuating the very things you claim to despise. You are practicing the very behaviors that sicken you. You are behaving like a moody tyrant, and ostracizing yourself from your friends over something you've never actually been a victim of. I feel sorry for anyone this delusional. It must suck to be so terribly confused.

You also have a fight from me. Two fights, actually, Aurora, so pat yourself on the back. Go, you! You've fired me up to the point where I am ready to go to battle against you. I will never tolerate a pretentious, moody teenager to minimize my daughter's existence to a plethora of disrespectful names and inaccurate generalizations. I will fight against this kind of misguided, adolescent bullish*t every single day of the week. Because you are wrong. About my daughter, about me, and all of the white Americans back at home who are working to right a few centuries of wrongs against our brothers and sisters of color.

And I am also willing and ready to fight with you. Because if you feel this strongly about racism, then you are going to need an army.  I am willing to join this army, and fight in the ranks along side of you, so long as your rage is pointed at the people who actually deserve it.

Please reconsider who you call "whitey," "privileged," and "racist," henceforth. Like I said: you know not of what you speak, little girl. 

Her mom