Over dinner at a cozy beachfront restaurant in Florida, my dear friend from Costa Rica sadly talked about the devastating Orlando shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others on a Latin theme night at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 12. As our conversation continued, she became more exasperated and eventually bewailed, “But these are my people!” For her, she went on, the heartbreak from the tragedy was the moment when she intensely felt her identity as a gay Latina for the first time. It was the moment she started to feel the strong impulse to stand up with other gay Latinx.
Another dear friend of mine Veronica Miranda, who started the organization “Coalition of Anthropology Students of Color” with me, once told me that it wasn’t until she left California for an anthropology graduate program in a staunchly conservative state when she became politicized. As she told me, “I never considered myself a person of color until I moved here and went to school here.” It was the moment when she came to the fuller sense of her identity as a Latina anthropologist. It was also the beginning of her advocacy for anthropology students of color.
My friends’ stories reminded me of an edited book I recently had read, “Unhooking from the Whiteness: The Key to Dismantling Racism in the United States.” Each of the contributing authors presents her/his auto-ethnographic accounts to highlight the awakening moment when she/he began to “unhook” or disengage from whiteness. For the white authors, their moments came with the realization of what white privileges are and what it means to lose or abandon the privileges. For the authors of color, their moments emerged from interrupting their own conformity to white privileges and directly challenging racist practices that had subjugated them over and over again. By “unhooking” from whiteness, all of the authors argue, they can become more active and effective in their anti-racism efforts.
So what’s the point of these stories about “that” moment?
As my guest blogger gig comes to an end here today, I thought how much I’ve shoved my opinion about racial issues in your eyes since the beginning of this month. So I decided to do an interactive post to close my gig – well, “interactive” only if anyone ever ended up leaving any comments here, and so there is a possibility that I will be talking to myself and playing the world’s tiniest violin. My question for those who are reading this now is this: What was that moment of clarity for you to become a voice for anti-racism, anti-sexism, and any other social justices, even if you were the minority in the room, even if most of the people you were speaking to in the room vehemently negated your stance, and even if you were labeled as unprofessional and uncivil??
I still vividly remember the time I finished reading “Different Racisms: On Jeremy Lin and How The Rules of Racism Are Different For Asian Americans” by Matthew Salesses (the 2nd part of his essay is here). It was my that moment when I realized that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t overreacting to incidents where I thought people treated me differently because of my “flat” face and “foreign” accent. That was the moment I finally embraced myself as an Asian American female anthropologist, became hungrier for reading and writing about race and gender beyond anthropology (it wasn’t so easy to find anthropological literature on Asian Americans), and felt the visceral urge to speak up and confront racist behaviors. It was that defining moment for me.
So, what was your that moment of clarity?