“That” Moment of Clarity

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?

Takami Delisle

Takami is a medical interpreter and Co-founder of Coalition of Anthropology Students of Color (coalitionascolor.org). You can reach her via @tsd1888 on Twitter.

6 thoughts on ““That” Moment of Clarity

  1. For me “that” moment was grad school, when I finally had the realization that taking (or teaching) that one class (or, perhaps more accurately, that ONE section of ONE class) about race and racism simply wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even close to enough. I think this happens in anthropology a lot–we “cover” race and racism like subjects that just need to be checked off a list, and assume that since we did that we’re good. I reached a point where I realized that I needed to think more about these issues, pay attention, read more…and listen what people have to say. This realization was sparked, in large part, by the experiences of my fellow colleagues in anthropology…and then everything that was going on around the US at that time (2009-2012). In terms of specific works, Karen Brodkin’s article on anthropology as “white public space” was particularly important in making me rethink race, racism, and anthropology.

    Thanks for this post, Takami.

  2. Thanks for the comment Ryan, you saved me from the world’s tiniest violin! It would be interesting to see how many people have “that” moment IN academic discussions about racism. I tend to think “that” moment happens most likely outside classrooms, but then I may be wrong…

  3. Hi Takami. Well, it wasn’t actually the academic discussions, but what was going on all around that brought it out. That moment for me did not happen during any grad seminars–although it may have started to happen when I read Brodkin, Sarah Kendzior, and so many others who were discussing race and racism inside and beyond anthropology. This includes the posts from one of our regular commenters here at SM during that time, who was known as “Discuss White Privilege.” She was definitely one person who pushed me to think about these issues more–who sort of forced me to stop looking away and pay attention. There was so much going on at the time, and the connections were hard to ignore. I started writing more about race and racism here on SM around that time, but it wasn’t enough. There has to be more because while I can sit comfortably and write about this stuff whenever I want, others are out there dealing with the continuing effects of racism day in and out. So it’s good when people speak out, when they push others to think about issues they might not want to see or pay attention to. Yes, pushback and resistance comes with it, but that’s all the more reason to keep going. In my opinion, this is one subject that contemporary anthropology could really be working harder to address and speak out about.

  4. In 1987, I was hired as an HIV peer educator and started talking about HIV prevention in jails, drug treatment programs, schools, and handing out bleach and condoms in the streets. I was forced, then, through the urgency of the work I did, to confront (and be confronted) by the fact that I was neither HIV positive, nor a person of color.

    Further, as a case manager, I had clients who were homeless and/or mentally ill. More than once, they accused me of making money off the backs of people with HIV (nevermind that, financially, I could qualify for the same programs). My clients came from all walks of life: from all income levels; gay, straight, transgender, wealthy, poor, homeless, sex workers, drug addicts, incarcerated, elderly, and young. HIV, in its devastation, did not, does not discriminate, though the services, institutions, and public often did. I learned a great deal about my place in the world and my own biases through the people I was honored to work for and with–and the many friends I lost as well. They taught me courage in the face of great challenge, adaptability, and resilience. I am forever grateful to them. Fighting, for twenty-one years to help eradicate HIV/AIDS made me into a social justice warrior. I paused in the fight to attend grad school and as soon as this darn dissertation is done, I’ll be back on the front lines.

  5. I cant say I have ever had a moment of clarity. I had a moment of retrospect as I have read your blogs, Takami. I think back to when I was about ten and poverty was used against me as a tool of social domination. Something that I had no power to change was used to define who I was, and was used to control what I could do and who I could be. Of course, I hesitate, because I cannot say it is the same as race. But it is this retrospective moment that ignites a passion and an empathy, however misguided.

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