Feelings of discomfort come in several different shapes and sizes. Discomfort, of course, can be self-inflicted. You know, the kind where you’re loofah-ing in the shower and you loofah a little too vigorously? There are other feelings of discomfort brought upon by others, sometimes purposefully and sometimes completely inadvertently. Sometimes these feelings of discomfort help us to get over ourselves, and sometimes they can remind us not to wear a certain pair of pants with a certain lacey thong.
Lately, I have beem floundering in a morass of discomfort. It is one that is difficult to admit. I imagine it’s up there with the discomfort that Ditka and Dole may have felt before going public about impotence. But my discomfort derives from something that I can probably, actually, intelligently overcome.
I’m just really uncomfortable lately as a minority. I’m not good at it. Yes, I am a white woman, living in urban America. My first language is English and I have a college degree. I am an unlikely minority. But I am often in the minority. And I am very bad at being a minority, truth be told.
Since I married outside of my race and religion, I really have no right to be shocked by my circumstance. But I am consistently surprised that being a minority is so terribly difficult.
My husband, who is Korean-Canadian (and my favorite CanAsian, at that) has dealt with minority status throughout his entire life. As a minority, he knows how to work a room. He is a master of the superficial conversation. Growing up, he expected his instructors to scroll down the attendance sheet, and look up for the Asian kid when their pencils reached “John Lee.” He expects that he may be the only person of color when we attend large events like weddings with 200 or more guests. He has never – in the seven years that I have known him – been inclined to congregate only with other Asians. It is perhaps for this reason that I always found him so accessible, and yes, I did just say that I found my pre-husband an accessible person of color, which is my point exactly.
I am having trouble accessing the person that I need to be when I am in the minority, because I have never had to cultivate that person. I grew up in the lily-white suburbs of northern Ohio. I attended private schools nearly all of my life. I spent my summers at a public pool with other white kids, and I competed with other Irish Catholics in basketball and in Irish step-dance competitions. I heard more than my share of racist jokes growing up, and it was not so long ago that I learned the critical error in calling Asian people “Oriental.”
“Oriental” now gives me an acidic feeling in my stomach.
For the past several years, I’ve been attending a Korean church. Most of our Saturdays are spent with these churchies, many of whom are Korean, none of whom are white or raised Catholic, or from Ohio. Frequently, by these churchies, I am told that I look tired (“I’m white. I have lines under my eyes.”) that my nose is so small and pointy (“Yup, I’m white.”) and that I am sarcastic (“I’m Irish.”). I’m also asked when I am having a baby, that people are expecting me to have a baby, and oh, I know I just asked you this last week, but when are you going to have a baby? (“I’m 26. I’m American. That’s not how I roll.”) Yesterday, one of the churchies told me, “See, we’re Korean. We don’t speak up.” This was not intended to zing me in the least and was probably conveyed with a tone of admiration for my being a pushy broad. But it reminded me, once again, that I am in the minority.
Of course, one day out of the seven should not burden me so greatly that I simply cannot bear being without white female ally! I just wish I had more training in cultural exchanges. I wish I could let the abject contrasts and the social faux pas roll right off of my lily-white skin. Thankfully, my husband – who has a master’s degree in empathy – is a wonderful personal trainer in surviving minority-hood. Hopefully, once I learn everything there is to learn about toughing it as a minority, I will begin my life’s coursework in Raising a Biracial Child 101. Of course, life is not so neat and tidy. The moments of life’s tidiness are really in the minority.