Today is February 29, 2012. It’s a leap day. It’s also the last day of Black History Month. I really like that we have a Black History Month, but more and more, I’m becoming uncomfortable with that title because Black History isn’t unique to black people. It’s actually an intrinsic part of American history as a whole. But I guess it’s a good thing that we have a month designated to think about it at all. But then again, these days, it just feels like every month is a month of something, oftentimes very random, like National Cheeseburgers Month. Or Grow Your Facial Hair Month. (I just made those up but I’m pretty sure there are months like this.)
Speaking of months, it’s been about a month since I got back from a monumental trip to the deep south in order to experience and learn about the Civil Rights Movement. It was my attempt at beginning the journey of racial reconciliation and tackling racial righteousness. That last sentence seems like such a grandiose statement, I’m not even sure that I fully understand what that means.
I’ve finally gathered some thoughts but I still don’t know that I’ve fully recovered from that weekend. I have a feeling I’ll be processing the trip for the rest of my life. Anyways, here are some thoughts I felt compelled to share:
What defines identity? Not surprisingly, identity was a huge theme throughout our 4 day trip. I’m not sure that one particular characteristic can define identity, but at least for our purposes, there was a lot of rumination about racial identity. During orientation on the first day, the 46 of us sat around in a circle and we introduced our names, where we are from and one interesting fact about ourselves. We were not allowed throughout the trip to reveal what we do as a profession.
I have to admit, I initially pegged people by their appearances and mannerisms, and not knowing for most of the weekend what they do for a living helped me to move past my superficial judgments, and aided in my effort to get to know people for who they are, not what they do. I was hoping the same would be true for me, that other people would get to know me for who I am. I knew it would be a challenge, being that I was one of three Asian-Americans in the whole group and I am very aware of how Asian-Americans are generalized. Add the fact that I’m female, and you’ve got a host of stereotypes that could have been working against me.
Indeed, as the trip went on, I started to feel increasingly invisible – I believe partially because of my own insecurities and partially because not many people acknowledged me the first couple of days. (Thankfully, we each had partners with whom we were spending a bulk of the trip, and my partner and I bonded so unexpectedly well.) I don’t blame any particular person because I spent a lot of my youth in upstate New York and I’ve been around enough to know that if I do not assert myself, I very easily fall into the model-minority category. (i.e. Just be a good citizen, work hard, and no one will notice and you can live a peaceful life.) But that was one of the main reasons I was on this trip. I wanted to fight against that notion and also try to figure out how I fit into this country and society as a Korean-American female.
Soon enough, I began to feel this overwhelming need to prove my worth, to prove that I was someone; more than that, that I was someone worth knowing and having a relationship with… and I was very aware of it. I tried to conjure up ways to casually bring up that I was a CPA and that I attend an awesome, multi-ethnic church, that I recorded 2 albums and that I was a singer/songwriter. So whenever we’d have group discussions, I’d force myself to speak up and add my voice. I’m happy to report that I did not drop any of the aforementioned life “successes” when I spoke up. Instead, I tried as best as I could to be honest about my feelings in the group and exercise vulnerability, which is probably the most important element of inner work that I’ve been doing for the past few years. Which leads me to the conclusion that…
Vulnerability can be so easily avoided, but it is absolutely necessary in order to grow in intimacy. During the orientation, we were shown a very simple theory, developed by M. Scott Peck, a renowned psychiatrist and author. It was presented this way:
Pseudo-Community –> Chaos –> Emptying –> Authentic Community
The premise is that every group of people start out as a pseudo-community. We’re polite to each other, nice and we try to make a good impression. Then inevitably, as with any group of human beings, some kind of conflict, or “chaos” will eventually develop. If the group is committed to growing closer, this chaos will lead to an emptying of sorts (of egos, pride, becoming more honest, present, etc.). However, many (I would say most) times, the group will revert to pseudo-community because we can be conflict-avoiding and do not want to go through the work of emptying, which is very vulnerable and risky. If the group is able to move through chaos and emptying, it will finally arrive at a place of authentic community, where there is the most intimacy among people and relationships. Of course, there is lots of movement around these stages in reality, but I am a huge believer in this model, and I’ve been more convinced than ever in the past couple of years that vulnerability is the key to true relationship.
It’s hard to put 46 strangers on a bus and try to attain authentic community in 4 days. I don’t think we really achieved that, though I definitely experienced moments of rawness in emotion and verbal communication. But I do hope that my current relationships and community move toward that kind of authenticity.
I am understanding so much more that African-Americans, the Civil Rights Movement and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (along w/ countless others) undoubtedly paved the road for all minorities who came after them in this country. Perhaps this is an obvious truth, but it’s important for me to state it as such, mostly as a reminder to myself.
As a minority in this country As a citizen of and person living in this country, I am a direct beneficiary of the lives – blood, sweat and tears – that were sacrificed, voluntarily and involuntarily since the first time an African was forced upon this land hundreds of years ago. This is something I cannot and will not forget for the rest of my life. Which leads me to my final thought…
If I want to love someone, I must know their story. This trip was significant for many reasons, much of which I did not get into in this blog post, but this was probably the most important takeaway that I have been carrying with me since I came back. Learning more about the history of this country, the successes and struggles of its people, white and black, has enlarged my soul with much more compassion than I ever imagined I could have. Get to know a person’s story. Then experience your heart grow in love for them.
I want to leave you with a short video clip of an impromptu worship service we had on the Sunday morning…
We are, indeed, leaning on the Everlasting Arms.