The other day, I tried to find an old post of mine on Facebook in which I mentioned MLK. I didn’t find what I was seeking, but I found another instead. Strangely enough, this post does not mention Martin Luther King, Jr., MLK, or any variation of his name, but the powers of Facebook pulled it up for me anyway. This is a post from November 10, 2016.
The post received 24 likes and five loves, 11 comments, and one share.
In one of the comments, my friend wrote, “This is worthy of a Medium post.”
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with Medium, and I didn’t really care. I simply wanted to vent my emotions about the racially, socially, and politically polarized environment of the moment.
In the past couple days, I’ve read this post again and again, and I can’t help but feel like my life on November 10, 2016, was luxury compared to today.
What was your life like on that date? What is it like now?
If you want to know what my life was like back then, the following post will tell you exactly what was on my mind:
Why I Love America and Want It to Become Better (Day 1)
When I was a kid, my parents discouraged me and my sister from engaging in anything considered “black culture.” If we listened to rap or gospel, we had to turn it off. If we wanted to watch The Cosby Show, Family Matters, or Martin, we had to change the channel. There were exceptions of course like Michael Jordan. (I guess black people were okay if they were winning sports championships for us.)
Throughout my life, my dad has told me that this country is run by white people, and they don’t like black people. If I hang out with them, I risk my own reputation.
Some may say this is motivated by hate, but I say it is also motivated by fear. If you’re an immigrant to a country, why encourage your children to associate with people and activities that will make it harder for them to assimilate to the mainstream (a.k.a. white culture)?
I brushed aside my dad’s comments, but in light of Black Lives Matter and the recent election–he has a point. I always acknowledged that point, but I never cared.
As a kid, I constantly saw my sister question my parents’ beliefs about black folks. She looked beyond media depictions and used her personal experiences with real people and knowledge of world history to challenge their assumptions. As a native-born American, her education and interactions with different racial groups were more extensive and complex than my parents’ experiences, and she wasn’t scared to highlight that in discussions. She used her friends as examples to debunk my parents’ misconceptions about blackness.
As I write this, I tear up knowing I have had an excellent role model in my sister. America’s diversity is its asset, and I appreciate that because she embraced rather than feared it. She was willing to have uncomfortable conversations with my parents in front of me, and I’m a better person because she did.
I want America to have more role models like my sister in our society. Who is willing to have those uncomfortable conversations in the name of love and understanding? Are you?
Since I originally wrote this post, I still don’t think many people in my life have been willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations in the name of love and understanding.
After Election 2016, I attended and volunteered at a church, where the pastor set a tone in which I didn’t feel like uncomfortable dialogues were welcome; therefore, I left and haven’t attended church services regularly since then.
There were times I got into disagreements with family over all sorts of racial, socioeconomic, political, spiritual, and other related issues. Certain family members and friends encouraged me to avoid any discussion with conflicting opinions. Now—in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—all of those same people have had to experience hardship and loss over the very types of concerns that I had raised in the first place.
This pandemic is a rude awakening, which is teaching us that looking out for yourself and avoiding any uncomfortable disagreement in the name of individual comfort have limited benefits when there are challenges that impact our collective well-being.
Although the polarizing environment of 2016 was negatively affecting many across the country, I still knew people who were carrying on with business as usual. They still got to take their reliable commute to their secure job, hang out in safe spaces with their friends and family, develop any romantic and/or sexual relationships with the partner(s) of their choice, and engage in whatever activities pleased them. If the media or social media was too depressing, they simply could turn off those outlets and live in ignorant bliss. This is true even among people I know who cared deeply about the most pressing issues in the world.
With the Coronavirus pandemic, people can find some buffers for the depressing state of our country and world, but they cannot completely isolate themselves from a global health crisis. Everyone’s routine has been disrupted in some way, and I hope we all take this opportunity to live our lives differently.
Ever since my parents immigrated to this country decades ago, they consistently have encouraged me to do whatever I could to adapt to mainstream culture in the name of self-preservation and success. This is not purely selfish. After all, my parents were born during World War II in the Philippines. For people who were born in that country during that war, they sure have experienced so many aspects of the American Dream. My mom pursued her career while my dad took care of my sister and me at home. They were able to buy a couple homes, including the house of their dreams that was built in the late 1990s. Their children were able to pursue higher education, build careers, and live independently.
Now we’re all separated, and I’m unsure when I will see my parents or sister and her family in person again.
A couple months ago, I told them that I might donate money to one of the hospitals where I receive breast cancer treatment. They emphatically told me not to give any of that money to the hospital. As per usual, I was supposed to focus on myself.
How has focusing on ourselves been working out for us? What have been the impacts of that practice in our country and our world?
Looking out for ourselves has been working out to a degree (many degrees for certain people), and now we are in a situation where that same strategy isn’t enough.
If I’m taking a page from my parents’ playbook, it is my role to research and learn what the norms, practices, and expectations are of the mainstream culture. Then once I figure that all out, I adapt myself—twist and turn and contort myself—until I fit the culture that is presented to me.
If you know anything about me, that’s not how I roll.
If cancer and this pandemic have taught me anything, it’s that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves (so hopefully we already love ourselves).
We need to build capacity both to take care of ourselves and take care of one another.
Prior to the pandemic reaching my current city, I was able to focus solely on my cancer treatment and healing. Since the pandemic grew, I cannot focus on my individual healing without considering greater public health implications.
I’ve called the offices of government officials, offered support to others enduring hardship, encouraged people to join mutual aid groups, and done whatever I could to contribute to the health and wellness of both others and myself—and we all need to do that more.
Some may tell me, “But I have a job that takes up all of my time … But I have elderly family members, sick loved ones, or children that I need to care for …. But I … But I …”
Look. You know your capacity better than I do. Clearly, if you already have a full load of responsibilities on your plate, I am not telling you to burn yourself out; however, I am encouraging this because I know that this pandemic will not let you take care of yourself without doing anything else to support others.
As someone who goes in to the hospital on a regular basis, I witness how meticulous our healthcare workers are in protecting all of us. If we do not do our part, these medical systems will become more overwhelmed in this public health crisis.
If nothing else, ask yourself what your potential is to serve during this time of need, and ask yourself if you truly are reaching that potential. If you can build more capacity, take action to reach it. If you can honestly say that you are doing all you can, then you are already fulfilling your purpose for this season of your life.
Looking out for ourselves isn’t enough right now. Many of us didn’t believe it back in 2016, but now is the time to think and act differently in 2020.
If you don’t believe me, then revisit who you were on November 10, 2016, and find out what the old you wants the present you to know. There’s bound to be a lesson waiting for you to learn it.