When I Get Home — Unpacking Race and Diversity
This was one tough weekend! And I think emotionally - all just came together or at least... built up and I had to spill it out this past weekend. I haven't really talked about it much. Only with a few friends, about being back in Germany, in supposedly the most diverse city in Germany... Berlin, it's been an intense ride.
I just turned on the new Solange album and stopped typing... it is too good to be trying to do too many things at once. So I am turning it off again to write up this newsletter!
I have to admit I was and still am transitioning. A friend pointed it out to me a couple weeks ago, ‘that transition is the killer for consistency‘ in training (and most likely also in life). When you're living in the fast lane you tend to not take enough time to just be and really sit for a second to rest up and take it all in. Moment for moment. Of course, this past semester, my first semester in grad school, my first 5 months in Berlin, right after I came from my going-away party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I had to take 6 courses (recommended is 4) and an extra curricular french class and now have to write 3 (instead of 2) papers ‘till the end of this month. In between, I was also in Bekoji and of course, I have to train for a marathon - the Boston marathon - another race again - and was pretty much stressing about my training, and the time spent not running the second half of last year. Additionally, I was looking for a part-time job and was fighting for a scholarship - which finally! got accepted only last week. Yay!!!
Small victories are also victories and damnnn bless the German education system and it sounds utopian, but to receive funds to be able to study and to learn and to write - the fight and the wait were definitely so worth it.
Ok let's get to what was happening on top of all of the things mentioned above... daily life just felt hard. Nothing is easy, but I did have to pick up the phone several times, I mean every weekend, to call up my dear sisters in New York. Why? I just needed a safe space to be free. To be able to express myself. To breathe. And take a break from Berlin. I would joke to them that every day I step outside of the house it feels like war, that I live in a sea of whiteness and that I don't feel seen. I started asking myself at times: ok do I want to stay inside, read a book and do some writing or do I want to leave the house to have a conversation with a white cis-man / woman? Obviously I grew up here, BUT after living abroad for half a decade, and experiencing a different life, finding my own voice and finding people where for the first time, I could share my past experiences with - I hope this isn't a step back. I know this move isn't, but it's been a tough and intense ride and the universe keeps telling me: take good care, especially of your mental and emotional well-being.
Thus, those Facetime conversations (bless technology!) were necessary for me. For that was the time where I didn't have to explain myself, didn't have to educate, didn't have to question my own experiences. Didn't have to make someone else feel comfortable, or apologise for the ways I am, for the things I am thinking and criticising.
I haven't shared this, but I am sharing it with you today: throughout the past 5 months, pointing out white supremacy and homogenous communities, companies, curriculums etc., or even starting a conversation around race or diversity here, I was called racist more than once. I got yelled at in front of a main bus stop and to this day, that particular incidence feels like an attack. One of my good (?) friends said this about me ‘She always has to plead on her blackness.‘ Obviously I am not black, I identify with brown if you do want to know. I don't fucking plead on my brownness either. It doesn't rub off. I can't wash it away. I wake up with this and I go to sleep with this. Only because I talk about it now - after learning the language to speak about it and receiving the tools to stand up - it doesn't mean it (racism) never existed. Also, why are white people, in this case German people, fucking freaking out when I am just sharing my experience with you? Right, you never had to think about these things, because this system works in your favour, but also, if you're a friend and while this is a traumatic experience for you, too - hearing about my experiences for the first time, how about you just listen and don't brush it away (because guess what I can't brush this away). How about I don't have to comfort you - yes, it is uncomfortable for me, too. How about you go out and do your own research - if you really cared.
Even in my Vietnamese community, I was being made fun of, for having black and brown friends and partners in the past. I was being questioned why I post Black artists instead of Asian artists. And then I also received a direct message from another Vietnamese woman, apologising to me, that she kept her distance when she met me when I first moved to Berlin, because she thought I was racist against white people. Now, how come a Vietnamese sister sides with German people instead of another Vietnamese sister (in the first place?!)... yup, that's how fucked up our world is. People tried to educate me about ‘positive racism‘ and the list just goes on.
Consequently, I had to let go of more than 1 friend, had to take up space and protect my own energy. It's 2019 and I have no time for any of this.
And all of this apply to the people in my circles... friends old and new I reconnected with again. People direct messaging me. This doesn't even include the micro aggressions, comments I receive on a daily basis by strangers. It doesn't include the fact that throughout my academic and professional career, I was told by mentor figures, teachers and professors that I should stay put where I am, not pursue a high school degree, not go to university, ‘You're not going to make it in grad school.‘ Now, think about it. Would you ever say these things to a 9 year old girl? Exactly.
It doesn't include what I hear or read in the papers when people talk about immigrants, people of color, black people or trans-queer-non-binary people. It doesn't include the fact that I don't see any brown/black professors at my school. It doesn't include the many books written by white and male people that I see on the curriculum. It doesn't include that I sit in meetings and people talk about diversity and representation as a trend. That they try to put in black and brown bodies in marketing campaigns to sell something without ever having picked up a piece of art, a book created by a Black person. It doesn't include listening to two older white ladies discussing ‘the ideal‘ immigrant.
There are so many layers and nuances to every single aspect of all of what I mention above. There is not enough time in the world for me to describe how I feel about it all, but now, you might better understand, why it's been also hard for me to get up and get out - be a social butterfly and make new friends. As Roxane Gay said in the Bad Feminist ”If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities,” I've been reading and writing... and spending more and more time in the library... to find out about different ways of living and doing life, for example Toni Morrison's Tar Baby, Playing In The Dark, and now James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk and The Fire Next Time.
And when Ma-Nyahn and me discussed bell hooks' All About Love again, this quote came across my mind and I had to think of all my friends in the past who made me feel loved and appreciated: “How different things might be if, rather than saying "I think I'm in love," we were saying "I've connected with someone in a way that makes me think I'm on the way to knowing love.“
Hence I am looking forward to my visit to New York in a couple of weeks and breathe the same air again, to feel their hugs and their love on my brown skin. It's a blessing to feel supported and loved that way. So, thank you. All of this do make me think of this one universal question: what do I need to feel at home? What kind of feelings arise when I am with certain people? How can I create spaces where I feel more at home? Lately, it's been reading, writing, but also small things such as drinking a big cup of water first thing I wake up, meditation, spending time in the swimming pool, and time laughing.
Also as a reminder and if you need a break, find peace, I wrote this down the other day:
ever left the house just to feel the sun in your face
ever danced to your favourite music just because
ever took yourself out for coffee or hot chocolate, all by yourself?
Also, the more I read about different ways of living and life, the more I give myself permission to live a complicated, complex and nuanced life. The more I feel good and okay about expressing myself in different ways. The more I do want to draw one day, write the next, cook the third day. The more I want to have various relationships and conversations. The more I feel at ease with being myself.
Now that you see part of my reality, I am also trying to focus my energy on building and creating things, in elevating other people and encouraging them to find their own voices and strengths. It's been more than wonderful to get together with Daniel Marin Medina - who recently was in the major Gyakusou + Nike campaign - to work on WAYVRUNKOLLEKTIV. For the ones who don't know yet, we started a run collective and are currently training for the Berlin Half and the Boston Marathon in a couple of weeks. Follow along and see what we're about. Also, for International Women's Day on Friday (state holiday here in Berlin) we are hosting a run - so come by and tell your friends to come!
Also here's another note to self from Octavia Butler, re-reading this was incredibly empowering, maybe you need this one this week, too.
Okay, I am turning Solange back on and I am immersing myself into the performative sounds of hers. There is no more holding back, time to write it and express it all out!!!
Have fun and happy healthy you!