“Gook, Chink….Trump was right…go back to your country!” the man yelled as I waited to cross the Riverway on my way to the medical center last week. Thankfully the light changed just as he started to stomp toward me, and I hurried across what seemed an even wider expanse of road in order to avoid him. A friend of mine told me today that he was worried for his parents in Chinatown because the aggression toward older Asians has increased. With the anticipated protests for this weekend, he warned them to stay in place and not venture out.
In both cases I was alarmed yet not alarmed. This is not a new issue. It is not a Trump issue. Racism is an issue that has been in place for centuries. This country was built on white privilege, and any of us with socio-economic means have profited from this.
I was in my car at a stop sign in the supposedly “liberal” town of Brookline. (Don’t get me started about the use of the words “liberal” and “left” being associated with being antiracist. I find it detrimental to associate those politicized words with one’s stance on race.) In the car next to me was a high school boy who pulled the corners of his eyes to make his eyes “slanty”. This happened before Trump was in office. A Caucasian woman in her 40’s, walking to her yoga studio, felt entitled to ask my African American partner what he was doing in front of our condominium building. Who was in the Oval Office? Barack Obama. Racism and classicism has been present for close to four hundred years in this country.
It is too easy to point one’s finger at the orange-haired buffoon in the White House and those who support him in order to avoid looking at our own culpability. Until we can recognize how each and every one of us, and I include myself, profits from white privilege, things will not change. If we continue to make this a political issue as opposed to one regarding humanity, things will not change. My Republican friends are not more racist than my Democratic friends. And in fact, though unintentional, some of my Democratic friends continue to say and do things that encourage racist behavior and thought.
There is no easy solution for racism. It’s an overwhelmingly complicated issue. Pointing fingers at others makes us appear actively anti-racist in a soundbite and further delays what actually needs to happen–the painful process of looking in our own backyard.
Originally conceived to help those composers and musicians whose work was lost due to the pandemic, my initiative “In Tandem” has become a looking glass into some of the issues of racism in my own backyard–the classical music world. One of the composers, Nicky Sohn, shared an incident in which she was told her piece sounded Asian when in actuality, the piece she had written was based on the show “Adult Swim” and was heavily influenced by American jazz.
She and some of the other “In Tandem” composers are now being featured on programs by major American orchestras and some have confided that they believe their piece is being programmed due to their ethnicity or because of their gender. I hope that organizations are making genuine attempts at equity in programming and that these compositions are heard not because of the color of the composer’s skin but because of the voices behind the pieces. In many ways, the composers from “In Tandem” have helped to open my eyes to the dichotomy of privilege and non privilege in my field.
There is no clear linear path when it comes to issues of racism. We need to dig deep into our storied history to uncover truths–essential knowledge when undoing wrongs. Sharing ideas in our own community is key to changing unintended racist behavior and rhetoric. We, who are able socio-economically, can use our resources to affect change. I do not believe our country is divided beyond hope. With positivity and a willingness to communicate with those of differing opinions, we can pave the path for our younger generations to hopefully celebrate their cultural and ethnic differences without fear.