January 15, 2021

“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.  

8 Comments

  1. So proud of you… Congrats!!

    Xo,
    Gabriela

    From: Lucia Lin
    Reply-To: Lucia Lin
    Date: Friday, January 15, 2021 at 3:35 PM
    To: Gabriela Lena Frank
    Subject: [New post] January 15, 2021

    Lucia Lin posted: ” “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 seem”

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  2. I agree with your blog post whole-heartedly. I live in Brookline, and I can feel it in my bones what you meant when you say racism and classicism do not have affinity to political party. It is not a coincidence that even as Brookline prides itself as a very liberal town, NIMBY voices is also much louder than other towns. The veneer of liberalism can be skin-deep. Condescension comes down hard and fast whenever anyone goes up against the existing power dynamics. And yes, this has always been the case before Trump comes about, though Trump has desensitized and normalized a lot of these micro-aggression. Before Trump, power structure will throw the “rule of law” (the rules!) at your face; now, people feel entitled to simply shout or do whatever obscene gesture they want. Afterall if the guy at the very top can do it and get away with it, so too can they, as the argument goes.

    Don’t get me wrong, Brookline is infinitely better than the Deep South, but no one should tolerate any aggression or condescension. I do wish that the blog would go further, with more concrete guidelines on the DO’s and DON’T’s.

    I do strongly believe that diversity is the key to maintaining the fine balance. If there’s ever any ethnic groups gets to dominate everything, that’s when civility ends. This could be any ethnic or religious groups. Diversity on all levels, is the KEY.

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    1. I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts, Stephanie. I am hoping that by opening up the discussion, I will receive feedback like yours and learn and share. There are so many layers to peel away, so many different experiences and perspectives from other people to listen to. I am bound to offend some and be proven wrong when I blog about this sensitive issue.
      As far as more concrete “do’s” and “don’t’s”, I don’t have specific guidelines per se. However I truly believe that if we approach these discussions and situations with respect and integrity as well as open minds, we will be able move forward more productively.

      I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts!

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      1. I know of some segments even in the Asian-American communities who agree with the Trump policies. The arguments go, that if Asian-Americans could bootstrap to success and wealth, so too should the black and brown communities. There are also the arguments of reverse-racism in which Asians (particularly first-generation migrants) align themselves with white plaintiffs in those lawsuits (like the recent Harvard lawsuit about affirmative action), that these groups have become victims of their own success.

        I have to admit, in the past I used to agree with these arguments on principles. After living in US for some decades now, I’ve become much more ambivalent. These arguments are decidedly one-sided focused, on their perceived loss of privileges of the white community, and on the perceived loss of an edge to get ahead, by riding on the coattail of the white community, so long as the rules of the games are defined by the existing power dynamics. Asian-Americans have indeed been largely successful in benefiting from the meritocracy, that as long as you ace’s your SAT, you have a leg up. The idea of playing-by-the-rules with success is laudable for individuals. Society at large (in terms of public policy) has a much different concerns and calculus. Over time, society will become destabilized when some segments of populace fall further and further behind. But as competition gets keener, individuals cannot be bothered with other disadvantaged groups. Afterall, competition is no longer just local, but it’s on a much wider scale, thanks to globalization.

        Increasingly I feel it that Asian-Americans are allowed to move up the social mobility ladder by the largely white power structure because Asian-Americans are much smaller in numbers (just 5% or so of total population, compared to some 13% of blacks and 18% of latinos) and they are so apolitical. Whites do not feel threatened by asians because we always play by the rules (defined by whites), and we hardly post any challenge or threats to the existing power dynamics. Has it not been the case, Asian-Americans would get put down just the same way as the blacks and browns.

        For those Asian-Americans who want to end all protections like affirmative actions, they refuse to acknowledge that they have largely benefited from the hard-fought systemic change off of the backs of the black community (eg. Civil Rights Movement from the 60s). This is really unfortunate.

        As to the DO’s, I’d say perhaps the first thing our community should all do, is to go out and vote. I was heartened to see the candidacy of Andrew Yang in this past election cycle, though it comes with much caricature. The MATH label from his campaign was one-part catchy, and two-part stereotype. This is in contrast to other ethnic candidates like Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley, whom no one would question their bona fide because they could pass themselves off as some darker-skinned latino, which in and of itself says a lot about the rise of the latino political power, but not the asians in general.

        A lot of people think they know enough of US without even bothering to understand its history. This is particularly true with first-generation Asian-American migrants. Just because someone can read and write English does not make them an expert in American history. If only there’s more concerted efforts in educating our own communities, as another DO’s, it could go a very long way.

        Pardon for the rant, but I have to get this out of my system.

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  3. Lucia Hiw well expressed . let’s hope that with honest writers like you expressing your thoughts,others will think more deeply about how they treat others. I feel certain that Biden and Harris will make every possible attempt to discussions and understanding .Hopefully people all opinions will be willing to learn
    best regards Filis

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