I curated an internet-only primer on race in America for the good people at Level Ground. If you’re interested, you can find it here.
In fourth grade, whenever I got bored during Miss Lieber’s social studies class, I would flip to the back of my textbook and look at the pictures lining the back cover. There were 41 portraits, laid out in neat rows, with George Washington in the upper left corner and George H. W. Bush on the bottom right. As a filmstrip clicked away in the background, I would stare at the faces of these men, their names and party affiliations, the years they held office.
I never consciously acknowledged the fact that all these faces were white; it went without saying that they would be. Of course the person who held the nation’s highest office was white, would always be white. It was the same when I watched the news and Entertainment Tonight during dinner with my family every night: Of course the congressman waving to the camera as he headed into a building was white. Of course every movie star was white. Of course, of course, of course. It made sense, right? America belonged to white people. Families like mine were allowed to be here, tolerated as long as we didn’t complain or make trouble, as long as we were appropriately deferent to the white people who graciously allowed us to inhabit their space. But the thought of having power of any kind never crossed our minds; in order to have that, to have a say in how things were actually done, you had to be white. It was so obvious that it wasn’t even worth noting.
That was the way things were from my earliest memories into my adulthood. But then in 2004 — the summer after I graduated from college — an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention. And in that moment, everything changed.
The Huffington Post picked up “The Loneliness of the Progressive Asian American Christian,” my most recent piece for the Salt Collective. You can find it here.
For a long and formative time in my life, the Asian American church was my home. I came to faith at 15 in the high school ministry of a Chinese church. This was the place where I started to grasp the idea of a gracious God who loved me unconditionally; it was also where I came to terms with my Asian American identity, something I had been bitterly fighting for a decade. It was the first Asian American community I’d ever been a part of, and for the first time in my life, I felt normal. I now had friends who innately got how I interacted with my family, how I thought about school and college and the future — all the experiences that made me so different from my peers at school. I felt seen and accepted and understood, both by God and the people around me.
In college, I was part of a Chinese American campus fellowship — but as the years went on, I started to notice a disconnect between my friends there and me. I was beginning to care a lot about race, politics, current events, feminism. No one at my fellowship discouraged me from pursuing these things, but for the most part, they weren’t interested in discussing them either. Whatever the reason, when I wanted to talk about those issues, I mostly had to look elsewhere.
And then I went to grad school — a clinical psychology graduate program that was housed in a seminary — and my whole world got blown open.
Like most Americans, I counted down the weeks and days until Election Day. Sure, I was excited about the election of our first female president, just another barrier to be destroyed by the wave of progress our country has made in the last eight years. But selfishly, I was equally excited to be able to stop paying attention to politics. I couldn’t wait to stop obsessively checking Twitter for news and poll numbers, to stop expending emotional energy on the absurdity that spilled from the Trump campaign every day. I couldn’t wait to go back to thinking about holiday cards and arguing about college football rankings. I couldn’t wait to get back to spending my free time on frivolous things while progress rolled on all around me.
But then the unthinkable happened. And I, like many others, was rudely awakened: Progress is not, in fact, inevitable. After Obama’s election and reelection, the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, and the first female presidential nominee of a major party, I had unwittingly come to believe that progress would simply happen by inertia without me needing to do very much. Now I see how wrong I was; not only is progress completely avoidable, it can also be undone very quickly, as we can see from Trump’s staff and cabinet picks. For progress to happen and to last, all of us need to be actively working for it year-round, not just for a few months every four years.
Here is a list of things we can do for the next four years and all the years after that. As civilians, we may not be able to stop a Trump inauguration, but there’s a lot we can do to fight him and try to make life as safe and good as possible for those who stand to suffer under his administration. I hope we channel all of the grief and rage we’re feeling into action. As much as I would love to stop feeling terrible, I hope we never forget how the last few weeks have felt, as Hua Hsu wrote in his amazing New Yorker piece, so we never stop putting this kind of energy toward justice and progress. I hope that we seize this opportunity for all marginalized communities and their allies to unite. And I hope that the fruit of our grief is abundant.
Something big and unexpected happened on Tuesday, and as a result, millions of people in this country are processing their feelings of grief, shock, anger, and despair. Many of them are sharing these feelings on social media, and as a former therapist and a human being, I’ve been surprised by how unhelpful some of the responses have been. So here’s a quick primer on how to talk to someone who’s grieving.
This excruciating election is less than a week away, thank God, and no one can wait for it to be over. Even those who are excited about their candidate are counting down the days until we can stop getting daily news about a presidential nominee insulting yet another woman or someone trying to foment a frenzy about emails.
Some of you have been so demoralized by this whole process that you’re thinking about sitting this one out entirely. You recognize that Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, narcissistic monster who is completely unfit to lead the free world, but you don’t like Hillary Clinton either – so you’ve decided not to vote at all. Or you’re going to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Or you’re going to write in Mickey Mouse or Alfred E. Neuman.
Here’s the thing, though: This is a race between Trump and Clinton, and any of the above options are basically you lighting your vote on fire. The only realistic way to save our country from a Trump presidency is to vote for Clinton. Some of you have significant hangups about this, however, and I want to take a moment to address the ones I’ve heard most often.