Citizen/Jaffe Response

1.  Based on your reading of “Citizen” pp. 1-79:

a) Why do you think Rankine uses the second person (“You are twelve…”)?

By using second person, the reader is unconsciously being made to imagine the experience happening to them. The events are not detached, like watching a tv show. When you are being told what is happening to you, you pay attention. In the first scene, when “we” are being cheated off of, we feel wronged. It is not like watching two kids and wanting to show disapproval When we are being undermined because of “our” skin color, we feel the discomfort– even if it is only a fraction.

b) Point out a specific passage/paragraph (cite and quote it) that you find to be particularly beautiful or powerful or surprising or challenging and explain why it stood out to you. Where does it fit into the argument of text as a whole?

“A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order the Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college. She wanted her son to go there as well, but because of affirmative action or minority something—she is not sure what they are calling it these days and weren’t they supposed to get rid of it?— her son wasn’t accepted. You are not sure if you are meant to apologize for this failure of your alma mater’s legacy program; instead you ask where he ended up. The prestigious school she mentions doesn’t seem to assuage her irritation. This exchange, in effect, ends your lunch. The salads arrive.” Pg 25

“I” am being blamed for the failure of someone else. My very existence is the reason that someone did not “succeed.”

  1. My merit is not considered, the only reason I won was because of the color of my skin.
  2. The son is still attending a prestigious school, he just didn’t get what mom was hoping for.
  3. “Weren’t they supposed to get rid of it?”
  4. Caesar salad. The universal salad.

The author speaks of how as a person of color you are not you, but a representative of people who look like you. For some reason it does not apply the other way around. It is impossible to teach someone the privilege of being privileged, and the reality stings over and over again as you realize you must get used to this fact. She feels as if she maybe has to apologize. My question is for what. Her question is for what. We both understand and do not understand the reason why.

c) Consider the adage, “The truth cannot be told head on.” What modes does Rankine use to access her truth? How does Rankine make her arguments without stating things outright? Is there a place(s) in the text where you feel she does in fact state her argument outright?

Someone who has never been thought as lesser, or “able to be handled” for the color of their skin will never fully be able to understand the gravity of what is taking place. Even people who have often times cannot. By using second person and taking us through the experience, we have the opportunity to understand a little bit how it feels. Rankine tells you what her features are doing, but not fully how she is feeling– which makes you fill in the blanks and feel them yourself.

“Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.”

This is her most direct calling out to the person who wronged her, with a much more stronger accusation of racial discrimination than the “what did you say?” on the previous page.

How we see the man react afterwards with the “now there you go,” is a very telling moment to how she sees the dynamic between the two classes. Standing up to defend herself will always on some level make her the angry black woman.

2. After you’ve read “Reflections of a White Maybe” respond with some thoughts about “whiteness” as the author defines it. What does “whiteness” mean to him and his partner, an Anglo Jew and a Puerto Rican? When and how do their “privileges” differ? How does your own experience compare or contrast to Jaffe’s and/or his partner’s experience?

I grew up in the California that he talks about, though maybe in a slightly more liberal bubble and age. But Santa Barbara is a college town, his husband is a college professor. It’s not too far off from what I know. Even as someone who was looked down upon for something he could not control, being Jewish, the narrator considers himself white. He could pass. His “whiteness” will always be something that separates him from his husband. It’s not something he could choose, it’s just how our society decided to give certain privileges. In my area we made jokes about being white because everyone was close enough that there was no real hint of offense or hurt feelings. “I’m such a white-girl with my pumpkin spice latte and leggings.” At a party,”omg, white girl got butt. Yas girl dance!” My best friend since kindergarten who is more my family than any Korean friend I’ve ever made once told me that sometimes she feels sad that she’ll never be able to take part in my culture the way my Korean friends could. I don’t know how to describe the twinge I felt in my heart, because I know exactly what she means.

Being American

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15dejlEUqDM

I fell in love in a 7/11 parking lot

Sat on the curb drinking Slurpees we mixed with alcohol

We talked about all our dreams and how we would show ’em all

The first time I heard Bonnie McKee’s “American Girl” was probably sometime in my sophomore year of high school. Fresh out of the pool from a water polo game, blood pumping, and cheeks red from the best kind of exhaustion there is. I never once thought of myself as un-American. I was born and raised in sunny southern California– west coast-best coast. I could name for you all the UC schools (Merced, Davis, Santa Cruz, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Irvine, San Diego, Los Angeles, Berkeley, in that order), give you directions using “the” before highways– the five, the four-oh-five, the ninety five, or just show you my birth certificate. It’ll say it right at the top “State of C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A.” So why is it when I heard Hasan Minhaj’s bit on his stand-up comedy special, Homecoming King, that I felt like I could relate so much?

I want to work in government. For all it’s flaws and strengths, I love American politics. There is nothing more messy, more corrupt, more infuriating, and nothing more beautiful to my eyes. It’s my way of serving my country and the people that I love, quite literally. So it makes me feel interesting when I realize that at first glance, some people wouldn’t think to offer me the job.

As you can probably tell, I’m Asian. South-Korean to be specific. I can speak the language, write it, read it, curse in it, and tell someone I love them using it. And I’m proud of it. On the Thanksgiving table there was always turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and kimchi.

And I guess if you asked me to choose one or the other, my loyalties lie in America– they’re who I cheer for in the olympics. But I don’t understand why I have to choose in the first place, why sometimes I feel that I have to defend myself. I didn’t know being a part of two cultures meant being neither.

I may not have really fallen in love in a 7/11 parking lot, or taken a sip from a spiked Slurpee, but I kind of have.. in spirit. The Fourth of July beach parties with the whole town waving sparklers, barbecues in backyards, the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in homeroom. These things are every bit a part of my identity, as are hanboks and japchae.

Hasan says:

“When 9/11 happened, everyone in America felt like their country was under attack. But on that night, September 12th, it was the first night– of so many nights, that I felt like my family’s love and loyalty to this country was under attack. And it always sucks. As immigrants we always have to put on these press releases to prove our patriotism. We’re always auditioning. We’ll be like ‘Yeah! I love this country! Please believe me.’ Nobody loves this country more than immigrants, I love this country man. I fell in love in this country.”

I’ve been yelled at in parking lots. Been called “my yellow princess.” Have been the interest of my (white) teachers for the food in my packed lunches since montessori.

My grandparents who moved here with their kids from the “foreign” country own a shop down in Newport Beach.

I use inches and feet.

I went to prom.

Tell me what more I can do to let you know that this is my country too.

1. What is beauty?

I remember deciding I was beautiful after a particularly rough day when I believed the world did not.

I remember seeing beauty in line for in-n-out when two girls with olive skin and light eyes walked over to the counter and asked for fries.

I remember realizing beauty when my best friend sat and talked with me for hours in-between the aisles of the local target.

I remember feeling beautiful when my date to the homecoming dance dropped his jaw and said it while looking into my eyes instead of at body.

I remember being beautiful when my mom took me in her arms and called me her child.

I remember when I tried to determine that I would not let myself be swayed into categories of what beauty should be and should not be, but growing older doesn’t seem to make it easier to grow wiser.

He told me he liked me even more when I made a reference to a metallica song and it made me blush.

Why? It’s not like I had learned it to impress him, or that the fact had been cool before he noticed it.

I feel it is easier to accept that you’re beautiful when you’re being told by someone else. But I know that I am beautiful because I decided I would make an effort to be, inside and maybe out– and sometimes that’s just the best you can do.

But sometimes I wonder: if I believe I am beautiful and the world does not, am I beautiful against the world or deluded?

Is the dog I pass on the street beautiful because it is innocent and does not know by our standards how to critique its owner’s casual-dog-walking-attire?

Are white supremacists beautiful for being alive, human, and passionate?

Were we beautiful when we declared war on the homes of children foreign to us in the name of honor and patriotism.

Are we still beautiful when we are privileged and educated enough to see the terrible realities of the world and still choose to sit and drink coffee? Is it wrong to enjoy coffee and privilege?

I wish that my biggest concern with beauty was about what I look like.

3. Recall A Time When You Felt Judged

So I was going to Denny’s with my family for a late night snack, as all middle class SoCal-asian families seem to do– getting really excited to have enough fat and sugar enter my body to last me a short happy, albeit uncomfortable, lifetime. Oh the joys of being American.

I was getting out of my mom’s Lexus.. or my dad’s Benz, one of the two (not too shabby, don’t you think?), when we were approached by a man stationed outside our local diner* asking for change.

**Yes somehow the Denny’s chain has made itself a homey staple of late night talks and memories instead of being considered a chain that ruins dreams or something millennial like that.

He spoke to us with an endearing and reasonable, “Hello, could I please have a dollar?” For some reason, we did not want a confrontation with the scraggly, smelly, homeless man sitting at a Denny’s parking lot at 11pm, so we walked by with a calm nothing. Sure it tugged at my heartstrings a little, but what’s the point in feeling empathy, right?

Suddenly I hear words that feel like a smack to the back of my neatly-pony-ed head.

“Go back to Japan!”

If I weren’t so busy being shocked I would have been impressed that he didn’t opt for the usual China.

I don’t know if this counts as me being judged, and I wonder what he would’ve said if we looked more like him: white and male.

But this question didn’t plague me long, as seasoned fries and nachos and lava cake and coffee and milkshakes and chicken quesadillas made way to my table.

I wonder what that man is doing now, and if he ever found kindness in some asian family like mine.

I could hear it now:

God Bless You, Thank you So Much.

“Writing is a Form of Resistance”

When I was younger I loved to perform on stage. Any small school production, whether it be a play or talent show, I was always in line to audition–excited for the chance to convey to people how I believe the given material should be presented. Somewhere between puberty and high school suddenly I found myself choking to speak even plain English on a stage. So instead of trying to face my fears and become a triumphant underdog in my own mind, I decided to spend my time on the internet watching other people perform. Admirable.

It was when I first heard Sarah Kay’s “If I Should Have a Daughter” that made me love slam poetry. I was in tears by the time she had spoken the first line of the piece.

This is something people have to hear.

I did not know how or when, but I knew that I wanted people to hear her words. So when the end of senior year approached me and I didn’t feel that I was ready to go, I realized saying goodbye with the poem could help me have a final hurrah before I moved on to “bigger and better” things.

At the audition I held my phone up and read the words and people cried.

On the stage of the actual event I saw a recent ex-boyfriend, forgot all the lines and stood confused and frantic.

It’s funny now, and to be honest I’m surprised at how okay I was that this happened.

Because I realized that writing is a form of resistance in that no matter how large the scale, it can push you to feel and do things that you might not be comfortable with and find power in it.

During the given class time instead of writing about the prompt I sat and wrote the lines of Sarah Kay, finally getting to perform it for myself.

B (If I Should Have a Daughter) by Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter, instead of ‘Mom,’ she’s going to call me ‘Point B,’ because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.’

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry.

So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself, because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried. ‘And, baby,’ I’ll tell her, don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him. But I know she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few that chocolate can’t fix.

But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this.

(Singing) There’ll be days like this, my momma said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.

Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. You will put the wind in win some, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

‘Baby,’ I’ll tell her, ‘remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.’ Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. Always apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

 

 

Response to “Travelling” by Grace Paley

It’s seemingly easy to spot an “other.” Regardless of how similar our background or values may be, we can be quick to dismiss the possibility of shared experiences after a glance at a person’s face. In fact it’s not entirely false to see history as a show of societies racing to create cultural barriers based on outward appearance. In Grace Paley’s “Travelling,” we see a young woman struggling against her given reality as a white woman with innate privilege. Though she may not have fully understood why the rules of her time deemed it strange, Paley knew that her seeing her grandson in the body of the little black baby would not be a shared sentiment in those around her.

The prevalent culture would perhaps judge otherwise, but I find it interesting that in this story, the mother of the child and the man sitting next to Paley have more in common with each other than with our narrator. The man and the mother both share the idea that what is occurring in the bus is not only dramatically uncommon, which is a thought Paley would too share, but also wrong. When the man says, “Lady, I wouldn’t of touched that thing with a meat hook,” he is taking part in the known narrative of his society. The mother of the child understands this, even if she knows that this narrative is cruel and wrong; the nature of Paley’s actions is anything but natural.

I ended my reading of this passage with mixed feelings of admiration and frustration. Though Paley’s actions are undeniably laudable, I want so badly to say it should have been matter of fact. But the truth is theres no doubt in my mind that the same questions of morality that plagued minds then, are prevalent today. I just hope I could be as confident when faced with this kind of conflict as I am right now writing in the comfort of my privilege.

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