Living With A Feeling Of Inadequacy
Acknowledging What I Can Do Amongst What I Should Do
I am not White, but all those posts about what White people should do in the Black Lives Matter movement apply to me nonetheless. My experience as an Asian American differs greatly from those of Black Americans. Therefore, my fight for racial justice is against the oppression of people of my own race as well as in solidarity with other people of color.
I can’t do all the things on the recommended action list; I can’t bail out all protesters in the jail; I can’t read all the recommended books and watch all the recommended movies; I can’t talk to every individual who argues All Lives Matters; I can’t even tell my own mom that her ideas are racists.
Which puts me into a dark tunnel of feeling inadequate. I am not doing enough. I am wasting my life. I am a loser. And I am letting people die. The train of thoughts quickly takes me to the black hole of guilt. Guilty for everything.
Photo by Desertrose7 (pixabay.com)
One day last week when I was extremely struggling with the dismal reality of Black lives in this country, I kept repeating to myself: “I am not Black.” It sounded non-sensical because it is beyond obvious. What the heck did I mean? Later I interpreted it as a clash of emotions that I was experiencing at the moment: a strong desire to understand the suffering of Black people and an undeniable relief that I don’t have to experience the same kind of suffering as theirs.
This morning, I collapsed in my kitchen after seeing the title of a Washington Post article: “When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.” I rolled on the floor, laughing and then soon after, sobbing. It was a heart-wrenching confirmation of indisputable reality: life-threatening racism that one group of people are locked in due to their skin color is optional for other groups of people to engage like choosing a hobby. Unfair is an understatement.
Yet, I used my privilege as a non-Black person to opt out when I blocked two friends on Facebook last week. I felt so fed up with their posts of condemning looters that I just lost my patience. I did not attempt to engage them in a conversation and educate them. I felt guilty for not fulfilling that part as an ally to Black people. I felt like a failure.
In the same week, my interactions with two other friends made me feel like less of a failure. One was a recent immigrant from S. Korea to Texas. He posted an update with his quarantined life with a hashtag #AllLivesMatter. Giving him a benefit of doubt, I asked him whether he understood its context. It turned out that he had no idea about its representation of White supremacy. He thought it was an umbrella term that encompasses the Black Lives Matter movement.
Another was a friend in Korea who used to live in NYC. He thought we should ban possession of guns to reduce the violence in the US instead of defunding police. I explained to him that the US police force is so rigged that it will be faster to replace it than try to reform it from within. Later on, he confessed that he had changed his mind about the need for police. He realized that our modern society demands specialized professionals for different community needs rather than armed forces.
The question “What can I do?” should never cease in our heads. We should constantly seek ways to fight for justice and take care of each other. At the same time, we need to acknowledge our intentions, actions, and effects. When there is progress, we can rejoice and use that energy to do more.
My feeling of inadequacy will not go away easily, so today I read these poems by Mary Oliver and try to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t.
First Yoga Lesson
“Be a lotus in the pond,” she said, “opening
slowly, no single energy tugging
against another but peacefully,
I couldn’t even touch my toes.
“Feel your quadriceps stretching?” she asked.
Well, something was certainly stretching.
Standing impressively upright, she
raised one leg and placed it against
the other, then lifted her arms and
shook her hands like leaves. “Be a tree,” she said.
I lay on the floor, exhausted.
But to be a lotus in the pond
opening slowly, and very slowly rising–
that I could do.
What I Can Do.
The television has two instruments that control it.
I get confused.
The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate?
Honestly, I just want clean.
Everything is like that.
I won’t even mention cell phones.
I can turn on the light of the lamp beside my chair
Where a book is waiting, but that’s about it.
Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make fire.
Find what you can do. If it’s striking a match and making fire, do that.
PS: I shared my idea about what you can do for the BLM movement in my last letter. You can read it here: Protest, But Don't Be A Protester.
PPS: You can click on the title of this letter to leave comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share this letter with your family and friends you care about.