Recognizing Where the Needle Is

At a weekly (virtual) meditation group I attend, the guide said today, “It feels like the world has changed since last week. But it’s not that it’s changed, it’s that we have become enlightened to it.”

I think that’s right. Yes, the world changes, but not overnight in either direction. I think if we’re doing it right, we’re constantly awakening. Awakening and expanding our perception to include more and more realities of others in this world. That might be through getting to know the stories of people around us. It could be through reading. It could be through research. It could be through podcasts. It always means having an open mind.

This week, like many in the United States, I was searching. Dejected, I signed on to the vast e-book collection of my region’s library network. In searching for a number of titles on race, I was heartened to see that all of them had a waitlist. Other people were looking to educate themselves.

The internet is now flooded with reading recommendations, but for those who might want a glimpse into what I’ve read in my corner over the past few years, here is a selection. They range from humorous, irreverent memoirs by Black comedians, to fiction that takes the reader through real neighborhoods, to thought-provoking nonfiction.

Memoirs
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Essays
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Humor
Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Fiction
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Queen of Harlem by Brian Keith Jackson
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Nonfiction
Tell Me Who You Are by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi
Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time by James Kilgore

A couple of quotes from these books that struck a chord with me:

“It does not matter that the “intentions” of individual educators were noble. Forget about intentions. What any institution, or its agents, “intend” for you is secondary. Our world is physical.”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“But no matter how it panned out, I knew I’d at least done something good for myself in speaking up about my needs. There was power, I felt, in just saying it out loud.”
– Michelle Obama, Becoming

People are Remarkably Observant

Recently I had a meeting at a company I had never been to. The man at the reception desk was pleasant, greeting me with a “Good afternoon.” I popped over to the restroom, and when I came back to sit in the waiting area, he said to me in a definitive, declarative tone, “I think you’re Asian.”

“I think you’re right,” I responded just as surely, as if we had solved a mystery together.

It’s not as if he had guessed some enigmatic characteristic; I’m 100% Asian and look it. I’m also not a rarity; there are a lot of Asians in New York and New Jersey, so he can’t have been surprised to have spotted one.

By now I’m used to these weird interactions—they take place all over the world—and as long as the other person is not being offensive, I go with the flow to see where on earth the conversation will lead.

I learned that this middle-aged Filipino man grew up in the Philippines and has been living in the States for 35 years. This explained his enthusiasm and desire to talk about my background, as people sometimes think I’m Filipina and Filipinos often enjoy connecting with their compatriots. This is true for other nationalities as well, of course.

Still, his opening line was funny, since it pointed to race rather than ethnicity or nationality. Can you imagine a receptionist saying to a visitor, “I think you’re black” or “I think you’re white”? It just wouldn’t fly, even if the two people were of the same race.

He told me that after several decades in the U.S., he was planning to move back to the Philippines next year. Just imagine all the Asians he will see every day!