“Your silence can be construed as consent.”
These words hung on the wall of my Honor Comparative Religions class in high school, and it has stayed with me since my senior year in 2007. Fast forward eleven (almost twelve) years, and here I still am: silent in a social climate that is anything but. I may be silent, but I’m not without opinions or feelings. I’m just not political.
I’m going to preface the rest of this blog post by saying that talking about politics is still very new to me. I don’t have much practice because I’m also really conflict avoidant; and therefore, just don’t really participate in it.
Growing up, politics was never a topic of conversation in my family. Even during the times of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky drama or 9/11, my parents never said anything to suggest that they supported either Republican or the Democrat party. My parents preferred to focus on our education: Were my brother and I getting good grades? Were we ahead of our peers in math? Were we on track to go to a good college? Even now, I’m not quite sure which party they support, if either. It wasn’t until I turned 18 and had the power to vote that I ever really gave politics much thought.
For my first polling experience, there was a lot on the line: Obama was running for president and Prop 8 was trying to ban same-sex marriages. I vividly remember debating (not that kindly, might I add) with some friends via Facebook Messenger that year about Prop 8. I also vividly remember deciding that year to stop going to church–not because Prop 8 passed that year, and not because of anything my friends said, but because I started having doubts about being Christian and my church community not being open-minded and loving to thy neighbor.
Since then, I’ve pretty much stayed out of the political scene. Obama has been the only president I’ve ever voted for in 2008. I have not been a part of any protests. And I have not voted since then. I’ve been called out by friends for not doing my “civic duty;” but I counter that I do my civic duty every damn day as a teacher not just once every few years on Election Day. My Instagram and my blog have also been pretty neutral even amidst the Me Too movement, Trump getting elected, and countless school shootings. My silence and lack of civic participation is not because I am in support of rape or of discrimination of any kind; or that I don’t think things need to change in our world because they do. It is also not because I believe that I don’t have a voice or that my voice doesn’t matter, because I know I do. For me, while I do recognize the privilege in being able to vote, I choose not to be political because I don’t believe that’s the only way to achieve positive change. If anything I view voting so much of a privilege as an American, that I don’t feel confident to exercise that right because I’m just not informed enough to make such a decisive decision; or like in the presidential election of 2016, I just didn’t fully agree with or support either candidate. Sure, I don’t vote, but I also don’t complain (about politics).
As a teacher, I believe in the power of our words more than anyone, and I try to tread carefully as I can with the developing minds I’m entrusted with each year. Just like I never knew my parents’ political views, my students don’t know mine. To me, it shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t make me less of a good teacher. I think it’s best to lead by example rather than with my words. In my cover letter that I send out for job applications, I have it written somewhere that it doesn’t matter what standards the Department of Education mandates that I must teach, my teaching philosophy and student-centered methods will not change. Similarly, it doesn’t matter who’s President, my personal philosophy and my actions will not change: I will always try my best to treat everyone I encounter with respect and with kindness no matter their age, gender, sexuality, race, or social status. I will always try my best to consider all ideas and be open-minded. I will always do what I can to be a responsible and helpful member of the community. You are only in control of yourself and your choices; and I try my best to control what I say and what I do, and I try to choose to be kind always.
This hasn’t been the case for everyone, however. Along with the Me Too movement, I have seen a rise of unkind language, even, maybe especially, in communities that were once seemingly accepting and open-minded. What happened to the days where if we didn’t have anything nice to say, we just wouldn’t say anything at all? Or as Kid President said, maybe we’re just not thinking hard enough? Now it seems like everyone has an opinion (as they should); that they should share it with the world (as they can); and that everyone should have the same opinion (which they shouldn’t). Not everyone has to agree with you; and not everything has to be a fight for justice. We can have deep, constructive discussions without putting each other down. We can make the world a better place for everyone without putting labels on everyone. We can be better. And we can definitely be a little kinder.
It’s weird to think of myself as an influencer. But as a teacher, I am an influencer to my students, and now that I’ve gained thousands of followers over the years, I am an influencer to anyone who follows me on Instagram and on this little blog of mine. In both areas of influence, I can only hope that my impact is positive and is one that promotes kindness (and maybe less waste) for all. In this new social climate, I have also become hyper-aware of the fact that I am not just an influencer, but I am an influencer who is also a woman of color and a woman of privilege.
Being Asian wasn’t always seen as a privilege. I was bullied for my eyes being too small, and for the “smelly” food I ate. I was ostracized because I wasn’t allowed to go to birthday parties or have playdates because I had to attend after-school programs to receive even more schooling and to do extra-curricular activities like piano. There was a period in my life where I loathed being Asian and wanted nothing more to just be White and “normal.” It was during this time as an early teen that I vowed I would never put down someone else for how he/she looks. As I walked to school as a child, I would throw away the lunch my parents packed me and would just go hungry because I didn’t want to get teased for my food at school. Instead of saying that I was going to an extra math class after school, I would lie and say that I was going to my cousin’s house even though all my relatives lived on East Coast. However, something I did appreciate about being Asian was that it was part of the social norm to keep our heads down, to go unnoticed, to focus on our studies, and to let our merits shine for us. This is something that has stayed with me and is something that I continue to practice in my everyday life.
Maybe it is because I am “privileged” and therefore maybe a bit ignorant, but my being a woman and my being Asian has never stopped any doors of opportunity being opened to me. The only person that has ever gotten in my way was…me and my own insecurities. With that being said, I have still managed to earn a B.A. in Psychology and Social Behavior and a Masters Degree in Teaching all before 23 years old, and am going to start pursuing my PhD in the next few years. I keep my head down, and I work really damn hard. I let my work do the talking. It is the same for my blog and Instagram: I keep my head down, and I work really hard to create content that I think is aesthetically pleasing and meaningful. All the success I have achieved is a result of my hard work, the support systems I’ve had throughout my life, and maybe a bit of luck. It is not because I’m Asian or because I am a woman. Similarly, my failures were not a result of my being an Asian woman; but rather were due to my lack of skill, lack of effort, or a stroke of bad luck.
I may be in the way minority here, but I truly believe that race is just a silly, unnecessary label; a beautiful rainbow of skin color that we see on the outside; and an extra box that you need to tick when you’re filling out forms. It is not to be confused with culture, ethnicity, and tradition. Race becomes more than that when we let it. I am not color blind. I don’t think that’s the answer to our problems. I see and celebrate diversity as a beautiful and necessary part of life. I spent a year focusing on that word with my students last year, answering the question: “Why diversity is significant in LA’s past, present, and future?” Diversity is a huge reason why I love living in LA, and is also why I (quietly) support the push for different representation in fashion. However, I choose not to let race be the sole lens in which I view people from. Just how I want my work to stand on its own merits, I judge people more so on their work, their actions, and their words. I do not really take into consideration someone’s race, sexuality, or gender. Those things shouldn’t encourage special treatment–favorable or not. In fact, I feel like it almost undermines a person’s accomplishments and abilities when we do take those into consideration at the forefront rather than letting their work and accomplishments stand on their own merit. We are all human, and that to me is the only label that should ever matter and bring us all together.
As humans, we all make mistakes. We all want to succeed. We all fail. We all want to love and be loved in return. We all are afraid of something. We all want to feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves. We all want to be treated with kindness and respect. We all want to be heard and valued. We all say things that are hurtful. We all have had hurtful things said to us. We all judge. We all have been judged and have been discriminated against because of those judgements. We all have kindness within us. We all are human and are therefore not perfect. But we are all progressing.
So much has happened since that fateful political year in 2008: Same-sex marriage is now legal. Obama served two terms. More people are making more of an effort to be sustainable than ever. Brands are now working towards being more inclusive with their sizing and representing different body types. I understand that this is all the result of voices crying out for and demanding change; however, I will still choose to reserve my opinions to myself (or for people who I feel safe sharing with) because honestly, who am I to judge or make them change their opinion? With the influence I do have, I will continue to try to lead a meaningful and simple life, and document it here and on Instagram. Most importantly of all, I will continue to be kind and respectful to everyone I encounter–in real life or online–no matter their beliefs or political-correctedness. I will comfort those who are mistreated, and will be open to hearing others’ opinions. And I hope you do too.
My voice may be silent, but my actions most certainly are not. I may not be political, but I still matter. We may not all agree, but we can still be kind.