I’m Just Here To Help

Back in 2000, one of a group of seven men (all strangers btw) hurled a racial insult my way, as I was exiting the bathroom of a restaurant on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t the first time I faced racism. It certainly wasn’t the last. I had a choice to make- walk away, or turn around and face it. I chose the latter. Although the epithet hurled my way short and to the point, what I heard was this- “I spit on you, your family, your ancestors, your entire culture and way of life. I loathe your father for working 3 jobs, 18 hour days, 7 days a week for years trying to feed you. I am disgusted by the immense suffering and struggle you both endured.”

THAT is what I heard. I’m not sure what my friends hear when people use words like nigger, spic, chink, kike, jap, gook, raghead, “jew,” fag, and many others, but I venture to guess it is something similar. It’s not always comfortable being the “other” in a society that only correlates “white” with being “American,” although I was born and raised in NYC. I can’t even begin to imagine what my brothers and sisters of color and different sexual identities feel in parts of the country where they stick out like a sore thumb.

My friends, racism and other “-isms” aren’t “on the rise.” They have always been there. It’s in the whispering conversations you may have had with your friends, the “joking” exchanges, the “locker” room talk. It’s in movies, television and magazines. It’s in the viral videos labeled “black vs white.” It’s everywhere. We are just blind to it, or choose not to acknowledge it. And I am no less guilty. WE ARE ALL NOT IMMUNE. I have used some of the words above before and I am deeply apologetic. I acknowledge that when I see a person that is “different,” my mind jumps to conclusions. It’s simple psychological mechanisms that we all use called “heuristics.” Humans need to categorize in order to problem solve 🤔.

However, this mechanism of categorizing and defining leads to many many false assumptions. You cannot put an entire “category” of people in a box. We are all human beings with individual life experiences, struggles, sorrows and joys. There is absolutely no way to truly KNOW YOU 👆🏼without deep dialogue and conversation. Once you realize that your assumptions are just a product of outside influences, you can see everyone as an individual, your potential soulmate or best friend. Or simply, someone you should avoid 🙋🏼‍.

To my white friends that bring up reverse racism- I’m not invalidating your feelings at all. I just want you to realize that what I am speaking about has deep historical roots AND current events- physical violence, murders, eradication of entire populations of people, lynchings, institutional ceilings, government laws. This isn’t about “political correctness” or being “too sensitive.” I am empathetic to those that have used these terms. You’ll simply never know what it’s like to have the weight of historical violence and soul crushing reminders of your “otherness.” Not unless aliens 👽 from another world come and enslave all of us.

Back to my story- I knew I was in for a beating, but I didn’t care. I knew I could potentially not get up. I didn’t care. As I approached and confronted, I was met by a barrage of fists and feet. I was knocked to the ground and backed myself up into a doorway so all seven couldn’t surround me again. I had to cover. After what seemed like an eternity, a man stepped in between me and my attackers. He placed his body in the doorway, blocking them from getting to me. He took a few punches himself, but stood firm. He didn’t fight back. He saved my ass from an even more severe pounding, or death. Not that this matters at all, but he was white. When he came to my aid, he didn’t see me as a Korean-American. He just saw me as a human being in need of assistance. He didn’t see race, or gender. He saw me. I saw him as just a dude that was helping a brother out. That moment still gives me true optimism for America and the world. The metal plate and 8 screws in my arm are a daily reminder.

“-Isms” aren’t endemic only to America. It is exists worldwide- caste systems, rich vs poor, light skinned vs dark-skinned, Twinkies vs FOB’s, north vs south. These are all used to divide based on arbitrary lines and characteristics. Instead, let’s do our best to just focus on each other as human beings. If someone falls, pick them up.

I feel sorry for the men that attacked me. I’ve finally forgiven them. Their lives must have been miserable. They must have endured intense emotional pain. Happy people aren’t angry and violent. Therein lies the root of the problem. If we can contribute even a moment of happiness to someone in need, it will give them “hope.” So spread a little cheer today, if it’s authentic and you feel like doing so. Your words and/or smile may go a long way into uplifting someone that may need it. And if you see someone fall, if you’re able, please help them up. 👊🏿🙏🏿🙏👦👧🏾👳🏻👮🏼‍👳🏾‍👸👮🏻🙋🏼‍👨‍❤️‍👨👩‍❤️‍👩👨‍👨‍👦‍👦👩‍👩‍👦‍👦