part of the problem.


i think it's funny how white folks like to pretend that they care about other races and about diversity. what made me think of this was watching brooke white perform "teach your children" with graham nash on idol. in the background, they showed a video montage of poor children of different races in schools and on the playground and whatnot. what a joke. it makes me think about when i worked for the red cross, and how my boss wanted me to co-create a young professionals group. the young professionals group was supposed to be a group of high-profile individuals who would volunteer and, in turn, get others to volunteer for the chapter.

this was the beginning of my disillusionment with non-profits.

so, i was asked to co-create this group with a co-worker, crystal, who had done americorps the previous year and now had an actual job at the chapter. i acted like i had good ideas to get this group started, but mostly i waited for crystal to make clear what she wanted to happen. mostly, i felt like i was getting in the way. i had no contacts, and i had no idea how to get a bunch of relatively young people excited about starting a young professional group. what did it matter to me if this chapter sank or swam? it didn't. exactly.

crystal was well-connected in the community, and immediately, she found contacts for persons who worked for microsoft, the gates foundation, re-max, etc. suddenly, i fully grasped thom yorke's lament from "paranoid android": "the yuppies networking..." together, we sat around tables and bounced ideas around for this young professionals group. through our research, we discovered that other chapters had successfully run golf tournaments to raise amounts up to $30,000. i couldn't help but wonder, why can't americorps have some sort of tournament and give me a real salary rather than a lousy stipend? was i inherently lazy, or was my apathy a direct result of my low wages?

as a sidenote, i should say, as i always have, that americorps has great potential. but the government can't expect to fix entire communities strictly on idealism. volunteers need real health insurance, not discounts or rebates. they need to be treated with dignity, and they need to know that it's really up to them. there's such a disconnect for recent graduates who go into americorps. they're used to following directions and writing academic essays. with no supervision, no accountability, most of these new volunteers are going to hang back and wait for further instructions.

at least, that's what i did for my entire first year. it occurred to me earlier in the year that nobody cared what i was doing, so i didn't do anything. last one in, first one out, with a two-hour lunch break in there somewhere. i had no projects and no idea what i was supposed to do, or what i could potentially do, so i drew cartoons ("kathleen's coffee") and entered my 2,000 something cds into a microsoft excel database. i wasn't a self-starter. but i think it's hard to be when you're on foodstamps and you have no other choice but to feel bad for splurging part of your measly paycheck on a non-matinee movie.

anyway, i've definitely sidetracked. this young professionals group was the stupidest thing i had ever heard of. i really didn't want to meet young professionals, and i wasn't impressed with their careers. with the exception of one extra-caffeinated girl named sara, they looked like an unhappy lot. they mostly sat around and listened to crystal and me talk about plans for the group. the whole time, i could only think, what the fuck are these people doing here? do they really care about volunteering, or are they just looking to meet chicks?

out of laziness or a genuine desire to make me feel useful, crystal decided that i would lead half of the start-up meetings for the group. i really didn't want to, but i agreed. knowing that my next paycheck was going to be $428 (net), and that my college degree read: "english w/ emphasis on creative writing," and the fact that i dicked around all year didn't exactly make me feel qualified to do such a thing. most of the committee members were white folks. i think there was one asian girl, the girl who worked for microsoft, but that was it.

this bothered my boss, lisa, as well as crystal. "we need to think of ways to diversify the group." well, that's tough, since you're looking for well-paid members of the corporate world. i didn't understand this need to diversify. most likely, they weren't looking for any black residents from the central district, where my girlfriend and i lived during the year. what they meant by diversity was probably a few more asians and possibly a clean-cut indian guy who was good at computers. i told another americorps volunteer about their plans for diversification. "look at the chapter," she scoffed, "it's run by a bunch of white lesbians." good old abrasive melissa.

a friend used to tell me that most white people don't understand that they're a part of the problem. that by merely existing and going to work, they are making things terrible for everyone. i didn't really understand what she was getting at until i read white privilege by tim wise. it's brooke white singing on stage while a black face gets flashed on screen. it's comments that your grandparents and possibly even your parents make. it's gated communities and "academically" segregated schools. it's much more than just making a fleeting judgment call that ends with "dude, that's so racist." it's being called someone else's name.

i was sitting in the back of the van with the americorps group once, and someone made some crack about asians. i didn't get offended, though, since i was among "friends." i was used to it by then. as an asian-american, you don't really get upset about it because you don't get it as bad as the blacks or mexicans, and you make yourself think that it's no big deal. and maybe it isn't a big deal. maybe we live in an age that focuses too much on being politically correct, and everyone is already too uptight about everything, so we should just let it go. but maybe that shit lingers, builds and metastasizes to the point where members excluded from the dominant group think that they don't belong there at all.

i remember reading this young adult book once when i was in elementary school. the main character was this boy who told a lot of jokes, and he had a good friend who was a girl, and she would laugh at all his jokes. she had a good sense of humor, but when he started a joke that went, "so there's a polish guy, a white guy, and a black guy..." her face dropped, and she told him that he shouldn't tell jokes like that.

i always wanted to end up with a girl like that.

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