Choi

It happens to me. I’m not going to lie.  In fact, I bet it happens to everyone at some point.  You are scrolling through Facebook and suddenly a name pops up on your timeline that you don’t recognize.  You have to think for a few minutes on who it could be.  Either for confirmation or out of curiosity because you can’t figure it out, you click on the profile.  You scroll through pictures and looking for identifiers.  Suddenly you remember.  Oh, that’s who it is.  They must have gotten married.  Maybe they are using a middle name for some reason.  The whole Facebook name change confusion happens to me quite a bit.  I think it is a by-product of the work that I’ve had.  When you work with families and “clients” you learn quickly to increase your social media security so that it’s just a little bit harder for people to track you down.  The most common change-confusion is the middle name use or someone got married.

Recently, I changed my name on Facebook.  I went from Nathan Pebbles to Nathan Choi.  No, I didn’t get married, not yet anyway.  In fact, I’ve resisted doing this change despite the nature of the work I’ve done and I haven’t really had any issues with clients or former clients tracking me down and being stupid.  The reason for the name change is a reminder.  A reminder to pretty much all of my friends and even some family.  That reminder is, I’m Korean.  South Korean to be specific.  In fact, according to 23&Me I’m almost 87% Korean and 13% Japanese.  The change has come from years of discussions with people about race about differences and about change.  One of the most frequent responses that I have heard throughout the years has been “man, Nate, sometimes I forget that you are Korean” or “I don’t even see you as Korean or anything different” or even “I kinda just see you as a dark white guy” (yeah, that’s happened).

My name change is also in response to this new “colorblind” society that has been emerging.  Not colorblind as in we are accepting of other cultures and we embrace them, but “colorblind” as in we ignore those cultures and those differences and simply apply the same flesh-colored bandaid to everyone.  The issue is that this new colorblind society wants to treat everyone the same regardless of color or culture. I’m here to say, that’s wrong.  We need to embrace our differences, embrace the various cultures, learn about different worlds and experience societies different than ours.  The colorblind society that is emerging right now is dangerous.  You say you are colorblind, you say you don’t see me as Korean, or even accept me as a dark white guy, but are you willing to learn about the culture behind me.  Behind your neighbor who wears a head covering.  Behind your coworker who is wearing the “BLM” mask.  Behind the client that fast and prays during Ramadan.

So the history behind my name and change.  When I was adopted my name was Choi Yong Soo.  In the Korean culture and most Asian cultures, the family name or last name is very important and goes first.  In the United States, the individual is more important and thus the individual is recognized first followed by the family name.   In my case, the last name I was assigned was Choi.  So my “last name” in Korean would be Choi. I was adopted.  In fact, as the story goes, I was found on a train and taken to an orphanage.  I have no doubt that the nuns there embraced me and gave me a name that found fitting.  When I was adopted, my mom wanted me to keep a piece of my Korean culture and made Choi my middle name.  Consequently, if I got into trouble my mom would yell “Nathan CHOI!”, that’s when I knew I was in deep trouble.

This name change isn’t a sign of disrespect or even ignoring being a “Pebbles”.  If any of you know my family at all, we are essentially a quilt of a family.  All my brothers are adopted, my father is my step-father, in fact, that only constant members of the family that have been there from the very beginning was my mom and myself.   No, this name change serves as a reminder that I am not just a dark white guy.  No, I am not like you.  In fact, there is a world and culture behind me.  I count myself fortunate to have experienced several cultures in my life.  I have been to Native American pow-wows, mission trips to Mexico several times, visited a Korean church and tasted the amazing food.  I have lived in suburbia and have embraced the inner city.  The colorblind society that I hope emerges out of all of this is not one where we are all made to be the same to be accepted,  but instead, we are all different and accepted.

“and yet must be”

Langston Hughes said in a poem “O, let America be America again, the land that never has been yet and yet must be”. I was watching a video that had Matthew McConaughey and Emmanuel Acho, they were having a conversation. The video series is called “An uncomfortable conversation with a black man”. If you have an opportunity I would highly suggest you go and watch that video. I was struck by the the poem in the video that McConaughey quoted because honestly I’m tired and frustrated, I’m saddened, I don’t really know what to do about it. I have done what I feel is my best to present a perspective that sheds light into what it’s like to be person of color and try to not be offensive, to not push people way, to leave it open so that you can read it and appreciate someone else’s perspective. That it’s not an argument, that it’s not a fight.

If you know my personality, my personality is pretty laid back. I’m a fairly stoic, non-emotional type of guy. Recently though my emotions have gotten the best of me and it all started honestly with the Ahmad Abury video. Watching a video of two white guys shooting a black man while he was jogging. All because that black man walked into a house that’s being built, he just looked around and left. The reason why that of all the videos I’ve seen has struck me the hardest was because that’s my son, that’s Toby, that’s something that he would do. He would walk in that house just be adventuress. Probably walk into a vacant house look around see what’s going on and just simply continue on his way. Since that video and then every other video that has come after that video, I found myself being so much more emotional about what has happened about what’s going on because I can’t stop looking at my son and seeing those videos.

I’m tired, I’m tired of arguing with people on Facebook. I’m tired of having to unfriend people because they simply just don’t get it. I’m tired emotionally. I’m just worn down honestly. I don’t know how to quantify, to really explain the sorrow that I feel. The reason why that poem struck me so hard was the line that it’s “America.. that never has been yet”. The American dream is simply that right now. It’s a dream. A dream that we have not accomplish. We have yet to become the America that our forefathers wanted, that the immigrants the came over through Ellis island wanted. The America the slaves fought to free themselves for. The America that Chinese built the railroad for. We are not in an America in which all men are created equal. We are not an America that has the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every member of its society. That has these inalienable rights for all men. We are not that America yet. That that poem struck me to the point that that I can’t stop, I can’t stop fighting,, I can’t stop arguing if that’s what it takes. I can’t stop posting, I can’t stop pushing, digging deeper, finding another level, finding another depth to the struggle. The next generation, my son, and my grandkids they deserve an America that has yet to be and so despite my weariness, despite my emotions, despite my overall frustration and even anxiety, I’m gonna continue. I’m probably going to lose some friends along the way. To be honest I question that if I’m losing these friends in this time and in this moment’s, were they really friends to begin?

So with that I would like to thank all of those that have read my post, that have commented, that have shared. Thank you very much. Thank you for those that have sent me messages and text messages asking questions. Wanting to have a discussion, wanting to learn more, wanting to be better. Thank you for pushing me, forcing me to dig deeper. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate all of it and so I’ll continue to push because I believe, I believe we can get to the point where all men are created equal, that all men have in it inalienable rights. That we have that pursuit of happiness, life, and liberty.

Thank you.

*editing note: I did most of this post via voice to text. I tried to clean after the fact, but I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

Defunding – a misnomer

The idea of defunding the police is to not get rid of police but to route funds for homelessness, mental health, poverty, hunger, drug and alcohol abuse. If you ask police, most of them will tell you that they spend 90% of their time being mental health “providers”, doing welfare checks, and dealing with substance abuse issues. Policing has now become a band-aid for serious issues. Police deal with symptoms. They are not the cure.

I have heard several times that one of the worst posts in Pennsylvania to be a state trooper is Greensburg. I can see why. Greensburg state police have a huge jurisdiction that encompasses a myriad of problems. That they dont simply monitor speeding down 66 but respond to all kind of issues in a huge chunk of westmoreland county.

As a former county worker for CYS, I cant tell you how much time and energy is utilized helping families deal with underlying issues as well as having to involve police in these issues. We need to address the the real issues not just police them. We need to dig deeper. Policing is a surface level fix.

As someone who has worked with delinquent youth, all of those things mentioned above have contributed to the vast majority of juvenile delinquent behavior. Not saying kids won’t do bad things but severity and frequency would drastically drop. Again, ask juvenile probation officers, service providers and group home staff. We know that by and large the fight is a losing one because the kids are going back to the same environment, facing the same poverty, mental health, hunger and systematic racism.

The idea is not get rid of police but deal with all of the other issues so that we are reliant on police less and less. That we can pay caseworkers more money, so we can keep people in rehab longer and not kick them out because of insurance, to ensure the safety of our kids. Too often we quick to call 911 and let the police handle things, when I reality they are the least qualified and frankly the worst option in many of these situations. We need to open the books and reallocate finances to deal with the real issues, instead of simply policing them.

The Talk

“Hey little man, your mom and I have something we need to talk to you about…”

I don’t have the vocabulary or the skills enough as a writer to appropriately express what the next 15 minutes were like.  My ten year old son has probably only seen me cry twice.  Once when my grandfather passed away and when we had The Talk.

It was arguably the hardest conversation I’ve ever had to have with my son.  I didn’t really know where to begin.  So we began with love.  I opened the conversation up with talking about how my son has a multitude of people that absolutely love him and that no matter what he does or what happens to him, we will always love him.  We explained to him that he is a really unique and awesome kind of person because he is so mixed.  He’s half Korean, a quarter white and a quarter black.  I think he understood.  I hope he did.

Then we talked about racism.  How that unfortunately that there are people in his world that will hate him, not like him, be mean to him because of the color of his skin.  We talked about how these people are everywhere that they could be police, teachers, random people he runs into.  That he has to know that these people are out there.  That they will make him feel small, stupid, and not worthy as a person.  His mother told him, it is not his fault.  That no matter what it is not something that is wrong with him but something wrong with them.  I think he understood.  I hope he did.

We talked about how in Harry Potter, Voldemort wanted to eliminate the non-magical people, that he felt they were unworthy.  That Voldemort was an example of racism and how people that are racist feel.  I think he understood.  I hope he did.

I broke in with pointing out that so far in his life, everyone thinks he is cute and that he has gotten away with a lot because of his “cuteness”.  I had to, HAD to, hammer the fact that as he gets older, the police are not going to see him that way.  They may see him as a threat.  That if he doesn’t watch his “smart ass little mouth” (yes, I know I am responsible for this in him) that he could be in danger.  That he could get hurt. That worse could happen.  We talked about how not all police are mean, evil, or racist.  Most of them are good people trying to do a good job but, it only takes one.  I admonished him to use his brain.  To be smart, that at the end of the day the most important thing was to get home and be safe. I think he understood.  I hope he did.

We finished the conversation by encouraging him to stick up for others.  That if he sees someone being bullied because of this stuff, he needs to speak up and tell us.  Tell a teacher. Tell someone.  That he should not stand by and let it happen.  We talked about him using his voice.  Finding a way to deal with the evil in this world.  I told him I write, his mom speaks, others sing and do art.  We encouraged him to find his voice and speak. I think he understood.  I hope he did.

All the time …

A few years ago a friend asked me one evening, how often do I think about race?  Without hesitation, I told him all of the time.  It’s a contributing factor in just about every situation.  He asked why?  My response was that race is only a problem for those that race is a problem for and that if it’s not a problem for you then you don’t have a problem with it.  What I did not know then and what I know now is that I was talking about privilege, in essence, white privilege.

Through a previous post of mine, I shared the first-person account of walking into a room and being the only person of color.  The anxiety and the microaggressions that one picks up on when they are in the room and this realization hit.  Here are a few examples of my own personal experiences to help give a better and fuller understanding of privilege:

  1. When I was in elementary school, the movie that was super popular was Alladin. Everyone was head over heels for this movie.  Honestly, its one of my favorite movies of all time.  I identify with an abandoned street orphan who wants more.  Who wants to live in a fantasy world, gets to be in that world and realizes that he doesn’t belong.  In the end, it works out.  However, this movie was almost ruined for me.  The title song was “A whole new world”.  In my elementary school choir, the teachers wanted me to sing the part of Alladin.  Was I a great singer? NO! Why was I picked? Oh yeah cuz I wasn’t dark like the black kids and I had more color than the white kids, so naturally, I look like a middle eastern kid… right?  To be really honest, I remember thinking and realizing that the only reason why they asked me was because of the color of my skin.  Have you ever been asked by someone to play a role simply because of the color of your skin, not even the same race or ethnicity? If no… that is privilege
  2. Another fun elementary school project was taking one of those old projectors with the big ass light on it, having the kids stand in front of the projector, and trace their shadow.  They would cut out the shadow and post them in the school, you had to guess who each shadow was.  I distinctly remember the teachers making some comments about my shadow.  These teachers looked at me and looked at my shadow.  They then got “emotional” because it reminded them of the shadows left by Japanese people after the bombing of Hiroshima.  The blast was so powerful that it left a shadow of the people that were vaporized.  What’s the problem with this story? I’M NOT JAPANESE! In fact, if you did any type of dive into Korean culture, you would find that being compared to someone from Japan is actually really offensive.  Japan invaded and occupied Korean several times.  So, have you ever been compared to another ethnicity that invaded your country of origin? If no… that is privilege.
  3. This one is for my mom and my dad.  There are too many stories to count, but I’m sure that they could both enlighten everyone with a few if they wanted to.  The constant battle to explain to everyone that my parents are white and their constant battle to establish that they are my parents.  Their battle cannot be understated and deserves a place of recognition.
  4. This is for my fiance and soon to be wife.  Her battle that she faces when people say borderline racist things and do not know that I’m Korean. Her future stepson is a quarter black, quarter white, and half Korean.  Her battle cannot be understated and deserves a place of recognition.
  5. This final story is my favorite.  It is the a great example of ignorance and allies.  In college, I was at the cafeteria. I was sitting with a group of friends.  The friend group was a “diverse”.  By diverse, I mean half-white people, half black, and myself. The conversation was going well until a female white person asked me if I saw differently because of the shape of my eyes.  She was actually very serious about the question.  I was stunned.  Floored. I didn’t have the words. In that moment, I was sick.  I didn’t make a scene, because as a person of color, that’s what society has taught you to do.  Don’t make a scene.  Just take it.  Let it go.  Walk away.  That’s what I did. I got up and walked away.  The redeeming part of this is that the others at the table spoke up and began educating that person immediately after I left.  To this day, we are still friends. I would consider her an ally.

If I took more time, I have no doubt I could gather more.  More stories from my own life about the lack of privilege that I have experienced. To be quite honest, these don’t capture the everyday comments of comparing me to “Mr. Miyagi” “Jackie Chan” “Let Li” or other Asian tropes throughout our pop culture.  These don’t capture the looks and stares that my fiance and I get when we walk through a rural Walmart together.  These stories don’t capture the questions about me being from North or South Korea, cuz you know those North Koreans are bad.  There are so many more.  I know I’m not the only one.  I know my experiences are not isolated.  However, realize that if you don’t have to worry about the color of your skin on a daily, hourly even minute by minute basis, that’s privilege.

 

PTSD

The rioting is a result of societal PTSD. If we can recognize PTSD in humans, why can we not recognize it a collective group. People of color are suffering from historical PTSD. POC have been traumatized from the times of being slaves to civil rights and now retraumatized each time a person of color is killed at the hands of a white person. When someone with trauma acts out, lashes out, goes “crazy” we understand their behavior and recognize it for what it is. Our society is being retraumatized and is lashing out at that trauma. That is what is happening.

You would not call an abused wife who fights back against her abuser a “thug” or threaten to shooting her. You wouldn’t tear gas a child who finally disclosed years of sexual abuse. You wouldn’t march with riot gear towards a victim’s of mass shootings. Thime reaction by a large group of people is not a reaction out of spontaneity but out of years of oppression, being physically beat down, killed, raped, ignored, and marginalized. That is what is happening. You are witnessing a societal victim fighting back against its abuser.

Headline

In the past … 6 months I’ve had two specific incidents that the majority of my friends and family won’t understand. That you won’t understand because you will probably never share this experience. Its difficult to describe, the best word I can come up with is anxiety.

Glancing around you begin to count. Zero. That’s how many. Zero. You instantly feel pressure in your chest. You become hypersensitive to looks and glances. You notice a stare that lasts longer than it should. Someone leaning in and whispering. You wonder what they are talking about. Your brain calculates to the millimeter just how far someone scooted away from you, or leaned away. They took it just a smidge further than needed.

You take a deep breath and try and convince yourself that you are being paranoid and that it’s just in your head. In your head, scenarios play out. If something did go wrong, what kind of words would be said. Names that would called. How far would you go? Would you fight… everyone? The count is zero. Risk jail, losing a job, embarrassment over what? A name, a glance, a glare.

Your mood changes without notice. Only because you are intently focused on the situation, a situation that is yours alone in a crowded room. In the midst of dozens of people, this experience is yours. It maybe fictitious, made up, a by product of your imagination. An imagination that has been fueled by news stories. Will you become a news story?

You try and push past it all. Focus on the task, the event, the job. Like a rash, an itch, a parasite it eats at you and spoils it all. You want out of this situation, to be comfortable once again. Your souring mood becomes a weapon, a chance, an excuse to leave. Leaving, it seems is always the best option. Avoid that headline. Avoid the words. Avoid the mental toll of all the paranoid calculations.

Finally, home. Weight lifted. Breathing. No more scenarios, no calculations, no glances, glares or words exchanged. You turn on the news, scroll through facebook, check your Twitter, insta and more. Alerts popping up.

Headline: Georgia man hunted down and murdered while going for a jog

Just my imagination…

You should leave

One night Liz and I were walking in Oakland, a subsection of Pittsburgh for you that might not know. We ran into some college kids that were praying outside of a CVS. Liz stopped to ask them what was going on and if they needed anything. One of the students was a white female and the other was Asian. We all started talking and found out the one girl was Korean. The conversation continued and they asked us if we wanted to come back to their apt/house to hang out. We weren’t doing much so we decided to go. When we walked in the house it was full of Koreans. Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed. I don’t think anyone noticed but I almost got choked up. It was incredible.

For those of you who don’t understand the significance of Trump saying to four minority women “go back to where you came from”, chances are you’ve never been in the minority or if you have I doubt it lasted too long. This moment in Oakland has been one of the few times, I can probably count on one hand, where I was in a room and wasn’t a minority. Not only was I not the minority, I wasn’t the only one from another country. Sure, I’ve attended a black church in college and have been in rooms where the number of brown people outnumbered the white people. In almost every case though, I’m still a minority on two counts. One I’m Korean and two I was born in another country.

I’ve jokingly said that if I had a dollar for every time someone told me to go back to where I came from I would have retired by now. It’s an exaggeration but wasn’t isn’t an exaggeration is an overwhelming sense of a lack of belonging. That every job, neighborhood, school, church, community setting, concert, sporting event, bar, restaurant, etc I’m still a minority of minorities. For a group of people that already don’t feel that they belong, hearing word like “go back to the country you came from” is crushing. I know that 3 out of 4 of those senators were born in the USA. One however wasn’t. I guarantee you that her thoughts and feelings on the matter are stronger and even more complex than the other three.

I know some of you will find some sort of way to justify what Trump said. A way to rationalize his comments and believe that they are appropriate. I implore you to take a beat, a minute and think about those words. Try with everything you have to imagine living in a world where no one looks like you. Where the people on tv don’t reflect who you are. You go to movies searching for someone that kinda sorta looks like you. Knowing that you are from another country. Not only do you live this way but you have grown up with this all your life. Despite all that you have fallen in love, started a family, made friends and connections. Then the most important and powerful person who looks like the exact opposite of you and represents all of those other people, tells you that you don’t belong and you should leave.

From train to bay

It’s May 10th, 2019 and I am looking over a beautiful night sky that is lit up by my favorite city. I look to my right and take in the beautiful redhead seated next to me. Val and I are celebrating being together for 5 years. We are having our usual anniversary chit chat. Asking each other where we see ourselves, each other, our family in the next five years. We talk about the past five years and how we have stumbled and achieved with each other.

There is a pause in the conversation. I take the time to look over the city. We have an incredible view of the whole city. On top of Mt. Washington is a restaurant that is virtually wall to wall windows. The Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is beautiful restaurant that has the food to match the amazing view it provided. It’s a cloudy night but the city remains bright and lights pierce through. You can see the stadiums, all three rivers, the Batman building (aka PPG Place), man I love this city. In that moment I have to push back some tears, emotions, and a chuckle. I’m flooded with the thought that my life started on a train. Left on a train for a stranger to find. That stranger being caring enough to make sure I got to a shelter, an orphanage. Then realizing that not only have I survived but 37 years later, I’m thriving.

Val touched my arm and I simply explain to her my thoughts. How far life has taken me and where it has brought me. The choices that were made by everyone involved. From the stranger that found me, to my mother chosing to adopt, to Val replying to my Plenty of Fish message. It really has been an incredible journey. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have changed any of it.

Dear Toby, (3/27/18)

Dear Toby,

So right now you are swimming at the local Y. This has turned into a nightly ritual. You and Phoenix jumping in the pool! It’s pretty crazy. It’s such an amazing time in your life. I really hope you look back on these memories and absolutely love them.

It’s an incredible time to be your dad. Earlier tonight you made 10 baskets while we were shooting hoops. That’s about 6 more shots than you have made since you got a basketball.

I’m gonna be honest little man, you look goofy as hell! You are missing two top teeth and have a bottom tooth slowly growing in. It’s so hard to take anything you say serious!

At the end of the day, I love you. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Love, friend dad.