In 4th grade, I ran for student council. My campaign slogan was:
“A vote for me is a vote for you – vote for Kelsey W.”
Cheesy, yes. I also promised chocolate milk in the water fountains.
Had I known then that telling people I was just like them and wanted to keep us all the same could possibly win me a presidency, maybe I would have ran for office this year. Thankfully, I became a writer instead.
Most days, I don’t identify as a person of color. I’m a mix of caucasian, Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese. Other days, it becomes apparent when you’re in a car with friends and they pass a bad driver and say, “oh, figures – they’re Asian.” For the record, I have a pristine driving history.
Sometimes, I forget that women face oppression. I work where there’s a relatively even ratio of female to male coworkers and I earn a salary based on my individual work. Other days, I go on a terrible first date and the guy looks at a girl wearing a short skirt and says “well, if she dresses like that, she’s kind of asking for it.” (Spoiler alert: there was no second date).
When I was a little kid, I went to a country club pool with my sister and our neighbor, who was white. There were three other white kids at the pool and they heckled my sister saying “HOLA! COMO ESTAS BONITA?” and ran away to laugh. Our neighbor went right up to them and stood up for us, telling them about how we were actually Hawaiian. I remember not understanding why they made an assumption that we could speak spanish because it didn’t dawn on me as a little kid that brown skin could mean a multitude of things. I also remember the feeling of someone standing up for me. Someone had my back. I doubt my sister or my neighbor even remember that happening, but that moment stuck with me forever.
It’s easy to forget these small little moments that you brush off because it’s not worth getting upset over and everyone’s entitled to their own opinions and values. Other days, it’s not as easy because those small things are actually big things.
After this election, it’s a sobering reminder of where we’re at as a country. I’m disheartened because I thought we had made so much progress. Seeing such a close race, and ultimately a new president with ideals that I completely disagree with, made me feel more isolated than ever.
When I’m upset, I write. It’s my way of coping with things that seem unbearable and overwhelming. Usually, it’s private and reserved for a journal. It’s something I keep to myself because no one likes an oversharer or more clutter to scroll through. The problem is, we were all too quiet this election.
Up until this year, I never talked openly about politics. I never talked openly about race. I never talked about personal experiences that shaped my present life. I never talked about the more difficult issues that force you to draw a line in the sand and separate yourself from certain people. I never talked about the good people who stood up for me, or assured me that I was capable. What I learned is when you stay silent, you don’t give others the opportunity to listen.
When people hear personal stories of intolerance, it’s hard to feel anything but empathy. When you meet people who are “different” from you, your mind opens and you realize maybe you should reconsider your perspectives, or at the very least accept the opinions of other people. I fully admit I’ve also had many moments as a perpetrator of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. where I said things I regret to this day. I recognize now that they were all based in fear and a lack of understanding. We all change, and hopefully it’s into better people.
I’m proud that I grew into an adult who was able to recognize the beauty in our differences and accept other people for who they are. I got there through listening, education, and incredible parents. I got there through the privilege of traveling outside of my own country and meeting people from all different backgrounds, and walks of life. Not everyone is as lucky to visit other parts of the world, but we are all capable of listening and trying to understand the human experience.
Today, I’m not just going to write, I’m going to reclaim a bit of power. I’m going to use my voice and exercise my freedom of speech. I’m going to donate to Planned Parenthood. I’m going to pick up trash. I’m going to do my part to prove that I really do stand for these things and it’s not all talk until a candidate is announced.
If I could shift my 4th grade campaign slogan into the ideals I hold as an adult, it would be this:
We are hopeless only when we decide we’re powerless.