If you follow Your Korean Dad on YouTube, you know he posted a remark about how sometimes we want to help, but we feel we might just be making things worse. He said he was sad, and his voice broke — not his usual mood. My Chinese American friend Christine has two small daughters and lives in Brooklyn where the violence has been almost daily. She posted that she is scared for them every time they go outside. Some Asian people are posting images of their beautiful grandmothers, some are posting articles they wrote for The Atlantic. But the social media post that stays with me is from a poet named Grace: the image of the white man beaten bloody and being hauled away on a stretcher. He had punched an old Chinese woman out of nowhere, and she beat him over the head with her cane.
Grace said what I thought: Why don’t we focus on, make a narrative of, broadcast a spectacle of this person on a stretcher, make a visible monster of the person who hadn’t calculated the cost of his hate, who tries to beat up a little old lady out of nowhere, in broad daylight? Who did not understand the confinements of his imagination? Because this is the problem (to paraphrase Toni Morrison): People who have no respect for themselves, who are cowards.
My book, “The Betweens,” addresses specific aspects of this experience. It navigates scenes from my life, thoughts about Asian America, microaggressions, moments in country clubs, scenes from scientific history, intergenerational trauma, art curation, hues and shade, distances in the solar system, etc., and my love of quilting. The book looks down two hallways: I was privy in my youth in the ‘80s and ‘90s in Louisville to what people said when they thought non-white people were present and what they said when I was passing, when they thought only white people were present. All of this happened in what would be called a white-adjacent section of the city, where I saw the three other minorities out of 750 students at my all-girls Catholic high school from a huge distance. The city, where studies of our desegregated classrooms showed that the majority of children prefer a teacher of color and which after K-12, a bachelor’s, and seven years of advanced degrees, I have yet to have.
Therefore, because of my experience as described in my book, I ask us all to interrogate the white imagination: What it means to get my own, one’s own, and consequently *the* white imagination into perspective. To see its limits and programming. To audit whiteness.
I’ve spent a lot of time considering that my imagination has errors, that it has to be expanded, that I don’t know anything after I’ve seen a documentary with a director whose imagination is steeped in received ideas, who will build in their own narrative while imagining they are showing the truth. Or the poor logic of those tricked into eating their own resentment for dinner — sorry robots and rich bastards took your job, it was no one else.
How will you — how do we — every day retool our thoughts — the closest one can come — to the actual?
Cynthia Arrieu-King is a writer, professor and quilter. She grew up in Kentucky, and divides her time between Philadelphia and Louisville. Her book “The Betweens” was released by Noemi Press on March 15, 2021.