I am not Black, and that is my privilege.
As a shy kid growing up in small town Oregon, I worshiped larger than life, out of this world creative spirits like Aaliyah, Dave Chappelle, Dr. Dre, Michael Jordan, Wu-Tang Clan, and Black culture as a whole. For some irrational reason, this culture was frowned upon in my conservative household, so I would stay up into the wee hours of the night listening to gangster rap and Def Comedy Jam albums on my Walkman under a fort of blankets as a form of protest. I loved their art, their athletics, and their aesthetics without ever having to carefully consider or critically think about their triumphs, their tragedies, and their lives through their lens.
I used to take pleasure in Black culture without ever having to think about Black people.
I remember in tenth grade, a classmate sitting next to me in history class had overheard the banging bass of hip-hop classic - Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You” - blaring through my headphones, so he reached over to ask:
“Why do you listen to that stuff? How is it relatable to you?”
The funny thing is…at least on a superficial level, it’s not relatable at all. I come from a middle class family, I was the first born child in a traditional Vietnamese family, and I identify as a straight male. Minus a few instances of microaggression and gross blanket generalizations, I have been fortunate enough to not have ever faced the violence and blind hatred that often accompanies extreme prejudice. But that’s the beauty of art, isn’t it? It’s not always going to be about me, but rather it acts as a window into the various components that make up the complex human experience.
I lived in a bubble.
I never questioned my safety.
I had ethnic immunity.
Like many of the kids who were cut from the same cloth, I could have easily fallen into the trap of morphing into an entitled, tone-deaf brat. I wasn’t with the idea of “it was my world and everyone else was living in it.” I aspired to be more than what I saw around me.
If Black art and community have taught me anything, it’s empathy. I learned to see life through a completely different perspective other than my own. I learned to actively listen instead of constantly imposing my own worldview. Most importantly, a deeper sense of compassion was ignited in the pit of my stomach for other human beings.
Now I’m finally ready to give back.
Living in the digital age when news coverage is instantaneous now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore those who are suffering. Police shootings. Mass incarceration. Hate crimes. It’s impossible to sleep at night knowing that there are Americans being persecuted on our own soil due to the color of their skin. Many pessimists will say, “Well, what can I do about it?” I’m telling you if you cared enough, you will find a way. I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m willing to put in the work towards finding one.
I am indebted to this community. For it was their art, their energy, and their love that kept me company at night, and helped this shy kid feel less alone.
There is power in my privilege, and I choose not to waste it on myself.