In this last year there are two identities that I’ve learned to claim. Biker, and Woman of Color.
I don’t just bike. I am a Biker. It doesn’t matter what kind of bike, or how fast I am, or how far I bike. Just as you don’t have to have done a marathon to be a Runner. You don’t have to have art in a museum to be an Artist. You don’t have to ovulate to be a Woman. I can claim the identity of a Biker just because it’s one of the many things that I am.
I have been aware of my journey as a Biker far longer than I’ve been aware of myself as a POC (Person of Color). I knew to check the “Asian” box, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I think I didn’t want it to. If given the option, I’d check both the “White” and “Asian” boxes because I wanted to feel more white. It felt easier, less confusing, more comfortable.
Thirteen months ago I had an epiphany. For the zillionth time in my life I had been referred to as a “Person of Color” and for the first time in my 34 years my brain said:
“HOLY SHIT. That means ME.” I saw this cartoon lightbulb pop up over me.
“I AM A WOMAN OF COLOR. fuck. this is news to me. I HAD NO IDEA.”
Weird right? I told my husband.
He said “I know.”
In my head “You knew?” How did you know? Who told you?”
I’ve been telling friends as if I’m coming out of the gay closet and the response I get is,
“Yeah. I knew. Of course you’re Asian.”
“Well I didn’t know.”
I still had to figure out what to do with this information.
In my heart I felt that because I didn’t have a “black” experience or hadn’t felt deeply oppressed or that I felt privileged that I wasn’t POC enough.
It took time, and conversations, and education. I came to understand that I can have both negative and positive experiences associated with my mixed race. I came to understand that there is both pride and shame in the history of every culture. No individual or culture is 100% perfect or evil. There have always been angels amidst atrocities. Perpetrators of atrocities usually love someone or something.
And so I do not have to feel 100% about anything. I can have felt the effect of bias or racism for myself or ancestors and still own my privilege. I do not have to be full of pride or full of shame. Discovering the injustices done to Asian Americans doesn’t have to compare to the injustices done to anyone else. It is not a competition. Owning the terrible things done by my white heritage doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Scandinavian or American traditions.
I’ve felt the tide of racial tensions rising in this country. I realize now that I’ve had opinions and reactions that were biased, selfish, or simply ignorant.
My experience as a bike commuter is helping me see the experience of others.
Next week, Identities – Part Two