Beautiful Women, Ugly Realities: Miss America and Miss Saigon

Anyone in any combination of interracial family (marriage, adoption, in-laws, godchildren, beloveds, whatever) becomes attuned to racism in a special way: when we love someone, it’s painful to feel they are being judged by race alone, or to see that their racial group is being disparaged, excluded, or condemned.

For those of us born, raised, and imbued in white privilege, awareness of racism has a particular poignancy–we don’t experience racism often ourselves. I know that I’m sometimes treated in a store very differently than how my daughters or sons are, for example. That’s a trivial example, in light of violent acts, civil rights violations, housing discrimination, and so on.

Yet that’s the point perhaps.  It’s the seemingly trivial things, the ones where people say “Oh, you’re overreacting” that add up and evolve into the big, ugly ones.

So as a nice, white, middle-aged woman, who has had her fair share of privilege just for being born white, and who loves beyond words her children and grandchild of color, I’m writing today about beauty and racism.

This one goes out especially for folks like me, adoptive parents of children from a mother of another color:

Racism is alive and well.

Two current examples:

Miss America: Nina Davuluri, our newly crowned beauty queen, was born in exotic Syracuse, New York. She won, and immediately a big, ugly, racist backlash began on social media.

Here’s a good article from the beauty pageant magazine Forbes: “Why We Need An Indian Miss America.”

It’s important to speak out, and also to listen.

Miss Saigon: This hugely successful play has been presented around the world since it premiered in 1989. It also has been highly controversial.

The poet/spoken word artist/more Bao Phi has written this beautiful, powerful post called War Before Memory: A Vietnamese American Protest Organizer’s History Against Miss Saigon.

Here is an excerpt, describing a recent protest against the upcoming production of Miss Saigon at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, MN:

The President and CEO of the Ordway, a white woman, suggests that we all see the show so that it can provoke feelings in us. Though several of us have in fact seen the play, I can’t help it. “My entire family was almost wiped out in that war,” I blurt out. “You think I need to go see your play in order to have my emotions provoked?” There goes my resolve to avoid losing my cool.

 I feel raw. Can barely sit still. I want to vent, to rage, to add my perspective as a Vietnamese person, but I also don’t want to dominate the conversation. I listen to several Asian American women talk about how men assume they or their mothers are prostitutes, or see them as submissive sex objects who will do anything for a white man – a behavior that Miss Saigon reinforces. David Mura is there. His daughter has graduated college. My daughter, not yet four years old, is at home. Her middle name is the Japanese name of Esther Suzuki, who died shortly after the second protest of Miss Saigon at the Ordway.

His whole post is prose, it’s poetry, it’s powerful.

I had posted on my blog here about Miss Saigon, and the protest about its Ordway staging. Really, though, I was primarily writing about the production of “How To Be A Korean Woman,” the nearly sold-out, one-woman play, written and performed by Sun-Mee Chomet at the Guthrie Theater. I’ll be attending the play Sunday afternoon, and then participating on the post-play discussion panel following the performance. Here’s the blurb for the discussion: “Moving Forward: Grappling with Unknowns and Never-Will-Be-Knowns” with Michelle K. Johnson and Maureen McCauley Evans. Michelle K. Johnson works for the State of Minnesota’s 4th Judicial District (Hennepin County) as the Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Coordinator. Maureen McCauley Evans is an artist, writer, and editor who spent many years involved with adoption professionally.

Michelle is a transracial adoptee. I feel confident we will talk about race, adoption, and their intersection, as those are all parts of Sun-Mee’s work.

I recognize these are all hard things to talk about sometimes, but they are important. And I’m grateful to those who are speaking out against racism, and helping me learn.

I’ll close today with the words of a brilliant Middle Eastern poet:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
– Rumi

 

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