does it get better?

posted by jroselkim

I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately, especially growing up as a minority identity after watching Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project unfold. If I were influential enough to start a similar campaign for young girls of colour everywhere, would I be able to confidently tell them that it will in fact get better when they get to be 18, 22, or 35?

The truth is, life gets more complicated as one’s racial consciousness awakens, and the burden of being a visible minority never gets lighter.

In a way, perhaps it has the potential to get worse as we learn the ways of the world, about concepts like institutionalized racism. How can I express the feeling of betrayal and hopelessness I felt when it became crystal lear that racism is so embedded, so naturalized within society that we are trained to not see it, to self-hate and hate others for not being a blank slate?

How can I describe the fear I felt at reading about hate crimes targeted towards interracial couples that happened in Canada as recently as this summer?

How can I articulate the shame I felt about having an egg-and-ketchup sandwich at the age of 12, when these things mattered all the world, and couldn’t help but hate my own mother for trying, trying so hard, but failing to be “Canadian” like other mothers? How can I express my guilt and sadness for hating my parents for where they came from for so long?
I can’t.

So how should I go on, and how should we all go on? I have no answers, and I cannot, with good conscience, look at a camera and say confidently that life will get better.

But I can say this.

Dear young woman of colour,

I apologize that I have no real words of comfort for your future.

But please know that I understand:

every ounce of shame you’ve shed for feeling different
even though that person only was curious,
only had good intentions when he or she reminded you of your otherness.

I know

that you may question your motive for being attracted to someone who is
outside of your race
because if you may wonder
does he/she like me for me?
or my skin colour?

(and you’ll never know, or at least, never trust the answers)

And your friends and family may wonder out loud:
is she a traitor to her culture?
does she just want to move “up”?

And maybe you just want to give up because it’s easier
to follow everyone’s expectations;

you may not know what makes you happy anymore,

amongst mixed messages that say you should be both

obedient and integrated

but still


I don’t know if it gets better

as you grow older, as you grow into the othered consciousness

that you express mostly through self-deprecation,

uncomfortable smiles

and distractions.

And I’m sorry that we may fail you in battling racism
that difference is (still) more or less a dirty word.

But please know that there are allies. Others who feel the same way as you do.

Of course, nobody feels the exact pain that you had. Do not let anybody tell you that they know exactly how you feel, and prescribe a solution.

More importantly: do not let anybody tell you that your emotions are not real. Never ever succumb to those that want to rationalize your legitimate hurt. Because if they succeed in doing that, they succeed in taking your history away. They succeed in quashing the uniqueness that makes you powerful, just so they could sleep better at night.

And please know that while life may not get so much better, it does get better when you can find your voice, and others like yours.

I still make do because other stories from women of colour opened my eyes to tell my own.

And your stories will inspire others that come later to continue fighting, and hopefully exist in a society where our skin colours, our cultures, and our languages are no longer a burdern

but just a part of you.



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10 responses to “does it get better?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention does it get better? | the invazn --

  2. This is really inspiring and honest. Although I’m not a woman I can relate to this. I was mostly oblivious to my ethnicity growing up through high school from a very young age I was always ashamed of not being able to speak my grandparents’ language. It seemed when I was growing up both Asians and non-Asians always zoned in on that.

    • RK

      Thank you! It is strange how the concept of “Asian-Canadian” being separate from “Asian” cultures is still very foreign to many.

      I read that you’re based in Montreal – perhaps we could meet one day, at the AmerAsia festival maybe?

  3. Pingback: How I made a room full of people inappropriately uncomfortable « What Are Years?

  4. Chris

    Being neither a woman nor of colour, nor leaving in North America, subject of bouts of what may be undiagnosed yellow fever, I am not sure if it is approriate for me to comment, but I was moved by your piece. We spent a year in the US and the smell of the institutionalized racism sent us raising our kids back in Europe. We were very unpopular with our US friends when we mentioned it. I am surely biased but I feel we see more mixed relationships in Europe. Why is that? I don’t understand what is meant with “having an egg-and-ketchup sandwich at the age of 12”? Can you explain?

    • RK

      Thank you for the kind words about my post – it’s much appreciated. Whereabouts in Europe are you, if you don’t mind me asking? Just curious.

      As for the egg sandwich – my mother, trying to emulate a normal sandwich (at my request, because I had become so ashamed of the smelly Korean foods and the questions I got at school), made a sandwich with a fried egg and ketchup. I actually thought that was normal, until it was pointed out as weird, yet again, by my classmate. And the thing is, I bring back as much Korean food as I can when I visit my parents now. Oh the things we don’t learn until later…

      • Chris

        I am from Switzerland. Don’t misunderstand, we do have a lot of racism or what we call here xenophobia, but mixed couples are frequent and there is little social class, race or ethnic origin apartheid. As to growing, I wonder if it is frequent, or “normal” or even healthy not to strongly feel different/stranger to our parents at some point. Sometime we blame race, or culture or education, whatever seems most obvious to us or others. I accept this from my kids and hope one day they’ll crave for my version of “kimchi”

  5. Chris

    sorry I meant ther eis NO apartheid

  6. I came here from the report you gave about reading this in public. I think it’s a great piece, and it needs to be said, and it needed to be said in that context. And while I am white and painfully aware that this means privilege and I can probably never fully understand what it’s like to be non-white, I kind of did have an immigrant background as I grew up (moved from Western to Eastern Germany after the reunification, was met with hostility and prejudice there because of being from the West, didn’t know their traditions and rituals down to the meaning of the most common colloquial expressions), so I do in part understand what it feels like to not fit in because of your culture. I applaud you for this piece of writing, and I hope nothing of what I said was inappropriate.

    • RK

      Hi poet – thank you so much for your comment, you certainly said nothing inappropriate! I would be fascinated to know more about your own experience moving in Germany; have you written about it on your blog?

      (and sorry for my late response; I haven’t checked comments on this post for awhile because it came out a while ago.)

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