BlackLivesMatter vs BlueLivesMatter

A/N: Due to the nature of this post, my commenting policy will be strictly enforced. This goes for comments on my Facebook page as well. 

I’ve been seeing a video by Nick Palmisciano called “Blacklivesmatter vs Bluelivesmatter” being spread around on Facebook and while I’m not surprised, I am irritated. I actually started to comment and reply on a friend’s post, but it burgeoned into something incredibly long and unwieldy for a Facebook comment. Then I remembered that I have a blog.

Here’s the video I’m talking about. My thoughts are below.

On the surface of things, this video seems reasonable.

Surely, both sides have valid points. After all, the police officer in the video just accidentally bumped into the black woman. He didn’t mean any harm and she recognizes the situation for what it really is: an accident. Neither of them can figure out why people are coming in, literally silencing them, and putting words in their mouths.

Everyone except the original cop and woman is portrayed as unthinking idiots who hate nuanced thinking and context.

Except, of course, that most of the “situations” that spurred the BlackLivesMatter movement were not accidental bumps in a parking lot where no harm occurred. These situations resulted in physical violence, arrest, and/or death.

Look, I know a few cops – and quite frankly, in my entire life, I have never been ill-treated by a police officer. In fact, every time I’ve had interactions with the police, whether because I got pulled over for a ticket, or because they were actively protecting me and my family from stalking or physical violence, I have been treated well, with kindness, and respect.

But you know something? As much as my experience with the police has been fantastic (well, no one would say getting a speeding ticket is fantastic, but let’s just say I have never feared for my life – even when I was annoyed or less than polite), I am aware that my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. In fact, I am 100% positive that my experience, as an Asian American woman, whose stereotype is that of a meek, submissive victim, is quite possibly completely opposite that of a black man or woman.

Some of this video is true in the sense that individually, there are definitely cops and black folks who are “bad apples.” Equally true, the video posits that many people don’t want to think or consider nuance. The irony is that this video also lacks nuance.

You see, what #blacklivesmatter understands and #bluelivesmatter doesn’t seem to is the problem of systemic racism. Racism that is inherently part of the system – and if you are born and raised in America regardless of race, you cannot help but absorb through culture constantly telling you that black people are dangerous criminals and that cops are the good guys who occasionally have to use force to protect us.

So if you’re a cop – even a good, well-meaning cop, because of these messages, you may unconsciously use more force more quickly on a black person than a white person. These biases perhaps may be at best, just a nuisance, but can turn deadly in an instant as long as you, the cop, “feels” danger is imminent or threatened.

But as for WHY cops might feel endangered, THAT isn’t being questioned or explored. THAT is the quandary black men and women feel the consequence of all the time. The reason why cops feel threatened by an unarmed black kid in a hoodie is far more subtle than “the guy is racist.” The reason is because society is racist, constantly telling us that black men and women are violent drug addicts who are ghetto and poor and have no class.

Our country, as great as it is, was founded on slavery and genocide. We are literally built on the blood of not only revolutionaries who wanted freedom from paying the King’s taxes, but also with the blood of brutally enslaved peoples and the systematic elimination of another people. All our country’s wealth was possible because it relied on free labor from humans who were treated as cattle (HUGE TRIGGER WARNING) as well as stealing a fertile land by trickery, broken promises, and outright warfare. This evil has infiltrated every aspect of our country’s systems and is woven into the fabric of our history and collective memory (no matter how hard we try to deny it).

So, we all, by virtue of being born in the United States, are complicit and part of this racist society. Some of us benefit more so than others.

It is so much easier to say that it is individual police officers who are giving the rest of cops out there a bad name.

We want these matters to be on an individual level because then we as a people do not have to do anything. We can just call these events a singularity as something out of the ordinary that lets us judge those “racist cops” or those “thugs.”

We can then sit back, smug and safe.

I can just sit back, smug and safe.

But if it is a systemic problem, the solution isn’t easy or simple or even straight forward. I don’t even think there is a solution short of a complete overhaul of not only our existing structures (be it justice, education, economic, or religious), but also a complete overhaul of our thoughts.

Who wants to examine how our thoughts are influenced by racism, sexism, and religion? Who wants to go through life seeing things as they are (or at least, less oblivious than we used to be)? Who wants to write letters to our representatives, confront our pastors and teachers and school boards and HOAs and our neighbors? Who wants to be the squeaky wheel? Who wants to write long blog posts about that again? Or comment on Facebook posts?

A systemic problem makes me complicit and that makes me uncomfortable.

This whole post makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because although I’ve been vocal, I still don’t enjoy putting myself out there. I still want to seem pleasant and likable and not one of those people – you know, who always has to bring race or sex or whatever into the conversation.

But you know what? People are dying. Black people are dying. And my discomfort pales in comparison.

How to Gauge Chinese Fluency

**This piece was originally part of a series of posts. You can find the updated version, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese

Before I continue, I recommend you read my post about setting realistic expectations to get the most out of this week’s article. This is not because I want to whore out my previous posts (ok, that, too), but more to properly frame this week’s post about gauging Chinese fluency in your children. (You know, so you can have realistic expectations about what I’m about to write.)

Also, I just want to say upfront that many people will likely take umbrage at my remarks. I totally understand. I might be skewering one of your sacred cows. No one likes their cows skewered unless they are the ones skewering – and even then, only if they also get to eat the skewers. So, I get it. But that doesn’t mean the cows weren’t in need of a good skewering in the first place.

Anyhow, enough with the belabored metaphors and on with the post. Whooo!

So, tl;dr version of my Realistic Expectations post (because I know you didn’t go read it): Chinese fluency requires intention. Your goals may differ from mine, but your kid isn’t going to be magically fluent just because that would be a nice thing to have. It takes work. And depending on your expectations and goals, more work than the minimum of showing up to Mandarin Immersion school every week day or a weekly three hour Chinese School session. (Of course, there is a lot more nuance to the post, but why would we care about that?)

Oh, your kid is from a non-speaking family and is fluent from going to a few years of MI?

Oh, your kid is from a non-speaking family and is “fluent” from going to a few years of MI school?

For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you want something similar to what I want, which is for my kids to have a native level of speaking and understanding Mandarin as well as functional literacy. (If your idea of fluency is for your kid to know a few phrases and perhaps order some food or ask for the restroom, we need to have a discussion about the correct usage of the word “fluent.” Words have meaning and it behooves us to use them precisely.)

At the risk of being a clichéd college application essay, a quick Google of the word, “fluent,” brings up the following definitions:

  • (of a person) able to express oneself easily and articulately.
  • (of a person) able to speak or write a particular foreign language easily and accurately.
  • (of a foreign language) spoken accurately and with facility.

Of course, I know that not everyone has the same expectations of their children as me – nor do I think that is necessary. In general, I think the above definitions will suffice for most people in terms of fluency; we want our children to be able to understand and express themselves in Chinese with ease, accuracy, and facility.

In our pursuit of this fluency, many of us enroll our children in Mandarin Immersion schools, weekly Chinese schools, after school programs, or tutors. We want to believe the claims of “complete fluency” or “native grade level fluency” from the principals and teachers. However, let’s be real: these folks have a slight conflict of interest and unless they have quantifiable results to back up their claims, what you’re really buying is hype.

And honestly, without additional supplementation, either from heritage parents speaking Chinese at home, or hiring additional tutors, native level fluency is most likely improbable from just being enrolled in an MI school or Chinese school.

Alright, I hear you saying. Where’s my proof? Where are my studies? Why am I such a snob?

I’m going to cheat and say, sorry. That’s not the type of post I’m writing today. (Or ever, actually.) I fully admit that I’m just a regular person with no fancy degrees in Mandarin Immersion or secondary language acquisition. However, I really would offer you as proof the millions of ABCs (American Born Chinese) and BOBAs (Brought Over By Airplane) who have come before you with varying levels of success in Chinese fluency. If it were really that easy, there would be far more fully fluent ABCs and BOBAs in existence and this topic wouldn’t be such a sore point for so many of us.

Anyway, even if you don’t believe me, given all the time, effort, and money you are investing in this pursuit, wouldn’t it be nice to know if your investment is giving you the appropriate returns? In short, how do you know your kid is as fluent in Chinese as you think they are?

As I am wont to do, I will split the families up into two categories: Speaking and Non-Speaking Families.

1) Speaking Families (Wherein at least one of the parents speaks, understands, reads, or writes Chinese. Depending on the degree of fluency, however, you may also need to refer to the Non-Speaking Families section.)

Clearly, the higher degree of fluency, the easier it will be for you to determine how fluent your own children are in Chinese. Just like a native English speaker doesn’t need much help with figuring out if their kid is fluent in English, you will have that same ability.

In cases of mixed-fluency/ability, I will refer you to the next section. In my own particular case, I am pretty fluent in speaking and understanding so I have no problem ascertaining how fluent my children are at speaking and understanding. However, my reading and writing are sorely lacking. I can read perhaps about 500 characters if we are being considerably generous – but if there is pinyin or zhuyin, I can read everything and comprehend most of it. In the case of reading and writing, I will obviously be less able to judge accurately.

2) Non-Speaking Families (Neither parent speaks, understands, reads, or writes Chinese.)

Now, as a non-speaking family, you don’t have the built-in advantage of being a native speaker to determine how fluent your children are in Chinese. You can only hope that the people to whom you’ve entrusted your children’s Chinese education will be honest and ethical in their assessments and not just tell you what you want to hear.

In other words: Trust, but verify.

This is where adhering to certain standards and testing becomes useful.

Now, I’m not a huge proponent of standardized testing, (I am, after all, homeschooling), but I’m not opposed to them, either. I understand the need to have a way to semi-objectively measure what children are learning in school and to make sure that they enter college with a base standard of knowledge.

What I don’t like about all the standardized testing is our children’s education being reduced to how well they do on these tests, and that if they don’t “pass” them with a sufficient margin, that they are somehow failures.

At any rate, I think it is totally legitimate for parents (both from speaking and non-speaking families) to demand accountability in the form of standardized testing from their Mandarin Immersion and Chinese School administrators. However, it is also important to understand what the tests measure and what they do NOT. Please do not equate passing a test with being fluent.

At any rate, the tests are still useful for what they do measure. Some of the possible Chinese assessment tests are:

a) SOPA/ELLOPA – Interactive, listening and speaking assessments designed for children who are learning a foreign language in a school setting. They include hands-on activities and are conducted entirely in the foreign language. Students are assessed in pairs by two trained test administrators and, during the activities or tasks, are encouraged to interact with each other as well as with the interviewers. The focus of the interview is to determine what the students can do with the language. (PreK-8)

b) Linguafolio – A three-fold portfolio assessment that takes into account the child’s language/cultural background; samples of the child’s work over time; and formal qualifications, certificates or diplomas, achievements, and self-assessments.

c) STAMP – Web-based, computer-adaptive assessments that measure proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking for middle school through university students.

d) HSK – China’s only standardized test of Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers such as foreign students and overseas Chinese.

e) AP Chinese Test – The exam assesses students’ interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills in Mandarin Chinese, as well as knowledge of Chinese culture. The exam is administered on a computer. The student reads on the screen, listens through headphones, types using the keyboard, and speaks into a microphone. Students may choose between traditional or simplified Chinese characters for reading and writing in Chinese.

Beyond these tests, there really is no better way to check fluency than to speak with native speakers. Of course, you are also depending on the kindness of friends and strangers and their willingness to be completely honest with you for fear of hurting your feelings or their being amazed at your child’s novelty.

Sometimes, that really is the best you can do.

Here then, is the official end to my post.

However, I do have a few things that are related to gauging Chinese fluency that I wanted to speak to. Of course, I don’t speak for all Chinese/Taiwanese Americans, but I can say that I am not alone in my opinions.

So before I continue, I want to give fair warning that some of you will find much of what I say next offensive and perhaps unnecessarily harsh. I would apologize but quite frankly, I don’t care.

I want to address a few common pitfalls when it comes to gauging Chinese fluency that occur most often in non-speaking families: False Sense of Fluency (FSOF) and White Mandarin Fluency Standards (WMFS) (terms courtesy of Fleur).

False Sense of Fluency is pretty self-explanatory. Often, non-speakers with children in Mandarin Immersion are under the misunderstanding (often due to purposeful misrepresentation or unrealistic hype from teachers and administrators) that their children are more fluent in Chinese than they actually are. There’s no way you, as a non-speaker, would know because obviously, you trust what the teachers tell you!

White Mandarin Fluency Standards, however, is another beast entirely. This refers to the extremely low standards Chinese people have for white people to be considered “fluent” in Mandarin/Chinese – in essence, because they are white. Because there is literally little to no expectation that white people (specifically in the US) would ever learn another language – let alone Chinese, when they (and their children) speak any Chinese at all, no matter how poorly intonated or basic, they get fluency points just for trying. (Thereby leading to FSOF. It is all interconnected.)

If an ABC spoke the same poorly intonated/basic Chinese, they would be excoriated mercilessly. Furthermore, if a Chinese person spoke the English equivalent of this poor Chinese, the response would often be vicious and cruel with comments of “You’re in America, speak American!” or “Go back to your country!” There would be no WMFS equivalent. The contempt would be palpable.

I know, I know. I sound like a really shitty person when I talk about this stuff. But you know what? That’s because I am done coddling white fragility. You might think that we’re only supposed to be talking about Chinese fluency but there is all this subtext that you’re missing.

Here’s the thing: Chinese is not a “white” language and is integrally tied to a specific ethnic people. An ethnic people who, I might add, have had a long and complicated history with the US and white people. (What ethnic minority hasn’t? Also, I am aware that the US is not to be conflated with white people.)

And due to this long and complicated (and by complicated, I mean racist) history, many Chinese folks (who were mocked for their accents or “Ching Chang Chonged” in school) are rightfully annoyed and suspicious when white folks all of a sudden decide that Chinese is now the latest cool thing to acquire for their children. (And yes, of course, there are many legitimate reasons to learn Chinese, and of course, not only white people are wanting their kids to learn Chinese, and yes, of course, not all white people ad nauseam, – people, please! Stay on task here.)

willy wonka chinese

Furthermore, there are few things as aggravating as non-native speakers popping in on forums (or in real life) and loudly exclaiming how their darling child, after X number of years in a Mandarin Immersion school is now totally fluent in reading and writing Chinese and aren’t they fantastic?

I find these types of comments well-meaning but laughable.

To quote Irish Twins, “That must be one amazing school if they never speak [Chinese] at home and [their child] is magically fluent.”

Look. Someone has to tell you the truth.

That’s like my friend, Not Another DB MBA, saying, “My kid took math for 8 years. Sure, they know calculus!” Or me telling you that just because I can run a mile, I can now run a marathon.

Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn. Not only is it a tonal language (which is notoriously difficult for non-native speakers to even distinguish), it also has over 20,000 characters – of which, only 10,000 are currently in common use. The Chinese government considers a person to be functionally literate (can read a newspaper) if you recognize around 2,000 characters. If you recognize 4-6,000 characters, they consider you highly educated.

Did you catch that?

The Chinese government expects its own people, people who already know how to speak Chinese and are literally immersed in Chinese culture, to be functionally literate if they can recognize 10% of Chinese characters. How can a person possibly think that their child, when only “immersed” in school for on average 6.6 hours a day, without any additional supplementation or support from a Chinese speaking household, be “completely fluent”?

And yes, I am overly petty when I snipe to my friends (I have never claimed to be anything other than petty and prickish). After all, what’s it to me if non-heritage and/or non-speaking families want their kids to learn Chinese? And what’s it to me if they are completely deluded in thinking their children are fluent? Who are they to me? And who am I to correct them?

This is where things get tricky.

It’s TOTALLY TRUE that it’s none of my business and certainly doesn’t merit reading the riot act on my part. Additionally, I concede that truly, your child really could be fluent. (And if so, I do find that to be incredible and wonderful.) HOWEVER, I consider this type of behavior just one of a legion of microaggressions that I, and minorities in general, have to deal with. It is merely one more reminder of the near constant cultural appropriation that happens to us.

I don’t want to retread my older posts, so if you’re interested in what I’ve written previously, I do go into more detail herehere, here, and here. (I will say that if you do not read these posts and then comment and complain about something I addressed there, I will respond with only a link. You have been warned.)

Look. I know no one chooses to be born white or Chinese or whatever. That is just a cosmic crapshoot. I don’t blame white folks and I don’t think being white automatically makes a person have a FSOF or WMFS. I really am pleased that so many people want to learn Chinese because I love the Chinese language and if only for purely selfish reasons, this helps me get more resources for my own children.

So, why did I have to go and ruin a perfectly civil and hopefully useful post by dragging it into the morass that is race and its incumbent squick factor?

As I said in a previous post, “Because it’s true and it happens and it’s real.  If you can’t handle that and don’t really want to navigate the murky and occasionally choppy waters of race and identity and whiteness or ‘otherness,’ perhaps Chinese is not the best language to choose.”

All I ask is that white folks be cognizant of the subtext and all the underlying issues something as seemingly innocuous as learning Chinese can bring up. Nothing exists in a vacuum. And if one of the reasons you want your children to learn Chinese is to become global citizens, it behooves everyone to not only have a deeper understanding of Chinese/Taiwanese culture and history, but Chinese/Taiwanese American culture and history as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this never-ending post. I know it likely made many folks uncomfortable so I thank you for wading through the discomfort. Have a wonderful weekend.

The Slow Crazy-Making Of Microaggressions

Have you ever thought you smelled gas or a burning smell but couldn’t find the source no matter how much you tore apart your home to find it? And because it’s something that could be life threatening, you keep smelling it – long after you’re mostly certain that you were imagining it? Only to later find out that there really was something wrong?

Last year, I was visiting a friend’s new home and I kept smelling gas in their kitchen and occasionally, outside their house. It got so bad that I finally mentioned something to them. I felt a little embarrassed, but hey, it’s gas. You don’t want there to be some type of explosion and you could’ve done something about it. I prefaced with the caveat that I could totally be making things up, but since it’s free to ask the gas company to come and check it out, no harm, no foul.

Turns out, there WAS a gas leak in their kitchen. I wasn’t crazy.

Or a few weeks ago, I kept smelling something burning in the house and after checking my stove and oven, and walking around my house sniffing, I couldn’t figure it out. A few hours later, my mother came by and called me downstairs. She said, “Your fireplace is on.”

Now, for those of you who haven’t been to my house, that seems super obvious – why didn’t I notice before? Well, the simple answer is this: I have a giant plastic kitchen that takes up the entire front of the fireplace. (I mean, when would I need to use the fireplace in CA? Also, easy baby-proofing!) It’s a gas-lit fireplace with a light-switch on/off and I have it taped down to “OFF.”

It turns out, Gamera had been randomly hitting light switches that morning and she had hit that switch so hard, it broke the tape and the fireplace was turned on, slowly melting my plastic kitchen. Hence, the burning smell.

TERRIFYING. And also, more importantly, I wasn’t crazy.

Or, have you ever forgotten your phone and although no one ever calls you, now that your phone isn’t in your possession, all of a sudden, every ringing phone is yours. Or worse than that, you constantly hear a phantom ringing phone?

Now, imagine this happens every day of your life. Randomly. Sometimes, it’s the smell of gas. Or you think you have tinnitus. Or you hear a constant drip of water. Or random whistling. Whatever drives you nuts because you can’t find the source and do anything about it.

And now, you think you’re crazy because you even hear or smell or see signs of the smell or leak or phone everywhere – even when there is legitimately nothing to worry about.

That, my friends, is a tiny example of what it is like for minorities (be it women, race, etc. – anything that is outside of the “norm”) as we experience microaggressions (unintentional discrimination). (A ridiculous term, but I get why there is a term. It just sounds so vapid.)

In many ways, I almost prefer blatant racism because that’s easy to point to. I mean, sure, I Hulk out, (confer that time I got “Ching Chang Chonged”), but ultimately, it’s almost comforting to experience something so tangible. Like, finally, I can point to something to illustrate what I’ve been feeling! (Although technically, people could categorize it as a microaggression as well. I didn’t find anything micro about it!)

But the problem with obvious racism is that it obscures the more mundane things that get to you. Plus, it allows people (including myself) to justify and feel better about themselves. After all, “I’m not burning crosses or calling people the N word! I can’t be racist!”

The problem with microaggressions is that they are hard to prove. The comments seem innocuous and are usually meant that way. But over time, they build up and pretty soon, it’s not just the comment itself that sets off a negative reaction. It’s ALL the comments you’ve ever received.

Like smelling the gas everywhere, after a time, you begin to imagine offenses and become overly sensitive. (Which is a horrible way to live because who wants to be offended all the time? Or to be known as an easily offended person?)

And then when some real shit happens, people think you’re overreacting again.

Trust me. No one wants to be the boy who cried wolf.

And the super annoying thing is that really, the microaggressions come out at random. There is no preparing for it.

Like you could be talking to someone totally fine and seems super cool and then, they come out with, “Where are you from? No, I mean, originally. No, before that. No, I mean, where are your parents from? No, before that.” And you’re like, “Do I fucking know you? Am I renting a house from you? Am I applying for a job and this is an interview that I was unaware of? WHY THE FUCK DO YOU NEED MY CREDIT HISTORY OR WHATEVER?”

Or perhaps you’re riding your bike on a trail and a woman coming from the opposite direction takes up the whole trail by herself and her dog and she doesn’t move out of your way even despite multiple warnings and when it causes you to brake suddenly or run over her fucking stupid dog and causes your bike chain to fall off and you to fall off your bike, she yells, “Go back to where you came from!”

What, Jersey? (True story that happened to my friend.)

After my post last week came out, I had my usual Mandarin playgroup at my house and pretty much every single woman there had a similar story. If you go to any gathering where there are minorities and someone brings this topic up, you will be overwhelmed with stories.

We are not imagining it. This shit happens. All. The. Time.

Here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure we all think or inadvertently say or do racist/sexist/whatever-ist things. That’s the danger of being human and living in a world that requires us to make snap judgments and sweeping generalizations on a daily basis. I get that. It doesn’t make us bad people.

However, how we choose to respond when other people who have been hurt by our comments or behavior inform us (sometimes, un-gently) that they have indeed been hurt or offended might.

Of course, we feel defensive and embarrassed and terribly gauche and misrepresented, but in the end, it doesn’t matter because it’s not about us. It is about the person we have hurt.

And what do we do when we hurt someone? We apologize sincerely for our actions. (Note: We do NOT apologize for them being offended. That is a non-apology and possibly even more infuriating than the original offense.)

I have more to say on this matter, but I’ll save it for another post. Suffice to say, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for awhile (on Reality and how stating Reality is not a judgment on anyone but just a statement of facts) and I just haven’t had the time yet to give form to my inchoate thoughts.

May all your aggressions today be macro instead of micro. Oh wait, that was NOT the point of this post. At all.