NYC Observations Reading Reflection

Three Comments about Race.

I’m currently reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Learning about his experiences with apartheid in South Africa provide both hope and discouragement about current race relations[1. The juxtaposition of reading Mandela’s book with the protests about Ferguson and Eric Garner is… interesting.] in the United States. While there has been some progress in the past fifty years, it seems like it’s not happening fast enough. Why do Nelson Mandela’s experiences and words still apply to the world today?[2. Though I am just over halfway through it, I would recommend Mandela’s autobiography. He tells his story with clarity, humor, and dignity. Do note that it over 650 pages long.]

While in New York I visited the New York Historical Society, which had an exhibit entitled Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion. The banner fluttering in front of the museum for this exhibit features the “certificate of identity” of a Chinese actress. I, of course, have no idea what she was thinking when the authorities took her photo, though I see fierceness and indignation in her face.

There I learned that the Geary Act of 1892, which served as an extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, introduced the first form of photo ID in the United States. (Which makes me wonder if the Chinese in America were the first to create fake IDs.)

Again, there has been progress in the past century, but that there exists a museum exhibit on the exclusion/inclusion of Chinese Americans tells me that, as a population, we continue to wobble across that slash. And I think it is meaningful that “exclusion” comes first.[3. Iris Chang wrote an engaging book about The Chinese in America that discusses these exclusion acts. I will note that Chang’s writing brims with anger and hostility at points throughout the book. I nonetheless still recommend it. A more modern perspective on Chinese exclusion/inclusion is Gene Yang’s lovely graphic novel American Born Chinese.]

One of my patients in the jail, a man who is not Caucasian, has significant psychiatric symptoms. Some days he tolerates our conversation better than others. He recently became overwhelmed with rage and, in the midst of some colorful epithets, shouted, “I’m gonna rape you! No! You know what? I’m gonna get a whole bunch of WHITE GUYS to rape you!”

I immediately ended the conversation (for what I hope are obvious reasons). His commentary, though, fascinated me:

The emphasis of his threat was focused on race, not on the number of men. When you look him or me, you can instantly discern that neither one of us is white. He judged that the threat of a white man raping me was more demeaning and insulting than a man of any other race raping me.

It is also noteworthy, though perhaps not surprising, that he has directed this specific threat only to me. He has told my male colleagues that he will either beat or kill them. Neither threat, of course, is desirable.

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