Get Off Your Shuttles!

I haven’t posted anything in over a year, but since I haven’t seen a decent coverage/op-ed piece on the Google bus protest, I just decided to rant a little!

For Context: 
http://www.businessinsider.com/protestors-jumped-in-front-of-a-google-bus-and-stopped-it-from-moving-2013-12
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-google-protest-20131209,0,4154118.story

No one likes to be called out as being privileged. But sometimes, you need a little wake up call, like the one some Googlers got this morning on their shuttle in the Mission.

It’s annoying how people who work in tech are getting defensive. COME ON. We all know the tech industry has fundamentally changed the fabric of SF and has been at the core of the major and rapid gentrification happening (or already completed) in many neighborhoods. Rents are increasing (yay SF is number 1! being at the top of anything is a good thing, right?), nonprofits are being forced to move across the bay due to increasing rents, and lawyers are giving landlords free workshops on how to evict their tenants. People are not upset because the shuttles are taking over the muni stops.  People are upset the tech industry (and the people in it) is not giving back — and definitely not nearly enough to justify or compensate for the perceived and real inequities and income gaps. Hell, talk about being “disruptive!”

IF YOU FEEL UNDER ATTACK, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Wear your company’s shirt and volunteer at nonprofits, help fundraise to support a cause, convince your company to donate to a local org, spend some time learning about all the displacements and evictions happening in the city, pass out donuts in the morning at your shuttle stop (jk, maybe), find out what types of policy recommendations we can get behind, start a petition, build an app that helps solve a problem (no, not your late night food ordering problem), donate your time and talent to mentor underprivileged youth. We must work – I mean WORK – until the community starts acknowledging us as community members, neighbors, not intruders.

I am in tech. I am privileged. I am the shuttle. But I refuse to be the one sitting in the backseat looking out the window and tweeting on my phone. Get off the shuttle and use your privilege to bridge the gap.

I truly believe people in tech can make great, lasting impacts in our community. I work with some of the brightest and most creative people I’ve ever met, and I constantly wonder what type of change we can make collectively if the tech community really thought long and hard about how to solve difficult social issues.

To help you give back, check out some of my favorite local nonprofits:

Please share your favorite local organizations in the comments!

Why I wrote to the racist teen’s school principal… and posted it on Facebook

Email to School Faculty

Over the long weekend, I’ve had quite a bit of free time and I, like many social media fanatics (a.k.a lazy losers), spent much of that time reconnecting with friends on Facebook and reading about people’s recent adventures, job changes, and political activities (to me this is like reading People). A friend of mine shared a tumblr post about people’s racist reaction to the movie Red Dawn, a movie about the North Korean invasion of the U.S. and the heroic revolution led by a courageous, patriotic white family that saved the country from the evil forces. Honestly, I thought Red Dawn was a Twilight movie, a sequel to Breaking Dawn (I’ve never watched any of the Twilight movies and I’m damn proud of it so shut it teenagers).

The collage of people’s racist tweets on tumblr was really, really, sad. One tweet in particular stood out to me, which said, “Kinda wanna kill some Asians right now and defend the homeland, thank you Red Dawn for sparking some patriotism in me.” I couldn’t resist but find the actual person who tweeted this and confront him. Well, here’s the part I’m not so proud of… I called him an ignorant piece of shit. Ouch, oops. I shouldn’t have reacted that way, because it wasn’t constructive and I didn’t get anything out of it besides letting my frustration and anger out on him, even though he was not the root of my anger. He replied, “it was just a joke” to my tweet, which validated my action wasn’t productive nor educational. He’s only a sophomore in high school after all, and while I respect so many of today’s youth and their intelligence, maturity, and political acumen, there is still a lot of room for more growth and learning, and a dire need for good educators who teach beyond just the scope of the textbook. I used to say ignorant things all the time (no, I’m not going to tell you what I used to say) and it was through education, compassion, community, and forgiveness that I was able to learn to be more thoughtful and aware.

The true cause of my anger wasn’t him. It was, and is, our racist media, our racist society, our racist culture, and our racist institutions that fail to acknowledge any non-white person and culture as “American” and otherize people like me and lead people like Kiel to want to kill people like me. From his other tweets, I also found him using words like “faggot,” “rape,” which again, is the product of our racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. society and culture. And then I thought… what if? What if this white football player dude is bullying or harassing Asian, and/or women, and/or queer students at his school? What if no one is calling him out? What if he convinces others to do the same? Then what?

So I decided to do something about it.

Inspired by Jezebel’s recent post that held teens accountable for their racist tweets about President Obama, I decided to hold Kiel and adults around him accountable. Really, it’s not Kiel’s fault that he’s using hateful language — it’s people, adults, around him who failed to educate him that is to blame. A quick Google search and three easy clicks led me to the teen’s high school football team profile, his school’s website, and directory of faculty and staff’s email addresses. It required hardly any research at all. I wrote to the school’s principal, athletics director, football coach, and guidance counselor. I figured one of these people would care about the student’s behavior and growth. So I wrote the email and sent it (you can read it in the image above)… and took a screenshot and posted it on Facebook. Here’s why:

  1. I wanted my friends to know they, too, can do this — some people may think I’m crazy, but hey, if SOMEONE doesn’t speak up about stuff like this, no one will. And I’m certainly not going to wait and bet on the possibility of someone else who’s in closer proximity to the teen will one day teach him. If he didn’t want the whole world involved, he shouldn’t have posted a public tweet. To me, it was almost like a “cry for help” (please excuse my savior complex).
  2. I wanted to share my approach — I’ve had friends in the past who told me they just don’t know how to approach situations like this. What am I supposed to do when someone says something offensive? How do I call them out without causing a bigger scene? I’m hoping some of my wordings in the email can help figure out the approach for different people. This will always be a tricky thing to do, and everyone has different communication styles that work best for them.
  3. I wanted to point to the actual cause — I wanted folks to realize my anger wasn’t directed at the teen (sure, I may be a wee bit vindictive, but that’s beside the point) and that it was really the teen’s educators’ job to fix this. Sure, I could’ve continued the back-and-forth tweet war with the teen, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve either shut me down by saying “it was a joke, get a life” sort of a response, or simply block me. It also gave the school a clear opportunity to educate its students. I wanted my friends to know that this type of approach will (hopefully) bring more constructive and productive results.
  4. I wanted to brag — come on, now.

My partner still thinks I’m a nut job for doing what I did, especially since he thinks I make an easy target for retaliation despite my recent completion of a self-defense course. But I’m glad I did what I did, because I tried (a little too hard, my partner would say). I can also say this with a bit of reassurance because this morning, I received an email from the teen’s school principal:

Email reply from the school principal

My only hope is the school’s “consequences” will entail proper education rather than just punishment. If only the school, and other schools and organizations, can take opportunities like this to start changing the culture of the institution and instill values that embrace diversity, our world – online or offline – would be so much less violent and isolating.

Happy conscious tweeting,

Michelle

#Walmartstrikers

We all know Walmart isn’t the most socially conscious company and we also know it has always been one of the biggest offenders of fair and equitable treatment of its workers who are often their target consumers. My friend once asked me why I only talk about race and gender issues (well, this isn’t true) and not class issues. Well, these issues are all very closely related and it’s difficult to just talk about one issue without the other. I should probably do a better job of acknowledging those intersections when I talk about race, gender, and class issues…which are all. human. issues. Walmart serves as an intersection of all these issues, quite literally, affecting all three aforementioned aspects of its consumers and employees.

It will be interesting to find out if the strike today will have any negative effect on the company’s bottom line. I haven’t shopped at Walmart in years and I plan to continue this trend as long as this retail giant keeps abusing and exploiting its workers and its customers. Let me mention that, fortunately, I can afford to go elsewhere — and many of you can, too. Sure, that waffle maker that’s $5 less and that pair of sweatpants $3 less than what you would spend elsewhere may tempt you, but let’s not forget who’s really absorbing the cost saving. Remember who the discounts are hurting and the types of choices some folks are forced to make.

Walmart says “Save Money. Live Better.”
What it’s really saying is “Cheap Labor. More Revenue.” “Fire One. Hire Another.” “Don’t Speak. We Retaliate.”

Follow the strike via #walmartstrikers, #changewalmart and #makingchange

Turkey, pumpkin pie, and a whole lot of reflecting

Thanksgiving had always been a very “American” (as in, “white”) holiday to my family and didn’t have much relevance until fairly recently. As a first generation immigrant family, we never really celebrated the day beyond going out to eat at a nearby Chinese restaurant (because it was the only thing open) and looking for cheap deals the next day. When I went off to college, I watched my friends go back home while I stayed behind on campus and pretended to be unaffected by the obvious “otherness” that was my family. In fact, my Freshman year, I had my little sister visit me and we spent most of the time together in my empty dorm building eating microwaveable rice and ramen.

Truth be told, I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad back then and it was always awkward to spend “family time” during these cheesy holidays. I figured, well, Koreans don’t eat turkey anyway so what the hell’s the point?

Luckily, things have changed for the better since and Thanksgiving is now one of my favorite holidays. Aside from the problematic political and historial issues surrounding this holiday and my distaste for all things “patriotic” and “[white] American,” having a dedicated day to reflect and show appreciation while having obnoxious amounts of food (we’re all going to hell for gluttony, just so you know) is one of those things I can get used to (yes, I am often hypocritical). One, two, three years of cooking (aka ordering pre-made meals and heating them up), awkwardly talking about what we’re grateful for, and multiple years of suppressed desire for familial love and unity all somehow contributed to slowly healing our wounds and bringing us back together.

It makes me laugh to think about how much we’ve adapted to the “American” ways, how we eat turkey on Thanksgiving but still put kimchi on the table, and how much we’ve grown as a family and then some. It certainly isn’t very “Korean” to share our deepest emotions and thoughts within the family (my dad and I still get so awkward talking about feelings. which is why we never do), but I feel the need to have it documented somewhere: I am so, so, so very thankful for my family and am proud of how far we’ve come given our not-so-charming family history. I am so damn lucky to have such incredible parents and sister who are so strong and have endured tremendous hardships to get to where they are today, and who continue to support and trust me rock solid. I love you fambam.

Image

Thanks Boston Market for making our Turkey Day celebration feast a success every year!!!

Senior Stacks at Prelude Norcal 2012

My first performance in roughly two years. It felt so awesome to be back on stage performing with old friends. It’s so important to continue pursuing your passion. I realize this every single day.

Well, this is awkward

Why, hello!

I’ve always wanted to have a blog, but never really got around to doing it… just like my many failed attempts to keep a diary, journal, memoir, whatever. I’m not a clever writer nor a dedicated one. But I do feel this will serve as an important channel for fulfilling my periodic desire to write something witty, ridiculous, stupid, creative, sad, happy, or (most likely) angry. I’ve been saving this blog for some impressive “launch” of “hey look, i can write awesome stuff” but obviously that’s a risky plan that may never come to fruition.

So here comes my braindump.