Category Archives: culture

MLK and Mental Illness


mlk-dream-bannerI went to church yesterday. As is usual with most Unitarian Universalist churches, the day was spent in reflection of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are caucasian pinned pink ribbons to our tops, a reminder for the day that people are treated differently because of their skin tone and that as caucasians, we have a duty to acknowledge our ancestors’ history and challenge injustice whenever we witness it. I had planned to pen an elaborate post regarding my thoughts on the service.

Then I had a mental health episode. It was a rough night, and I struggled with old coping mechanisms such as self-injury and alcohol. This is not the life that I want to lead, and I recommit myself to my overall health – including my spiritual and mental health.

Today I began to wonder, what would Dr. King say about how we treat the mentally ill in this country. I found this blog and wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. King himself often battled with depression. People who are challenged with mental illness tend to be some of the most self-reflective and empathetic people you will ever meet. It’s not lost on me that someone like MLK who spent his life thinking deeply about injustice would struggle with the psychological impact of such a dreary reality.

There is still a stigma against the mentally ill. I could never compare this to the experience that African Americans have had in this society. Yet I’m compelled to call out injustice wherever I see it, for mental illness is something that does not discriminate based on the color of your skin. If we know that mental illness is stigmatize, and that racial minorities are discriminated against, one would shudder at the injustice of mental illness within those communities. Unfortunately, culturally speaking, some groups balk even more at the thought of mental health treatment. My husband is from India and there’s a long history of denying the need for therapy and that one should fix things on their own, which is a damaging and dangerous perspective. Damaging because it belittles those of us who seek help. Dangerous because it suggests a path that almost always fails.

We need to speak out in all of our communities that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it’s something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, just like MLK did. There is no weakness in asking for help as it is true strength and courage that allows you to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Growing up, we’re not taught to deal with these issues, so we need to learn from those who can help us. Regardless of our backgrounds, there is a counselor that can meet our needs.

If you need any support in exploring these issues, please reach out to me. I’m listening.

Ancestry


23andme

I never knew much about my heritage. I didn’t know many people on my dad’s side of the family, so I was curious as to my background. I felt like I was pretty confident in my heritage on my mother’s side. To quench my thirst for knowledge, I had my DNA tested with 23andMe.

My results were pretty much to be expected. 23andMe is good with continuing to do research on the genotypes even after you get your initial results. This further research has caused a mystery on my mom’s side of the family.

There was a story that I heard growing up – that one of my great-great-grandmothers was Native American. Even more than that, it was stated that she was a cousin to Chief Sitting Bull, which would have made her Oglala Lakota. The French-speaking people in my family were quite racist – they allegedly made comments that they didn’t care if the person was “red or black,” they didn’t want them in the family and disowned my great-great-grandfather for marrying a non-white.

This story was very unsettling to me. Because of the hatred my great-great-grandmother experienced, I made it my mission to be as respectful of and learn as much as I could about the Lakota people. I felt that by honoring my great-great-grandmother, I was doing my part in rectifying the hatred within my own family.

23andMe recently released some more genetic reports providing a deeper dive into the genotypes and the locations in the world from which they came. I recently looked at my results and was surprised to see 0% Native American! The “family story” is a lie. So, what’s the truth. Well, with the generational breakdown, in the time of 1710-1800, the genotype that shows up is Subsaharan African. Curiouser and curiouser.

Further investigation will tell – but my first impression of this new information? Not only was the story a lie, but the ancestor in question was likely of mixed African origin.

My Love in India


When I first got married, people often said that my husband and I should have our own reality show. I admit, how we worked through cultural differences was often quite funny.

My husband is Indian. A Kashmiri Pandit from the Indian side of the LOC (Line of Control), to be exact. I met him while I was working in India for Amazon. The company sent me to Hyderabad in 2005 to help open a new office–the first Amazon-owned customer service center in India. Previous to that time, Amazon had only worked with outsourcing companies. This was the dawn of a new era when Amazon would be in a foreign country and run things in their image rather than someone else’s. I was honored to be a part of it.

I arrived in Hyderabad after a harrowing trip through Paris. Twenty minutes into my flight from Paris to Hyderabad, the plane started smoking. There’s nothing like seeing flight attendants running down the aisles with fire extinguishers to make you feel safe and comfortable while 30,000+ feet in the air. My immediate reaction was to lay my head against the seat in front of me and chant, “Om Kali Maa, Maha Kali.” (I had been a devotee of Kali since seeing her in a dream as a teenager; this fact made the trip to India even more emotional and spiritual for me–although it was supposed to be all about work).

Finally the decision was made to turn the plane around and try to figure out what caused the smoke. After six hours of trying to stay awake in the Charles DeGaulle airport, the airline finally decided to cancel the flight. After an aggravating weekend in Paris, the urge to return to the United States, and bursting into tears on the side of the road, I finally made it onto a flight that SAFELY arrived in Hyderabad. Jai Maa indeed.

Since I was in India for work, the first two months were spent doing just that–nothing but work–well, except for the occasional tourist or shopping trip. After weeks of all-day office work and evening conference calls with people in the U.S., I needed some downtime. My co-workers and I decided to take a weekend trip to Bangalore (a place that has become my favorite city in India, although Hyderabad will always have a special place in my heart).

During this weekend trip, I went to a get-together for a Bangalore teammate’s birthday. At the party, I met Deepak, the man who would later become my husband. He offered to show me around Bangalore, and we had the best time ever. My favorite memory is of meditating in front of the largest statue of Shiva in all of India. It was an epic experience.

Deepak and I kept in touch after I left Bangalore. We even saw each other again as I made other trips to Bangalore and he visited Hyderabad. But I had to leave. After six months, I was to return back to my life in the U.S. Neither one of us wanted to be apart. It was with these strong feelings that Deepak asked me to marry him, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, not exactly. The immigration process is a nightmare for people in love, but I’ll save that for another post.

Deepak finally arrived in the U.S. in February of 2007. That trip would be the first time he had traveled outside of India. It was culture shock to say the least. Although we both spoke English, those cultural nuances would often cause misunderstandings. Like the time he told my nephew to put the groceries in the dicky. Saying this to a teenage American boy was definitely cause for twelve-year-old-type innuendo and laughter.

For me, there was the month where on separate occasions, he basically called me a homely fat cow. Let me explain.

When he stated that I was fat, I was still in that American frame of mind that immediately took that as an insult, as a negative criticism of my looks. To him, it was just a statement of fact, not a judgment on my appearance. To him, a person can be skinny or fat, which has nothing to do with one’s beauty. I understood that. Still, it took me a long time to see things his way when it came to that perspective. I still count this initial misunderstanding and later clarity as a huge contributor to my lifelong process of body acceptance. For that, I thank him, even when I wanted to smack him when he had first said it.

Then there was the time he called me homely. I immediately took offense. To me, homely meant “not pretty, plain or unattractive.” To him it meant “being familiar with the home”–in other words, a Domestic Goddess. I definitely enjoyed that much more than the fat comment.

Lastly, he called me a cow. I nearly blew a gasket! He explained that he worshipped cows, and for him to make the comparison, it was like calling me a Goddess. I’m still not sure, even after almost nine years of marriage, if he was being honest or backtracking when he realized his faux pas. Still, I’ll accept any time someone wants to call me a Goddess. And I definitely made sure to tell him to NEVER, EVER call an American woman a cow unless he wants to be slapped.

I could go on, but I’ll leave that to a different post. Right now I’ll just say that I love India, and I found love IN India. I’ll just say that I’m glad I live with an open mind and respect others’ differences. And we make beautiful babies.

 

What’s In a Word?


I have let comments regarding the story about Tom Hanks’ son get to me.

I’ve seen this in a couple of different places, in addition to all of the comments people have.

Issues such as this tend to be a sore point for me. I have very strong convictions when it comes to racial issues. So much so that there are certain things that I just won’t tolerate – including caucasian people using this word.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I completely agree with people of color using the word. I do understand and respect the view that by using the word, they perpetuate the persecution of their own culture. I ALSO understand the concept of reclaiming, for a disenfranchised group to reclaim a word as a communal source of bonding and power. In reclaiming the words of the oppressor and flipping its meaning, you take its power.

Let me emphasize – reclamation DOES NOT give everyone carte blanche for cultural appropriation. A caucasian person using this word is not only cultural appropriation, it diminishes the whole intent of reclamation. Not to mention the idea that one’s privilege is SO prevalent that s/he thinks they have a RIGHT to use these words.

Sure, in terms of free speech you have a right to use them. Just as I have a right to eliminate your presence from my reality.