I Am Complicit in a Racist America.

So are you. Here’s what I’m doing about it.

Yi Shun Lai

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Years ago, at my MFA program, a person who was considering joining the MFA test-drove a workshop. After, the new guy came up to me and said, “I just wanted to tell you, you’ve adjusted to life in America really well.”

Full set of diverse face>>palm emojis

It had been a long time since I had heard something like this, so I just smiled and said, “I’ve lived here a long time.”

Some of you will be horrified reading this. You will say, “Oh! He was so rude! He should not have said that to you!” To you, I say, thank you for being offended, but I have not given you some key information: This man was at least in his late 60s. He had come from rural Washington state. He probably did not interact with a lot of minorities, and he was genuinely trying to give me a compliment. To people like this I give a little grace. And anyway, his was not the real infraction. The real infraction came later. My professor and I debriefed a little about this incident. I approached them about it. I just felt like it had to be addressed. But I’m sure I laughed about it, treating it as if it was some kind of aberration — Can you believe that guy? I am sure they said something like, “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

This encounter, this laughing and this debriefing, happened in front of some other students and a guest faculty member of some standing, further evidence of how little weight I gave it. While I was talking to my professor, I noticed the guest faculty, who I’ll call B.D., over their shoulder, gazing off into the distance. He was well within earshot, and I remember thinking how odd it was that he did not exhibit any kind of shock over what I had experienced in class. He was deliberately escaping it, I felt, or trying not to take part in a conversation that was not for him. But my professor gripped my hands and repeated something like I can’t believe that guy, and we eventually parted, them to their dinner engagement with said guest faculty member, me to the bar, I’m sure.

Are you ready? Here’s the infraction.

We revisited later, my professor and I. And they said, “I’m really sorry that we brought that up in front of B.D. He must have thought we were nuts.”

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!