Sunday lessons on self worth, privilege and honesty

Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union on Oprah’s Next Chapter

I spent my Sunday night watching Oprah’s Next Chapter with Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard and Gabrielle Union and the documentary Dark Girls on OWN. Both programs explored the experience of being an outsider whether it was as a black actress in Hollywood or a “dark girl” dealing with skin-tone based prejudice from her own community. In both scenarios, I realized minority women were pitted against each other to fight for scraps of watered-down white privilege.

Gabrielle Union’s acceptance speech at the Essence Awards inspired this episode of Next Chapter, where she candidly confessed “to tapdancing on other’s people’s misery.” As a young girl Union accepted structural racism and as an adult, she operated within its boundaries as long as she still got hers in Hollywood. It took a failed marriage for Union to look inward and change her toxic mentality. She shared the whole of her truth not to relive the glory of her “mean girl” days but to shed light on how to release negativity.

Earlier on Sunday, I heard Rev. Ed Bacon talk at St. Barts Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The author of 8 Habits of Love spoke about living a life based on either fear or love. I don’t think I’m spoiling the end of the book by saying we should all choose LOVE.

When we choose fear, we find reasons to judge, manipulate and exclude, like the way Union acted when she thought another woman’s shine would diminish her own. There was a time in my adult-life when I chose a fear-based life and I was a HOT mess. I numbed my feelings with substances, indulged in unhealthy foods, didn’t exercise and most regrettably denied parts of my identity.

Growing up in Peoria, Ill., I didn’t have access to a strong Vietnamese community. I went to a parochial grade school where the students were predominately middle-class and white. I identify with Union’s comments during Next Chapter when she said she was pretty enough to kiss but not take home to meet the parents. As a young Asian American girl, I internalized that white was better and thought I was valuable because white boys thought I was pretty.

When I went to public high school, the student population was split 50/50 black and white but the Asian American faces were still few. Today, I’m grateful that my parents couldn’t afford to send me to the Catholic high school, but at the time, I felt very alone and ashamed.

I couldn’t go to Notre Dame with my friends because my family couldn’t afford it. I associated my minority status with being poor and not enough. I accepted this mentality consciously (I used to say I’d never date an Asian guy) and unconsciously into my adulthood. Like Union, I didn’t look inward until my engagement and subsequent romances failed. Thank God for those failures because they made me stop and evaluate my way of living.

Rev. Bacon preached about love, inclusiveness and forgiveness. When we choose love, we learn to forgive each other and ourselves for believing that we are not worthy. We stop excluding others in order to feel more powerful and see the connectedness between us all.

I’m glad my decisions to hear Rev. Ed Bacon speak and to watch OWN this Sunday brought these lesson to my attention. I’m not that scared little girl living in Peoria, Ill. anymore. I carry her with me. I know her, but she grew up to be me now, and I choose Love. I healed her and myself by loving all that I am. Thanks for the reminder Universe.

with love,
mai

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