I grew up in a moderately Christian household. My mother always had a Bible on her bedside table and a couple more throughout the house, but we never really went to church. However, my mom taught me many religious things without me knowing they were religious. She always told me “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as others would do unto you,” and other common teachings. The proverbs that had to do with kindness and respecting others always stuck with me. I thought it was best to treat others how I wanted to be treated because they would have been taught the same thing by their mothers, right? My mother forgot to mention to me her own personal unspoken (literally and figuratively) rule. “Love your neighbor as yourself… as long as your neighbor is just like you” “Do unto others as others would do unto you… but only if they are white and Christian.” I learned about this rule the hard way.
When I was between the ages of 9 and 11, I attended a small (maybe 200 kids from the daycare babies all the way to the high school seniors), private Christian school. The Christian school was similar to the other public elementary schools I went to as a kid. All of the schools were in Arkansas, so many of the teachers at the public school had taught bits and pieces from the Bible. The Christian school was different because it had more of a focus on Biblical history and we had to attend service and pray every morning.
During this time, my mom, stepdad, and I lived in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in a Little Rock suburb. I made friends quickly with some of the other neighborhood kids. There were a few kids who were younger than me, but there was one boy who was around the same age as me. We played together very well. We roller-bladed together on the sidewalks and around the cul-de-sac. We would talk about Pokemon cards, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and even though we attended different schools, we could still talk about our school lives. I developed a small, innocent crush on him during this time. I told my mom as soon as I had the revelation that I liked him. I expected my mother to say some word of encouragement or at least say “Aww, that’s sweet.” I had talked to her about my prepubescent crushes before, and she had been supportive. Besides, he was my neighbor and my mom had always taught me to love my neighbor!
The problem with this crush and this neighbor was he had a Black mom. Who cared that his dad was a white Marine? Who cared that his family went to church every Sunday morning? His mom was Black, that made him Black, and that made him not worth my affections. My mom told me I wasn’t allowed to play with him or speak to him anymore after that. Something happened not too long after this, and he ended up moving away. This was the first time I noticed how unfair people could be. How hypocritical people can be, even though at the time I didn’t know what hypocritical was (an important hippo?).
I started to be more careful about things I told my mom after this. I started questioning things she had taught me and things I believed in. Is it only okay to like people if they look like you? But what about people who don’t look like me? Does that mean they have to be rude to me? I couldn’t agree with that. I didn’t want to believe in that. What’s the point of being nice to anyone if you have to select who you’re nice to based on looks? I was young at the time, but I still didn’t think that was what Jesus had preached about in the Bible.
A year or so after this incident and while I was still questioning these things, my mother became ill. My stepdad told her that he didn’t want to watch her die, and he left us. My mom died when I was 14 years old, and I went to live with her disabled mother. My cousin, who is half-Choctaw, was also living with my grandmother. She happened to be dating a Mexican guy at the time. Wasn’t that wrong? He wasn’t white.. Oh, but she wasn’t exactly white either. The two of them dated for a few years, and they had their ups and downs like any other couple. They fought, they forgave, she cried, he cried… Just because he was Mexican and she was half Native American didn’t matter much to them. It was how they felt about each other that mattered. I learned a little bit more about human interactions by being around the two of them.
I need to take a moment here and brag about my grandmother. She was the sweetest woman I ever met. She could be finicky at times, but I never, ever doubted she loved me and would no matter what. My mother, I felt, was a different story. My cousin and I had a great bond during the time we lived together with our grandmother. We would flirt with each other in front of our grandmother and just goof around. One day I kissed my cousin on the cheek, and my grandmother spoke up, “You know, girls, I would still love you even if you were lesbians.” My cousin and I laughed at her because she had disregarded the fact that we were cousins, but that really meant a lot to me. It made me see that maybe it didn’t matter too much who I did decide to love. My grandmother would accept me no matter what. I wish more grandmothers, fathers, mothers would accept their children despite who their children choose to love.
I had a long-term relationship with a white boy from my high school. We dated for almost three years before breaking up shortly after we went to different universities. I somehow ended up dating an even whiter boy (who happened to be my first boyfriend’s best friend…and also my 5th cousin. Arkansas). My second relationship lasted about 9 months before the guy broke up with me by saying, “I want to try new flavors of ice cream.” First of all, I’m lactose-intolerant. Second of all, who even says that? Third of all, that phrase opened my mind even more. Yes, he should date other people. And so should I. Why should I only date white guys because I’m white? Looks really don’t matter much, and color matters even less.
Colors matter even less to me anyway. Many people still see a person’s skin tone as their defining attribute.
I started dating a Japanese guy when I was 19. Many people were only curious about us being together, and no one really bothered us when we were together. The worst thing people ever said was, “You only like him because he’s Asian.” Even that in itself was a bit hurtful. Even now people place so much importance on race and skin color. But that was nothing compared to my next boyfriend.
The next guy I dated after the Japanese guy had to move back to Japan was a Saudi guy. People all over flipped their shit. What the hell is this nice white girl from a Christian home doing with a terrorist? My own aunt was our biggest conspirator. She thought our relationship was a personal attack against her because why else would her niece date a Muslim? My grandmother, bless her soul, told me that as long as he made me happy and treated me nicely, she didn’t care who he prayed to. She also told me that the one boyfriend of mine she disliked the most was my 5th cousin, the ice cream boy, who also happened to be her… 3rd cousin? Yeah, so she preferred a Muslim to a blood relative (and that makes me feel icky remembering that, so let’s move on to even ickier things).
People would ask me when I would start wearing a hijab. My aunt tried to make me promise not to convert to Islam, no matter how many times I told her that I wasn’t interested in becoming Muslim. He and I would go out to dinner together, people at other tables would look at us, then start talking about the war in the Middle East. One particular time we were at a restaurant eating, and the only other customers were a large church group. The leader of the group, who happened to be the only Black woman among them, started talking about how a friend of a friend told her all Muslims were this and that and you can’t trust them and blah blah blah. The others agreed with her and kept talking loudly. They knew we were there; they wanted to make us feel uncomfortable. But this was a church group! Aren’t Christians supposed to treat others nicely as it says in the Bible? Love thy neighbor. Well, our tables were neighbors, but I guess the rule didn’t apply to us.
I was a bit emotionally lost after my Saudi boyfriend had to go back to Saudi Arabia and his government forced us to break up (that’s another story and a half). I decided to take a break from Arkansas and from the U.S. and head to South Korea (welcome to my blog!). I had started a very brief relationship with a guy (half white, half-Mexican, if you must know) shortly before coming to Korea. I broke up with him after I had been in country for a month or two.
Back in the U.S, I hadn’t worried about dating. I was on my home ground. But when I did start dating different guys in Seoul, I always felt like I was at a disadvantage. I dated other ethnicities besides Koreans while I was in Seoul, but the majority of my dates were with Koreans. I had gained some small insight on Korean culture because of these dates. The guys had no problem taking me out to dinner, and they had no problem wanting to take selfies with me so they could prove to their friends that they had hung out with a white girl. I wasn’t hanging out with these guys to unlock an achievement or to have bragging rights. I wanted to meet new people and make new friends; however, many of the Korean guys I met had no interest in being friends.
Then, I met my current boyfriend. To me he isn’t just a Korean guy and to him I’m not an American girl. We see each other for who the other person is. Language does get in the way sometimes, but we are both level-headed and patient people who like Star Wars and cute animals and playing video games and reading and learning and talking. Even though we are from completely different cultures, we have so many things in common, and it is refreshing to have someone like him in my life.
This brings me to my most current debacle and one of the two things that prompted this rather long blog post.
My boyfriend and I went to a small ramen house to eat on Valentine’s Day. My boyfriend went to the bathroom after he ordered our food. After he left an old man came into the restaurant, placed an order to go, and sat at the table across from me. The old man kept staring at me. I never made eye contact, but I could feel him watching me and I would glance at him out of the corner of my eye. My boyfriend came back and the owners brought us our food. I started eating slowly and nervously because the old man was still watching me. He smelled strongly of alcohol. After a few minutes of silence, the old man started yelling at my boyfriend in Korean.
My Korean isn’t perfect by any means, but I did understand a good part of what the man shouted. “HEY! Why is your girlfriend eating like a retard? Is she a retard? Hey! Do you even speak Korean? Why aren’t you speaking Korean? Don’t do that! Don’t date foreigners! You should only date Koreans!” There were two other customers and the two owners in the small ramen shop. The woman owner was bringing the other customers their order of ramyeon when she made a small hand gesture to me. The hand gesture meant to me “Don’t worry. He’s leaving soon.” She could have easily meant for it to mean “Please don’t beat the guy up in here. He’s drunk.” The man owner started standing a little closer to the drunk man in case he made a move toward my boyfriend or me. The owners would glance at me wide-eyed to see my reactions to the old man’s ramblings. Maybe they wanted to see if I actually understood what he was saying.
The owners finally gave the man his to-go order. As the man stood up to leave, he grabbed my boyfriend’s shoulder and said again. “Your girlfriend is a fool. You’re a fool. You seriously, seriously don’t want to date foreigners. Date a Korean girl. Don’t do that!” The owners stepped behind the man and started to guide him toward the door. The man made a move toward me like he was going to try to touch me. I moved out of his way, and he kept walking. Needless to say, my boyfriend was quite unhappy about this event. The old man had made me uncomfortable, but I was never afraid that he would try to hurt me. Maybe because I didn’t understand all of what he was saying…. However, I definitely could have used my boxing skills to teach him a lesson if he did try to hurt me. My boyfriend on the other hand was very shocked. I am the only foreigner he has ever been with, so he hasn’t seen hatred like that firsthand. And why should he be used to that kind of hatred?
Why should anyone be hated because of who they love? Why do people think they have a right to discriminate against others because of small differences? Don’t most people want to be loved by someone and accepted by others? People should be happy when another human being finds love and acceptance. Or if they aren’t happy, then they should not care either way. Which brings me to the second thing that prompted this now amazingly long blog post.
On unlucky Friday the 13th, the Arkansas House voted in favor of a bill that makes it legal to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Different areas in my backwoods state were trying to push forward laws that would expand rights to the LGBTQ community. The House shut these laws down. Bart Hester,the senator in charge of Senate Bill 202, basically said that he doesn’t want to give the LGBTQ community any more rights than anyone else in Arkansas.
Remember what I said about my grandmother? How I said I wish more people had grandmothers, mothers, fathers who told their children they would love them no matter who their children loved? There are still people in Arkansas (and all over the world to be sure) who are afraid to come out to their parents because they know if they do, their parents will disown them. I have friends who have come out to their parents only to be told it’s a phase, and no son of mine is a faggot. Only to have their own parents say they can’t accept who their child is and who their child loves. I can’t help but to think, even now, would my mother treat me like these parents? Would she tell me I’m going through a phase because I care more about who a person is than what his parents’ culture is? Would I have to worry about her telling me I’m a disgrace to our family?
I’m not saying that my situation with dating guys from different ethnicities is exactly same as people in the LGBTQ community. However, I will say there is too much hatred over the topic of love. Everyone should have the freedom to love whomever they want without having to worry about how the rest of the world sees them.
Remember, folks, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No ifs. No ands. No buts. The end.