Part 3: Learning to forgive and not forget. – My experience with the KKK and White Supremacy
Posted on February 20, 2018
I had a FULL and revolutionary type weekend and it is the new year! There are many parts to this story but it will end here for now. Here are Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed it. I could go on about what else I did in San Diego and my journey but none of it will be as profound as this revelation: Learning to forgive and not forget.
After San Diego, during the start of the US War on Iraq in 2003, I decided to return to my family and community in San Francisco/Bay Area. Before that I took a year off to “heal” in China, of all places, and, during SARS, of all times. I wanted to re-learn and improve my Chinese. I did just that and studied my butt off in Guangzhou, China. It turned out to be one of the most isolating times in my life. But, in insolation, I realized my core purpose, which was coming back to the Bay.
My first few years at the Chinese Progressive Association was difficult. I remember grinding like I used to in San Diego and trying to be a good son with my family. Although my mind had worked through things, my body was still carrying all the bullying, hatred, and violence towards me. To be honest, our past is always with us but how do you hold it and look back without judgement? Without mindfulness, these feelings eat away at you and creep up at anytime. By this time, I’ve spent over 10 years in the movement as a youth, college student and paid organizer.
At the end of 2005, the brink of one of many burnouts, I met the love of my life, Mychi (over Friendster, pre-Myspace, via a bestie). But I could still feel the anger and trauma seeping underneath. For example, when I was around white people, especially ones in power, i was particularly combative, defensive, and protective of others. I realize i was still holding the psychic weight of the past. I was righteous but not always very smart.
I learned to forgive but I needed to start with myself. Self forgiveness is the hardest. Every single day. In our anger and trauma, we blame ourselves for not doing enough; we become guilty of things we have no control over. Materially, our minds and bodies only have so much space for this BS. Before Mychi and I entered our committed lives together, i wanted to release some of the weight i was carrying and set new intentions.
It was time to try to forgive others. My experiment was to go to my 15 year high school reunion with Mychi to ‘confront’ the bullies (in their older age). And… I did it. This is a much longer story. The short end of it was that I set my intentions and confronted the people who I allowed to control me for so many years.
Immediately when we arrived the reunion, many were already drunk and waiting to confess their sins. Others had selective memory. But it didn’t matter because the most important thing was that I was true to my intentions. The evening ended with a gesture of forgiveness and a classic line from one of them, “Tom!! (an annoying nickname) I’m so glad you forgave me… I thought you were going to go postal on all of us!!”
WOW. Speechless. I walked away.
I remember feeling that tinge of a righteous clapback but it subsided. Instead, I felt the pain and trauma they held for so long for doing ungodly things to me and others. I remember feeling surprised that such young acts could become a chokehold for so long. We were 12. And, mostly, I saw their humanity in new ways.
So why not forget all this? Because, our evolution from past, present and future is all of us. This stuff lives with us everyday. It is materially a part of our whole selves. This can apply to how we heal in the movement too.
And sadly, sometimes we are just trained to forget — without forgiving. The system is designed so that many, especially the most marginalized, just repress, cope, and forget. The experience of repressing, unpacking, and repacking it — letting things out, is fully our experience. I don’t want to forget my old self. It is a painful and powerful reminder of how far I’ve come. These experiences define how awesome I am, how awkward I am, and how resilient i am. Regardless, it is ALL me.
“I don’t want to forget my old self. It is a painful and powerful reminder of how far I’ve come. These experiences define how awesome I am, how awkward I am, and how resilient i am. Regardless, it is ALL me.”
I keep coming back to my commitment to being a BOLD, PRESENT, BABA, in these times. I keep learning how to forgive not forget. Forgiveness can take decades as you can see; and sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. But in this is how I’ve also learned to speak my truth.
Until next time. Thanks for reading this series. Please, share your stories of the KKK and white supremacy <3