Monday, March 2, 2009

Dealing with Our -Isms

I took part in a fascinating panel at the Indian Business and Professional Women Council discussing Silicon Valley Reads Not a Genuine Black Man by Brian Copeland and the heavier outcome: race relations in the US...and the world. I was really pleased to be part of this panel, as the central theme of my novel, My Half of the Sky, is how do we reconcile traditional thoughts (and fears) with the reality of the moment?
The other panelists included journalists, Mike Swift
Diana Rohini ,and De Anza Professor Ulysses Pichon.
Moderator Shubangyi Vaidya asked us what part of Copeland's book reminded us of our lives. Copeland grew up in San Leandro, an all-black family in an an all-white neighborhood. His mother had trouble getting their apartment (and keeping it.) To that part of the book, I could totally relate.
When my Chinese husband and I went looking for our first apartment in Japan, we ventured outside of Tokyo (where it was cheaper and greener). In fact, we traveled willy-nilly on the train until we saw enough greenery. When we got off the train, there were three real estate agencies beckoning to us with huge advertisements for lovely apartments. But when we walked into the first one, they said, 'Oh, we have nothing right now. Sorry."
We walked into the second place and got the same response.
"This is too strange," I thought. "Something else is going on."
At the third place, I asked my husband--who spoke Japanese fluently and who had lived in Japan long enough to look the part (short spiky hair, jeans, clunky shoes)--to please go in without me. This time there were plenty of apartments.
What had been the problem? Foreigners, the agent explained. Foreigners weren't raised the same as Japanese. They made big grease fires, cooked smelly foods, left a huge mess...needed special permission to live.
Our IBPW panel, after hours of discussing various experiences at home and abroad, came to no ground-breaking solutions to the issue of Fear of Others. We concluded:
1) There is no innoculation against racism. We need to just keep addressing the issue over and over and over again.
2) It's not just about color, but about ethnicity--traditions, language, culture. (We didn't even get started on religions.)
3) It's important to constantly question our -isms: racism, sexism, agism, homophobism, etc. Why do we act and react the way we do?

Do you have any experiences to share? Any thoughts to add?

7 comments:

beth said...

OMG! Wow...I never even really thought of racism in real estate in that way. What an interesting story...

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Beth, thanks for dropping by. I enjoyed reading your interview. You need to read Not a Genuine Black Man by Brian Copeland. It talks all about the "planned communities," planned in the sense of keeping certain races out.

beckylevine said...

I try to listen to my dad, who did his three months air force training in the south in the early sixties. He says it has gotten better. I think he's probably right--our new president is some evidence of that--but I do wish sometimes that it would happen faster.

I LOVED Brian's book. It blew me away, because we're about the same age (right, Jana?), we grew up about six hours away in the same state, and my world was so extremely safe and sheltered; it felt about as opposite from what Brian describes as possible. Just makes what he went through feel even more wrong.

beckylevine said...

And, Jana, I'm sorry you had to go through it, too!

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

My mom says it's gotten better, too. She's comparing today to the race riots in Chicago in the 60s (during which she crossed the police barrier to bring food to the blacks). Still, I think you have to keep upping the bar. Making continuous improvement.
That's interesting the comparison you make with your upbringing--strange how a few hours distance makes such a difference.
As for my experience, it wasn't devastating so much as interesting. I was young and in love and everything was an adventure...and besides that, my hubby got us past the snag by looking and talking the right way.

beckylevine said...

Jana, I was just reading about those riots--so nasty. Give your mom a huge hug for me when you see her next.

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Ah, that's right. You're doing Chicago history now. I'll pass the hug. Thanks.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010


"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008
Singapore

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man


A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack


My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation


My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child


Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You