Thursday, December 19, 2019

Blogaround

Baby Yoda cookie, from link #2.
1. Treating Food And Exercise Like A Zero-Sum Game Is Peak Eating Disorder Culture (posted December 12) "Putting the number of minutes required to ‘work off’ a food is peak eating disorder culture because food and movement are two different aspects of life that should not be presented as prerequisites for one another. You deserve to eat whether or not you exercise. You deserve to enjoy exercise without verging on the brink of collapse."

YES. 100% agree with this blogger. This whole "putting the amount of exercise to work off the food" on food labels is a TERRIBLE idea. Because what's the objective? Do you want people to literally go out and exercise for that exact amount of time after they eat the food? That's called having an eating disorder. Or do you expect people will go ahead and eat stuff just like they normally do, but feel a little more shame about it, like there's this mountain of exercise debt they're never going to work off?

None of this is a healthy way to view food.

2. Baking hack: Chop off angel head for a homemade Baby Yoda cookie cutter.<**> (posted December 14) This is the way.

3. A Bethel Leader Is Asking the Church to Pray for Her Daughter’s Resurrection (posted December 17) [content note: child death] I have many many feelings and opinions about this. Not going to post them right now though.

4. sometimes I wonder / if Mary breastfed Jesus. / if she cried out when he bit her / or if she sobbed when he would not latch. (posted December 16)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Blogaround

Nativity set figures of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, in 3 separate cages. (From link #2 in this list.)
1. Regulators: Healthcare Sharing Ministries Can Only Scam Christians (posted December 4) "In effect, federal and state regulators have struck a bizarre bargain in which they have decided to let healthcare sharing ministries sell a subpar, shitty product, without requiring them to meet the typical quality standards for this product … so long as they only sell it to Christian individuals and families."

2. Church's nativity scene depicts Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a family separated at the border (posted December 9) Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.

3. What would happen if we randomly gave $1,000 to poor families? Now we know. (posted December 4) "Their findings are significant: Cash transfers benefited the entire local economy, not just direct recipients. As money made its way through the area, both families who did and did not receive cash ended up substantially better off."

4. Deaf Actor Makes Star Wars Debut In The Mandalorian (posted December 8)

5. Harry Potter Theory: Snape Killed Hedwig?! (posted December 5) [content note: spoilers for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"]


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"The Wise Men Came 2 Years After the Shepherds" Is Just a Fan Theory

A Nativity set, with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, 3 wise men, a shepherd, and some animals. Image source.
I was raised in the evangelical church. I was a good Sunday School kid. A bible nerd. And therefore, I knew that Nativity scenes, as they are commonly designed, aren't accurate. See, the wise men weren't there at the manger the night Jesus was born. (And the bible never says there were 3.) No, see, the wise men came later, when Jesus was around 2 years old.

I always knew this, and I was always proud of myself for having this bit of knowledge about a common misconception.

Well. I just realized, that's not what the bible says.

The bible does NOT say "the wise men weren't there at the manger with the shepherds the night Jesus was born; they came 2 years later." No, let me tell you what it says:
  1. Luke says Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, and put baby Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the inn. Then angels appeared to tell a group of shepherds, who came to see Jesus.
  2. Matthew says wise men followed a star, which led them to a house in Bethlehem, where they found Jesus. Later, King Herod killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were 2 and under, based on the time frame the wise men had told him. (Jesus was not killed because his family had moved to Egypt.)
Notice what it doesn't say?

Luke is telling one story, and Matthew is telling a different story. The idea that "well actually, Nativity sets aren't biblically accurate because the wise men came 2 years after the shepherds" only makes sense if you add inerrancy and the idea that everything is taking place in the same universe. The bible doesn't say that.

To put everyone there together in one Nativity scene is no less "biblically accurate" than "the shepherds came when Jesus was born, and then the wise men came 2 years later." In both cases, we're not showing the story that Luke is telling, and we're not showing the story that Matthew is telling, we're showing a fan-made crossover.

[spoilers for "Spider-Man: Far From Home" and "Spider-Man" (2002) in the next paragraph]

It's EXACTLY like this: Let's say you watch "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (where Tom Holland plays Spiderman), and you see that Mary Jane finds out Peter Parker is Spiderman while they are high school students. Then you go watch the 2002 Spiderman movie (where Tobey Maguire plays Spiderman), and both Peter and Mary Jane are older than high school. So all throughout the movie, you think to yourself "ah, so she already knows Spiderman's real identity." You feel so proud of yourself for having this bit of insider knowledge which the movie didn't say directly- BECAUSE IT'S JUST NOT TRUE. In fact, the 2002 Spiderman movie has Peter deliberately hiding his identity in order to protect Mary Jane. Ah but you don't notice that subplot. You "know" that Mary Jane already knows. And so you miss out on the actual story that the actual movie is actually telling.

I now believe we have to read Luke's story for what it is, and Matthew's story for what it is. Don't take elements from Luke and add them to Matthew because of a fan theory that says they both happened in the same universe.

Yes, I'm saying that things in reality did not happen exactly the way the bible says. The bible is not inerrant. The stories are still valuable though. And we should be asking why Matthew and Luke chose to write the way they did, to include some parts and leave others out, rather than asking how we can fit them together so they're both telling the same story. I believe that trying to "harmonize" them misses the point.

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Related:
The Bible Stories As I Read Them Were Never Actually In The Bible
The Bible and the Pixar Theory

Friday, December 6, 2019

Blogaround

A cat tree that's green and shaped like a Christmas tree, with 3 cats enjoying it. Image source.
1. How Blind People See With Sound… feat. Molly Burke! (posted August 10) Wow this is amazing! People can learn to use echolocation to map their environment. I thought only bats could do that.

2. Do Kids Really Learn Languages Faster Than Adults? (posted November 29) "This all adds up to not just the perception but the reality that adults who attempt to learn new languages often fail while their kids succeed, despite studies showing conclusively that adults are actually better at learning new languages when they actually put the effort in."

Highly recommend this video. I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese, which I started studying when I was about 20. At the beginning I genuinely believed that perhaps no matter how hard I worked, I might never be able to speak Chinese, because I had always heard white Americans talking about "I tried to learn a new language, but I guess my brain just can't" or "if you're not exposed to it as a baby, you can never ever learn to understand it." That's total nonsense.

Yes, learning a language is hard. It requires a lot of time and effort. You need to practice speaking, and that means you need to accept that you're going to make mistakes, and just learn to laugh at yourself rather than be too scared to try.

Because it's so hard, I completely understand if you choose not to do it. That's totally fine. People who speak multiple languages aren't superior; people who speak 1 language shouldn't feel ashamed. But I want people to accept the reality that the reason they only speak 1 language is because they have other, higher-priority things going on in their lives, and therefore they don't spend time on studying, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Don't go around spreading myths like "my brain just can't" and discourage those of us who really want to learn a second language.

3. ICE arrests 90 more students at fake university in Michigan (posted November 27) What on earth? The Department of Homeland Security made a fake university and then arrested the international students who came? For real?

4. 'Star Wars' Billy Dee Williams Uses Both Male and Female Pronouns (posted November 30) Cool~

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Blogaround

A baby elephant standing with an adult elephant. Image source.
1. Why It’s Easier to Accept David as a Murderer than a Rapist (posted October 14) "If David was merely a weak man who fell prey to a tempting woman on a lonely night, then we don’t have to grapple with the far more insidious reality: David was one of many (mostly men) throughout history who used their power for sexual exploitation."

2. ‘Meth. We’re on it,’ South Dakota says in ridiculed ad campaign that cost $449,000 (posted November 19) LOLOLOLOLOL

3. Here’s What’s Actually Going on With the Chick-Fil-a Charitable Giving ‘Controversy’ (posted November 18) It's sort of good news, but not as much of a big deal as people are making it out to be- and as a queer Christian, I am still not supporting Chick-Fil-a.

4. This tweet from @AspieHuman:

Wow. This is EXACTLY my experience. Really really valuable to see someone put it into words like this.

5. Star Trek Doesn't Actually Understand Evolution (posted November 20) Yep.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Francis Chan and Objectivity

Globe. Image source.
Last week I posted Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China, a blog post where I finally put into words my thoughts about the mistaken notion that anyone can or should be an objective outside observer of the world. We are not objective; we have our own culture, and that is the lens through which we experience everything. Your experiences and your idea of "normal" are not universal- they are just one tiny little subculture in this giant diverse world.

So now that I've laid all that out in a blog post, I've decided to continue to point out this attitude of "we look at the world from an objective outside perspective" wherever I see it, because it's EVERYWHERE. Most people don't even notice, because it's everywhere and it feels so normal. And that's why I have to point it out. (You're welcome.)

So, I would like to present this article: Francis Chan Is Moving to Asia to Be a Missionary. For those of you who don't know, Chan is a pastor and is a big deal among young cool evangelicals who care about missions and saving the world. (In other words, me 10 years ago.) Here's an excerpt from the article:
Chan used an extended fishing metaphor in his address to the Asuza students explaining his decision to move. “I feel like I’ve been fishing in the same pond my whole life,” he said. “And now there’s like thousands of other fishermen at the same pond, and our lines are getting tangled and everyone’s fighting over stupid things, and one guy tries some new lure and we go, ‘Oh, he caught a fish, let’s all try his method!’ And it just feels like, what are we all doing here?”
I happened upon this article just days after publishing my whole big post about objectivity and the world, and I was just FASCINATED. What an informative example of exactly this fallacy! Let's take a closer look.

I hear this metaphor, and I interpret it to mean something like this: "Here in the US, we have all these Christian leaders trying to share the gospel and get people saved, such a high concentration of us that it's not effective and we end up fighting with each other. Meanwhile the whole rest of the world is out there. It doesn't make sense that we all stay here. Results would be much better if we went somewhere else to spread Christianity."

So many incorrect assumptions in there! Here, let's see how many we can find:
  • Everyone in the world needs to hear about Christianity.
  • The United States is where the Christians are, so we're in charge of sending people out to the rest of the world.
  • Other countries don't have many Christians. They don't send missionaries.
  • Our brand of (white American evangelical) Christianity is something the entire world needs, not something specific to our tiny subculture.
  • American Christians are the objective outside observers of the world. We are the authority figures who know what everyone else in the world needs.
Even though Chan didn't say any of these things, his statement doesn't make sense without them. When you realize that in reality, every group of people in this world is doing their own thing in their own culture, just like we do our own thing in our own culture, and we know nothing about how they live or what they need if we haven't done extensive research... When you realize all that, Chan's whole point sounds like complete nonsense.

But this brings up an interesting question: In last week's post, I said God is objective and relates to every person and every culture in the world equally. But here's a question: Is Christianity also objective and applicable to everyone, or is it culture-specific?

Ooooh. Well that's a question. I'm not even sure what my answer is to that.

Here are a few thoughts though:

I'm a Christian, and I'm very happy about being a Christian. I believe Jesus really did live and die and resurrect- so you could categorize that as "objective" in the sense that [according to my ideology] those things really did happen. But the part that's not "objective" is our interpretation of those events- how much importance we place on them, how they affect us today. A lot of things happened in the world in 33 AD [or whenever it was]; the reason I am specifically interested in Jesus' resurrection and not any of those other things has EVERYTHING to do with my cultural background.

Also, even though I believe those things literally did happen, that's not really the main point of my Christian belief. I'm more interested in the big concepts of incarnation and resurrection. Yes, I believe in the Incarnation- but more importantly, I believe in incarnation. God is with us right now. God lives in every person in the world. Yes, I believe in the Resurrection- but more importantly, I believe in resurrection. God will resurrect the whole world and bring justice.

And big abstract ideas like incarnation and resurrection can certainly be meaningful to people from any culture. (Or not meaningful. That's also fine.) But the religious system built up around those ideas is extremely culture-specific. And all of my background as a white American evangelical is extremely culture-specific.

Furthermore, I recognize that the reason I'm still a Christian now has EVERYTHING TO DO WITH the fact that I was raised evangelical. If I had been raised in a different religion, then no, I don't think it would benefit me to convert to Christianity. But I am happy being a Christian because I've always been a Christian- and even though I feel that my entire religious ideology has changed, I'm still glad that I can keep or reclaim a lot of the language and symbols. Which, again, is all about culture.

And one more point I would like to make: I do not believe everyone needs to be a Christian. I do not believe everyone would benefit from becoming a Christian. I do not believe non-Christians go to hell. I believe going to heaven or hell has nothing to do with what religion you belong to; instead, it's based on "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink," and so on, "whatever you did for the least of these."

And I have a huge problem with the Christianity that says "everyone needs to believe what we believe, in order to not go to hell." Seeing yourself and your beliefs as something objective and universal that applies to everyone. You believe you have a personal relationship with God- who is objective and outside of culture- you believe you know Them so well, so closely, spending time with God every day, making your relationship with God the highest priority in your life. You're so closely tied to a truly objective being, so then you believe you are objective as well. Or at least, the parts of your life that are most influenced by your relationship with God are necessarily the most objective and correct and applicable to everyone in the whole world. "God agrees with me."

The whole concept of a "personal relationship with God" leads us to believe very wrong things about our own objectivity. (For me personally, one of the biggest factors in ending my relationship with God was when I found out about systemic racism. People of color in the United States are constantly dealing with this- it affects job opportunities, education, voting rights, where they can live, interactions with police, and so on and so on, while I benefit from white privilege, and God never thought to mention it to me? God, who supposedly loves all people of all races equally. God, who I prayed to every day. I would sit and listen for what God wanted to say to me, every day, for years- and NOT A PEEP about systemic racism.)

And also, I would like to say this: Me, a person who is a member of a very specific tiny subculture at a very specific time in the history of the world, in a "personal relationship" with a God who knows every person and every culture and every time period completely intimately. That alone is a huge power imbalance, before you even get to the whole omnipotence thing. Which is why I am no longer willing to be in a relationship like that ever again. I thought I knew Them so well, but now I see that's impossible. And maybe it would be okay to have an all-knowing being like that as just an acquaintance, but to build every aspect of my life on that relationship, to commit myself to Them 100%, "he must become greater, I must become less", bringing every single aspect of my entire life under Their control, "I surrender all", no, there's no way that can be healthy.

So. Well I started out talking about Francis Chan and now we're here, at the intersection of objectivity, culture, and a "personal relationship with God." I plan to continue to write blog posts pointing out when Americans are talking as if we are the objective observers of the world. Chan is basically saying, "There are so many Christian leaders right here in this little geographic area, compared to the rest of the world, which doesn't make sense because what we have here is equally applicable to everyone in the entire world. So I'm moving to Asia." On the one hand, I wish him good luck, because I also moved to Asia and it's great but it's hard to be an immigrant. But on the other hand, he has some very misguided ideas because he's talking as if culture doesn't exist.

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Related:
Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China
God Is With Us (a post about autism)
They Prayed About It (a post about the #NashvilleStatement)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Blogaround

Five kittens. Image source.
1. John Crist Cancels 2019 Tour Dates After Reports of Sexting, Harassment, Manipulation (posted November 6) #churchtoo

2. ObGyn Reacts to Virginity Testing Daughters | Rapper T.I. & Deyjah Harris (posted November 7) "So what T.I. can't count on is any reliable information from this exam. But what he can count on is that his daughter is never coming to him with a problem. ... I know T.I. will never watch this, but if you're out there doing things like this to your child, shame on you. ... This is not an acceptable exam, and no physician should be participating in 'virginity testing' of any sort. The hymen has no purpose for sexual intercourse or any indication of whether a person has had sexual intercourse. The culture of owning somebody else's body or having control over a daughter or a son or a spouse is unacceptable. You are in control of your body, and you don't get to choose how other people use theirs." Mama Doctor Jones is preaching the gospel.

3. HOGWARTS EXACT LOCATION REVEALED | Harry Potter Theory (posted November 12) Oooh what an interesting idea. The Super Carlin Brothers did a bunch of research- using the Harry Potter books and movies and real-life tools like Google Maps- to find an actual location in the real world and claim it's Hogwarts. Reminds me of the fan theories about what star or planet specifically the wise men followed to find baby Jesus.

4. Disney+ Has A New Version of ‘Star Wars’ Infamous Han Shot First Scene (posted November 12) What. Umm, okay.

5. Audio Adrenaline and White Jesus (posted November 14) "What does it mean that Big House can be interpreted to mean that heaven is a plantation? What does it say that the christian music industry can call that the song of the decade for the 90s and have it occur to no one white and empowered that there is an American historical meaning behind a building called the Big House?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

6 Ways Purity Culture Did NOT Teach Me About Consent

Checkboxes that say "yes" and "no." Image source.

I saw this tweet from @emilyjoypoetry:


I voted for "Never/as an adult". But this got me thinking, when we talk about "when did you learn about consent", what do we mean exactly?

As a child I certainly knew the word "consent", and I would have defined it as agreement, permission, something along those lines. I knew that typically when people use the word "consent" they're using it in the context of sex. I knew that nonconsensual sex is rape. I knew that if Person A says no but then Person B physically forces them to do sexual things and there's no way for Person A to escape, then that's rape, and it's not Person A's fault. I knew that if Person A says no but Person B tries to talk them into it anyway, then Person B is doing a bad thing.

And while all of that information is true, I would now say, no, I didn't get the concept of consent until very recently, as an adult.

So in this post I'd like to discuss 6 aspects of consent that I very much was NOT taught in purity culture:

1. Saying yes

Purity is all about saying "no." Don't have sex before marriage. Don't kiss. Don't go your boyfriend's house alone. I was taught all about how to say "no", but of course I wasn't taught anything about saying "yes."

Yeah that's not what real consent is. Consent actually means you have the freedom to say yes or no, and both are valid options.

2. Basing my "yes" or "no" on my own desires, rather than rules about what is or isn't "sinful"

I knew I had to say "no" to unmarried sex because it was a sin. (Note: I no longer believe it's a sin.) That's what it was always about, in purity culture- saying "no" because the rules say you have to say no. My own preferences never ever entered into the equation.

And on the flip side of this, sometimes girls from a purity-culture background want to say no, but they feel like they can't, because the thing in question isn't a sin. For example, if a good Christian boy asks you on a date, you feel like you're obligated to say yes, at least give him a chance. If your boyfriend wants to do something you don't want to do, something totally nonsexual like eating at his favorite restaurant, well in a relationship the woman is supposed to "submit" to the man, so she should say yes. A big deal was made about how "respect" is the most important thing for men, and how you totally destroy a man's confidence if you "reject" him.

You can only say no if the thing in question is explicitly sinful. You say no to protect your "purity", for the sake of God and your "future husband." Saying no had absolutely nothing to do with you personally deciding you did not want something.

Yeah, that's not what "consent" means. In reality, consent means you get to choose based on what you want, not based on what some authority figure says you're supposed to do.

3. Marriage does not equal consent

Conservative Christians teach that married women have a duty to have sex with their husbands. (Here are the receipts.) There was a lot of talk about how women don't really want sex but they have to do it anyway. If you're married, you don't get to say "no" to your husband.

Yeah okay that's not what consent is. Marriage is not consent. You always have the right to say no.

4. My body belongs to me

I was taught that I belong to God. I'm not allowed to have sex because "my body is a temple" and God wouldn't want me to do that with his property. Also, I was taught that I belong to my husband- even if I'm not married, I belong to my "future husband" (who may or may not actually exist). I can't have unmarried sex because that would be "cheating on my future husband." (Please note: the concept of "cheating on your future husband"- when you don't even know who this "future husband" is- is complete nonsense.)

In this ideology, there is no consent. You don't have the right to make your own choices about relationships and sex. And it gets even worse when you apply this to a rape victim- instead of having compassion for the victim, people judge and blame them for failing to protect God's property. In this ideology, rape isn't a crime against the rape victim, but a crime against God and/or the victim's spouse (who may or may not actually exist), and so it makes sense to question the victim about how they could "let" that happen.

Yeah, that's not what consent is. Consent means that my body belongs to me.

5. The definition of rape

Before I became a feminist, I defined "rape" like this: Person B forces Person A to have sex.

But now I define "rape" like this: Person B has sex with Person A, without first making sure that Person A consents.

In the first definition, the focus is on Person A (the victim)'s actions- were they truly "forced", or was there a way out? Because, if there was a way out, then it doesn't count as rape. Person A should have tried harder! Should have fought to protect their purity!

In the second definition, the focus is on Person B. Did they communicate clearly and make sure that their partner actually wanted to do those sexual things? Did they respect their partner and allow them to make their own choice?

(In other words, the first definition is wrong.)

Because, see, if Person A says no but then Person B badgers them about it forever and ever until finally Person A says yes, that's not consent. That is sexual assault.

But in purity culture I was taught that as a girl, of course I don't want to have sex, and as a boy, of course my boyfriend will try to badger me into it. And so I have to say no. And this is the normal way that things go. This is what I should expect when I'm in a relationship. Just the way it is. Then, years later, I became a feminist and I learned actually, if your boyfriend badgers you into having sex, that's sexual assault, and it is NOT the victim's fault.

The typical example that purity culture gave about a girl who didn't try hard enough to "protect her purity" was actually a story about rape. Wow, that is messed up.

6. Boys can stop

Purity teachings are always warning us that if you have any physical contact at all with an attractive person, then you'll desire more, it's a slippery slope, one thing leads to another, you fall into temptation, and that's how people end up making the mistake of having premarital sex. If you hold hands, then you'll want to hug. If you hug, then you'll want to kiss. If you kiss, then you'll want to have sex. If you have sex, well then you aren't pure and your life is ruined.

There were so many warnings about how strong "temptation" is, how once you get going, it's too hard to stop. Specifically, boys just have such a huge uncontrollable desire for sex, they certainly aren't able to stop. Don't make out with a boy because you might not be able to just make out without also having sex.

Imagine how utterly shocked I was the first time I read, on a feminist blog, that yes, boys CAN stop. That if you consent to some things, that doesn't mean you consent to everything. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. If you're making out with a boy, and you say okay let's stop there, then he has to stop. Sure, he might desire to go farther, and there's nothing wrong with that desire, but he is perfectly capable of respecting your "no" and stopping. This is like "bare minimum of human decency"-level stuff. If he doesn't stop, then that's rape.

Hahaha, no that's totally the opposite of what I was taught in purity culture. But yes, it's true: In reality, boys can stop.

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So when I say "purity culture didn't teach me about consent," this is what I mean. In these 6 aspects, what I was taught was the exact opposite of a healthy understanding of consent.

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Related:
Conservative Christians Teach That Wives Are REQUIRED To Have Sex Even When They Don't Want To. Here Are The Receipts.
Used By God
Feminism 101: Rape

Monday, November 11, 2019

Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

Image text: "Every tongue. Every tribe. Every nation." With an artistic blue background. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

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God loves the whole world. Every person in the world. God loves every person equally. I believed that back then, and I still believe that now.

And every person bears the image of God. Equally. I believed that back then, and I still believe that now.

It was easy to make these sweeping statements, like "God loves everyone equally", back when I was growing up in a white church in the US, and I didn't know what culture was. I thought that if I was kind and loving toward everyone in my life, then I was loving people the way God did. An impossible goal for sure, but that's what I should be striving toward.

Everything changed when I went on a short-term mission trip to China, and learned how naive and clueless I was about the world. In the US, I felt like I knew how everything worked. It was quite shocking to discover a whole entire society that was so completely different, where I was constantly amazed and confused about things I saw- but to the people living there, those things were completely normal.

It shattered my entire worldview- including my view of God. It changed my life- this knowledge that other cultures besides my own exist and are valid.

In the US, I had tried to love the way God did by loving people who were members of my own culture. But I realized that, even if I did that perfectly, it would only be a tiny tiny percentage of the way God loves people. Because God loves Chinese people- and people of every nation in the world- just as much as They love Americans. And I don't. Nope, I don't. Not even close. I don't even know anything about what people's lives are like in other countries. Of course I don't love them in a way that's equal to the way I love people of my own culture.

Of course when I read news stories about tragedies that are happening in faraway foreign countries, I don't care as much as if it had happened to white people in the US. But this is the case for everyone- everyone is more emotionally affected when they feel they can relate to the victims of a tragedy. When they feel like it could have happened to them or their friends, rather than some unknown people far away.

But God is not like that. God loves the whole world equally; They aren't localized to one culture the way I am. God is emotionally affected by all tragedies equally. God is equally close to all the victims. I am not.

Back then I totally believed in the whole "personal relationship with God" thing, and I thought I knew God pretty well. But then I learned what culture was, and I realized that if the image of God lives in every person in the world, then I don't have a clue about God. I know so little about the vast majority of the people in this world, because their culture is so different than mine.

About 4% of the world's population are Americans. Even if I was able to perfectly love everyone I met in the US, I would still only love 4% of the way God loves. And I would only know 4% of God. Well, I definitely don't even know 4% of God, because there's a lot I don't know about Americans from a different race or culture than mine. But God knows. And they bear the image of God- and so this means I don't know that part of God.

For the first time in my life, I realized how completely biased I am. Completely, totally, biased- every single thing about the way I think and the way I live is steeped in my own culture. I hardly know anything about people at all! I only know what life is like for people in my own culture.

I saw myself, living in one tiny bubble on a giant global landscape. I felt that it didn't make sense for me to stay in that bubble. I should look at the world from an objective, outside view. I should love everyone equally, just like God does. After all, I "have a personal relationship with God" and that relationship is supposed to dominate every aspect of my life, right?

I thought it was a bit strange, how the vast majority of people just stay in the same culture they grew up in. The vast majority of American college students want to find a job in the United States- they don't even consider other countries. That felt very weird to me. They're biased, they're extremely biased, we're all so biased, and I felt that it shouldn't be that way.

And I went to the Urbana conference, and believed in radical Christian missions ideology. I imagined that all of us Christian college students were a resource that God had, and God's goal was to send people to preach the gospel to the entire world- so wouldn't it make sense to spread us all out uniformly all over the world? Isn't that the way it should be? And the reason that the overwhelming majority of us stay in our own country, and the percentage of international missionaries isn't ANYWHERE CLOSE to "spreading us out uniformly" is just that people aren't willing to do what they *should* do?

I felt that I *should* be equally familiar with every culture in the world- that would be the ideal state. And of course, that's impossible, but I should work as hard as I can toward that goal. And that means getting OUT of the culture I'm the most familiar with, and spending time in a different culture. If I stay in the culture I'm most familiar with, I'm wasting my time. Since I know I'll never reach the "ideal" state of being equally familiar with every culture, it doesn't really matter which culture I go spend time in, as long as it's not the one I already know completely. At least then I'm making progress.

So I moved to China, and I didn't seek out other international, English-speaking people to make friends with. I thought, I'm here to learn Chinese culture, and if I talk to other western people in English, I'm wasting my time. That's only for people who can't speak Chinese well enough yet; ideally we get to a point where we don't need English-speaking friends any more. Because, I am morally obligated to be out of my own culture and absorbing a different culture as much as I possibly can.

Looking back at it now, I see how important it is to my mental and emotional health to have people from my own culture that I can relate to and talk to. I'm glad that I do have a lot of international friends now. And I see that writing this blog has been very good for me; it gives me space to talk about things that are important to me as an American. If I want to talk about "here's my opinion about a weird quirk of the white American evangelical subculture I grew up in", there are very very few people in my life here in China that would understand.

In last week's post, Because of an Idea, I said the reason I did all that work to learn Chinese and move to China was just one simple idea, which turned out to be wrong. The idea was this: The ideal situation is me viewing the world from an outside, objective perspective, and knowing and loving everyone equally, just like God does. I know that that's impossible, but I should at least work as hard as I can toward that goal.

And now, 6 years later, I've learned so much, and I see that initial idea was wrong. Specifically, I have learned about culture and privilege. Specifically, my own culture and my own privilege. (See the first two posts in this series: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It and On Immigration and Double Standards.)

I knew it would be "hard" living in China. Of course it's "hard." Everyone always said it was "hard," when they talked about giving up everything to obey God and be a missionary on the other side of the world. (Note that I am not a missionary, but I was very much influenced by that ideology.) But I didn't know how deeply, deeply hard and painful it would be. I knew it would be hard to find good cheese in China. But it's so much more than that. I didn't know I'd be losing my culture and my privilege; I didn't really even know I had those things in the first place.

Now it's 6 years later, and I'm looking back on my ideas about being "objective." How I believed there was something *wrong* with people just staying in their own culture, how I believed ideally we *should* be open to all cultures equally, and people growing up in the US and then staying in the US for their adult lives showed a failure to live up to that ideal because it was easier to just ignore that ideal.

I was wrong. I didn't understand how important my own culture was to me and how difficult it is to be separated from it.

And because I didn't *really* understand privilege, I thought I was going from "living in the US" to "living in China"- like some kind of objective definition of what "living in China" means. No. I didn't realize what I was actually doing was "living in China as an immigrant" and all that ways that's so much harder than just "living in China." (But obviously, "as an immigrant" is the only way I personally can live in China.)

Now I see how there are actual good reasons for staying in one's own culture. We're all so biased, but I no longer think that's a bad thing. The harder I worked to become "unbiased", the more isolated I felt, because it meant cutting myself off from all the people who truly deeply understand me.

So I've given up on "loving the world the way God does." I can't love everyone equally, and I have stopped trying, because losing my own culture is just so hard.

And it means emotionally, I am more affected by things that happen to people of my own culture, and I'm no longer trying to change that so I love everyone equally. This is troubling to me, though, because when we have this kind of bias, it means we will be less motivated to take action to help people who aren't like us. And that has very real consequences in the real world. And now I'm saying this bias I have isn't a bad thing? That I've stopped trying to "love everyone equally" and that's okay?

(Hmm, maybe it's not possible for a single person to "love everyone equally," but if you had an extremely diverse group of people who all valued each other's perspectives and made decisions together, that group would be able to "love everyone equally." ... So ... that's what I have to say about politics.)

Well, let's back up. Maybe instead of "I already know my own culture, so no point spending any more time on that if my goal is to love everyone, let's leave it all behind and learn another culture" I should do something like this: Have a support system of friends and family who understand me, who will understand when I talk about things that are important to me- and the vast majority of these people will be from my own culture. And then, after I have that support system, I should also meet people from other cultures and learn about them. In other words, recognizing how I truly need to connect with people that I can relate to, and at the same time recognizing that it's important to sometimes be out of my comfort zone in order to love the world better.

And interestingly, accidentally, that's basically what I have now. I'm happy to be part of the international community here in Shanghai. I have a lot of American friends, and a lot of friends from other countries. And I also interact with Chinese people all the time, sometimes in Chinese and sometimes in English.

And interestingly, accidentally, I am closer to the "love everyone equally" ideal, but in ways I didn't expect. I thought I would be learning to love Chinese people, and yes that's part of it. But I've met friends from so many different countries now- England, France, Italy, the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, South Africa. When I hear about something in the news that happened in some foreign country, it doesn't feel like a mysterious faraway place; instead, I think to myself "oh I've met someone from there" or "I know people who have traveled there." Sure, that's not the same thing as actually knowing what that place and its people are like, but it's better than just thinking in terms of stereotypes.

The international community in Shanghai is extremely diverse in terms of what countries we are from, but not very diverse in other ways. Most of us are young, like in our 20s and 30s. We speak English- many speak English as their second language, very fluently. We're the kind of people who study languages and travel to many different countries.

But the biggest unexpected development on the "love everyone equally" front is the empathy I now have for immigrants. I'm an immigrant, and I've experienced so much stress because of that- missing my home and my family, 14-hour flights, worrying about getting kicked out because of paperwork problems, adapting to a new language and culture. I did this all legally and I've never had any governments telling me I'm not allowed in for political reasons, and yet I've still had so much stress navigating all this bureaucracy, where failing to get my residence permit renewed means I literally have to leave the country. Wow, what a massive upheaval of my life that would be. Nobody wants that.

So I find that, emotionally, I care a lot about all the immigrants in this world. Including refugees, including undocumented immigrants, all of them. I want everyone to be able to live where they want.

I don't "love everyone equally," but at least that's something.

Oh, and another thing. I married a Chinese man.

Yes, see, back then I thought it was odd that the vast majority of married people are married to someone of their own race and culture. Shouldn't all cultures be equally likely, when you are choosing a partner? (Weighted by population, of course.) I thought, isn't it kind of messed-up that I always imagined I would marry a white American man, as if that is the "default" because I am a straight white American woman? Ideally, there shouldn't be a "default", right? I should be objective, standing outside of culture. But we see that in reality people are many many times more likely to marry someone from their own culture than another culture, and that means we're biased... and that's bad, right?

No, now I see that culture actually matters. There are a lot of things I love about being in a cross-cultural marriage, and a lot of things that are hard. I do have a need to connect with people who share my cultural background, and so I get that need met through friends instead of through my husband.

My husband is great and I am very happy I get to be with him. But I'm realizing that I didn't really understand what I was getting into- specifically, that we are going to be an immigrant family for the rest of our lives.

So, to sum this all up: Before I moved to China, I believed in objectivity as the ideal. God is objective; God is not attached to any one culture, God loves everyone equally, and we should all be like that. I believed that being more attached to my own culture above all others was a bad thing, and therefore I should get away from my own culture as much as I can, in order to spend all my time and energy absorbing foreign cultures, with the goal of learning all cultures in the entire world just as intimately as I know my own culture. Obviously an impossible goal, but I should at least work as hard as I can in that direction, right?

I still believe that about God- that They are objective and love everyone equally. But I no longer believe I should be like God in that sense. I am attached to my own culture- white, American, English-speaking, suburban, northern-US, etc. That's not a bad thing; actually, it's a need. I need to have human connections with people who understand me, and that usually means people with a similar cultural background. Of course it's also important to get to know people from other cultures. But it is reasonable if the majority of my close friends are from my own culture. Yes, that means I'm biased. But that's not a bad thing.

So now, 6 years later, I have learned that one of the main factors that motivated me to move to China was wrong. But paradoxically, I never would have realized that if I hadn't left the US. I would still be sitting there thinking, "I should love everyone in the world equally, like God does. I should be objective, like God." Still not understanding my own deep emotional need to connect with people from my own culture. Still unaware of how much my life is rooted in my own culture and my own privilege.

And all of this is the reason I'm ready to move back to the US. Emotionally, I am ready now, but for practical reasons it will probably happen in a couple years. Hendrix (my husband) and I know that eventually we want to live in the US, but there are a whole lot of steps that need to happen, about jobs and green cards and money.

I love my life here in China. I love all the amazing experiences I've had and all the great people I've met. I don't want people to read this blog post and think I'm saying I regret coming to China. I definitely don't regret it.

But it's shown me there was so much I didn't know. And I was wrong about objectivity.

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Related:
Francis Chan and Objectivity

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blogaround

A golden retriever puppy. Image source.
1. I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb (posted October 31) "Airbnb has created a web of more than 7 million listings built largely on trust, easily exploitable by those willing to do so."

2. Scientists plan a new orbiter mission to Pluto (posted October 30) "The mission timeline we created is as follows: Launch in December 2028, a Jupiter gravity-assist flyby in October 2030, braking into Pluto orbit beginning in 2046, and concluding in 2059." Cool!

3. Donald and Melania Trump place candy on top of child's Minion Halloween costume, video goes viral (posted October 31) I don't talk about him much because he's just THE WORST, and what else is there to say? He's THE WORST. But for some reason this- putting candy on a child's head- really bothers me. As best I can tell, the orange antichrist is standing there giving out candy as part of this Halloween event, and he's bored, and a kid shows up with a costume that has a big flat head, and the orange antichrist decides to stick the candy on top of this kid's head, just for his own amusement. This kid is in a big inflatable costume and probably can't see very well, probably can't grab the candy off of his/her own head because the costume is so unwieldy, and the candy falls off. The president is like a school bully, messing around with this vulnerable kid, whose senses and movements are extremely limited by his/her costume, just because he thinks it's funny. Complete lack of empathy.

4. If Richard Spencer Were Missing Teeth And Wearing Overalls, He Never Would Have Been On TV (posted November 4)

5. T.I. Said He Goes To The Gynecologist With His Daughter Every Year To "Check Her Hymen" (posted November 6) Ewwwwww. There is so much wrong with this. I'll just say one thing: getting your daughter's hymen checked is an example of sexual immorality.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Because of an Idea

A girl carrying a backpack and looking at a map. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

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As I was working on this '6 Years Later' blog series, about how I left behind my entire American life and moved to China, I came upon this GQ article: The American Missionary and the Uncontacted Tribe. It's about John Chau, the American missionary who was killed in 2018 by the Sentinelese islanders he was trying to "share the gospel" with. (I wrote 2 posts about Chau in 2018: This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To and Evangelicals Agree With What Chau Did (And It Makes Me Angry): Here Are The Receipts.)

The GQ article tells Chau's story in more detail than any of the news articles I had previously read. It talks about Chau's background, his family, his beliefs, his friendships, and the years and years of research, training, and planning he did to prepare for his mission on North Sentinel Island.

The article details every step that Chau took to prepare- from wilderness survival training, to making multiple trips to India to build a network of contacts, to researching what sorts of gifts a hunter-gatherer tribe might appreciate, to revealing his (very illegal) plans to Christian friends, and so on and so on. And as I read it, reading about how he spent years considering every little detail and doing the best he could to plan for it ... I have 2 thoughts:
  1. This is so tragic
  2. Well, yes, of course he did that
It all started with one idea, an idea I know all too well. An idea that was wrong. Because of this idea, he made it his goal to go befriend the people of North Sentinel Island. And because that was his goal, he made this whole years-long plan of all the practical steps he would need to take to get there. Every step misguided and wrong because the initial idea was misguided and wrong.

Every step was tragic, but inevitable. Because of the idea that started it all.

Here's "the idea": Every person in the world needs to hear a specific story about Jesus ("the gospel"), and this is so important that it's worth sacrificing one's life.

Chau believed this with all his heart. And I used to believe it too. Christians say it all the time- but usually they don't truly believe it the way Chau believed it.

It's not true.

It's not. It's very wrong.

But it was this one idea that inspired Chau to take all these steps that led to his death. He believed it so hard, so there was no stopping him. (The GQ article mentions Chau's father and other Christian friends trying and failing to talk him out of it.)

I read about all the things he did, all the little practical things to get ready, and it sounds so familiar, like, yes of course he did that. I've been in that world, to a certain extent. Well, let me lay out my missionary credentials for you:
  1. I went to InterVarsity's Urbana conference (a giant missions conference held every 3 years) in 2009 and 2012. This is a conference for college students where we get all gung-ho about missions. Every evening there's a speaker who gives a grand inspiring talk about how God is calling us to "GO!" and we sing worship songs about how God loves the whole world and we want God to send us out. During the day there are workshops that give practical advice about how to be a missionary. And there's a big hall with booths from all these different missions organizations- kind of set up like a career fair. In 2009, I totally bought into all that missions ideology. In 2012, I was starting to question a lot of things.
  2. I went on a 6-week mission trip to China in 2010. And that experience inspired me to devote myself to learning Mandarin Chinese and coming back to live in China long-term. But it wasn't for the normal "missionary" reasons- it wasn't because I "felt called" to "share the gospel" with Chinese people or whatever. It wasn't related to the idea I talk about above, the idea which inspired Chau. Instead, it was about a desire to get out of my own culture and learn a whole new one. (More on that in part 4 of this series.)
  3. I spent the next few years preparing- studying Chinese, befriending a ton of Chinese students at my college, praying and agonizing over the possibility of living in China long-term, applying for jobs in China. 
  4. Some of the jobs I applied for were with missions organizations. Looking back on it now, I'm glad none of those worked out, because I was in the process of questioning a lot of evangelical beliefs, and it would not have been good for me to be in a job which required me to pretend I believed certain things.
  5. I moved here in 2013 and I've been living here ever since. But not in any sort of missionary role.
I know what it is to long so hard to go, go far away and leave behind my home and my culture to live in a new world. Being willing to give up everything for that dream. I know what it is to spend years preparing, praying, working towards that goal. To have friends and family who want to support me but feel uncertain about if it's a good idea or not.

I read about Chau, and I feel like we are almost the same- giving up everything and moving to the other side of the world just because of one simple idea. Years of determined preparation just because of that one idea. 

But my idea was different than his. As I said, his idea was "Every person in the world needs to hear a specific story about Jesus ("the gospel"), and this is so important that it's worth sacrificing one's life." Mine was ... well I'll get into that in part 4.

His idea inspired him to go to North Sentinel Island, which was dangerous and illegal. My idea inspired me to come to China, which is not dangerous/illegal, and so fortunately I was successful, and here I am 6 years later.

Chau's story is so tragic because it's the result of sincere, determined, good-hearted pursuit of an idea that was so completely wrong. And in my case ... I think I was also inspired by an idea that was wrong.

I don't regret it. I love living in China. But it's been hard in so many ways I didn't expect. And now, 6 years later, I'm able to see that I was wrong about some of the things that inspired me. Ironically, if I had never moved away from the US, I never could have realized those ideas were wrong.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Blogaround

A baby wearing an Ironman costume. Image source.
1. TobyMac’s Oldest Son, Truett, Has Died at Home (posted October 24) Oh no.

2. Why I Was Forced to Resign from Southwest Church (Indian Wells): Pastor Gerald Sharon’s Story (posted October 24) "One of the people who had signed up was a gay man, which caused panic among the elders and leadership staff. ... So they instructed the staff to put his name at the bottom of the list and to tell him, 'There is a long waiting list and we just haven’t gotten to you yet.'"

3. theological foundations: trauma theology (posted August 8) "Trauma theology helped me see all that, revealing it all in an intuitive, natural way. I can see it everywhere now, too– in every single one of Jesus’ healing miracles, when Moses flees Egypt, the interactions between Paul and Barnabas, or Mary Magdalene at the Tomb."

4. Trump Tweets Faked Photo of Hero Dog Getting a Medal (posted October 30) This is odd.

5. This tweet from @ToriGlass:


6. John Piper: Scare the Bejesus Out of Your Children (posted October 29) Ah yes, my reaction was the same as Libby Anne's: "What in the blazes is this."

Monday, October 28, 2019

On Immigration and Double Standards

The Statue of Liberty. Image source.
"6 Years Later": A blog series reflecting on the fact that I, a white American, moved to China and have been living here for the past 6 years

Part 1: I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It
Part 2: On Immigration and Double Standards
Part 3: Because of an Idea
Part 4: Culture, Objectivity, God, and the Real Reason I Moved to China

-------------------------

I always heard Americans say this about immigrants: "If you're in this country, you need to speak the language." And I agreed with it.

And then I prepared for my short-term mission trip to China. I tried to learn as many Chinese words as I could. I was quite worried about "what if someone talks to me and I can't understand them?" Because I believed "If you're in this country, you need to speak the language." I reassured myself that I wouldn't be traveling in China alone; I would always have a Chinese-speaking friend with me to explain to strangers that I didn't speak Chinese.

Because, I thought that would be something strangers needed explained. The idea of meeting someone who's "in the country" but can't "speak the language" just felt so unbelievable to me. Like it would be something astonishing and ridiculous to be walking along in China and meet a white person who can't understand Chinese.

And now that I've lived in China for 6 years, I've met A LOT of white people who live here but can't speak Chinese. A lot of white people who have a "*shrug* why bother?" attitude toward learning Chinese, who don't feel weird at all about telling people "I don't understand Chinese" and attempting to communicate with strangers in English instead.

And there have been so many times that some stranger talks to me in English. I used to get angry about people assuming I don't understand Chinese- I do! I've worked hard on this! But then I met all these clueless white people, and I understood why Chinese strangers often speak English to me. Because most white people in China actually can't speak Chinese. So it doesn't bother me any more if a cashier says "for here or take away?" Whatever, I'll answer in English. But if we're going to have a long complicated conversation then I'll let them know I can speak Chinese.

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When I was in college [which was in the US], sometimes there would be a group of international students talking to each other in their own language, and the American students would say "Why don't they speak English? They CAN speak English, so they should."

And then I moved to China, and I thought because I CAN speak Chinese, I should, with everyone, all the time. I remember very early on, I was meeting some American guy at a Starbucks in China, and when I called him on the phone to ask if he had arrived yet, I asked in Chinese. I didn't even check beforehand to see if he could understand Chinese or not- I just reasoned that he lives in China long-term so he should be able to speak Chinese. And even though we are both white American English speakers, I thought that since we are in China, I should talk to him in Chinese.

At Starbucks, he talked to the cashier in English to order his drink, and that confused me.

I was working as an English teacher, and I felt like of course at my job everyone should speak English, because this is an English school, but in public in China everyone should speak Chinese. I did not at all try to seek out other international people and make friends- I thought, that would be pointless. I would just be speaking English to them, and I didn't come all the way to the other side of the world so I could speak English. For the first couple years I lived in China, I purposely avoided places and events where I could meet a bunch of international people speaking English.

I thought that the "correct" way for me to live in China was to speak Chinese to everyone. Because, as all the Americans always said about immigrants in the US, "you're in this country, you should speak the language."

There was even a period of time when I was going to therapy, and my therapist could speak both English and Chinese, and I felt bad about the fact that I always talked to him in English. Immigrants aren't supposed to do that, I thought. It's only because I'm not good enough at Chinese that I'm stuck here talking to my doctor (privately! confidentially! no Chinese people are even hearing this!) in English. I don't know enough Chinese vocabulary to talk about emotions and abstract thoughts in nuanced detail. And I thought that was a less-than-ideal situation and I should change.

Anyway, all these years later, I do understand why those international students in the US didn't "just speak English" even though "they can." Yes, they could, but it's easier to speak their native language. It's always easier. And I couldn't understand that before- I thought it was binary, you either "know English" or you don't. But now, I'm fluent in Chinese but it's just easier to speak English. For me it'll always be easier to speak English.

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My high school health teacher [in the US], Mr. B, liked to ask "bonus" questions whenever we took a quiz. I now see that they were questions about American culture, but at the time I didn't really understand that I, a white American, had a culture.

I was always astonished by how "easy" the questions were. If there was, say, a question about the game Monopoly, the answer would be "Monopoly"- you just had to know the game Monopoly existed, and you would get it right. It wasn't anything more complicated than that. All the questions were like that- very basic-level trivia about classic American games, movies, etc. Mr. B seemed to just be making up questions on the spot for his own amusement after we finished the health quizzes. Every quiz would have 1 or 2 of these "bonus questions."

There was one student in my health class who was an immigrant from Africa, let's call him Ryan. He never got any of the bonus questions right, and I didn't understand. I didn't realize they were "American culture" questions. I had no awareness of the fact that I had a culture, so the only way I could label them was "easy" and "obvious." They weren't things we learned in school, they were things that everyone just knows, right? So "easy" and "obvious" that we don't need to learn them. And so I was always astonished when some of my classmates didn't know the answers.

It wasn't until I had lived in China for 6 years that I thought about Mr. B's questions again and realized they weren't "easy" and "obvious" questions; they were "American culture" questions. (And they weren't really fair to Ryan, were they?)

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I met a lot of international students when I was in college [in the US], and I was extremely impressed. They left their own country and learned to live in a whole new culture and speak a whole foreign language (English). Wow, what a huge challenge! People who do that are amazing! And I wanted to be like them.

I wanted to move to China, just like I had seen students from China come to the US. I wanted to learn how to live my life in China, adapting to the culture and all the little daily-life things, just like they had to learn how to live in the US. I wanted to get an engineering job in China, just like all the Chinese engineers who come and work in the US.

So... I did.

I did. I learned Mandarin Chinese- speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I initially came to China as an English teacher, but later changed to an engineering job at a Chinese company, just as I planned. I did it.

And after I did it, I realized... people don't really do that. I've met a lot of international people in Shanghai, and only a few are working in, like, "normal" jobs that a Chinese person can do. Most of them are working in something related to teaching- teaching English to Chinese people, teaching normal school subjects (in English) at an international school, offering training programs for business skills (in English with a Chinese translator).

You guys, I went on Chinese job search websites, read job descriptions in Chinese, went to interviews for engineering jobs and talked about robots and algorithms and software in Chinese during those interviews.

Of course I did. It never would have occurred to me that, as a white American, it doesn't make sense for me to search for jobs in this way. I live here, I should use the same system as Chinese people do. Right?

And on a few occasions I got job offers. And that's how I got my job.

At some point I realized that those companies were also interested in my English skills and ability to communicate with international customers. It wasn't just about my engineering ability, the way it would be for Chinese job applicants. I tried to ignore that reality though. I didn't want to be treated differently.

Lots of Chinese engineers come to the US and work there. I wanted to do the same thing, but in the other direction. I've now realized that there are economic, political, and cultural reasons why it's so common to see this happen in one direction but not the other. But back then, I had no idea. It seemed so simple- I met a lot of Chinese international students in the US, I admired them, and I just wanted to do the same thing.

If I had known back then about the reasons this happens in one direction but not the other, that what I've done is so rare that I don't think I know any other international people in China who have done the same thing (I know international people who speak Chinese and use Chinese a lot in their jobs, but still at international companies where mostly they speak English at work) ... if I had known, would I still have done it?

I'm successful, and I'm proud of that. Maybe it's good I didn't know how unusual this was, because it might have made me too discouraged to try. Or maybe the "economic reasons" that this happens in one direction but not the other are important things I should have taken into account, and I should have just gotten an engineering job in the US.

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The first time I got sick in China, I went to a Chinese hospital. (Note: In China the doctors all work at hospitals; you have your normal doctor's appointment at a hospital. It's not like in the US where you only go to a hospital for some VERY SERIOUS problem.) I knew some of the other international teachers at my job talked about going to an international hospital, finding a doctor that speaks English, etc. But I thought... Well I thought that sounded sort of racist. It sounded like "yeah, sure, Chinese people can go to Chinese hospitals but I'm TOO GOOD for that, I'm more special than them so I need to get more special health care."

I thought, I can speak Chinese, so I can go to a Chinese doctor, no problem. I couldn't imagine there would be any problem, since I'm able to speak the language. What other problem could there possibly be? Yeah sure they do some things differently, and maybe in some ways the quality of the health care might not be as good as an international hospital, but if it's good enough for Chinese people then it's good enough for me. To believe otherwise would be racist. Right?

So I went to Chinese hospitals, had bad experiences a bunch of times, went to international hospitals where everything went much better, and then decided I'm not doing Chinese hospitals any more. Nope. I'm done. Only international health care for me.

I couldn't comprehend why things had gone so badly at Chinese hospitals. I thought in terms of just one dimension- in terms of medical expertise being better or worse. Beyond that, I thought the only differences would be some superficial things like language and some organizational or administrative procedures, things that weren't really a big deal.

I thought that when I, a white American who speaks Chinese, walk into a Chinese hospital, it's the same as when a Chinese person walks into a Chinese hospital. And the international people who wanted to find an international hospital were bigoted because they didn't want to be "the same" as Chinese people; they felt they were superior.

I was wrong.

See, it's not the same, because Chinese people have something I don't have: knowledge and experience with how Chinese hospitals work. Back then, I had all these assumptions about how doctors and nurses are supposed to treat patients; basically I expected I just make an appointment and then show up all sick and helpless, and the doctors and nurses would ask questions and listen to me and take care of me. They would help me not just with my medical problem, but would be emotionally sensitive and I would feel their kindness and compassion. I guess that's called "bedside manner."

But I guess Chinese hospitals are more like, you just go in and get your treatment and that's all. Nobody comes to help you along and make sure you're doing okay emotionally. I guess because there are just too many people in China- too many patients. You have to advocate for yourself.

For example, one time when Hendrix took me to the hospital, we checked in and Hendrix said the next thing we do is go see the doctor. So he started walking down the hallway, opening doors to find a doctor. Apparently that was the correct thing to do.

And on another occasion, I was lying on a bed getting an ultrasound, and some random people just opened the door and popped in. Like, not hospital staff- just random patients. And that was normal. Apparently nobody really cares about privacy.

And none of the doctors or nurses at Chinese hospitals asked if I had any allergies. At the international hospital, they ask ALL THE TIME. So I guess in the Chinese system, it's my responsibility to confirm they're not giving me anything I'm allergic to.

All this left me feeling very vulnerable and unsafe, and so after enough experiences like that, I made the decision that all my health care would be at international hospitals from now on. At the time I made that decision, I still didn't understand. I still thought when I walk into a Chinese hospital, it's the same as a Chinese person walking in. I didn't understand why it had gone badly for me but was fine for a billion Chinese people; I just knew that my needs weren't met, so I was unwilling to put myself in that situation again.

It was because of my expectations about how health care is supposed to work. I want to be treated like I matter and like the hospital staff really cares about me.

It was because Chinese people have something I don't have: an understanding of how to navigate the Chinese health care system.

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All those years ago, I decided I wanted to learn Chinese, so I signed up for Chinese 101 class in college [in the US]. After about a week or two, our professor, Mr. Wang, said, "Some of you should drop the class, because you already know Chinese."

I didn't really think that much about it. Just that yeah, obviously, if somebody already knows Chinese then it doesn't make sense for them to be in Chinese 101 class.

Months later, I happened to be talking to my friend Alice, who is an American-born Chinese (ABC). She mentioned Mr. Wang and said "he's racist." She said he didn't treat the ABC students fairly.

Personally, I had a great time in Mr. Wang's class. He LOVED me. He always told me I was the best student. Actually, Chinese 101 class was just one small part of my efforts to learn Chinese; I was also regularly meeting with Chinese international students to practice (which I would say is the most effective way to learn a language). So I was learning much faster than our Chinese 101 curriculum, and so I always got everything right in class and Mr. Wang told me I was the best ever.

Also I'm white.

Alice said "he's racist" and then I thought about when Mr. Wang said "some of you need to drop the class." At the time I didn't get it; I thought you either "know Chinese" or you don't. But the students that Mr. Wang was referring to weren't just there for an easy A because they "already knew Chinese." They were ABCs that could understand and maybe speak a lot of Chinese because their parents spoke it at home, but maybe they couldn't read or write. Or maybe they didn't know much vocabulary besides whatever their parents talked about at home. They were there to fill in the gaps in their Chinese language ability, but Mr. Wang wouldn't let them.

Wow, that was messed-up, and I never noticed or cared because everything went so well for me in that class.

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White people in the US tend to think that the ideal is to "be colorblind", to "not see race." Treat everyone the same. Feminism has taught me that there are actually a lot of problems with this "not seeing race" concept. Basically, race does matter, and you can't correct the problems caused by racism if you pretend race doesn't matter.

But most white Americans see that as the ideal. Treat everyone of all races the same. And in one's normal day-to-day interactions, that is the right thing to do.

In China, that's not the ideal. Chinese people think that, in order to be polite and welcoming, you should NOT treat white people the same as Chinese people. No, when you meet white people, you should talk to them in English, not in Chinese.

(And of course I have met international people of other races in China too, but their experiences with race in China are different from mine, so I can't really speak to that.)

There have been times where I'm walking up to buy something at a restaurant, and I see the cashiers scrambling around, trying to figure out who among them remembers the most stuff from their high school English class and can therefore talk to me. And then they apologize to me because their English "isn't good."

No, I haven't seen any Chinese equivalent to "if you're in this country you need to speak the language." Or "not seeing race."

It was surprising to me, though, how my whiteness affects every single interaction I have with ANYBODY AT ALL in China. From strangers, to Chinese friends, to American friends, to my husband.

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American high school kids travel to all sorts of countries all over the world for mission trips. American colleges proudly advertise their study-abroad programs, where students can go spend a semester in another country. Americans post their international vacation photos all over social media. And unqualified Americans have ESL job opportunities all over the world. (Yep, I was one of them- I totally moved to China on a work visa in an ESL teacher job. Which I was unqualified for.)

I always took it for granted that I could travel wherever I wanted. And when I set my goal of moving to China and living there long-term, I totally 100% believed I was entitled to just go to any country I wanted and live there. Of course there were some practical concerns like finding a job, language barriers, adapting to a different style of food, but those were all things I would deal with on my own, as I encountered them. I never, ever, for a minute, even considered the possibility of "maybe the government won't let you in, and that's that." Americans don't really think about that.

But look at it from the opposite side: A lot of people want to enter the US, but can't. One aspect of this is people who want to live in the US long-term: refugees trying to cross the border, people waiting years and years for a green card, undocumented immigrants overstaying their visas. But in certain circumstances, the US also denies visas to people who just want to make a short-term trip, maybe for a vacation or academic conference.

In order to get a US tourist visa, you have to bring enough evidence to convince them that you're not actually planning to be an immigrant and overstay the visa. If you can show that in your home country, you have a good job, close family, and a good amount of money in your bank account, then the US visa official will believe you're really going to go back home after your little US vacation.

I remember when my husband Hendrix (who is Chinese) was applying for his US tourist visa- he joked about "if a woman says 'I have no job and I am going to visit my boyfriend in the US', no chance they're giving her that visa." A friend actually advised us to make sure Hendrix got his 10-year US tourist visa before we got married- if we were already married, they might look at his visa application and be like "you're married to a US citizen?" and deny the visa.

I always felt like I had the right to just go wherever I want. It never occurred to me to wonder if a government would refuse to allow me to enter. I was in my 20s when I realized "You know all this stuff in the news about illegal immigration? What that actually means, in terms I can relate to, is that some people- depending on what country they're from- can't just take a trip somewhere just because they want to." And that astonished me, because I had always taken it for granted that I'm entitled to go travel or live long-term wherever I want. Everyone should have that right.

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Because I moved to China, I understand culture and privilege in ways I never could have if I had stayed in the US.

I left my own culture to live in a new culture. That means there are so many things which I always felt were completely normal, so normal that I never even thought about them, and now I'm surrounded by people who don't know anything about them at all. Pancake syrup, football teams, going through the drive-thru. I've lost so much that I never realized I could lose.

I knew I would be learning a whole new culture, but I didn't know I would be losing my own.

And let's talk about privilege. I always thought it's just one-dimensional: the US is better than other countries. More money, more resources, etc. I thought by moving to China, I would be moving from an easier life to a harder life. In China we don't have a dryer for our clothes, so we have to hang them up. In China we can't drink the water from the sink, so we have to boil it. In China I get paid less than if I got a job in the US.

I thought I was moving from "living as an American" difficulty level to "living as a Chinese" difficulty level. But no, I was actually doing something harder than that. Because what I actually gave up wasn't money or convenience; what I actually gave up was privilege. The privilege of being a native speaker vs speaking my 2nd language. The privilege of being in the majority culture and majority ethnic group. The privilege of being a citizen rather than an immigrant.

In other words, me living in China is harder than a Chinese person living in China. They have something I don't. They know the culture. They know the language better than I ever will. They don't stand out as different and foreign because of their race. They don't have to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops related to getting visas renewed, and handle all the logistical things that work differently for me because I don't have a Chinese ID card.

And in the same way, if a Chinese person moves to the US, that doesn't mean their life is the same as my life in the US. It's not just "the US is better"; no, if they don't have the knowledge and experience about how to do things, then it's not better for them. This, again, is all about privilege.

I thought of it as "I spent the first 20-some years of my life learning American culture, and now I will learn Chinese culture." But it wasn't like that; I didn't simply "learn Chinese culture." Instead, I learned Chinese culture from an immigrant's perspective. My own identity is the lens through which everything happens to me. It's not possible to experience Chinese culture from an objective, outside perspective.

And I'm thinking about all this, about what I learned about privilege, and I realize that even in this, I'm privileged. I chose to become an immigrant. I'm not a refugee. I'm not fleeing some dangerous situation in my home country. I didn't come here for better economic opportunities. No, nothing like that- there was nothing wrong with my home country that pushed me to leave. I came to China to live as an immigrant just because I wanted to.

And my life in the US is still there, still available, I can go back any time. Sometimes literally- I know I can go stay at my parents' house and not pay for food or housing, any time I want. I'm so privileged... I'm writing this blog series to say "well it's been 6 years and here are the things I learned about the world, culture, and being an immigrant, well that was a fun experience but I'm ready to be done, gonna go back home now" and then I can just go back, simple as that. A lot of immigrants can't do that. A lot of immigrants don't have a choice.

I chose to give up all that privilege- majority culture privilege, native speaker privilege, citizen privilege- and now I've decided I want it all back. And I'm able to do that. That, too, is privilege.

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Next: Because of an Idea

Related:
Feminism 101: Privilege

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