on a very personal experience of race and class

Today, for the first time in a long time, I felt truly incompetent.

And I’m slowly coming to realize how much of this incompetency — and it’s real, this divide, this game of catch-up that I will never win — comes because of socioeconomic status, class, sociopolitical history. It’s not racial. It was never about race. It was never, for me and for my similar yellow-skinned peers of this generation and this education level and this level of socialization, about our chinky eyes or short legs.

It’s cultural. It’s political. It’s historical. And so, because those things are inextricably tied to race, it is also, somehow, racial. And yet it is not.

Today, I sat during dinner and chimed in occasionally on a trolley-car debate. I referenced Adorno, who I’d read over break. I threw out a plug for 3rd wave feminism. All things I’d never been able to do last year, didn’t even know that I didn’t know these things. I’d studied. I’d sat and listened, and I’d learned.

A small group moved on over to the library to read and work. Conversations popped up as others joined. The intricacies of startups. Machine learning technology. Post-WWII politics and racial relations in Europe. Conversations I couldn’t join, could never join; there is no catching up for 19 years of being outside. A casual joke thrown in by the son of a huge department head of a huge company: AM, I like all of your friends; they’re kind, and they’re smart. Except _____, of course. A sour tinge of truth, a closed laugh, a receding. I sat and read an excerpt of The Pale King and some Marx, wanting someone to ask what I was reading as they asked each other, wanting one of them, these children of and future intellectual elites — those born and bred to be so with such ease — to be curious about me, to even consider that I was reading something worth acknowledging.

A casual comment by MG, harmless, innocent: AM, let’s make a podcast. We’ll interview people, like AMy, ZH, JB. You know.

Interesting people.

I’ve studied, I’ve listened, and I’ve learned. But it’s not enough, will never be enough; I and my yellow skin and my immigrant family can never match these white Jewish males of Harvard academia and White House positions four generations back on their terms. And yet I am expected to, somehow, and yes, I wish to: this is the golden standard I have come to admire, this standard that is of my home, this forever retreating standard I limp towards, 19 years after the starter’s pistol smokes and is laid on the table.

a few profiles for the trip

k– 1: exceedingly like SS in his external, no nonsense, hyper self-assurance and rugged, blunt approach and focus on people. I really can’t describe it.

k– 2: generous, gregarious, open, playful, relaxed, content; his lifestyle and self-assuredness in that lifestyle struck me; he was very much a man living outside the expectations of being unhappy and single at his age, and it was refreshing and eye-opening — perhaps his fate was not one to ran away from.

AA: small and nerdy, gregarious and easy-going, open and eager but not desperate in any way; living somewhat year to year, nomadically, developing far more interests that I could ever; he had this internal drive and no need for an external structure to live his life.

MK: gregarious, open, unself-aware, lovably awkward, an amazing background and many quirks; he grew up as an Asian-American kid in the slums of California, joining a gang for survival; somehow still made it to UCLA where he wandered from department to department

B—: slightly loopy homeless man we met at a campsite; strikingly generous, giving us his stove, gas, sugar, and offering us coffee in the morning; talkative and fibbing; I enjoyed trying to pull out his backstory as he spun tale after tale of Hollywood and fame