By Sarah D. Park
In downtown San Francisco, I found myself standing in the middle of what should have been a busy street intersection. But my body — and the bodies of several other hundred people — was in the way. Some protestors unapologetically sat down to hold the space; others stood standing, holding up their signs and banners high against the honking cars demanding access. “Water is life.” “Stop the North Dakota pipeline.” “You can’t drink gas.”
I had read articles and seen photos of the growing Native Peoples encampment in North Dakota. It had been steadily swelling with delegates from all manners of tribes who came to protect tribal lands and the Missouri river from an oil pipeline that was about to be built. But it was one more thing that was going badly in the world. I felt very little. There was too much violence, too much friction, too much nonsense in the news for me to feel much of anything.
I went to the protest specifically because I didn’t feel anything, concerned by how complete my apathy was. Looking upon all the white people who came out, I was also bewildered as to why they would care.
I couldn’t account for why I felt such distance — such irrelevance — to this struggle over water, of all basic things. Do I not benefit daily from access to clean water? Have I not repeatedly seen oil spills wreak havoc on life and the environment? Why did I not care?
A month prior, I had moved to Berkeley from LA. I realized that I had forgotten to be a student of my own life — that even at 29, I could still learn and see what else I could be made of. It took dislocating myself from familiar responsibilities and relationships into a Bay Area vacuum of free time and being a nobody again to make the space to explore.
I am not of the Native Peoples. I don’t live in North Dakota. But I want to learn. What does it take for an Asian American woman to feel her humanity as a part of other people groups? What does it take for me to feel collective humanity, and therefore, collective responsibility? I want to obey: Love others as you would love yourself. I assume that starts with knowing others first.
Another opportunity has come up for me to learn about people who don’t look or live like me. The church that I’ve recently committed to is about to begin a small group book series that will process the burden of being a strong Black woman and the toxicity of masculinity.
I am not a strong Black woman. With such little personal relevance to me, I have no idea what I would learn, and I’m giddy with anticipation. I only want to listen to a different person’s kind of story.
But despite my open mind, I caught myself going back and forth between buying the cheaper eBook version versus the hardcopy. “Too Heavy a Yoke” by Chanequa Walker-Barnes is $28 without tax, I can’t find it at the library, neither is it at the used book stores. I didn’t think it was worth the money; the series hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already devaluing the content! I had to wonder how long my value for personal application had limited the scope of the Gospel to be powerful in my life. So I’m making an investment — buy the damn book — to figure out how to value others as I value myself.
Investments by nature come with risk. Moving to Berkeley without a job was a risk. Showing up to community spaces I’ve never entered into before is a risk. This must seem like a terrible investment, because I don’t even know what the returns are.
But to passively let my life show that I’m concerned with the salvation and liberation of only people who look like me? I can’t risk living like that anymore. Collective humanity still includes my own; let’s see what and who else I can take personally.
Sarah D. Park is a managing editor at INHERITANCE magazine and a freelance writer. To her delight, most of the time, these positions are conduits for her to press an exposed nerve in the status quo.