Entry #2 – Times Are Changing. Children Are, Too.

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week. Let’s all say hello and give August a warm welcome.

I think this journal entry will turn out to be a little long. Sorry if you think so, but I have a lot to say!

I wanted to start out talking about the music and musicians I’ve been into recently. I’ve gotten into HYDE’s solo work this past week, and I actually really love his style. I think he’s an incredible artist. He sings very well in both English and Japanese, and he’s very effective at conveying his worldview through song lyrics, visual elements, and depth of sound. 「MAD QUALIA」is one of my favorites in terms of mixed-language lyrics and subject matter. So too is 「WHO’S GONNA SAVE US」, which has an extremely thought-provoking and even disturbing music video. 「SET IN STONE」, while I can’t call it a “favorite” because of its theme, is a thoughtful, artistically explosive cry against gun violence. Similarly,「TWO FACE」for me is reminiscent of how I and those I know have grappled with depression and other mental illnesses. What really does it for me, though, is the English version of 「ZIPANG」. Granted, the Japanese version is stunning as well, but the English one completely exceeded my expectations. I haven’t made it through all of HYDE’s discography yet, but you can bet I’ll be working on it next week!

I’ve also been listening to a lot of GACKT’s older songs and concert videos. He’s been my favorite singer for a while now, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to pay attention to the members of his backup band – Chachamaru, for instance, who plays lead guitar and also frequently sings backing vocals. I know I’m late to the party, but he’s really an incredible guitarist, and he sings pretty well too! Also… he’s just really pretty…

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about visual kei as a whole and the impact it’s had on me as an individual. I’ve said this before, but I currently identify as queer and non-binary, and I think it was really lucky for me that I got into j-rock and visual kei just as I was beginning to explore my gender identity and sexuality. It was extremely empowering for me to see artists who were willing to challenge their traditionally conservative society on so many levels. I was amazed to see guys who weren’t afraid to present themselves in a more androgynous or feminine way, guys who weren’t afraid to express their genuine emotions, guys who weren’t afraid to touch and kiss each other on stage, even if it was just fan service. From when I started questioning to where I am today, this kind of thing really does mean a lot to me. I still have a long list of visual kei bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to, and I want to look into some female artists as well. (I say that as if I have all the time in the world to just laze around listening to music all day…)

Well, anyway, this talk reminded me that I wanted to mention LGBTQ+ rights and representation in Asia. I’m ethnically Taiwanese, so I was really proud and excited when Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage this past May. But at the same time, I was really sad. A lot of Asian countries are dragging their feet on this, and rights and representation are typically severely lacking. However, this past week I did read an article about Japan’s recent elections that gave me a bit of hope.

As in basically every other Asian nation, same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Japan – if I remember correctly, there’s a clause in the constitution that states something to the effect of “marriage shall only occur under the consent of both sexes”. Sexual orientation is also not protected under anti-discrimination laws, and even though gay sex has at least been legal for a while, LGBTQ+ folks remain largely suppressed. Well, I’m not up to date on modern Japanese politics, so don’t just take my word for it – go search it up and educate yourself! And if I’m wrong, let me know. But anyway, I read that in the recent elections for parliament, Japan elected its first openly gay male lawmaker, Ishikawa Taiga. I don’t know much about him, so I can’t necessarily say he’s a good politician or anything (if such thing even exists). But, I’m really happy in terms of representation. He sounds like he’s determined and dedicated to the fight for marriage equality. The current prime minister and ruling party are opposed, but, we can hope.

I also read that in this same election, Japan elected its first two severely disabled lawmakers – one with ALS, and one with cerebral palsy. I’m really happy about this, too. Maybe, attitudes are beginning to change in Japan on not just LGBTQ+ issues but disabilities as well. Just because someone is in a wheelchair, requires medication, needs a caretaker, or thinks about things in a slightly different way, doesn’t mean they are incapable of living fully and making their voices heard. Physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses – we all have something, and really, at the end of the day, who’s to say who can and can’t participate in society?

On this note, I want to mention my friend E. It was her birthday yesterday. She’s my junior, so I try to look after her and take care of her as much as I can. I can teach her things to help her navigate her life situation, but she also teaches me things in return. I think that people should not just take care of their juniors better – they should be more open-minded to learning from those who are younger than them. This is really, really important. To the older generations, don’t be so quick to label today’s youth as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful, stupid, or overly sensitive. Remember that they are growing up in an environment entirely different from the one that you grew up in. Try to imagine that.

To illustrate, today’s children are growing up in the face of climate change, school shootings, mass gun violence, political corruption, rising hate crimes. They are growing up with a 24-hour news cycle and journalism that heavily prioritizes tragedy. They are growing up in an age where internet and technology make it incredibly easy to educate themselves on all of the current genocides occurring in the world (do you know how many? search it up), as well as incredibly cruel human rights violations in the present and the past (look up the report Human Rights Watch has on your country), and all of the terrible things humans have done to each other throughout history. They are growing up with school textbooks that bluntly recite hundreds of years of humanity’s failure to learn from our mistakes. They are also growing up with all of the consequences of the careless ways older generations treated and continue to treat our environment – climate change is not the beginning nor the end of it.

This is not to say that other generations have not faced some of these issues, and it’s not to say that the issues today’s youth are facing are any “worse” than the ones other generations have faced. I didn’t grow up in a different time, so I can’t make that kind of subjective judgment. But the issues now are undeniably different, and I think older people would do well to remember that. Times have changed – children have changed, too. So, if you’re of an older generation, I ask you to please make an effort to be more open-minded toward those younger than you. If the youth are protesting, if they are voicing dissatisfaction at something or someone, if they are demanding change, listen. Be respectful. Try to imagine what it would be like to be a young person today.

A lot of people seem to have trouble with this. The other day I read an article about Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old activist who became famous after her school strike for climate caught the media’s attention. I’ve been following her activities for a while now, and I really respect her a lot. But this article detailed the ways in which a columnist named Andrew Bolt attacked her in writing – calling her names, falsely representing autism (Greta is on the spectrum), and using her mental disorders as well as her youth to ridicule her and those who support her. I found the language he used extremely disrespectful, rude, and thoughtless… really, I was repulsed.

Question: on the day Greta Thunberg turns 18 years old, will you suddenly start listening to her because she is now an “adult” and therefore “worthy” of your respect?

Please, stop judging people for their age. It’s just a number and really means little in this society where many adults act like children themselves.

Another question: if Greta Thunberg did not have Asperger’s, would you listen to her then?

If you do not know what Asperger’s is, please search it up. It does not make someone incapable of rational thought and decision-making. It does not make someone unworthy of fully participating in society and making their voice heard.

Not in this article but in others, I’ve also heard people accusing Greta of allowing herself to be politically manipulated by those older than her. This too I find kind of ridiculous.

Third question: at what age do children suddenly develop critical thinking skills and free thought?

If you’ve heard any of Greta’s speeches, or read about her at all, you can see that she is incredibly coherent and very well-educated on the climate crisis, probably more so than most adults. Just because she is a vocal sixteen year old, does not mean she is being politically manipulated.

Besides – climate change is not a political issue.

Neither is any part of HIPPCO (look this up!).

Neither is human rights.

This week, practice being more open-minded. Listen to those younger than you, and be willing to learn from them. Also practice educating yourself. Live with the intent of learning something new every day. Right now, go to your search engine, and type in “japan’s recent elections.” Type in “climate change.” Type in “Hong Kong protests.” Then read all of the articles you can – even the news sources that you know reflect a different political opinion from you, even the scientific journal articles that sound like they’ll go way over your head. Don’t depend on other people to spoon feed you information from their biased perspective. Fight your own hidden biases by never, ever forgetting the value of self-education.

And, as always, take care of yourself.

KT

Not Enough

From the beginning, we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people. Schools reinforce social comparison using grades, test scores, and certificates until it becomes almost secondhand. As soon as a test is handed back, many students begin to ask their friends, “What did you get?”

We are taught to feel good if we have higher grades and more rewards than our peers. But it doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel sick.

Whether in school or not, the things we use to compare ourselves to each other are completely arbitrary and are rarely indicative of actual effort, intelligence, or character. For those who end up on the lower end of the scale, often unfairly, this system rams down their throats a single message: You are not enough. And that message is toxic. That message can kill.

I often say that I take human beings one at a time. That’s because every single human being is different. Comparing us all to each other, and comparing us all to a single arbitrary standard, just doesn’t make sense. I’m tired of looking at the people around me and thinking, they’re smarter, they’re more beautiful, they’re more interesting, they’re more creative, they’re better than I am.

Some Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, have a teaching roughly equivalent to this: if there are seven million people, there are seven million different ways to live. As long as you are not harming others, live true to your heart, and let others do the same.

I have to remind myself of that a lot.

For instance, I have to remind myself of that when I feel like I don’t “qualify” to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Because the typical narrative is that gay people have always known they were gay, and being gay is a huge part of their lives, and non-cis folks have always felt non-cis and experience severe gender dysphoria and being non-cis is also a huge part of their lives. That might be true for a lot of people, and that’s totally valid – but none of that applies to me. For me, my gender identity and sexuality are just small facets of the very complex human being that I am. I don’t feel the need to come out to people or make a big deal out of it. I don’t care if other people know, I don’t care what pronouns are used to refer to me – the only thing that matters to me is that I have a better understanding of myself. That’s just my way of life. And I’m tired of feeling like I have to compare my way of life to others.

I’m tired of making that comparison and deciding that I’m “not enough“.

Issues I Have With Grades

Hi, welcome to my rant! Here are some things I don’t like about junior high/high school methods of grading student work.

  • arbitrary grading standards
  • grading someone’s lecture notes, when everybody takes notes differently and one method of note-taking doesn’t work for all
  • grading creativity or artistry
  • dropping a grade but not allowing the student to see what made them drop
  • grading an assignment down without being able to say exactly what was wrong with it
  • grading an assignment down without giving constructive feedback on what should be improved
  • automatically not believing the student when they say the teacher made a grading mistake or lost their work
  • not allowing students to petition a grade when they believe they have been unfairly marked down
  • grading every single student on the same standard
  • grading oral participation, when some students may not feel comfortable or safe participating with a particular teacher/class/classmate
  • posting grades attached to student names publicly
  • handing back tests in order of best-worst scores
  • no-exceptions policies on late work
  • group projects having one single group grade, with no evaluation of individual effort/contributions
  • not allowing students to grade themselves or explain what grade they believe they deserved
  • grades that supposedly reflect actual student effort, but do not
  • judging a student’s worth or character based on their grades

We Are All Human

Everyone is deserving of respect. And I mean literally everyone.

Don’t get me wrong — respect comes in different forms, and certainly I don’t think Hitler deserves the same level of respect as Nelson Mandela. But it’s hard, if not impossible, to quantify respect and the privileges that come with it, and that’s not what I’m trying to get at. All I’m saying is this — I believe that, at the end of the day, many of our societal problems arise from a simple failure to respect other people’s basic humanity.

When we start believing that other people don’t deserve any respect at all, we change how we treat them. We give them labels, labels like “illegal alien” — which suggests that they aren’t even human, that their very existence is a crime. We refuse to listen to them and find ways to silence their stories. We create laws and policies that take away their basic rights, making it possible to spy on them, lock them up, torture them, sometimes even kill them. Look back over human history and you’ll see we’ve done this many times over. African slavery, the Armenian Genocide, Japanese-American internment, the Patriot Act, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the White Terror — just to name a few. While all of these were (and are) highly multifaceted, they couldn’t have happened unless one group of people decided that another group wasn’t worthy of their respect. You cannot make war, commit genocide, or oppress a population without leveraging the value of respect, without saying: she’s on the good side, so you should respect her and let her live, but she’s on the bad side, so you can go ahead and do whatever you want with her.

I believe a basic level of respect should apply to everyone — a respect that cannot be lost or taken away. If we decide to treat everyone with respect, we make a commitment to value their individual lives, to protect their basic human rights, to listen to what they have to say. And if we do that, it becomes very, very hard to hate, oppress, and murder our fellow human beings, no matter how we try to justify it.


A Short Story

It’s not always easy to respect everyone, but it’s something to work towards. In 11th grade I had a history teacher who was arguably racist, depending on your definition of the term. They said some very hateful things about non-WASP people, ridiculed many Asian countries, trampled over Native American terminology and cultures, and sugarcoated Japanese-American internment. As the days went by I became more and more critical of the little things they said, and I stopped taking notes and paying attention to their lectures. It was the first time in my life that I came close to actually hating another person – and when I started to feel that hatred, I knew it was time to put the brakes on and take a look at myself. And here’s what I realized: it’s dangerous to not have a solid, irrevocable foundation of respect in all of our relationships, because lack of basic respect breeds miscommunication, cruelty, hatred, and ultimately violence.

I could have talked to this teacher. I could have explained, I took issue with what you just said and here’s why. I could have had a respectful, open-minded dialogue, if I just went up to them and said, I want to know why you think Japanese-American internment was equatable to summer camp. Instead I sat in my chair and stewed until I felt hatred, until I felt capable of cruelty.

This story was about a simple two-person relationship. Replicate it on a grander scale, and I hope you can see how lack of basic respect can lead to systems of oppression, war, and genocide.


Do Children Deserve Respect?

At what age does someone become deserving of respect? I get that question sometimes. But if you ask me, it’s kind of a silly question. It’s not like you turn 18 and all of a sudden your life and voice matters. So my answer is this: if I say everyone is deserving of respect, I really do mean everyone, and that extends to children of all ages.

Once again, I’m talking about a very foundational level of respect, a respect for another person’s basic humanity. That six year-old throwing a tantrum in the grocery store is a fellow human being – so they’re deserving of respect, no matter how much you might dislike them right now, no matter how annoying they are. Respecting them means valuing their life, their rights, their voice, and everyone is deserving of at least that.

What about school? I always have a lot to say about our education system and how adults treat children there. Time and time again I’ve seen teachers, administrators, and staff disrespecting students, and that’s not okay. The same is often true in reverse, but in my experience, the failure of a student to show a teacher basic respect was often because they felt the teacher didn’t respect them in return. Especially in high school, a time when many students are beginning to hold jobs and external responsibilities, it’s not okay for adults to refuse to listen to them, to assume they were just lazy, to assume they just ditched class for no reason, to assume they’re self-righteous arrogant little pricks who need to be locked up and shown the meaning of discipline. When you don’t show a student of any age basic respect, you’re teaching them that humanity doesn’t automatically come with being human – instead it becomes something that you can freely give or take away. And that’s, in a word, dangerous.


The Bottom Line

Train yourself to treat everyone with respect. Value individual human lives. Listen to what people have to say, and be open-minded. Stand up for them when you see their rights being infringed upon.

This is how we fight against war, oppression, genocide, human rights violations, and simple day-to-day acts of cruelty.

Every human being matters.

Being an Educated Consumer

We live in a time of great social change — or at least potential change. People are becoming less afraid to call out celebrities, companies, and organizations that they find problematic. But again, while labeling is important, it’s not enough. It doesn’t make sense for you to say “that musician’s racist” and then go buy a ticket to their concert. It also doesn’t make sense for you to say “I care about the environment!” and then go buy from an organization that’s campaigning against renewable energy reforms.

Here’s something I think is important for people to realize: In our capitalistic society, consumers have real power. And this power is tied to where we put our money. The financial support we give people, companies, and organizations really matters. They can’t survive for long without us, and when we divert their flow of cash to their competitors, we’re sending a powerful message about the values that we stand for.

And besides, it’s not actually that hard. It doesn’t take long to open up the internet and type into a search engine “is this company sustainable? is this person homophobic?” It doesn’t take a lot to pay attention to consumer-based news, to do your own research, to nail down what values you support and make a list of companies that don’t comply. Sure, it’s difficult at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. And it’s worth it.

For me, this is what being an educated consumer is all about.


1. The Process

  • Do some self-reflection and make a list of what values you think are important to look for as a consumer.
  • Outline what those values can look like in practice.
  • Think about the people, companies, and organizations you currently support.
  • Look up their websites and see what they have to say about themselves. Do their values align with yours?
  • Look for some third-party research. What do other people have to say about them?
  • Make a list of the ones that seem problematic to you.
  • Research better alternatives.
  • Keep your list of values and problematic celebrities and companies in mind as you go about your day-to-day life.

2. What This Looks Like For Me

Here’s an example of some of the values I look for, and what they can look like in practice. Again, this is just my example; you might have things to add, and you might not agree with everything on this list, but that’s okay!

  • Support ethnic and cultural heritage (for me, that’s specifically Taiwanese and Japanese, but I’m also looking for support for all ethnicities and cultures)
    • If you’re from a minority group or groups, look for representation of your own heritage. It’s important.
    • Do legitimate research and be respectful when advocating for other ethnicities and cultures.
  • Support untold narratives of minorities (countering Eurocentric, patriarchal, heteronormative histories)
    • History books, children’s books, and games are especially important to look at.
    • Make sure picture books for children fairly represent minorities. This can be surprisingly hard.
  • Support human rights
    • They condemn human rights atrocities including unfair detainment, torture, “re-education camps” and genocide.
  • Support world peace
    • They aren’t contracting with the military.
    • They have a strong stance of advocating for peace, conversation, and compromise rather than war.
    • They build bridges, not walls.
    • They don’t believe that their country is the best country and should rule over all others. Patriotism is different from nationalism!
  • Support social justice and all kinds of diversity
    • They don’t discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, nationality, etc.
    • Diversity actually shows in their products, advertising, funding, staff, and management.
    • If you walk into a restaurant and notice that all of their servers are white while all of the workers in the back are people of color, that’s a red flag.
    • This can also mean actually supporting LGBTQ+ artists, artists of color, etc.
  • Care for and support the basic rights of their workers and staff
    • Fair wages. Workers are paid a living wage (which is different depending on where you live), and a worker’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation don’t dictate their salary.
    • Fair working hours
    • Safe working conditions
    • No child labor
    • Workers have a voice. They won’t be fired for criticizing the company if they find something problematic about it. There’s an avenue for workers to give feedback.
    • Fair family policies. For instance, look for fair policies on parental leave. Make sure women won’t be fired just because they’re pregnant.
    • Low involuntary turnover rate. This means workers aren’t being fired all the time.
    • Opportunities for promotion and advancement within the company
    • Services available to care for their mental health and well-being. If reports come out about suicidal workers, that’s a problem.
    • Products are fair-trade certified
  • Support and show a commitment towards environmental sustainability
    • Limiting or eliminating paper, plastic, and water waste
    • Limiting or eliminating usage of harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process
    • Making products out of eco-friendly materials and ingredients. For instance, make sure bathroom, kitchen, laundry, and yard products are free of sulfates, phosphates, and nitrates. Look for products made from recycled materials, including pre- and post-consumer waste.
    • Using and producing electricity from renewable sources
    • Have a strong recycling system
    • Have a cradle-to-grave policy or something similar to it. This means when you’re done using their product, you give it back to the company and they’ll dispose of it in a sustainable fashion.
    • Cooperating with local conservation efforts
    • Transparent about their impact on the environment and their attempts to reduce it. Look for a sustainability page on their website. Sometimes it’s under their mission statement.
    • Products are certified organic, vegan, sustainably-grown, cruelty-free, etc.

3. Sometimes, You Just Can’t “Cancel”

Consumers like you and me don’t always have the agency to pick and choose. Sometimes, our social or financial situation requires us to go shopping at a problematic store or use a problematic service. In these cases, there are still ways you can use your voice as a consumer to make change! Many of these options can (and probably should) also be used in tandem with quitting concerning celebrities or companies.

  • Buy fewer products from them or support them less.
  • Buy less often.
  • Be selective about which products you do buy.
  • If you’re buying something online, try to choose the slowest shipping option, group your products into a single shipment, and choose frustration-free packaging when available.
  • Give customer feedback. Talk to a manager, email, or leave an online review. Be honest but respectful, and most of all, educate – what do you want them to change and why?
  • Utilize other customer service options. For instance, on Amazon, you can chat with a customer service representative and ask them to put a notation on your account to eliminate excess plastic packaging (including packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and air pillows) on your future orders.

4. Things to Remember

  • Sometimes, it’s a trade-off. Maybe an artist of color doesn’t support same-sex marriage. Maybe a pretty sustainable company pays their female or LGBTQ+ workers less than their male workers. Nobody is perfect – but give them feedback and (politely) demand improvement.
  • It’s not a race. We’re all in this together. Don’t police others – it’s divisive to go around labeling people hypocrites because they support companies with values counter to their own. Maybe they just didn’t know! Have an honest conversation with them, listen, be open-minded, and educate each other.
  • What values are important to you might not be important to someone else. Ask why. Again, have honest discussions and educate each other.
  • Quitting a problematic celebrity, company, or organization isn’t supposed to last forever. The point isn’t necessarily to lock them out of the conversation. If they acknowledge their problem and demonstrate that they’re honestly working hard to educate and improve themselves, go ahead and support them again when you feel ready.
  • Change always starts with one person deciding to stand up and walk the other way. You might be wondering how much your decisions as a consumer can honestly make an impact. But I’m here to tell you that your actions do matter. Your decisions influence the people you know, and they influence the people they know, and on and on and on until an entire city, state, or even country is mobilized on the issues you care about. The little ripples we create have the capacity to one day change the world.

That’s all for now. I hope this got you thinking about where you put your money and why! Let’s all work together to make change happen.

Kohaku

Why Calling Someone Racist Isn’t Enough

We live in a day and age where it’s common for people to label each other. When we see somebody doing something we find problematic, most of us are pretty quick to cry “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobic” or pretty much any other label you can think of. But what are those labels really doing?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying it’s not important to call out problematic behavior. If somebody is using racial slurs, we have to stand up and do something to stop that. But it takes more than just labeling them racist.

Language matters. We still live in a society where most people define racism as a small-scale individual problem, not a systemic problem. So its no wonder we get into arguments about race all the time. Under that old definition, when you stop at telling someone “you’re racist,” you’re really implying:

  • You are a fundamentally bad person.
  • You don’t deserve your social standing and reputation.
  • I don’t like you, and I don’t want to talk to you.
  • Calling you racist means I’m not; this pacifies my conscience and tells me that I’m better than you.
  • You should be shut out of the social justice conversation because you are a symbol of exactly what we’re trying to eradicate.

I hope you can see my point: stopping at a label doesn’t solve anything. It only creates more divides, more arguments, more problems. It makes people less willing to have actual conversations, it makes the political atmosphere more toxic, and it makes people less likely to see the larger, systemic issues at play.

Because racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are not people problems. They are massive systems of oppression that manifest in the behaviors of both institutions and individuals.

So what can we do? Educate ourselves. Emphasize the systemic, socialized nature of the problem so that people stop equating labels with being fundamentally bad human beings. Exercise our power to change social institutions.

And yes, changing institutions often starts with changing individuals. So let’s start actually changing people. Let’s start having actual conversations. Let’s stop saying “you’re racist” and start saying “I think what you just said was a little problematic and here’s why.”

Let’s stop labeling, and start educating.