engage /inˈgāj/, v.

Former President Obama said these words to a NY Times reporter when he was asked why he’d always — and continued to, through his presidency — read so much.

“At a time…when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.” — Barack Obama

So many of the fights and conversations we’re having today centralize on this idea. People are divided by differences and react by marginalizing others, rather than by “unifying” and “engaging.” This is the driving force behind the Women’s Marches that happened all around the globe on Saturday, as well as the sentiment that’s residing at the backbone of this blog post.

Of all the difficult conversations I’ve had these past couple weeks, a couple of them, that I had about a particular column in The New York Times, continue to sit on the back burners (even if they don’t directly correlate to the Inauguration). Eddie Huang published a column recently about the [Western] cultural stereotype that Asian [American] men aren’t desirable as romantic partners.

I am, very embarrassed to admit as an Asian American woman, that I wasn’t very attuned to this issue.

When the #StarringJohnCho social media movement happened over the summer, I saw it speaking more toward the lack of Asian [American] representation in the media. I knew some people were intentionally Photoshopping John Cho to be the lead of romantic movies, but this seemed (ironically) subsidiary to the larger issue of Asian representation.

It was only after seeing the outcry following the Steve Harvey show segment and reading Huang’s article that I realized just how much Asian men had been pushed to the sidelines in regards to romantic relationships. In the wake of my realization, I sent Huang’s article to some of my friends to pick their brains.

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Photo by Courtney Cheng

I felt confused. Confused because I wasn’t sure how I’d been so ignorant of something that was happening to my own community, and because I wasn’t sure if my own dating history made it seem like I was perpetuating this problem.

The conversations I ended up having with my friends only confused me more, and made me feel helpless and frustrated.

It’s been several days since I had these conversations, and I’m still a little uncertain of how to put my emotions precisely into words, but because I’m a writer, I’m giving it my best shot:

Hearing that you’ve been ignorant about someone’s marginalized experience can be confusing because you don’t share that same experience. It’s going to be difficult — or almost impossible — for you to occupy their perspective completely. And if you’re hearing this from someone you care about deeply, it will also cause pain and guilt because you’ve been unaware of what they’ve been going through.

Don’t let your confusion encourage your blissful ignorance. Don’t ignore their experience. Do your best to understand.

I realize, at the end of the day, the issue of regarding Asian men as equally worthy romantic partners may not seem as pressing as the Civil Rights Unity Principle from the Women’s March:

“We believe Civil Rights are our birthright, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

But small things add up. If we are not in the practice of hearing, listening, and engaging with people over their dating struggles (which does actually stem from a much deeper, more violent historical backdrop), we can’t possibly hope to unify over clashes much greater.

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