“J” On the Controllable and Uncontrollable: Kingston’s Journal #34

Image result for white privilege
A story about a colored man who feels held down by “white privilege.”

I have a story to share about a person I met in a language exchange in Bangkok many months ago. Let’s call him “J.” J is a Georgian from Atlanta living in SE Asia as a freelance photographer. He shares his experience in this region as a man of color. First as an English teacher in Cambodia, then currently as a freelancer. He tells me that for a meet n’ greet as a teacher with parents, he was put all the way in the back with the white teachers up front.

And complains that even on this side of the world, he’s still being held down by the “white man.” He continues talking about how tough he has it because of his physical appearance and shifts to talk about how hard he works but not as hard as Asians like me. He resisted all reasoning I had on the stereotypes I brought up. My impression on him grew more and more distasteful with every passing minute. We both went on to meet new people and I was relieved.

This encounter got me thinking, “J” is the classic archetype of the “victim” individual in the US. Victim as in “everything is beyond my control, other people have hurt me and I can’t do a thing about it” type. It reminds me of the social psychology term “behavioral confirmation” wherein if you act a certain way, you become more and more like it. So in “J’s” case, acting like a victim unable to control outcomes makes you more and more like a victim.

On the flip side, if you focus on things you can control, it engages your mind and gets you thinking on solutions to solve your problems. Each problem you solve in turn builds momentum on the next hurdle. In other words, when you focus on what you can control what you’re able to influence expands. Because life is a series of problems, the more of which you solve, the greater your exertion of power.

Kingston S. Lim

March 6, 2020

Cebu City, Philippines

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