Forgiving, not forgetting.
When you forgive a person, or a country, or a culture for what they did to you, it doesn’t mean that you agree with their infractions or condone the wrong. It means that you’re not going to let that pain continue to prevent you from connecting, keep you away from joy, or steal your peace.
You’re giving up the hurt for your benefit, not theirs. You’re forgiving, but you’re not forgetting.
You might remember Dr. Danau Tanu from episode 146: Hidden Hierarchies in International Schools. Danau united her passion for social justice with her impressive Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology to author an industry breakthrough book: “Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School.”
In it, she exposed critical issues about racism and inequalities that were happening within a system that prides itself on global diversity and inclusion. And this week, it’s my honor to welcome back Danau to share an update about her work, current transitions, and ambitions for the future.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Pushing past the pushback
- Seeing the ugliness inside you
- The courage to say what many people think
- Using your privilege to effect change
- Learning by messing up
Listen to the Full Episode
Featured on the Show:
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- Sundae’s Website
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- IN TRANSIT Hub
- Ambition VIP Series
- Growing Up In Transit By Danau Tanu
- FIGT: Families in Global Transition
- TCK’s of Asia
- So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman
Catch These Podcasts / Articles:
- EP146: Hidden Hierarchies in International Schools
- NPR: Institutionalized or Systemic Racism
- Whiteness: A strategic rhetoric by Tom Nakayama
- Catrice Jackson
- Third Culture Kid Tim Brantingham
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, It is 7:00 am in New York, 1:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 6:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I am an intercultural strategist, transformation facilitator, and solution-oriented coach, and I am on a mission to help you adapt & succeed through ANY life transition.
It was morning in Bangkok, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep because I was up late talking to some dear friends. I kind of hobble over to the breakfast buffet, and grab some scrambled eggs, even though I wasn’t hungry. And I set my eyes on a really big table with one woman sitting there and I sat down across from her, but it was this awkward size table where it was such a big table that it was almost like we weren’t sitting across from each other, but I sat down. And she didn’t know this yet, but I did so on purpose because I wanted to talk to her. Because the day before, she made me cry. I knew who she was, but she didn’t know who I was. And by the time you’re hearing me share this, you probably think I sound like a creepy stalker, but I promise you, I was not. Closer to a fan, I am someone who admires her work and her cutting-edge research. The person I’m referring to is Dr. Danau Tanu, author of the book Growing Up In Transit. You might recognize her from episode 146: Hidden Hierarchies in International Schools. Welcome back to the podcast Danau.
Danau: Thank you so much Sundae. That was a very nice intro. The good old days of in-person conferences. Thank you really happy to be back, very excited for today. Thank you for inviting me back.
Sundae: Yeah, it breaks my heart that we aren’t having an in person conference because it is happening right now with FIGT but here we go. So, let me tell more about you Danau for our listeners, Danau Tanu is a visiting research fellow at Waseda University and a Japan Foundation fellow. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology. And is the author of the book, I mentioned, Growing Up In Transit: The Politics of Belonging At An International School. It is the first and only book on structural racism in international schools. As a child Danau, moved around with her mixed heritage family, speaking Indonesian, Japanese, and Chinese or Mandarin at home and English at international schools. She’s currently researching Tokyo’s global youth and volunteers as co-founder of TCK’s of Asia and for the Families in Global Transition Research Network.
All Right, Danau, so you were so kind to agree to come back today because our conversation that first took place was in October 2019, was in, the expats space at least, there weren’t a lot of people yet talking about this; little did we know that four or five months later COVID would hit and the whole Black Lives Matter movement took another level because of the killing of George Floyd. So, you were so kind to come back and help me understand what has changed since then.
And just a caveat here for the listeners, Danau and I are going to talk about a few terms that may be unfamiliar to some listeners, so I will spend a few minutes making sure we have a shared definition.
The first term is TCK. TCK: Third Culture Kids is a term coined by Ruth Hill Useem and made popular by David Pollack, and Ruth van Reken. Third Culture Kids are children who grow up or spend a significant part of their childhood living outside their parent(s)’ passport or home culture.
And in the DEI space (diversity equity and inclusion) we talked about institutionalized racism and whiteness.
Ijeoma Oluo the author of So You Want To Talk About Race, said in her 2020 NPR interview that Systemic Racism is “The subtle and not so subtle biases against people of color to disempower us and put us at risk. And so we’ve been fighting for job opportunities, for safety from violence, for equal education, for freedom from medical racism.”
She goes on to say that it is not “Upheld not by how you love or don’t love people of color but by how you participate with [the] systems.” So I hope that helps you get a taste of what we mean by that.
Whiteness is a term that originated in the mid-90s from scholars Dr. Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizek. Whiteness, rather than looking at individual “White people” refers to a system, as a discourse, and as an identity that had until then escaped close scrutiny, or at least by White scholars. And it, “Takes the unexamined practices and thinking, the invisible, and looks at what is often taken as a standard against which others are measured and explores who it benefits, and who it disadvantages.”
All right, so let’s dive in.
Sundae: So, tell me more about what has happened with you in schools since we last spoke.
Danau: Yeah. Thanks so much for that question. Absolutely. As you said so much happened and neither of us saw it have coming. But after the murder of George Floyd for one or two months, I think, there was a sense that I was just kind of like, “Well, we need to talk about this international schools too.” But before all of this, it just felt like international schools were – I don’t know if idolize is the right word. But it’s called an international school so it must be international, very proud of the diversity and everything. And so there was no room to question what was happening in these schools but after the murder of George Floyd. I think it was July, one of the alumni called Rachel Angle who is now a Ph.D. student wrote an article, very short article saying, “Hey international schools are not exempt from this. We should think about it,” and that went viral because a lot of the other alumni chimed in, myself included going, “Yeah, we need to talk about this.” And so from then on, international educators, who were of non-white backgrounds started to raise their voices as well. And there’s always been this association called Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color or AIELOC that had been around but they really took the lead as well as alumni. And so there’s been an acceleration of people trying to address this.
But also, you know, COVID has been happening at the same time. So it’s like a lot of schools have had to deal with going online and so on. And dealing with the pandemic as well as this move or push towards more an urge to address DIJ issues. But at the same time, I think sometimes online learning in some ways have accelerated it.
And then suddenly I’m seeing this that people are actually talking about it. And yeah that had a huge impact on me.
Sundae: So I’m wondering because I have so many things that are going on my mind right now. I’m wondering as the conversation quieted in the international community or is it now are people following through?
Danau: I think it depends on the schools. The conversation has not quieted, and those who suddenly found a voice or an opportunity to voice their experiences are not backing down. So that’s when myself included, of course. But I think we have started to see a bit of a push back where school communities have felt – some schools have said it’s become divisive, which I don’t think is an accurate description of what’s actually happening. If it needs to be addressed that needs to be addressed, right?
And some schools are trying to do a strategically, they know that they might get pushed back so they’re setting things up for the next 3-4 years to address this. And some schools have jumped into it.
But I have heard of international educators, at least one losing her job because she spoke up and so those kinds of pushbacks are happening. And it’s become more clear that systems of power work together. And a lot of people who are in it, don’t notice it. But leaders back other leaders and they can’t see what the issue is. And so, it becomes that one person who is voicing what a lot of people think but maybe it’s the one person who has the guts to voice it then it becomes just about that person.
Sundae: In your book. That brought me to tears. I shared how it just breaks me when you said you spent eight years of your life to uncover the racism that’s going on in schools and it’s like, “Why is it always the minority identity?” Right? Why is it always the ones that are impacted? You know what I mean? Why is it always the ones that are the ones with the least power in this system that are the ones that are dedicating their lives? So that’s what’s just breaks me. And hopefully, the more we have these conversations and more people get on board that will shift a bit, but–
Danau: It’s the same thing, right?
Sundae: Those who are sacrificing the most, that are risking the most, are the ones with the most to lose. And the ones that are close quietest and are maintaining the status quo are the ones who are benefiting most. It’s a big generalization but I think you know what I’m talking about in terms of bigger systems. So that that all happened, the attention is there, the conversations are still going on. Tell me more about you, if you don’t mind. What is been shifting in you, since all of this has been going on?
Danau: Yeah, so the last time we talked was 2019, and what prompted it, it was the Families in Global Transition Conference, the last in person one, at least for now, in Bangkok, and I’ve gone through a lot of internal processing since then. And I thought that, like I said, eight years of Ph.D., trying to deal with internalized racism, been there, done that, it was all done.
And then the FIGT conference just kind of triggered this whole new level or layer of internal processing. And I think during the Ph.D. it was more about me feeling as though growing up feeling inferior because I was Asian, not White, and not coming from an English-speaking family, that I do speak English now, but the second level, stage or phase was more about my I think hurt against being excluded by the whiteness. I would say whiteness in the schools, and I say “whiteness,” because I’m not trying to blame people or individuals, but the system, right? And coming to accept that I did actually grow up spending eight hours a day in a community, international school community, that was English-speaking and where the teachers were mostly White. And that no matter how much I fight this, I am part of that community. They are part of my community. They’re part of my childhood. And to process that hurt and coming to accept that was very part of the process.
And Sundae, you are part of the process as I told you before, but Ruth van Reken was part of the process as well. And through that as well, so two things happened at FIGT 2019. That was one of them. And then the other thing was, I was in a session with Tanya Crossman who’s a Third Culture Kid, Australian, third culture kid, has written a book as well called Misunderstood, and something that she was sharing – so she shared the story about how she was doing a session at an international school that was focusing on language and got the students to write a poem in whatever language they want. And so they’re like, “Really? Whatever language?” And like, “Yep mix the language up if you want, two languages, three languages, doesn’t matter.” And so they wrote this poem and then she got them to come up to the front of the class to read the poem and they all read it, some wrote, English, Italian poems, some wrote in complete Italian, whatever, all these different languages.
And then there was this one student who was Polish and this was, I think a school in South Africa if I’m not mistaken, but don’t quote me on that, and nobody else was Polish. Nobody else understood Polish, but she wrote the poem in Polish, came to the front of the class. Read it, nobody in the class understood it. But when she finished reading it Tanya says that everyone just like really applauded her. Clapped and applause and she says that she felt so celebrated and accepted. And when I heard this in, 2019, I just broke down and cried, and I couldn’t understand why, because I’m like, “Well, English is my first language. I don’t remember learning it. I never had a language issue at school. Why am I reacting so much?” And it took about two years to properly process this, where I felt that one of the hurts was towards whiteness and English speakers, but the other one was towards Japan.
So my mom is Japanese. My dad’s Indonesian of Chinese background and Japan also being a – sorry I forgot to mention that I felt that it had something to do with Japan, the reason I was reacting so much to this story. I didn’t quite understand why. Because I’ve never really identified as Japanese, but after two years of processing, I came to understand that, Japan being a former colonial power in Asia sees itself in oftentimes, in many ways as superior to a lot of the rest of Asia. And so being mixed, on the one hand, because I look Japanese and I sound Japanese, I sound like a native speaker, I do enjoy a lot of the privileges that come with the history. But on the other hand, I am also on the receiving end of Japanese sentiments against the rest of Asia, where they see the rest of Asia is inferior. And I think internally I had blocked out Japan. So whenever I introduce myself, my mother is Japanese, my father’s Indonesian, or I would say, “I’m Indonesian. I’m Chinese. I’m Canadian,” because nationality wise, I am. But I’ve never said that I’m Japanese.
And I’ve kind of blocked it out in that way. And I had a conversation with Tanya, and she kind of said, “Maybe saying that you were Indonesian was the easier answer because you know that Japan doesn’t accept you but Indonesia does accept you? But the thing is, that’s not the whole of your identity. Japan is part of your identity.”
And so I had to accept that Japan is part of my identity in the same way that I had to accept that White people were part of my childhood and community. I had to accept those in power in that sense, even though they’ve hurt me. And yeah, I don’t quite know how to express this, but that was really important to understand that racism in some ways doesn’t just negatively affect those who are not in power, but I think even those who are in power are hurt by it in a different way. In the sense that, I think I shared before with you, that if you can’t see other people’s humanity, if you’re interacting with so many can’t see their humanity because of their race, or their gender, or their accent, or whatever it is, it probably means that you don’t really see your own humanity as well. And it’s more difficult to pick up on because it doesn’t look like you’re suffering from that hierarchy and that racism.
Sundae: That’s huge. What makes me think about, is what I’ve learned from other educators, Catrice Jackson is one that comes to mind. She talks about, for example, White supremacy or whiteness, the culture of whiteness, those sorts of things. It’s like a toxin that is in your body. It’s not just toxic to other people, but it’s toxic to yourself. And it took a while for me, to really see what that meant and how that toxin is not just for others, but in its an internal process, it’s big. It’s really big.
What did you – I want to ask you a question? And the question is this, what did you give up when you accepted the Japanese side of yourself and that you were in community in whiteness?
Danau: That’s a really interesting question, interesting way to put it. I haven’t thought about it that way, but I think I had to let go of the hurt, probably. Different people have different ways of dealing with this, but in my case, I kind of verbally said, “I forgive Japan for looking down on Indonesia.” And just saying that I’m feeling quite emotional. But I had to forgive Japan. And as long as I don’t forgive Japan because it is my mother’s identity, it’s almost like I’m rejecting my mother’s identity. I care about my mom. She cares about me. And so I had to do that and I think I had to let go of the hurt, basically to do that. And letting go of the hurt, doesn’t mean, when you forgive someone or a country in this case, it doesn’t mean that what they did was right. It just means that you’re not gonna – how do you word it, I don’t have to hold it against them. You’re not going to let that hurt affect yourself. You’re not going to let that hurt prevent you from connecting. Yeah. Negatively affect you. I suppose.
Sundae: Danau, it’s so interesting. You say, “Give up the hurt,” and the word that’s coming up for me is, “Healing.”
Danau: Hmm. Yes, exactly. Yes. That’s exactly
Sundae: It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a scar, you’re allowing the wound to no longer be filled with salt. So to speak. The scar will always be there but your pain might change.
Danau: Yes. Yes. Totally. I think healing is the right word and also, I can’t sit around and pretend like I’m not half Japanese. My mother is Japanese. So I also benefit from that history, from the privilege. And so if I can’t deal, I don’t know how to word this but dealing with my hurt is also about seeing the ugliness inside of me. Because whenever we’re part of the privileged group or we’re trying to become part of the privileged group, there’s always this ugliness inside that appears. And this is not my word, somebody on Twitter, kind of used this word and who had read my book and said, “It helped her deal with the ugly inside,” and she’s a third culture kid. And I thought that was a really great way of wording it, “The ugly.” And so when you are part of the privileged group, we live in this world, I think it’s a myth, it’s a fantasy to think that we’re not affected by these attitudes. That we don’t have any sort of prejudice. It’s a complete fantasy.
We live in this world. We see it in the media. We hear it from our families and friends, it’s everywhere. So, of course, we’re going to pick this up. Even though we’re consciously going, ”I’m anti-racist. I’m all for DIJ,” myself included, but sometimes prejudices will crop up. And so yeah, you got to deal with the ugly inside and that’s a very liberating feeling. It’s awesome, but it takes courage to admit that it’s there.
Sundae: I connect with so much that you’re saying from the dominant identities that I hold. The ugliness is that toxin that was talking about before, the more I learn, the more I unlearn, I should probably say.
There are so many times that I learned by messing up. Right? And I’m an Intercultural strategist and I should know better. Just because I know doesn’t mean I always do better. Because I’m trying to do more and I mess up, I mess up. And I’ve had a couple experiences in the last six weeks where I messed up and how do I go back with my tail between my legs and say, “I’m sorry. Sorry, my whiteness was showing. Sorry, my straightness was showing. And I’m sorry if whatever impact that had on you.” And that’s hard. And there are times where I want to put the duvet over my head, but I know that’s also a privilege to be able to choose to do that.
Danau: Yeah, yeah.
Sundae: To hide the ugly. Working on the ugly. That’s what I meant, it’s the ugliness.
Danau: Yeah, toxin, I like the metaphor toxin as well because it is a toxin towards ourselves. But also, yeah, totally saying sorry is really hard but one encouraging thing for the audience’s that the first time is extremely hard and but if you can get over that and just kind of bite your tongue and do it, the second time will become easier. And I feel like in my experience, at least, that it becomes easier each time. But it’s always hard in some way. It’s never going to be totally easy.
Sundae: Yeah, I have a friend, we talk about this idea of something being real in raw, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what living is,”; that living real and raw is that trying and messing up and apologizing and going back to it again. And that’s really big. Thanks for sharing that. The topic is so big, but this is what I think happens when we go from the academic, the structural racism and institutions, and the things that are almost safe to talk about because they’re outside of us, right? And you’ve created a space where we could talk about the things that are inside of us. How those structures and institutions then have a really personal like, on a cellular level impact on us. So thanks for making space for that. What’s coming up for you right now? What is it that you want to say next?
Danau: What I wanted to say, I think connects with what I was saying, previously that this impacts everyone, and I found a great example of this is there’s a third culture kid called, Tim Brantinham, who wrote a blog. And in that blog, he says, You know, he grew up in Taiwan. So he spent 17 years of his first 18 years and Taiwan, but he says that he wasn’t really paying attention to Taiwan. He was always looking to the US. He’s American, his parents are American and this is, this is very common for third culture kids to be infatuated by their parent’s country. So there’s and there’s nothing wrong with that, but he also says that the common story of TCK’s they, repatriate, he repatriated and struggled. And then he realized that he should have paid more attention to Taiwan. And I asked international educators; Why wasn’t he paying attention to Taiwan? Was it because of this hidden curriculum in schools that didn’t pay attention to the local community in the way that we would, if we were living in our own countries because maybe it wasn’t English for whatever reason?
Was it, because of the structural racism that was permeating in the curriculum? And so on, was that why he wasn’t paying attention to Taiwan? And so his advice is to pay attention to your host country and get to know them, get to know the host country. So from that, if we’re gonna, if we address structural racism, it doesn’t just help the non-White kids while they’re in school, it also helps the White kids understand their childhood community. And my guess is that it will help them when they repatriate because at least they’ve got a connection, a meaningful connection to the places where they grew up. Because at the moment, if you don’t pay attention to the places that they’re going up, then when they return, what are they returning to? It’ll just be a building. The teachers are gone. The classmates are gone. You don’t connect with a building.
So I firmly believe that this is, if we address structural racism, it’s good for all students in international schools, including those who are part of the dominant culture.
Sundae: It’s hard. So how do you stay motivated to do what you do?
Danau: How do I stay motivated? I guess, in a way, it feels almost like a calling, I just have to say it. And seeing international educators who are struggling when those who are not part of the dominant culture in schools going to these AIELOC conferences meetings and seeing them, I think and we have these by BIPOC, affinity spaces. And I have noticed that the BIPOC Affinity spaces. And then spaces where you do have White educators, the atmosphere is completely different. I think in spaces, where there are a lot of White educators when they speak about DIJ, there’s a sense of hope that we’re making change and progress. When I go into the BIPOC spaces, there’s often somebody crying in there because it’s just been a very hard week, the pushback and whatever the racism that they experience, and it becomes a place for them to sort of survive. They need that space to survive their daily lives. And so seeing that, and then especially when somebody talks about, how they see it in the eyes of their students or when I hear young people, when I hear students talk about this, I’m just immediately in tears because I know what that felt like. So I think that’s what keeps me going. And because I’m in a privileged position, I will not lose a job by speaking up. And I feel I need to use that privilege to speak up.
Sundae: It’s beautiful. I do have hope, it’s hard to have hope sometimes, but I do have hope for when I’m seeing what’s going on in the schools in the conversations. And I look at my boys, you know, who have passport privilege, male privilege, they’ve got White privilege. They’ve got all kinds and I hear them have conversations at a level that I didn’t even have concepts for until I was in college.
These are not foreign concepts and I’m hoping that those things will impact their behaviors and the choices they make as they go further. So, I’m curious who talked a little bit about this the big picture of your work and the impact it’s having, the timeliness. I’m so grateful for the work that you did when you did so that when people were ready to listen, you had this to bring into the conversation.
For those of you listening who know my work, you may know that I am all about Ambitious Transformation. And perhaps the most ambitious transformation I can imagine is an equitable and inclusive world; a global community that respects the richness of the cultural, language, ethnic, racial, physical ability, sexual orientation, gender, age, and national diversity of its members. So thank you Danau for your contributions in that direction.
If you don’t mind, I’d love to focus on where you’re at right now, we talked about this idea of ambitious transformation in transition, a concept I like to talk to all my guests about. The first question when we talk about these transitions is, which transitions are you feeling right now?
Danau: Well, I am literally in transit with Sundae Bean right now. *laughter*
I have just moved to Japan from Australia. So physically, geographically, I’m in transit.
Yeah. So geographic transition is the big one and I was welcomed with a big earthquake coming here. Probably the biggest and longest I’ve experienced in my life, even though I’ve lived in Japan, this is my fourth time. One of the things that’s interesting is it’s my fourth time living here, third time in university, in a university setting. And so, there’s a sense of been there, done that and I am better at it now and much faster at making connections or whatever. But also, internal transition I suppose, I can’t get into it but a lot of transitions with the family. A lot of healing that’s happened with the family. That’s been extremely important. I don’t quite know how to share it without sharing too much.
Sundae: Yeah. Right.
Danau: And yeah, let’s other personal stuff happening.
Sundae: Just that already says so much, right? You’re going through a geographical transition, a professional transition. And there’s all kinds of other things are happening the background. And that’s one of the reasons why I find it so important to us that question, because if we don’t have a window into that, what we see is a successful researcher and academic. It helps us see you’re also human too. You’re also doing life too. So when it gets to transformations, so I talk about internal led, external led, and performance led. I’m curious, you’ve got your Ph.D., you’ve got a fellowship. Are you performance led or other things happening in your life that are pulling you more?
Danau: I think a lot of it would be internally led, especially right now with universities, my alma mater in Australia, the University of Western Australia has just abolished my department, anthropology, and also completely reduced research in Asian Studies and International Relations. All these departments that study our societies. And it’s the move has been led by an Asian vice-chancellor which I find extremely unfortunate. And so in that sense, I think my disillusionment with academia means that I am not holding ambition in that sector. And so a lot of it is internally led where I’ve seen the impact of my research for my Ph.D. How it’s spoken to people. Not just analytically but to their hearts, when somebody says, “I read it and it helped me deal with the ugly in my heart.” And so I want to do more research and I love it. And in the hopes that the next one will also help another sector in our society.
Sundae: Yep. Totally so much wisdom. Thank you so much. I’m taking away a lot Danau. I never know what’s going to come up when we talk. It’s been really powerful. And my hope is that the people who are listening hear it from the place that we’re processing from, right? There’s a lot of big things that we’ve talked about today. Some of the things can be scary for people to hear if it’s not something that they feel ready or they are not there on that journey. So it’s been really, really interesting to start this conversation and keep it going.
Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s meant the world to me to have you.
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Thank you for joining me on IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I’m so grateful for you as listeners as well to be here. I will leave you with the words of Brene Brown: “Never underestimate the power of being seen.”
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