We Just Need A Minute

We needed to turn off social media and talk out our post-Election Day feelings. If you want to let us know how you're doing, leave us a voicemail at (971) 800-1389, or email us at racistsandwichpodcast@gmail.com.


ALAN MONTECILLO: Hi, this is a, should I call it emergency episode? 

SOLEIL HO: [laughs] 

ALAN: I don't know. 

ZAHIR JANMOHAMED: This is an oh, fuck episode. 

SOLEIL: This is the, it's the apocalypse episode. 

ALAN: Yeah, so, this isn't our usual thing. This is Racist Sandwich, the podcast about food and race, class and gender. This is obviously not one of our usual deals. Normally, we talk to chefs, purveyors of color, people in the food industry, writers of color about their food stories and what food means to them and highlighting people of color in food. And we are not gonna quite do that today. 

SOLEIL: Yeah, we're a bit ahead of schedule today, but it's November 9th. And we woke up to a very interesting set of circumstances. 

ZAHIR: I mean, let's just fucking say it. Trump won, you know? It's ridiculous. You know what I mean? So, it's so absurd. It's so, we came to the studio today. We booked this time to record an intro for an episode we plan to air next week, but let's be honest: I'm grieving, and I think many are grieving. And I think I'm very confused, and I'm very anxious, and I'm very frightened. I'm a person of color, I'm a Muslim American, my parents are immigrants. To watch Donald Trump win, it's just, it really questions so much of my assumptions about this country. Not that I had rose-tinted glasses. 

So, I'm really thankful that we had this space, that we can talk. I feel so lucky for that. And so, I wanna just talk, and hopefully, we'll hear other people as well too. Maybe you guys can call in and give your thoughts. But I just wanna talk with two people I really respect and admire. So, Soleil and Alan, I'm glad we're here. And I appreciate you guys being so supportive of all my rants on Twitter. 

SOLEIL: [laughs] 

ALAN: Zahir, what did you do immediately after you knew he was gonna win or your found out he was gonna win? 

ZAHIR: You know, I'm taking a writing class, and I got out around 9:00 and turned my phone off. Which was really beautiful to spend from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm during the peak results coming in, working on short stories. And I turn it on, and all of a sudden, I'm getting, like my phone is blowing up with text messages. And I don't get usually a lot, and people are saying, "Are you OK? Are you OK?" And then, "Have you called Mom and Dad? Have you called your sister, your brother?" And it's like, I just thought, my god. And I remember I walked out to Hawthorne in SE Portland, and I see a woman by the bus. And she's, this woman is crying. She's a white woman, and she's crying. She's talking. I could overhear her 'cause she's speaking so loud. And she's like, "How many sexual assault allegations was it? Was it 12? Was it 13? To be honest, I lost count." 

And I think there's so much in this election for so many of us to grieve. I mean, Donald Trump didn't just insult Muslims and Mexicans, but it was also his actions, sexual assault allegations, his anti-Semitic ads, his making fun of disabled people, making fun of people who are overweight. It's just so much. And I remember walking back home, and I just couldn't-- I was gonna take the bus, but I was just in tears. And I just didn't know what to do, and I was a mess. 'Cause I just didn't really know. I didn't really know what to process, and I kept calling people, trying to ask them, "What's happening? I've been off the news for two hours." 

And I felt like in those two hours, so much had changed. It looked like he was winning around 6:00, when I went to class. But by 9:00 it was like this reality, and I didn't really know. I don't want to leave America, and I don't think I'll have to leave America. I hope not. But there's 50% of Americans that supported Trump. There's 50% of Americans that, according to ABC, want Muslims to be kicked out. And I wanna fight, and I wanna stay here. And my parents came to American from Tanzania. They had to leave. My dad was a medical student in Uganda in the '70s, and Indians were forced out. 

Like, it's just a scary thing to think that we have this president who so openly attacks who I am as a person and who so many people that I love. And the people are OK with that. I don't get that. It's just this confusion, and I just kept watching: I had CNN on one tablet and PBS on another. And then Claire, my partner, had it on her phone, and we're just watching, trying to figure out, well, maybe one of these outlets will explain what's happening. And we couldn't figure out. And we woke up at 5:00. And I was making some jokes with my partner, and I was trying to joke about, we would make jokes. And we'd just go right back to this. And it was so futile. And this morning, I started telling jokes. So, I don't know. I'm just confused, and I'm sad. And I know people who keep saying, "You gotta be strong!" But right now, I don't wanna be strong. I wanna just grieve, and I wanna just acknowledge that I'm really hurt. I used to work in Congress. When I was a young kid-- 

ALAN: For Keith Ellison. 

ZAHIR: Yeah. And to be honest, I saw this happening, man. I saw the Tea Party. I saw the way they attacked Obama for being a Kenyan and for being Muslim. I saw the way they attacked gay people. I saw the way they attacked my Jewish friends who worked on the Hill as if like, "Oh, my god. You guys are more loyal to Israel than the United States." Like, that bullshit, anti-Semitic stuff. And I remember trying speaking about it, and I left Congress in 2011 'cause the Republicans took over. And I just was like, this is wild. I can't take this. And I thought, OK, well, maybe things will be different. Things are so bad now, and I don't really know. And I'm really frightened. I am so critical of the United States. I've written so many articles critical of foreign policy, but this is my country. 

I was born and raised in California. I don't wanna leave. I want a future with my partner here, you know? And I don't wanna leave. I tried leaving. I tried going to India. It wasn't, I love India, but this is my home. So, no one's gonna make me leave, and I don't want to. And I'm not going to, [chuckles] but maybe I'll have to, you know? So, I'm just scared. I'm supposed to write this article. I'm supposed to figure out what to say. I have no idea what to say. 

SOLEIL: It freaks me out how little I matter in the scheme of things, you know? It's like, what am I doing? What am I working towards? It's really discouraging, and for a lot of people, it's just gonna be today's just Wednesday. It's gonna be fine. They don't have to worry about their families. They don't have to worry about like-- I just have these images in my head of I don't know...violence, and I'm worried about my family that's in the Midwest. And it's just like really.... Oh, I hate crying. I feel so lame! But you know, it's just...why did we come here? 

ALAN: Yeah. It's not just Trump the man. It's that it's...OK...that white nationalism is OK. 

ZAHIR: Yeah. Absolutely. That we matter less. You know, Alan, you wrote a beautiful thing on Facebook. Can you talk about it and share? 

ALAN: Oh, gosh. Sure. Right. So, I wanna back up a second, and I'll sort of explain the context behind it. I took kind of a long walk home after leaving-- I basically was at an election party, if we can still call it that, last night. And I follow politics pretty closely. As soon as it was clear to me that this thing was over, I just said I need to walk home, and it was a couple miles. But it was a half-hour walk, but I just walked home. And then...I felt...I feel kind of split in both directions, and I'm turning both of those sets of feelings in my head over and over and over again. And one of those things is kinda the brave part of me that says, "This isn't over. We have to fight for justice." Our families--our families, all three of us--they've been through much worse. Hopefully, they won't have to go through anything close to that. My parents grew up under martial law. My grandfather was captured by the Japanese. And it's not over, right? So, that's half of me. 

And the other half of me says, "I should just go home, right?" My parents are in the Philippines, and if I get shot in the Philippines, it won't be because I'm Filipino. It'll just be because it's not safe. And...you know, my partner's white. I think all of us have white partners. Can we hold their hands while we walk down the street? Just asking yourself those things. 

But the reason why--and I'll get to the thing that you mentioned, Zahir, in a minute--is I think we have, both our listenership and in our peer groups and in our city, a lot of well-meaning, nice, good white liberal friends. And so, I sensed around me a kind of sense of shock and hopelessness around many white progressives. Like, how could this happen? I can't believe this. I'm so ashamed for my country. How could this happen here, right? I had to go home and write something. It's the braver part of myself, right? It's the part of myself that says that...wants to believe this isn't over, that chooses courage over self-preservation. So, I'll just go ahead and read it. 

OK. So, this is to my dear, beloved, white liberal friends and my friendly acquaintances. I don't even mean that ironically. These are people I care about very much and people I respect, a lot of people I went to college with. 

"Take the time you need to process your disbelief and your sense of shame. Then stand up and do something to change who we are, to reckon with our sins, and to unlearn the toxicity of white supremacy. Because this is who we are. And yeah, just a sidebar, we spend so much time saying, 'This is not who we are.' No, this is who we are. We are a congenitally racist and violent empire. Our wealth was built on the backs of slaves and through the near-extermination of Native Americans. We have a historical memory so brief that we think those sins happened a long time ago. Ask anyone in East and Southeast Asia: 1865, end of the Civil War? That's not a long time ago. We also have historical memories so brief that we think this is somehow unprecedented, and it's not. Until now, we've thought bad things happen elsewhere and that we're special. People have done terrible things to each other on massive scales for thousands of years. We've just always thought that we're better than everyone else, and the jig is up. 

But here's the thing: People worse off than you or me have been through much more and have fought much harder than I'm asking you to. Well-meaning white folks often ask," and really ask us as well a lot on this podcast, "'What can I do? What can I do?'" And they're talking about food in that context, but you know, they mean it in a different way now, I think. It's not my job to prescribe it for you, but just write down some things you're good at, and think about where can I apply those skills to protect people who have less power than you do? 

I'm an American, same as you, but since the United States has elected Donald Trump as president, we've confirmed, we've re-confirmed that you are more legitimate Americans than we are, even if you voted against him. That's critical. Because white nationalists look at you, and they see a wayward soul. They look at us, and they see invaders. But I'm not going anywhere. You're not going anywhere, Zahir.... 

And this is gonna sound cheesy here, 'cause I haven't, I was thinking about this on the bus, and I was saying this when we were recording: I've never felt any more contrived attempt to channel my ancestors or whatever. I don't know. But my grandfather was captured by the Japanese. He had to walk 60 miles in the Bataan Death March. He would've been killed if he walked too slowly. My parents lived under martial law. By the way, the Philippines just buried Ferdinand Marcos in their Hall of Heroes. So, just goes to show that we don't really learn from our sins. 

But even still, even with all that, people much worse off than me have fought much harder than I'm asking myself to. So, it's fine to feel hopeless right now. But if you've decided your hopelessness is permanent, it means you've also decided that white supremacy is permanent. And don't tell me how sorry you are. It's not that I don't believe you. It's not that I don't believe it's sincere. I mean, it's that your sorrow won't help anybody. It won't help me, it won't help Soleil, it won't help Zahir unless it's translated into action. So, that's the brave part of me, right? That's the-- 

ZAHIR: Thanks for sharing that. 

ALAN: Yeah. You know, that's how I feel in my good minutes. You just kinda just try to get up, and, I mean, it hasn't been that long. But...just pulling myself out of bed and then just being out in the world was the best I could do today. And just walking down the street with my head held high.... So, you know, but I wouldn't be lying if there wasn't part of me that said, mm, maybe...maybe I should just go back to Manila. I don't know. I don't think I will, but like-- 

ZAHIR: You know, I mean, Soleil, I know you're moving to Mexico. How do you feel? And I guess we're breaking that news now. 

ALAN: Right. [laughs] 

ZAHIR: Soleil, our awesome, amazing-- 

ALAN: Aw geez. Yeah. 

ZAHIR: --co-host is moving to Mexico. 

ALAN: Independent of this cataclysmic event happening, you were already planning to move to Mexico. 

ZAHIR: And she has an extra bedroom for me too, which I heard I'm gonna move into. Thank you for inviting me. [laughs] 


ZAHIR: How do you feel about it now, after this news? 

SOLEIL: Yeah, I had plans to move to Mexico for months now, to move in with my mom, actually. Because I don't know. It's not important. But it's unrelated, but I do feel, I don't know. I mean, I couldn't sleep last night. And I was thinking, you know, what if he just decides to nuke Mexico? You know, I'm fucked. Everyone's fucked. We're all just fucked. And so, I don't know. I mean, I'm not gonna be like kickin' it and sticking my finger up in the Northern direction. It's not like that at all. 

ALAN: What do you-- Maybe it's too soon, but what did you do, or what have you done to just kind of be-- How'd you pull yourself out of bed and come here and just be a person? 

SOLEIL: [chuckles] Oh, man. I don't know. I just, what helps is appointments. I was like, aw, I gotta go meet Alan and Zahir. [laughs] 

ALAN: Yeah, I know. Blocks on your Google calendar that are solid colors, and say, "Yeah, I have to get out of the house." 

SOLEIL: I have to do stuff. 

ZAHIR: I will say one thing. We've been fortunate to be profiled in a bunch of publications, and I'm super thankful for everyone who's profiled us. I will say this, though: Every goddamn time I've been in an interview with someone, I swear to you, I've talked about--you know, I'm a journalist, a freelance journalist--I have struggled to get Portland media to write more complicated stories about people of color. So, we'd launch our own thing, and I'm so happy that it's done well. But a lot of the stories, like we've been trying to tell white America these stories for such a long time. When I was working in Congress, and I saw the way the Tea Party was spreading this white nationalism, was spreading anti-Semitism, was spreading xenophobia, Islamophobia, and we were like, "Yo, this is off the chain. This is bad. This is really bad." And people were like, "Oh, yeah, yeah. It's a fringe element. It's a fringe element." And it kept growing. 

ALAN: It's economic anxiety, Zahir. Don't you know? Jesus. 

ZAHIR: And I remember-- Look. I wrote a piece. I wrote a piece in 2012 about there were Republicans that were putting lists of young Muslim interns, posting them online saying these are possible spies. And these are kids from Harvard and Georgetown who were just interning on Capitol Hill. I got my start as a 15-year-old intern many, many years ago. And I remember trying to get people to pay attention. I couldn't even get Democratic leadership to pay attention. Like, "Oh, it's a fringe thing." I'm like, this is House leadership. Sue Myrick, right? Congressman Sue Myrick leading members of Congress. 

ALAN: People with power. 

ZAHIR: Yeah. And they're like, "Oh, it's a fringe, it's a fringe group, fringe group." And that fringe just grows and grows and grows. And so, partly, I'm also angry today 'cause man, fuck. No one listened to us. 

I also wanna talk about sexism because I was very fortunate to meet Secretary Clinton when I worked in Congress. And every politician has what they call a briefing book. She had to double her briefing book because men are always trying to, we're always trying to undermine her intelligence. So, she had to know twice as much as everyone else. And I saw there's such blatant sexism in US politics. It's like unreal. Women who would come for job interviews, they would be ranked about how attractive they are. We saw this at Harvard, trying to rank soccer recruits by how attractive they are. We shouldn't think that oh, when you're educated, you all of a sudden stop acting like an asshole. 

And I saw the kinds of-- I mean, I know she has her flaws. But to see the amount of sexism also in selection, the amount of misogyny that some men would refuse to vote for her simply because she's a woman. That's like real shit, and that's awful. And I just think there's so much to parse out about this news. I don't know what to say. It's just, it's insane. And I see the way my partner deals with sexism being a professor. And I see what my sister-- It's just like, it's awful. I don't know what to say. It's just awful. But it's been there for so long, and people have been talking about it. 

Junot Diaz has this great line, like "the word 'white people' is like the word Voldemort in Harry Potter. It's like the word that no one can say." 

ALAN: Can't say! 

ZAHIR: I see this when I'm in writing workshop where people are talking about my short stories and like, "This is a story about identity and about hybridity and about--" 

SOLEIL: [laughs] 

ZAHIR: And it just takes someone to say, "Isn't Zahir writing about white people? Like about being a person of color in America?" And someone's like, "Yeah!" But no one will say it! I mean, what the hell?! It's incredible. And Hari Kondabolu says like, we have to be named. Soleil is not just a chef. She's a Vietnamese American chef, you know? Alan is a Filipino American. Whereas white people are not used to being named! And so, right now, what I wanna do on this show--and I'm so happy with this podcast--we need to name people! If you're a white reporter covering race, write about your whiteness. Write about the limitations of what you cannot see. 

I realize as a man, there are certain experiences I just don't have. There's certain privileges that I have walking in a male body in this world. I have privileges. There's certain things, no matter how many times I read Roxanne Gay's books, I can't get certain things. But white people are the fucking experts on everything! And I know it's not just white people. I know, I just got a text message: I guess 1/3 of Latino voters apparently voted for Trump. So, there's a lot that I still need to unpack. But there were white nationalists, like David Duke supporting Trump-- 

ALAN: He's endorsed by the Klan. And he won. 

ZAHIR: I don't know. I mean, I guess, I mean, I was wrong. I'll be honest. I was wrong about this election. I wrote a piece on Sunday in a leading newspaper in India, and I was wrong. So many times. [nervous chuckle]. 

SOLEIL: Yeah. I mean, I just had a conversation with a friend yesterday about racial gaslighting, right? 

ZAHIR: What is that? Can you explain? 

SOLEIL: Well, gaslighting, it's sorta the idea that someone will make you feel crazy for believing what you believe or saying what you're saying, for expressing your experience as what it is. 

ALAN: You're being dramatic. You're over-reacting. 

SOLEIL: Right. Absolutely. 

ALAN: Your concerns aren't real. They're just words. 

SOLEIL: Yeah, it's not racism! It's just buh buh buh. It's just economic anxiety! There is no white supremacy. There is no sexism anymore. We're post-racial. But now, we can't say that. People can't fucking say that anymore. We're done. 

ALAN: Watch them try to say it. 

SOLEIL: Yeah. 

ALAN: They'll try to say it. 

SOLEIL: We have the charts now! 

ZAHIR: But like, right now, I just feel like I'm not gonna-- I worked too damn hard to get to where I am in my life, and I don't mean in terms of my career but in terms of my own comfort with my identity as a person of color. It took me a long-- This morning, I woke up this morning early, and I just emailed so many of my writing teachers: My friend, David Mura, Japanese American poet, my friend, Garrett Hongo. These are writers that taught me so much about my identity to make me feel comfortable saying I'm a writer of color. And I just thanked them 'cause I thought like, I didn't know, I don't know what I would do without people like that, or June Jordan, African American poet who helped me be comfortable with saying, "I'm a person of color, and that's a beautiful thing." 

'Cause I don't know about you guys, but I grew up in America, and people teased me. First time I kissed white girls, and white girls are like, "Oh. my god! I've never touched someone with that skin color!" Like, fuck you! 

ALAN: Oh, my god. 

ZAHIR: Seriously. That's the America I grew up in. But you never really talk about it 'cause you think that's normal. And then it's so much later in life, you're in therapy, you're hanging out with friends, and you're just like, "Oh, yeah. A white girl said that to you too?" 

ALAN: Yeah, there's so much time and effort to pull yourself up out of that and just say, "No! I'm valuable," and you're not, you can't just let that be squashed. It's kind of this numbness where it's like...my brain has already gotten there to accept it. This is happening, that this is not unprecedented, and people have done shitty things to each other. People seem to love Duterte back in the Philippines, and...the Communist party's enveloping Hong Kong. And people have been through worse. That's, my brain's there. My heart's a little, few steps behind there.... 

The only thing I'm thinking about is what can I do? What should I do? For me, that's the only thing I can do to feel OK. 

ZAHIR: If I'm just gonna be like straight up: Right now, what I want to do, and what I probably will do, is I'll probably leave the United States. That doesn't mean I'm gonna leave forever, but you know, I have to say this: Just being, not that India or Tanzania where my parents were born and raised is a perfect place. But I swear to you, it is so nice to walk and to feel a little bit like everyone kinda looks like me. Like I can just, if I.... And it's just, whereas here, I'm like a fucking freak in Portland, and everyone I have to explain to people just where I'm from before we can start talking about like, "Oh, look at the Warriors lineup this year." 

ALAN: And you're from here. That's the thing. 

ZAHIR: Yeah, I'm just like, at some point, like-- 

SOLEIL: If you are a white person listening, and you're wondering what to do, and you feel really...powerless and frightened, buy your Muslim friend their groceries this week. 

ZAHIR: Yeah, seriously. I know! Totally. 

SOLEIL: Offer up rides to places. Fix your friend's bike. There's all these little things that you can do right now that are helpful for us. Because I can't live my life right now. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. And if someone offered to [chuckles] take me out for some pho? I'll take it! 

ZAHIR: This attack has been going on for so long. It really has been. I mean, when I was a kid, man, people called me sand nigger all the time. All the time, dude! People said, "Oh, is Khomeini your uncle?" I'm Indian, dude. I'm not Iranian. And besides, that's such an awful thing to say. I was born in '76. I dealt with that. I dealt with the way that my parents-- My dad went to a premier medical school in Africa called Makerere in Uganda. My dad would be made fun of by his patients: "Oh, you went to an African medical school?" And I'm sure you probably face it too, both of you guys, where like, our parents are such beautiful, awesome people. Yeah, my dad might have an "accent," but my dad can school anybody on Shakespeare, can school anybody on Carl Jung. But people think oh, because he talks that way, he may not be smart. I can't tell you how much that hurts me. That hurts me so much! My dad may not know what crème fraiche is, but he's not a stupid man. 

SOLEIL: So, yeah. I guess one thing that I've been thinking about is also just...and I've talked about this before, but food publications, food media and social media and the ways in which such publications exist in a time like this. I would just, I just am so...I'm such a live wire right now. If I see someone promoting something, promoting like a parfait or another fucked up pho dish, I'm done, man! I'm so fucking done. I don't have the patience anymore for this shit. And I think honestly, a food publication or this lifestyle shit, this Instagram shit, we can't keep allowing people to make these kind of refuges away from politics or from, just being raced in America means that you're presenting politics, you're making it political. But like, there...it just doesn't make any sense. You're just letting it happen! You're...if you're letting things go business as usual, it's, you're denying that there's a problem. And you're letting people just pretend that people aren’t in danger right now. People are in danger! Our families are in danger. 

And so, I would just ask that these editors, these people out there, these writers who are getting ready-- I understand that you gotta make your money, but consider at least using some of those resources to focus on things that do matter right now in the immediate. Because I just don't....I don't even know. I can't look at this shit. I have to turn off Twitter because I keep seeing these you know, one publication retweeted this story about cocktails to drink after election day! And it's just like, fuck you, man! UGH! It's insane. 

ZAHIR: I'll just say, I've never talked about this on the, really at all. But when I was 25, I witnessed this mass violence in India, and one of the weirdest, hardest things--this is the book that I'm writing--one of the things that was really tough was...you know....is watching people killed in one part of the town, [holding back crying] and then I would come home, and these kids were playing cricket. And they're asking me to take them to see Spiderman. And it's the same city. We're talking like a distance of like five kilometers. And I just feel that way right now. I don't get it. Some people are literally dying. Some people are being assaulted. And it's just one thing I don't understand about-- I just turned 40, and there's still so much about this world I don't get. I don't get how you just play baseball, and others are just really fighting for their lives. And I don't understand. 

When I would see these photos of these African American men [pushing back tears] attacked by police officers, and I used to see someone posting like, "Oh, check out this trailer for the new whatever superhero movie," and I thought, I know they don't mean to insult. But come on. Come on, guys. I don't get it. 

I just got this email from my friend, Garrett, and he's a Japanese American poet. His parents were in an internment camp, and he just says like-- Can I just read this? He said, he's such a beautiful man: "For those of us who are artists, and for those of us who are committed to justice, we must continue to see what others refuse to see, speak the unheard, tell the untold. We must continue to imagine a world of love, equity, justice, and truth. To imagine ways we can move beyond and above this disastrous moment in American history. Keep speaking out. Keep creating your work. Keep gathering and strengthening our ties. We have work to do." 

ALAN: I have work to do. 

ZAHIR: Yeah. 

SOLEIL: Yeah. Fuck Donald Trump. 

ZAHIR: [laughs] 

Transcribed by StoryMinders