We are expecting our first child, a girl, in September ’17. And, as I sit here reflecting on the oncoming train that is fatherhood, my thoughts converge around my work in innovation and technological trends — what kind of environment, society will my daughter grow up in? These are my musings on how the future will manifest in the life of my daughter.
Reading the recent news out of Charlottesville this weekend has given me pause, a pervasive worry followed by a cold sweat that only seems to spread with each passing glance at my Facebook feed. It is encouraging to see so many people, friends express outrage at these blatant displays of racism and violence, but these events seem only to be a part of the rising tide of callousness, if not direct disregard for equality and minority rights perpetrated by the sitting administration.
And it makes me think of my daughter and the kind of environment I want to raise her in.
From a genetic perspective, my little daughter will be half-Chinese and half-Turkish/Kurdish. In terms of cultural background, she will grow up in a discordant blend of modern and traditional Hong Kong, American, and Turkish traditions layered with Christian values and beliefs. She will be a hodgepodge of everything that is right, or perhaps everything that is wrong, with our society today, depending on your particular point of view. She will be a global citizen, steeped in the beauty and wealth that cultures bring while blessed with an innate ability to communicate and relate across barriers. She will also be a symbol of the persecuted minority, burdened by hurtful labels and the weight of judgement that comes with each of them.
But most importantly she will be my daughter, and I want her to be able to achieve whatever she sets her mind to.
We currently live in Turkey, hardly a bastion of equality or a protector of minority rights. In fact, one could draw a plethora of terrifying similarities between the sitting presidents of these two countries, countries to which I’m so intricately tied. Although I would be wrong to call Turkish society overtly racist, a place I’ve been greeted with by an abundance of friendly questions and innocent curiosity, there is also a pervasive ultra-nationalist Alt-Right movement here, a movement that blames foreigners for their misfortunes, erupts in social media-fed frenzies of violence, and continues to push an anti-foreigner, anti-minority political agenda.
Here we call them the Grey Wolves, and they are again gaining influence.
As an example, in 2015, a group of Grey Wolves youth burned down a Chinese restaurant and attacked a group of Korean tourists while protesting the Chinese government’s alleged abuse of Uighurs in Xinjiang/East Turkestan. The leader of the Grey Wolves, policital leader and MHP chair Devlet Bahçeli, in defense of the group of attackers, said, “What is the difference between a Korean and a Chinese? They both have slanted eyes.”
Up until this moment, I had always considered going back to the US as our safe Plan B if ever the safety of my family was threatened, implicitly or explicitly. But now I’m not so sure the US is much of a safe Plan B anymore.
Where will my little girl, with beautiful slanted eyes and a infinitely curious face of indiscernible origin, feel safe? Where will she have a chance to dream big and not be dragged down by arbitrary lines determined not by her character, will or passions but by the ethnicity of her parents, grandparents and all those that came before her? Where will she be free?
The following is my dream for her, a place where she can grow up without worries of being judged for her race, her background, or her blend of cultures. I don’t know if we’ll see such a place in this world, but I know it is out there somewhere.
My daughter is now 12 and she is sitting at her desk, finishing her term paper. The topic, “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up”. Classic. She went out and interviewed several professionals in various fields — a AI engineer, a data scientist, a medical robotics specialist, and a social digital entrepreneur — before deciding on the topic of her assignment.
Around the kitchen table we’ve had plenty of discussions about the future, and she knows that the occupations and roles she sees today are hardly indicative of the future that awaits her tomorrow. She will create her own job, carve out her own role, blending the needs of society with the rapidly changing face of technology and innovation. She needs to be prepared for anything, molding a mentality that can constantly learn and adapt and be excited about change.
She puts down the final paragraph and looks it over one more time with a confident nod. “It’s time for bed!” I call out to her. She smiles back at me.
The next day we walk to school together, where she is greeted by a loud cheer from her gaggle of friends — white, black, asian, hispanic, and a blend of all their various combinations. I smile to myself: I’m probably the only one who notices that particular characteristic anymore, a dying remnant of our old way of thinking. For them, my daughter and her friends, they are just Simon, Lena, Samuel, Mika, Eli, Ella and others. They are just friends, all laughs and adolescent pranks, sharing stories from their weekend and snacks from their lunchboxes. What is in the color of their skin?
Mika wants to grow up and be a civic game designer, creating digital UX systems for governments to interact with their constituents fueled by game mechanics that promote civic participation. Ella says she wants to be a professor like her parents, seeking to redefine life-long learning through a blend of virtual and physical reality environments to help humanity adapt quicker to new categories of knowledge.
And my daughter… she is moved by the injustice of poverty, human economic inequality that has yet to be solved by any government program or newfangled invention. However, she’s been inspired by a group of social entrepreneurs, each one trying to make a difference in their little corner of the world, and she believes that the rapid rate of development in technology and ever-more creative business models could hold the key for positive widespread change in our economic structure, just around the corner. And she wants to be there, ready for it.
Next weekend my daughter and her friends are going to a bar mitzvah; after that, a gastronomy fest with an Asian food theme; following, a modern dance performance highlighting both throwback and modern hip-hop culture. My daughter plays soccer on Saturday mornings with kids from the neighborhood. Last summer we participated in Habitats for Humanity to build a home for a needy family.
There is no fear. There are no harsh stares, no looks of judgement or hints of discrimination held under one’s breath anywhere.
My daughter is both different and the same, and she feels exactly as such, emboldened by the differences that make her who she is while at the same time confident in her acceptance in her community. There is joy on her face, unblemished, untarnished by racially-motivated hate or evil. There is hope on her face, for all she can do and all that she can accomplish. There is, written on her face, spoken in the glances at her friends and then back at me, innocence and love.
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? — Deuteronomy 4:7