While we have many celebrities in the world, we don’t have many that are willing to use a strong voice and use their celebrity for social justice.
Today I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Suzanne Whang. Most of you know Suzanne as the host of “House Hunters” on HGTV, her recurring roles on NBC’s “Las Vegas” and ABC’s “General Hospital,” her many movie roles, or her very funny and irreverent stand-up comedy character Sung Hee Park. Today I got to know Suzanne as the very gracious, gentle, and kind social activist. We started the interview with Suzanne asking how I was doing and how was Portland and that she loved Portland. I think I was caught off guard at how genuine and generous Suzanne was—she made me feel as though I had been talking to a friend of many years.
Whang was a Navy brat and attended seven different elementary schools across the country. She talked about always being the new kid in a new school, and how this informed her choice in career: “Being the new kid in school, you have to be very adaptable and make friends easily. As an actor, every audition is like being the new kid in school and making a good first impression. I think also instead of resisting change, I embrace change, which is why being an actor appealed to me. Every project brought a new role, new cast, new crew, different locations, different perspectives.” Her grandfather, Whang Chai Kyung, was a well-known Korean minister and was controversial for using humor in his sermons. He said it was the only way to keep people awake every Sunday.
I am a minister now, and when I give guest sermons, I feel like I’m channeling my grandfather. I call it Up-laugh-ment – using humor to raise consciousness. There is not one religion or one perspective that will work for me. I have eclectic taste in many different aspects of my life, and I call my self a spiritual slut. I find things of value in many different spiritual philosophies and religions. However, I have also found a lot of hypocrisy across the spectrum. So I absorb wisdom wherever I can find it – in fact, when I give sermons or keynote speeches, I will often incorporate lessons I’ve learned from 12 step philosophy.
While I consider myself a liberal democrat, there are times I get so angry when I experience different liberal organizations that can’t work together and too many egos working against each other—whereas the Republicans have unity on their side. That is why we don’t have what we want, we often lack unity or the sense of the greater good, the bigger picture. I started speaking out for LGBT issues because it is the last stand of civil rights. As an Asian woman, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against for my gender and my race. The first time I performed my stand-up comedy act in Provincetown Massachusetts, which is a gay community in Cape Cod, I have to say that I never felt more recognized and appreciated and understood as an artist. My stand up routine is a satire on racism and sexism—I wanted to show how absurd all bigotry is. The gay community in Provincetown really understand what I’m doing, because they know what it is like to be outcast, discriminated against, and oppressed. They understand that my routine is social commentary.
Do you worry about your career because you are such a strong voice for social justice?
I never worry that this will hurt my career—worry does not fit into my philosophy—worry and fear are negative projections into the future, and they don’t help me create what I want. When I have worried or have been fearful in the past, I became a magnet for the very circumstances I didn’t want. I operate from a place of abundance, equal rights, and generosity. I choose faith and kindness, not pessimism and fear. I’m not saying that I don’t get angry – I get very angry, but the question is, what do I do with that anger? Does it spark me to take positive action? It does no good to let my anger fester or bathe in it, sitting on my couch, complaining. I also channel my anger into writing my comedy material. I would like people to see my Sung Hee Park act and have them leave thinking: “Hmm. Am I a racist? Am I a homophobe?” I want to challenge people’s beliefs. I love this quote from Plato: “Time will change or even reverse some of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile, from holding yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.”
Do you think we will see full marriage equality in our lifetime?
Absolutely! (She says with great confidence.) I think it could have happened much sooner if we were all on the same page and could have put aside individual egos. We tend to lose sight of the bigger picture, when we get caught up in the in-fighting about exactly how to take action or when to take action.
Why do you suppose more celebrities don’t use their fame and influence for issues around social justice?
I can’t answer for them, but I would guess that some people are just not passionate about issues of social justice, maybe they have fear about what it might do to their careers, or maybe they just don’t want to enter into controversy. But it’s not for us for us to judge someone else’s journey!
I want to thank Suzanne Whang for her time, generosity, and for being an amazing ally to the LGBT community. Suzanne emanates such love and compassion—what an amazing soul and agent of change.
Whang concluded the interview with the following:
Hopi Indian poem “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For”
The Hopi Elders Speak
We Are the Ones
We’ve Been Waiting For
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look
outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift
that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the
shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go
of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open,
and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least
of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and
journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
—The Elders Oraibi
Arizona Hopi Nation