Meet Rinna Rem, the Asian Woman Who Asked Her White Friends to Pay for Her Therapy
Last summer, Portland, Oregon, resident Rinna Rem found herself in a bar fight. A stranger poured beer over her friend's head at a local watering hole, and when the Thai-Cambodian Portlander confronted him, the man, who was white, called her "chink" throughout the ensuing argument.
"It was just a very traumatizing event for me, dealing with a white man who assaulted me and my friend and yelled racist and misogynist slurs in front of a white doorman who didn't intervene until the altercation became physical," Rem told Mic. "I knew I wanted support to continue living here in Portland."
Soon after the skirmish, Rem began paying $100 per month to see a therapist twice a week.
Now, a year later, Rem has started a crowdfunding campaign requesting, "White Friends, Pay for My Therapy."
Though the altercation took place a year ago, Rem, 29, said a lifetime of racially charged events led her to enter therapy again. She has been in treatment off-and-on since the age of 18.
In her campaign on YouCaring, Rem cites the American Psychological Association's fact sheet on racial health disparities and stress, which says perceived discrimination "has been found to be a key factor in chronic stress-related health disparities among ethnic/racial and other minority groups" and that "stress due to experiences of racism can contribute to adverse birth outcomes."
Dealing with historic trauma: Rem's parents are survivors of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the United States's bombing of that country. In the 1970s, her parents immigrated seperately to the United States and met. Here, Rem said, they faced poverty and trauma simultaneously. Today, studies have found as much as 81% of Cambodians have exhibited symptoms of a major affective disorder.
For people in families like Rem's, research suggests survivors of genocides have passed on "distinct psychopathological symptoms in [their] offspring," University of Haifa psychobiology assistant professor Inna Gaisler-Salomon wrote in the New York Times last year. And a recent Atlantic article examined the effects of racism on bodily health.
"It's hard growing up when both of your parents have PTSD from a genocide," Rem told Mic. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study from the Centers for Disease Control, 19% of people diagnosed with trauma as adults witnessed mental illness in their family as children.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, people of Asian descent are also the ethnic group least likely to seek mental health services in the U.S. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, white women access mental health services at almost five times the rate of Asian women. Most people in America who do not access health care do so for cost-prohibitive reasons.
Rem made it clear that her parents' trauma was one of the first events that led her to seek therapy, and it is still the subject of conversation now.
"It's pretty much all I talk about with my therapist these days," she said. "I feel like I can't keep up with the racism."
Therapy as prevention: Rem said she is frightened that the stress of racism may have adverse affects on her two diagnosed chronic illnesses: Marfan's syndrome, a genetic disorder that has given Rem an enlarged aorta, and chronic depression, which has manifested itself through various physical aches and pains.
"Stress, being on high alert, from this racist shit, that just heightens or increases blood pressure," Rem said, adding that she fears that as trauma stress pushes her her blood pressure higher, she may be moving closer to a rip or tear in her aorta.
Rem has implemented a self-care regimen at her therapist's behest. Whether it is something as small as sneaking a candy bar or taking a long bath, she said, these measures have helped. But, sometimes, that self-care is not enough.
"I also feel like my self-care can't keep up with all the racist stuff that's happening to me," she said.
Portland at large: Between a disproportionate arrest rate for people of color (including her own family's interraction with police), the looming presence of the Expo Center — the site of a former Japanese internment processing center — and gentrification pushing people of color out of neighborhoods, experiences of racism are hard to ignore in Portland.
Rem said her therapist repeats a mantra to her, which she now repeats to herself: "Recognize in your life where you have power." Rem said she took those words to action when she created her crowdfunding campaign.
"I feel that it's a powerful thing to ask for help," she said. "It was a venue of power for me. I was able to ask my friends, my white friends, to be accountable for the systems that benefit them."
So far, Rem said she is delighted and overwhelmed by the support she's received from her friends and thankful that the fundraiser may have helped expose Portland's problem with racism. Even if she is puzzled as to why the fundraiser has gotten so much attention.
"I'm very surprised by how much exposure it's gotten," she said. "Why is reparations news? It's something that people have been asking for for a long time."
That said, there have been some fiercely negative reactions to her fundraiser. Rem said she's received hate emails, which she has posted on her crowdfunding page, and an entire Reddit thread was devoted to trash-talking her.
She has her own response.
"The more racist hate I get, the more money I'll ask for," she said. "Every spat of racist hate I get, I'm just going to ask for more money." That's why her current goal is $2,400 (of which she's raised $1,633 as of Thursday afternoon). Her initial goal was $600.
Some commenters have told Rem that she should donate the money to anti-racism campaigns.
"That assumes that I don't already contribute to a lot of anti-racist work," she said. Rem said she works three part-time jobs and also volunteers and provides childcare for anti-racism social justice organizations in the Portland area.
Ultimately, she said, she wants white people to understand it is not her place to end racism.
"I feel that white people created race to subjugate people in the first place, so the onus should be on them to end racism," she said.
And when the money runs out, Rem told Mic, she would be fine doing it all again: "Until the U.S. pays reparations for the secret bombing of Cambodia, which led to the uprising of the Khmer Rouge and then my parents coming to the U.S. and living in poverty, until that happens, I will keep asking for reparations on a personal level."