Friday, April 11, 2003

"i alternate between being conspicuous and vanshing, being stared at or looked through. although the conditions may seem contradictory, they have in common the loss of control. in most instances, i am who others perceive me to be rather than how i perceive myself to be. considered by the strong sense of individualism inherent to American society, the inability to define one's self is the greatest loss of liberty possible." -yellow, frank wu.

[disclaimer:] i am not speaking for all asian-americans or minority groups. i am not speaking for any group at all. these are my thoughts -my way of working towards self-identification. comments are welcomed. hostility is not. i advocate discussion.

race matters. at least lately, it does to me. over the past few months there has been an internal struggle to make sense of how i, as an asian american, fit in with the rest of society.

before coming to college, i closed my eyes or turned my head when/if an opportunity to face race relations appeared -perhaps for the reason that most racist encounters were indirect and subtle or through a joke and easily laughed off. or, perhaps in worry of going against the grain and making myself more distinguishable than purely by skin tone. i've now realized how naive i was to have supposed that children grew out of their race and to have expected that adults could not possibly be racist.

that was, as stated, before coming to college -i've been slapped in the face since.
  • last year, a girl on campus asked me why i wasn't responding to her when she called my name. i told her that she had me confused with someone else. she laughed and told me to stop 'kidding around'. when it finally dawned on her that i wasn't the one she was looking for, she excused herself with an, "oh...i'm sorry. you asians all look alike."

  • while walking home one afternoon from B&N, two boys in their teens (one white, one black) proceeded to make asian-like karate noise gibberish, called me chink, and then threw dirt clods and small rocks at me. when relating this story to others, a few people told me to "forget about it. they're just kids. they didn't know any better".

  • was horrified by the lack of tact from a florist who continued to insult me by asking questions about my knowledge of bamboo plants ("those things grow like weeds in your country, right?") even after i told him i was born and raised in the united states.

  • being followed around the department store while shopping for my father's b-day gift and then having the white sales-woman tell me that i could purchase the item at the counter -after having plucked it from my hands.
some people have told me that the last experience could happen to anyone...which is true, indeed. however, when white americans are disrespected by other whites, are they plagued by the suspicions that it is for racial reasons? i don't know. all i can say is that it happens often enough [to people of color] that it is fair for us to surmise that race and gender are/could be involved.

what bothers me more than racism/discrimination is our ability as a society to "let it pass" or deny that it exists at all. almost imperceptibly, as a nation, we have become seemingly triumphant at vilifying racists that we have induced denial about racism. regarding racism, before the civil rights revolution many whites believed that what was, should be; now, in a post-civil rights era, they believe that what should be, already is. this profound change makes it harder than ever to communicate. what was once overt and thought to be right is now thought to be wrong but has become covert.

as far as stereotypes go, i suppose asian americans shouldn't complain -our issues are minor; we are at least stereotyped in a such a way that is at least superficially positive (we are the model minority, we're good at math and science, we're passive and respectful, etc...). nevertheless, these issues are vexing because they are minor. as race becomes less significant socioeconomically, it can become more important symbollically and politically. the more two individuals are alike in other respects, the more glaring are any race-based differences in the treatment accorded them. that i've popped a few brain cells trying to articulate myself, i will take a break only to continue at a later date. there is still much on my mind.


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