As many times as I hear that race doesn’t matter, and that racism isn’t a problem anymore, I don’t believe it. I grew up in Utah. It’s not the most racially diverse place. My mother was born in China and moved to the United States when she was 16. My father was born in Utah. His ancestors came from Europe. For the most part, I never felt different than my friends based upon my race although most of my friends were white. I felt like most of my friends didn’t see me as their Chinese friend but just as their friend.
The first time (and only time to my memory) someone said something cruel to me regarding my race was when I was in high school working at my parents’ gift store at the mall. The man was clearly angry and took it out on me by spitting out an insult, “Go home to your own country!” Honestly, I was stunned. I went to the back room and cried. Although I knew he was wrong, that he was ignorant, that this was my country and that words shouldn’t hurt me, it still left me sad.
For all intents and purposes, I grew up pretty sheltered to any racism directed at myself. But I’ve never been immune to Chinese stereotypes. Because I did well in school, we all made the joke, (me included) that it was attributed to my Chinese genes. I’ve always felt like I should laugh along at jokes about my Chinese heritage. If I didn’t think these jokes were funny, I was sure others would think that I was being too sensitive. And in certain situations, I felt like I had to make the joke because it was an elephant in the room and I was just verbalizing what others were thinking. Squinty eyes, loving rice, yellow complexion, incorrect pronunciation – all typical stereotypes of my racial heritage. I can only say for myself that having these stereotypes put upon me are not a huge burden. But I know that my case is different than for those of other races. While I was expected to be a math whiz, and to love jewelry, no one has ever clutched their bag tighter as I walked past them or looked at me with disdain when I bought my baby formula with WIC vouchers, wondering how I could afford a smart phone if I had to get government assistance to pay for my peanut butter. While I was expected to know how to use chopsticks and love taking pictures, I never had people wonder if I was a terrorist when I stepped on a plane. The racial stereotypes that continue to be perpetuated by media and adopted by many are all too common.
My point of this post – I believe race is an issue that many are uncomfortable facing. I believe that many of us have adopted stereotypes and to say that those stereotypes, especially negative stereotypes aren’t pervasive in American culture is untrue. Recognizing that there is much for us to do as a society to erase these our tightly held beliefs about different groups of people is the first step.