Racism.. Does it Still Exist?

I’m definitely NOT the kind of person who blames “It’s because I’m Asian,” for every unfair abusive treatment I get.  Despite that, it is shocking how many people I run into, who don’t seem to believe racism is a problem or exists around the area.  I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because it’s lack of exposure to the situation, or maybe it’s just plain denial– We don’t want to believe this problem occurs around us.  Sometimes, in disbelief they may create other possible reasons, to why a person mistreated another.  But for some of us, we know that racism existed in the past.  The question now is, does racism still exist?

10 years ago, I wrote a short essay “Impact of Racism” for English class after watching “To Kill a Mocking Bird.”  I had forgotten the details that I had written and after re-reading it, it refreshed my memory, situations still as appalling as the times I experienced them.  That was just only a taste of everything that really went on in my life dealing with racism as an Asian American.

It’s almost really surprising thinking back as a child and then a teen, dealing with these serious situations, and reading writings of the past that sound close to a disheartened adult writing it.  It is true, hardships in life takes away some of the childhood and innocence from a child, than if the child was carefree.

I think the first time I actually experienced racism was the 1st day of kindergarden.  At the time, I was not aware of it.  Later on, I realized racism that day and the days forward was in a multitude of levels.  Discrimination through classmates, teachers, the entire school system, leading to the entire educational system of the city.  I’m sure they didn’t intentionally mean any harm, but I wished I had a better start in life and wasn’t held back.  I do look back and laugh at some of the details because on that day when my teacher introduced me to the ESL teacher telling me that she would take good care of me, I was scared out of my mind because I thought she was kidnapping me.  The ESL teacher brought me down to the dimly lit cafeteria all alone, and started interrogating me on how to spell this and that.  (Note that I was born in the United States and was as fluent in English as any other kid).  Eventually she rewarded me stickers for getting the answers correct, so that won her my trust. Later on, all the minority looking kids joined us, (also fluent in English, or ONLY knows English, and some just simply dark-skinned).  We were taken out of regular classes for minimum 6 yrs, (an additional 3 yrs, if we didn’t pass finals) and then placed in middle and lower tracks for middle and high school.

Besides that, I remember the stares, the “ching ching chong!”, the hatred against minorities for “invading” our land and setting up too many Chinese restaurants, notorious accusations that “my people” took away jobs, and murdered dogs and cats and put it in their soups.  I learned pretty much all of the stereotypes 1st hand, hearing from the stereotypers themselves: Asians being “bad drivers,” especially women, Asians doing nails, tea-drinkers, Asian mens’ “small size,” Asian women being good in bed, well-mannered/obeys men, etc.  Derogatory terms like “gook” and “chink,” (equivalent to the N word to blacks).  For those who know my name, my name didn’t help.  It was also easy to assume I didn’t speak English, therefore, speaking to me slowly and loudly.  Though other stereotypes sound positive like, “Asians are smart,” I found that it put on A LOT of pressure to live up to those expectations, especially when classmates depend on me.

I came a long way from all the hatred, discrimination, and harassment, and it wasn’t until mid high school, when many of my peers finally accepted me as a human being and that I didn’t feel so out of place.  The expression, “Kill them with kindness.” does actually work.  Instead of feeling angry and expressing hatred back towards racists, I became friends with them.  Others may say to ignore them, but from experience, completely ignoring them is almost as bad as retaliating, (believe me, I’ve done that too), because it only gives them more reason to hate, not like.  By being friends with them, they were curious about my culture, so I’d address the stereotypes.  The more they know, the better; the less they know, the more they fear.  Then sometimes it becomes a positive domino effect when your friends also inform others.  It’s always easier said than done, but I found ways to befriend unlikely and like helping them when they were in need.  I wanted to be friends, not enemies.

Unfortunately, attending a University in an entirely different town and environment, was starting all over.  I was back to square one, except that harassment is much scarier and dangerous as an adult.  Adults use violence, vandalism and threats.  It was difficult for many faculties, law enforcers and even friends to understand and they didn’t take me seriously.  Many excused it as “drunk college students just playing around.”  After incidents occurred regularly, I knew it was premeditated and targetted.  Like I said, I don’t use the phrase, “It’s because I’m Asian,” unless I strongly believe so.  When people run by my door screaming “Ching ching chong!” and “Wahh!” to imitate martial arts, it’s hard not to call it racism.  What do you think??

I felt alone again.  Better safe than sorry; I had to painstakingly find people who was willing to take actions to my pleas.  Otherwise, I would have had to take matters into my own hands to protect myself and friends.  I became a trained martial artist, but I did not like the idea of having to use outside the dojo, in an event of danger.

After graduation, I entered the real world, and the truth is, though it is the late 2000’s.. it did not get any easier in the job department.  Honestly, I do still experience discrimination and harassment from companies.  There was a recruiter in ’08 who called me up and the 1st question was “What’s your visa status?”  Even though I said I was born in the U.S., he asked if I was a U.S. citizen and the conversation continued like an in-depth investigation of my citizenship and residency.  Then when I kindly refused, he seemed insulted and lectured on how the real world works, that I was making a mistake, and basically said indirectly, that I was not competent enough for high-end positions.  All for a programming job in the music industry.  Shocking details under Info on the Facebook Page:  Dang It! I Want To Go Where Everybody Knows My Name!!!
  Sadly, that wasn’t the 1st time I experienced something like that.  It is common for companies to first interrogate my citizenship under the assumption of my “foreign” name, and some have gone as far as to interrogate my nationality (which, by the way, is illegal) and details of how my parents got here.  I can tell you, how my parents got here, does not reflect my web programming skills, except that if they didn’t get here, you’d have one less talent in the U.S.

I do notice however, the hatred department has improved.  I get questions out of curiosity, and not hatred.  I do still get baffled by some of the things asked or said, like the compliments on how good my English is, (even after mentioning I was born in the United States).  It’s not that I’m offended or upset, I just get really confused.  Then there’s other people who don’t want to talk about culture at all and ask “Why does it matter?  I don’t care whether you’re black, white, blue, purple.”  I understand people try hard not to come off as racist/discriminating/segregating, but by not talking and learning more about different cultures, it can reinforce stereotypes, judgements, assumptions, due to lack of knowledge.  We can’t live in a closed world and be oblivious to others’ heritage, but our own.

So the answer is racism does still exist.  But don’t get me wrong–being different and sticking out could be a good thing.  It’s easier to remember my name.  I think “different” makes people very attractive.  I’m definitely not an attention seeker, but I think for anyone it’s always easier or less effort for others to approach and befriend than being the one to.  Asking about people’s nationality seems to be a conversation starter.
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