Los Gatos, CA
I was raised in Alabama and moved to California in my mid-30’s. Alabama was at the time a “bi-cultural” society (as I like to call it). We had black and we had white. There were very few people of Asian or Hispanic descent in the Alabama I knew. So, when I moved to California (the Bay Area, more specifically), the diversity of cultures was a wonder to me and I reveled in the community of cultures in my new home,. I thought myself very evolved in terms of my acceptance of diversity…until one day in a Mexican history class I was taking. The professor asked us to share a time when we had felt discriminated against. A young woman who was of Asian heritage spoke of her experience. She was perhaps 19 or 20 years old, and she told how just a few days before, she had been driving home, and had turned in to her driveway. She did not use her turn signal as she turned in to her driveway and a man yelled out at her “In America, we use turn signals!”. She then shared that she had been born in the United States, as had her parents, and that she had been raised in Chicago.
That moment was an epiphany for me, because all the sudden I realized that I had not thought of her as American! I, who thought myself so lacking in the tendency to stereotype people, discovered that I was just as racist (perhaps more racist) than some of the more racist people I had left behind in Alabama! It was a lesson I never forgot.
Fast forward a few years to a year when I was teaching an English Language Development class at the middle school where I work. In my class were several Hispanic kids, two or three from Vietnam, one from Korea, and two from the Philippines. All were in fifth or sixth grade. One day, we got a new student who was from Denmark. As we introduced ourselves, one of my Hispanic kids piped up and said “But, why do you even NEED this class? You’re American!”
The lesson here is, of course, that even the youngest of us…even those of us who live in very diverse cultures…even those of us who think we are so evolved…think that to be American is to be white.