One of my white friends once asked me if anyone had ever been racist to me. I said no, but I tried to explain that racist was too strong of a word. I’ve certainly felt racial tension, and that awkwardness when people feel they’ve said something that might offend me but it”s their apologizing that unsettles me. I’ve never met, or at least talked to, a racist. I must admit, as a 15 year old growing up in a suburban Pennsylvania, my range of experience is limited, and odds are I will meet one, but it’s an experience that I’m not eager to have. In everyday life, I doubt most people encounter racists, although its a fact that they are out there. That’s not to say people don’t treat others differently based on their ethnicity, but I think racist is too strong of a word to brand the majority of people with. People have views that are ignorant and misinformed, and opinions that are made too quickly. As the child of Chinese immigrants, I’ve encountered many such people. Most of this comes in the form of jokes that have more of a sting than is intended or realized, or catty comments from lunch time conversations.
I’ve probably been part of the problem, making jokes with my Caucasian friends that make them think it’s okay. I’ve heard my friends say things like “There’s too many Asians at this party” or tell me they’re glad I’m not a “weird” Asian. In high school, everyone is labeled and sorted according to how they dress, act, and look. Kids think the Asian kids act a little different and tend to stick together. What most kids don’t realize is that they are different. Almost all of the Asian kids are the first generation children of immigrants. We grew up speaking two languages, eating with chopsticks, and living with very different family dynamics. Eastern culture emphasizes respect to elders and authority of males, ideas that are outdated in Western society. We grow up struggling to find a balance between two very different worlds, tradition versus modernization, east versus west. Racist is an ugly word, implying a person full of hate. It sounds like a chronic illness. You never hear someone say, “I used to be racist, but then I learned better”.
People who don’t understand the intricacies of growing up in a multicultural household aren’t racist. They just haven’t learned better. Yet.