Race is a touchy subject. As an Asian-American, my race plays against me indirectly. I am reminded of how different I am in conversation, in movies, in college applications, in school. In those moments, where compliments spill with undercurrents of insults, I am not proud to be Asian. I am embarrassed and want to hide it away.
The first thing that came to mind was freshmen year. For any score under a 95, students in Honors English could revise their mistakes on a recent test. Thus, I went into the classroom, painfully aware of being the only Asian in the room, and sat in the corner furthest from everyone. I made my revisions to my test –I got a 90 because of five multiple-choice questions—and handed them into my teacher. She took one look and her eyes went cold. She told me that I shouldn’t have come, that I was wasting everyone’s time and taking up a valuable place in her classroom. “Sometimes you just need to accept that there are limits to what you can do”. She said all this and more, literally screaming in a hushed room. The next day, she gently explained the same concepts to two classmates with the warmest smile on her face. Finally, she addressed the class and looked me in the eye; all revisions applied for scores 89 and under. To her, as I overheard from gossip amongst teachers, I was fitting a stereotype to her—I was cold, apathetic, annoying, obnoxious, unfeeling, greedy, and begging for pity. I wasn’t looking for the perfect grade or admiration; I just wanted to see if I could choose the right answer the second time.
“Well, that’s pretty stupid” is probably what you’re thinking of right now. And at first, I did too. I couldn’t, and still don’t understand why this is the one experience I remember from 2018. Of all the band concerts, science competitions, and days flooding with joy, how is anguish and fear and sadness my sharpest memories?
Two years later, I realized that words stick. Kind of like the purple gluesticks we painted over our hands and slapped together to make sticky strings. The same glue that caught sharp pieces of papers, paperclips, and paint splatters to our hands. The same glue that is nearly impossible to get off without turning a beautiful, purple sheen into an ugly greyed blob.
There are multiple times where I have been called uncompassionate, meek, arrogant, articulate, surprisingly outgoing, cold, manipulative, lazy, over-achieving, smug and “just another chink”. However, I dreaded this assignment. I never talk about these micro-aggressions because they aren’t nearly as bad as the horrifying actions motivated by race in the movies or news. The situations that most people see as compliments or honorable recognition come off as offensive, backhanded smiles to me. They are just words, but it still hurts. And they stick just a little too much. If we truly want peace to co-exist with diversity, it will be important to recognize, discuss, and address every racially charged notion.
Even the ones that only some people see.