“Stereotypes have a certain degree of truth in it,” my good American friend Joseph told me when I first arrived to an American school. For a considerable amount of time I have lived abroad, I tried to assess the validity of this sentence. I have struggled to escape from boundaries of stereotypes, only to realize that racism and cultural prejudice inevitably casts an invisible and impenetrable iron curtain that influences the way people deal with each other.
No matter how much I tried to break Americans’ preconceived knowledge about Asians, avoiding terms such as “computer wiz,” “math freak,” and “science nerd” seemed impossible. In hope of disproving this “Asian myth,” I intentionally failed an easy geometry quiz and asked my American classmates for help, who were stunned because I was an Asian. Even teachers expected Asian students to be better at math and that it is unacceptable for us to ask questions on subjects as “simple” as advanced geometry.
Racism also kicked in during soccer tryouts. Because most students who tried out were Asians, our coach set a racial quota, saying that only the most talented Asian student athletes will be accepted to the squad. Due to this discriminative decision, many Asian soccer players who were over-qualified for the team were utterly ignored while coach’s son Alex and his white friends easily made the team. Upon our protest, our coach simply responded, “I know that you guys practice really hard, but I need talented players for the national championship.” His biased response extinguished my flame of passion for getting to know more American friends by participating in a sports team.
Prejudice, racism, and existence of cliques seemed ubiquitous even in college. According to my observation, people formed groups based on race, religion, and language they speak. For instance, Koreans and Korean Americans would naturally split into two groups. Korean Americans would refer to Koreans as “FOBs (Fresh Off the Boat)” and assume that Koreans only socialize within the Korean network. Conversely, Koreans would refer Korean Americans as “banana,” yellow on the outside but white inside, with preconceived knowledge that they hate speaking Korean or even despise Korea itself.
Just like there is conflict between “FOBs” and “Bananas,” iron curtain seemed to separate me from my friends in Korea. I always felt sympathetic for them because they are forced to get only three hours of sleep and memorize textbooks word for word. Conversely, my Korean friends viewed me with contempt, assuming that I am squandering my parents’ money on expensive and convenient education.
Most people do not overtly express their prejudice, but many are still influenced by residual racism and cultural biases. It is disheartening to see how racism and cultural prejudice prevent us from establishing a close relationship with people of diverse culture. Although modern society is struggling passionately to eliminate cultural bias through laws and mass media such as films, I believe that many cultural clashes are still being left unattended; the iron curtain still exists.
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