I believe in education.
Education eradicates prejudice, which eliminates parochialism, and narrowmindedness.
I’ve had my share of shocking experiences because of prejudice; since I’m half Caucasian and half Chinese, I’m quite used to comments such as “Oh, you’re so good at math because you’re Asian” or “You lost that ping-pong match? I’ll bet it’s because you’re only half-blooded Chinese.” I even remember the time when I was painting a self-portrait in my art class. A girl I knew walked over to me, plunked down a jar of bright yellow acrylic paint, and told me it was the only color I would need for my skin tones. When I looked confused and then hurt as the meaning of her joke hit me, she told me she was only kidding and that I was taking it all too seriously. “Oh, lighten up a little, would you?” she told me, before rolling her eyes and walking away. Initially I was angry. I felt that just because she claimed her comment was a joke, it didn’t excuse the fact that it was offensive. It kept reoccurring to me that if this mild comment had upset me as much as it did, then how badly must truly relentless and malicious racism hurt its victims? I could only begin to imagine. But then I got to thinking about the reason why she would think it was appropriate to say such a thing. The more I thought about it, the clearer the answer became; she didn’t know that it was a hurtful comment, because she’d never been put in that position nor learned what it felt like to be in that position. I kept my thoughts to myself for the rest of the year, but I couldn’t help but wish that she would be in some way enlightened.
We recently had a speaker come to our school, who talked to us about what it was like to be “Hapa,” or half Caucasian and half Asian, as he was himself. He spoke about how confused he was about who he was as an individual when he was younger, and how looking so ethnically ambiguous created for some interesting day-to-day dilemmas. For an example, what do you bubble in on the SAT when it asks you for your ethnicity? “Asian”? “Caucasian”? “Other”? None of these is really a sufficient answer. And what do you say when you get the inevitable questions from the people you run into at school Starbucks, like, “What are you?” There are so many possible responses. “I’m… a lot of things.” Or, “I’m one half Chinese, one quarter Swedish, one eighth English, and one eighth Scottish, of course. Can’t you tell?” Or even, “I don’t think that matters, I am who I am.” So he published a book entitled “The Hapa Project,” in which he photographed hundreds of Hapas and asked them the question, “What are you?” with no limitations on what they could put down as an answer. He then put their exact words into the book, in their own handwriting, crossings-out and all. He received replies ranging from pictures drawn by children, to answers like “I am a person of color. I am not half – “white.” I am not half – “asian.” I am a whole other.” Even responses like “Mad” and “Sleepy” appeared. I really connected with him because I could relate to everything he was saying, but also because I liked how his belief was that one should be proud no matter what one’s race, so it was really a book for everyone.
Now whenever I hear a racial slur, I smile to myself and just hope that the one who uttered it will learn something and have their eyes opened sooner rather than later. Experiences like my own and the stories of others these have broadened my horizons and left me a firm believer that the less prejudice there is in the world, the better. And so I value education because it is the only cure for this cancer of the soul.
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