This I Believe

Nomin - West Windsor, New Jersey
Entered on December 17, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: prejudice

Hidden Prejudice

People often say how lucky we are, to live in such a diverse day and age, where people of many cultures and religions can coexist in harmony and understanding. These people say this with such conviction, as if they believe that there is no discrimination or racism in the world anymore. But even though racism is not as severe or straightforward as it was, it is not just a phenomenon in the distant past, or a bad memory to be forgotten. Racism still exists today, though it is hidden deeper, wedged into the folds of our brains. Racism lives on in ignorant words, hidden thoughts, and misleading stereotypes. Stereotypes are hurtful, and they wound in many ways. To combat ignorance in America today, I try my best to avoid perpetuating stereotypes placed on me.

The first reason I avoid stereotypes if because I feel that conforming to them is limiting to my individuality. Why must I become what someone thinks I am? Why must I limit my opportunities and choices? Why must I be afraid to let people know what I think or believe? Chinua Achebe said “The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of… it’s this or maybe that— you have just one large statement; it is this.” Why must I fit myself into the mold of someone else’s simplifications?

Secondly, to avoid stereotypes, I have to be careful what I say or do. I don’t want to reinforce any misconceptions. I understand it may be too late for that, but as a result, slowly, almost imperceptibly, I am changing my personality to reflect who I want to be. I have so many stereotypes placed on me, on so many different parts of the spectrum, it is hard to find a happy medium, where I can disprove all of these and still be myself.

However, if I did conform to stereotypes, it would be detrimental to me. Specifically, stereotypes are hurtful because they are negative, and many of them are bizarre and untrue. In addition, people can be racist without even knowing it. Is it institutional, and unavoidable, or can something be done about it? I remember in seventh grade, we were cleaning out our lockers at the end of the year. A boy walked past, complaining about his inability to get good grades. The other people commented, calling out replies. So I, not exactly the hardest working student, remarked, “It isn’t that hard to get straight A’s. I hardly—“but I was cut off rudely by the boy.

“Well, I’m not Asian,” he sneered; and walked into the stairwell.

I was speechless. I had heard people say things like that before, but never to my face. A little too late, I muttered, “That was racist.”

The kid next to me replied cheerfully, “Yeah, I love it when stereotypes come true.”

People don’t know when they are being cruel. I experienced hurt that day— was it because the boy was mean and ignorant? Or was it because of the general opinion of a society that makes it a point to exclude those of my racial heritage? I have experienced felling like that before, from things I have read, heard people say, or seen on TV. Sometimes, I feel helpless. Should I tell people off? Complain to the station? Or would that be too much? I make it a priority sometimes, to contradict stereotypes, because I feel I have a duty, to myself and others, to disprove this subversive discrimination.

Although they are hurtful and negative, I try to disprove stereotypes whenever possible. I am already careful in my actions and words, but to avoid stereotyping others, I will think before I make assumptions, and try to step into other’s shoes. Other people should think before they say something, and try to empathize with others. They should decide what is logical and make intelligent decisions, not just going along with what other people and the media say. Only then, can we live in a world of equality that is not merely perceived, but genuine and absolute.