Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

I’m not white. And sometimes it’s easier to live in ignorance of the idea.

It started off simple. My professor handed me someone else’s paper.

Well, it wasn’t that simple. I realized the faux pas, and took at as another honest mistake, and looked around for the right girl. The other Asian female in the class. Honestly, I caught myself thinking, “Hah, my friends back home are going to find this hilarious.” Why? I go to a school that is far less racially diverse than the state – let alone the high school – I went to. But I thought it a small mistake. It’s 8AM chem lab, everyone was  up and about away from their lab benches, it was bound to happen.

Before I could catch her, my professor immediately realized his mistake and began to apologize profusely. After he finished returning papers, he came to my lab bench. Very flustered, he starts, “I wanted to apologize again–“

“It’s okay!” I said sincerely. It’s a lecture, (with small lab size) class, I’d always been told I’d be known as a number in lecture halls.

“No, no it’s not okay! I’m disgusted with myself and I am very ashamed.” This is so genuine to hear, something different.

He continues, “You’re a person.” I know…though in retrospect, he seems to be insinuating “…opposed to just a race.” 

“I know who you are.” Good to know, considering the large size of the lecture for this lab. 

“I do try to get to know my students, and I have to be completely honesty, I have this preconceived idea of what Asians look like, and I am not proud of that.” I stand there speechless and wide eyed…I am too grateful and in shock to respond. 

“Do you forgive me?” “Yes, I do. Thank you.”

He came back a few more times in the lab period to make sure we were on good terms, and that he was truly sorry and acknowledged his mistake. It was on my mind for the rest of the lab; I couldn’t quite pin what was so stunning about what he said. By the end I realized it, and told him,

“I wanted to say thank you. I know it’s my reality as a minority but nobody has ever been that honest with me about my race and stereotypes. Let’s be honest, I’ve been Asian and a minority for seventeen years, and no one has ever been that honest.”

My professor pretended to be shocked that I’m “only seventeen?! You’re a child!” but we left on good, if not better, terms.

You see, at least recently, I’ve resented the idea of attaching myself to some sort of “culture” that I know I don’t have. I know it’s expected, it’s been ingrained in American culture, but I like to think that each person can exist in spite of it: for me, Asian-American culture, petite stereotypes, female stereotypes…any of it. I’m not a fan of that system, of “top-down”, label-to-application induction of personality, or ideas. Call me a mutt, call me a jigsaw, but it had made far more sense to me to keep taking in what I do experience, what I am exposed to, than to apply myself to what I’m “supposed” to do or be.

The university I attend is two-thirds Caucasian, and come on, it’s no secret – not to me, not to the university, not to society. My theology class – two days after my chemistry lab – we hold a formal debate on if “racism is [or is not] still a problem in twenty-first century America”. In qualification, we are required to sign up for the pro, con, and judge team once each for our three semester debates, so some students on the team arguing that racism isn’t a problem, did not believe the position.

It was argued, however, that there is proof that America is a post-racial society because of large events like Obama’s two elections, the improvement in racial diversity in universities and government, in higher education there have been movements towards highlighting racial diversity…

…but hearing these arguments, ideas and manifestations of racism, racial stereotypes passed down, even – or especially – in the world of high education, keeps passing on these stigmas and concepts to future generations. Throughout all levels of education – and society – acts or “counteracts” or racial judgement are evident and are active currents in our lives.

It was a huge lesson to me. It was a wake up, a reminder to my reality – that I’m living well in the context of it, from the inside looking out, opposed to what the outside looking in imposes on people.



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the author

Jo is in her first year of studying biology at Fordham University, with interests in the social sciences, business management, and world domination. Recently returned to New York from 12 years in California, you'll most likely find her adventuring around the city. Residences include the science and humanities departments, running trails, and every coffee shop from here to Narnia. Nobody’s quite sure if she has a heart, but she’s got some sort of pump that moves around the black sludge that is espresso through her veins.

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  1. Sophia Chiang on July 27, 2015

    Jo, your article really spoke to me. Growing up and living in a predominantly white neighborhood, it’s easier to sometimes believe that you’re white, too. And we deal with so many preconceived notions, stereotypes, and insinuated racial comments (I won’t call them slurs because often they’re not offensive, but genuine misconceptions on the speaker’s part). Although most of these comments are not made in offense, they can build up and hurt to feel like the outsider. Thank you for writing this. At times, I feel like I should have less of a complaint in comparison to the Hispanic or black community which I feel deals with more stereotypes and institutionalized racism on a daily basis, however, being non-white still can bring about this undercurrent feeling of being unaccepted, which is difficult to deal with especially when growing up and trying to figure out your place in the world.

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