Sometimes people forget I’m a person of color because I’m pale. From far away, you couldn’t tell me apart from someone who is racially white. Asian is not a race that is black or white, so it’s often left out of the conversation.
In fact, often people will suggest that being Asian is a good thing. To many, being Asian is like being white, but “you’re smarter.” And smart is good, right? Who doesn’t want to be called smart?
Here’s the thing: Thanks for calling me smart. I appreciate it, though it might not be true. What you’re forgetting about is the fact that by calling me smart, you’re picking me out of the crowd. Why? Because of my race.
And yes, sure, it’s a compliment. I’ll say thank you and go on with my day. But the principle behind it is that you are calling out a difference between you and me because of the color of my skin. And whilst your comment that I’m inherently “smart” doesn’t pierce me as much as, say, being called a “criminal” might, it highlights that you and I have some specific difference that is genetic and unalterable, simply by our physical features. And that breeds an atmosphere of alienation.
What happened this summer is a result of alienation. It’s hard to think that the Wellesley High School is anything but inclusive and careful of human differences, but face the facts: it’s difficult to feel anything but “we” and “they” when our school is 73.1% white, with a 4.6% African-American population. (If you’re wondering, the school is also 11.8% Asian, but nobody cares about that until college application season.)
And, this statistic is reflected in the population sample within the Facebook group chat that instigated this whole discussion. One person in that chat, the person that reported the racist behavior to the police, identified as Mexican-American.
No one in that chat was African American, the race targeted by the “jokes.” It’s easy to call it a joke when the people making the joke are all white.
And to zoom out of the charming town of Wellesley, what happens day by day, hour by hour in this country is a result of alienation. What happened just in the past month, in Tulsa and Charlotte and El Cajon and Middle River and Columbus and all 71 other instances of police brutality just this month is a result of alienation.
All of these events are so “mundane,” so “old-news” that I don’t even cover them in my weekly Top 5 News Stories anymore. The ambience of the United States as a whole has become an atmosphere of alienation, of unfounded hatred, and of these tiny little comments about how I’m “smart” because something in my face tells you I’m Asian.