Looking back, I heard some pretty problematic shit.
When I was 9 years old, I experienced racism for the first time. After school, I rode the bus home from school. My sister had a play practice or she would have protected me from this little bully. Alas, I had to learn how to protect myself. My school bus always stopped to pick up other kids from different schools. One of these schools was private Christian School where I encountered this little bully. Faith, no more than 8 years old, decided to sit near me on the bus. Now, this itself was shocking because I usually sat alone with my sister. I was a very socially awkward child (still am).
Faith was whiter than snow white and carried herself with the confidence of soccer mom running to be a Republican House of Representative. Faith decided to speak me for the first time ever. I politely removed my headphones and paused my CD player to engage with her. Little did I know that my whole identity would be under attack.
“Hi,” Faith said.
“Hi, how are you?” I asked.
“Are you Christian?” Faith asked, ignoring my question.
“No,” I replied, “I am Hindu.” Even as a young girl, I was never shamed of being Hindu.
“Oh, well you’re going to Hell.” she replied with a tone of pride. My heart fell into my stomach. How could she say that? I didn’t even know her. Faith continued to explain how Jesus wants her to change me so she can save me. She talked about how Christianity was the only way. Faith went on about conversion and how she wanted to help me. I stayed quiet and held back all my tears. Eventually, the bus approached by house. As I got ready to leave, she said,
“Just think about what I said.” I never looked back her. Instead, I quickly ran off the bus then into my house. I greeted my mom with tears and a tale of my first racist confrontation. As she comforted me, mom told me this is will unfortunately happen to me a lot. Because I am different looking, white folks will feel threatened by me. It doesn’t matter how nice, kind, intelligent or understanding I was; my existence will trigger them. Mom couldn’t give me answers on how to solve this on-going problem, but she reassured me that I was never alone in my struggle.
When I saw Faith the next day on the bus, she asked me if I thought about what she said.
“Yes,” I answered, “I am happy with who I am.” I then moved to the back of the bus and blasted my music. My first encounter with Faith was my equivalent to the N-word moment that the Black community experiences. Simply put, the N-word moment occurs when a black person is randomly subjected to discrimination. This moment is meant to remind them about their “racial inferiority.” It’s meant to put down anyone who exceeds expectations. At a very young age, I learned the hardships of being a woman of color with a different religious faith in America. Although this country is my home, I am seen as an outsider.
After an hour long assembly celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., I went into my junior English class hoping to learn more about the Hero Myth. However, my awesome, badass English teacher wanted to discuss the assembly. Looking back on it, I think she wasn’t happy with the assembly. And, now myself looking back at it, I am not too. The assembly focused on how great MLK spoke and wrote his speeches. Students of Asian decent talked about their culture, then that was it. No stories from black students or speakers regarding the civil rights movement, no lectures on the history of discrimination, or the horribleness of the colorblind rhetoric. In fact, the assembly enforced this rhetoric. Students talked about how they didn’t see their friend’s race, but their character.
When my teacher asked about our thoughts about the assembly, everyone politely said it was nice. But, she wanted more. Eventually, one of my classmates spoke up.
“If we get rid of the word diversity, then it would help a lot,” my classmate said. She was a young white lady who dressed like a French prep school girl. She always wore skirts and blouses with matching headbands. Maybe her mother laid out her clothes everyday? (It was nauseating.)
“What do mean by that?” my teacher asked.
“Well,” the student continued, “diversity forces us to look at people’s race instead of their character which MLK didn’t want.” I looked back at my teacher who seemed confused by this statement. Rather than pressing the student more on this problematic view, my teacher scanned the room. She saw a majority of white students, a few Asian students, and one black student who just stared down at his book. My teacher than quickly began her lecture on the Hero Myth.
I, however, fell for this colorblind idea. I thought my fellow French dressed classmate made a good point since we are taught to not see race. When I started college, I realized this viewpoint was very wrong because it caused more harm. That day, I believe my teacher saw a bunch of white students uncomfortable addressing their whiteness because they never had to before. That’s probably why she stopped the conversation, knowing it could cause problems later on. Throughout my early education, colorblindness was hammered into our brains even when studying the slave trade. (What the past white folks did was wrong, but it’s all over now. That was the lesson.)
During one of sociology classes, my professor, a young black man, had us watch Menace II Society. This movie followed a young black man trying to escape the horrors of “ghetto life.” But, simply could not. It was a powerful movie that still resonates with me. After the film, we had a real discussion about race. Now, I was one of the rare few people of color in the class (like in all of my classes). I usually got picked on to speak, but my professor spared me this time. He focused on his white students who just experienced white guilt for probably the first time.
One student said, “we just have to wait for all the racist people to die. Like the boomers.” I felt the sudden urge to leave the class then scream until the end of time. My professor, however, did not feel the same.
“But, their teachings don’t die with them,” my professor explained, “instead, they’re passed on then we are in a vicious cycle.” He challenged all of us to reflect on behavior and attitudes toward the issue of racism. While in this class, my college was in the midst of changing the student housing neighborhood name from “the ghetto” to “south side housing.” It only took them several years to realize that the original name was offense AF. But, of course, there were a number of students who opposed the name change. These white students proudly identified as non-racists.
In one of my political science classes, I heard two statements that made me want to punch a wall. The first was, “everyone who immigrates here must learn English.” The second was “we need to get rid of anchor babies.” As the daughter of immigrants, I naturally had very strong opinions about those ideas. However, I never felt safe or comfortable voicing them. My classes were predominantly white spaces. I am pretty sure my professor didn’t see the issue in those statements.
The first statement implied that only people who spoke English were allowed here. And, English is our national language. This was solely for the convenience of white folks who spoke English. When you think of fluent English speakers, those of European decent come into mind. Moreover, this statement assumes that everyone has access to English speaking courses. Forcing English as America’s official language reinforces the everlasting consequences of colonization.
The second statement assumed that pregnant immigrants only came to the United States to quickly give birth to a US Citizen. Apparently, this was done so they could quickly achieve citizenship themselves (sigh). It implied that they were exploiting a loophole. For the record, NO ONE THINKS THIS WAY! There are several fucking reasons why people immigrate here. Also they come in all conditions, some of which are not in their control. Of course, who comes to mind when you think of pregnant people taking advantage of our system? People of color.
(And, yes, both of those statements came from white men who identify as Republican.)
While watching Hasan Minhaj‘s comedy special, Homecoming King, with a now ex-boyfriend, I found myself in another screaming situation. Minhaj shared the story of his first white girlfriend in high school whose mother wouldn’t let them go to Prom together. The mother said, “it wouldn’t look nice.” Naturally, this traumatized Minhaj and this stayed with him for a very long time. As Minhaj explained how he ran into his “ex white princess” years later, my ex said,
“He needs to get over that, it’s been years.”
I stayed quiet. I was in a pretty emotionally abusive relationship with this guy, so I never spoke my mind because I didn’t want to lose him. Yup, horrible! Anyways, my ex (white man) thought he was woke, hence not racist. But, he got uncomfortable when the comedy special focused heavily on the comedian’s experience with racism. My ex didn’t understand that those moments of discrimination stay with people of color. They’re permanently tattooed into our memories. We can’t just get over it and move on because those moments invalidate our entire identity.
Just like bus moment with Faith stays with me, Minhaj’s Prom disaster stays with him.
During all of those incidents, each individual had the same level of education as me. Some of them lived in cities with tons of diversity and considered themselves not racist. Yet, this is how they behaved. Many of them may either have quietly voted for Trump, didn’t vote, or openly embraced Trump. Some of them may have even voted for Biden.
However, I’ve heard many people give their resolutions to solve the issue of racism. These people assume that uneducated people voted for Trump, but that’s not true. In fact, a majority of Trump supporters are college educated white folks.
When people assume uneducated people voted for Trump, I hear, “those voters aren’t surrounded by diversity or live in metro areas.” So, if they lived in diverse areas, then they would be not racist. But, my experience disproved that. I follow a college classmate on Instagram. She was in all of the same classes as me, except for race classes. We had the same education, yet she supports white supremacy. She lived in Washington D.C, yet still supports white nationalism. Clearly, she’s educated and surrounded by diversity but still votes for racism.
The real solution is anti-racist education starting as early as elementary school. Children of color are aware of their race early on. They have the tough conversations at home with their parents, but go to school learning something else. If we can break the colorblind rhetoric early, then we can truly progress. Sure, it will make some people uncomfortable but tough. We have to get uncomfortable before we can start truly reflecting, then create the right change.
That’s all I have for now. I wanted to share.