Every year, my teachers always dedicate one class period to talking about race relations…especially if there is a current national issue.
I was a freshman in college during the 2016 Trump/Clinton presidential election. It was also during the same year that the entire Colin Kaepernick controversy started. In almost every single class, we talked about race relations in the U.S.
We discussed about what it meant to be American and how politics affected some people differently than others. For some of my peers, it was the first time that they’ve ever been put in a negative spotlight and they became defensive. For others, it was a discussion that they’ve had for years prior to walking into that classroom in the fall of 2016.
As the title says, I was usually the only Asian in class. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and rarely saw anyone that looked liked me in the classroom setting.
I was ignorant of any cultural issues that affected other Asian Americans in the country. My high school teachers never talked about racism outside of historical or literary contexts. And I brushed off any racist comments as idle talk from white people that didn’t know how to keep their nose out of other people’s business.
It wasn’t until I left home for college that I realized just how little I knew about the world.
And although I did develop my own opinions about each issue that my professors wanted to talk about.. I found it hard to speak up for myself.
A small part of it could have been due to my introversion. But another part of it was because I never felt like I belonged.
What does one Korean girl say and do when the conversation is (literally and metaphorically) black and white? My white peers saw me as an “other”. They analyzed my lighter skin tone, stereotypical flat face, my ethnic sounding surname and fluent English…And they didn’t know what to do with it. My black friends saw that I wasn’t exactly white and sensed some sort of comraderie. But it wasn’t the same.
It was lonely in the classroom. I felt like a didn’t belong and I didn’t want to impose myself in a conversation that I wasn’t a part of.
I would never know the privilege of being a white student born into an upper-middle class family. I would never know the trauma of an African American family who faced discrimination for generations. And this isn’t to say that Asian American families are not in the upper-middle class of that there hasn’t been generational trauma.
All I’m saying is that when everything in the world has to be categorized…when there can’t be any middle ground…when people are so focused on one issue that they can’t see that others are hurting…
I feel lonely.