I was asked to write this for a project someone asked me to contribute to – to help prepare minority youth to deal with racism and ignorance in their lives, especially as they grow older. It was written very quickly. Please let me know what you think…it was hard for me, as someone who hasn’t dealt with much racism directly, to do this, but I felt I had to try.
Today, I usually distinguish between two very different terms – ignorance, and racism. They often come in the same disguise, and both create confusion and anger. But there is one major difference – ignorance can be overcome, while racism often cannot.
Growing in suburban Kansas City, at a high school that was 90% white (but, 25% Jewish), there were occasional racist acts – a anti-Jewish slur written on the bathroom, but more of what I encountered was ignorance. People who had never met an Indian-American before, who had gotten their little information from unreliable resources or media stereotypes. Most of the time these were innocent remarks – beliefs that Indians worship cows, never eat beef, that our religion is pagan. Or people assuming that all brown-skinned south Asians are the same, and not realizing how diverse the region is.
As a child it would be questions like “did you spend too much time in the sun?” Those incidents did leave me with a feeling that I was different, though, and as a child, that can be tough on its own. I remember thinking if I washed my skin enough, it would become lighter.
Of course, my perspective was different – I was considered a “model minority” – the term given to most Asian Americans who have to deal with far less negative stereotypes and perceptions than Latinos, African Americans, or Native American minorities. This alone puts undue pressure on us – the second generation, born here, assimilated yet held to higher expectations. We are supposed to be at the top of our class, supposed to be good at math, science, supposed to become doctors, engineers, professors, businessmen.
Moving to California brought me to another world – where these expectations were overbearing. I had to overcome new stereotypes – people assuming I could help them with computers, people assuming that I spoke Hindi, which actually pushed me away from other Indians, who often had the most strong expectations.
All of us as to work together to overcome ignorance – because if left untouched, ignorance can easily turn into lifelong racism – a far tougher battle to task.