It’s funny I write this now, as my life has been steadily improving since moving from small town Loudon, Tennessee to Johnson City. College has been a learning curve on my part, but it’s also afforded me the opportunities I feel fortunate enough to have been offered and grateful enough to have accepted in stride.
Despite it all, though, living in the South has grown more interesting as I age. Moving from the valley to the mountains hasn’t changed a thing as far as people are concerned. I still get asked questions like, “What are you?” and “Where are you from?”
For those of you who don’t know or have wondered after seeing my picture plastered over the ETSU website, I am Chinese. Actually, I’m also German. Actually, I’m also Scots-Irish. But with the rest of my genes being a mixture between other European-white ethnicities, the Chinese portion has stood out the most here.
Ironically enough, I’m only a quarter Chinese, but that little bit seems to overshadow the rest of my DNA. My best friend said to me once, “I know you’re only a quarter Chinese, but that whole quarter went straight to your face.”
She’s right! I laughed, because it’s true. My eyes are slanted, and I certainly have the rest of the Chinese attributes. I have the small, smooth face with the small nose and small ears. My whole body is small to be honest. My hair is thin and gets oily easily, and I’ve had bangs for years.
In light of all of this, it took me several years to become comfortable with my body. I hit puberty late, and as a young woman, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that my body will never look as curvy or my hair as manageable as my predominantly white counterparts.
Over the years, I’ve gotten over my personal insecurities, but something I can’t seem to shake is the unintentional racism spewed from the mouths of my peers and adults. As a college student, I thought the ignorance would end, but no, I still get the cliche Asian jokes that were never funny and hear the same questions repeated in my ear by the oblivious elderly.
At my second job as a waitress, I was talking to the one and only black server, and she said to me, “You can’t even consider yourself a full minority because you’re only a quarter Chinese.”
In response I said, “I’ll stop considering myself a minority when I stop hearing the question, ‘Are you from Taiwan?’”
As a rule, never assume someone’s ethnicity. It’s all right if you want to play the guessing game from the sidelines, but never ask someone the specifics you think you know. Everyone is usually wrong.
Minorities are living all across this nation, and I’m growing angrier by the day when I read the news and see the racism that continues to find a defense in the land of the free. As a whole, I’m done tolerating the ignorant remarks from those who pretend these issues don’t exist. Racism, sexism and prejudices are ongoing problems in modern society, as pitiful as that is. Though I haven’t personally received the full assault of these issues, I feel for those who have. This includes all minorities of all types, and if you’re not on their side by this point, I don’t know what I can say in response to your lack of heart for humanity.
I’m not saying the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but we all have an innate responsibility to adhere to the common sense that should reside in all of us. You don’t have to be an activist to change the state of affairs.
As a generality, remember there are people out there who have heard enough ignorant comments to fill a book. Rather than assuming an intellectual superiority, humble yourself and ask your fellow minority as an equal, “Tell me about yourself.” Kindness goes too far, and curiosity never hurt anyone, but it insults all of us when questions are approached by the face of ignorance.