I often hear that we are living in a post-racial society; that racism, and the psychological effects from slavery, Reconstruction, segregation, Japanese internment camps, Chinese Exclusion Acts, anti-Semitism (et cetera) — up through the current anti-immigration tide to curb the influx of Latin@ Americans, or the harassment of Arab Americans, are all people being too sensitive. For goodness sakes, we have a Black president! Never mind the snarl of people currently picketing against “illegal immigrants.”
What if Native Americans did the same when the first Europeans came ashore “without proper documents” over five hundred years ago?
I can remember when Obama was running for office; I was ecstatic, and proudly displayed his bumper sticker. When I drove my car to pick up the White upper class 13-year-old boy I tutored from his private middle school, he took one glance at the sticker, and snickered, “How can you vote for a nigger?”
I know his sentiments do not represent all White Americans — that his thoughts are in the minority. But, if a minority of today’s children still harbors such attitudes about our world, where is our society? Are we not being naïve and self-righteous in deeming us a post-racial society, judging each other by deeds alone?
As an Asian American, in spite of the “model minority” identity (complacent demeanor, solid work ethic, and supposed ability to approach “White” standards of living), I am well aware that this is just that — a myth.
We do not live in a melting pot; we do not even live in a fruit salad. We live in a space that still parses us into rigid racial/ethnic/cultural lines.
Racism is still alive and well. But, somehow today, there are people who have managed to say that it is nonexistent by obliviousness. No, calling me “Ching Chong Chan” is not racist; they’re just having fun. I have to be less sensitive. My favorite line was once when I was jogging with my friend, someone yelled out of his car, “Hey, you’re running the wrong way! China’s the other way!”
I wanted to remind him, “The world is round. I can get going there either way.” But, I was out of breath running. To China, apparently.
One of the worst parts of racism is being made to feel you are less American. Non-Whites are often asked, “Where are you from?” “Florida.” “No, where were you born?” or “Where are your parents from?”
Why is it Barak Obama needed to prove his citizenship, and to remind everyone that Hawaii is part of America, but no one ever questioned previous presidents? Bush was from Texas, and Texas was an independent republic once. But, no one ever questioned his citizenship.
Race is not often broached in classrooms, as it is considered a politically sensitive topic that should be ignored. But, I feel students want to talk about it. They need to.
If someone ignores discussing race because s/he is tired of hearing about it — because it’s another ‘angry minority blaming her or his frustrations in life on race’ — then race is not who that person is; s/he has that privilege. But, for the rest of us, we need something more.
We need a discussion that recognizes each of our humanity.
Xiaodi Zhou is a third year doctoral student in the Language and Literacy Education department at the University of Georgia. He is interested in critical literacy issues important for today’s youths. Having lived extensively both in China and the U.S., he finds that he has a transnational, global perspective on issues. Having been born in China, growing up in the U.S., returning to teach in China, and finally coming back to the U.S. for his PhD, he finds himself torn between two cultures, two languages, and two truths.