Growing up not physically looking like my family created some challenges. There were moments in my childhood and beyond where I fell victim to racial slurs and comments. One Christmas while I was home from college there was a discussion of interracial relationships. My stepmother said that it would be “taboo” to bring home a black man, the look on my face must have given her an indication I was confused. Her response was how her family isn’t racist but…by that point I had stopped listening. I was furious. EVERY RELATIONSHIP I was in WAS an interracial relationship. Last time I looked in the mirror I wasn’t white…but I also apparently didn’t count as a person of color (POC). My parents stated that it would be weird if I brought home, someone of another race, even though I’m not white. It always struck me as odd and I tried not to take it personally but how couldn’t I? I am a person of color.
I was raised in a home that didn’t “see color”. Where I was taught that it was on the inside that counts. The truth was is that people DO SEE color, it is one of the first things we notice whether we want to admit it or not. Though it does not define us, it sure as hell matters how we identify ourselves, we see ourselves as POC. While those around my chose not to see color I was aware of it constantly. In school, while learning about the Civil Rights Movement and Japanese internment camps my parents would reassure me that society had made progress since that time and they do not care what color I am. It does matter. As a POC, whether my family sees it or not, my struggles are different than theirs.
Funny thing is that you CAN be a racist even though you have POC as friends or you yourself are a POC, they are not mutually exclusive. Just because you know a POC, are a POC or raised a POC but still, have racist thoughts or feelings STILL MAKES YOU RACIST. I’ve heard excuses like I don’t count because I’m a “Twinkie” (that’s a whole other discussion) because I know this person or that person then racism isn’t an issue or my personal favorite is about the time period someone grew up in. Guess what? It’s not an excuse. You can still have hate in your heart.
The first racial slur I heard was in middle school. I didn’t know what it meant until I asked my dad. It made me mad for several reasons most importantly because I am not Chinese, I am Korean. Initially, I did not know what the word meant, I just knew that I was mad. I believe that race is something that needs to be discussed, you can be “colorblind” while still being able to address race.
Recently while I was driving down the road a truck passed me and yelled another racial slur. No, I wasn’t being a stereotypical “Asian woman driver”, I was stopped in a turn lane waiting my turn during rush hour. It had been a long time since I had heard a racial slur with so much hate directed at me. After that, I knew eventually I would have to have a discussion with my son. My son is half Korean and half Caucasian, his physical features are mostly mine, he looks more Asian than he does white. He will need to understand that there is hate in this world and there may be times that he may fall victim to it. There is a sense of duty to protect my child from the hate and even though I cannot shield him from everything I can teach him about it so he will understand.
Whether or not we have the ability to admit it or not, on some level whether it be conscious or not, we are aware of race, society is aware of race. There are still discrepancies in this world between the races and not addressing it is part of the problem. We cannot confront what is not known. The question comes down to, are you going to sit back and watch or muster your courage and do something about it?