I’m so sick of hearing the word “racism” in conversation and in the news. Are people even aware of the definition? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition is:
A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
It also makes me wonder how many people have actually experienced racism in their lives. I have yet to meet someone who has had the same experiences as me. It almost feels like it’s acceptable to say something to the Asian guy because there are so few Asians in the United States. Culturally, if not stereotypically, Asians are quiet and reserved especially in public.
I was not this way.
The image projected in the United States is that Asians are academically inclined, respectful, successful, and won’t fight back against abuse or degradation. Obviously, the first part of the image is positive, but I was raised by fiery Scottish parents. I do not take kindly to taunts.
High school athletics was particularly difficult for me. Imagine starting varsity on the basketball team as a freshmen playing against small cornfield towns. Despite the fact that I probably know more about US history and the English language than those towns, they were merciless. Some of my own peers and their parents weren’t fans of me on the team. I believe this was because of my age at the time though.
It wasn’t just the opposing players or student sections. I heard some of the worst comments from parents. A few schools in particular were extremely hard to play:
3. Jefferson High School (Dayton, OH)
This was one of the most hostile crowds in Dayton. Predominantly black, we played Jefferson twice in my career. The players were respectful and extremely competitive. The coach even extended a friendship to me after a game. The students and cheerleaders were rude and racist. While we walked through the line to shake hands, the cheerleaders refused to shake my hand saying they “didn’t want to catch Asian diseases.”
2. Waynesville High School (Waynesville, OH)
All my life I have been warned to stay away from Waynesville if I’m passing through the town. It is rumored they have a large KKK population. Believe it or not, I actually find the town’s landscape and buildings charming and beautiful. I even have some friends from the town. But the student sections were some of the toughest I ever had to deal. Every time I touched the ball they chanted “Jackie Chan” or “Gook”. One student even commented, “My uncle fought yours in Vietnam.”
1. Greeneview High School (Jamestown, OH)
Not only was this school our rivals (I never got into the rivalry), but the town is made up of “good ol’ boys” and farmers. Again, it’s a town I have many dear friends that live there. Basketball games were the worst of my life. They openly chanted “chink” and every time they scored they waved US flags. The flags part was confusing to me since I’m a proud American citizen. Obviously, this was to shame the fact that I was born in a different country and looked different from them.
So, it’s high school. Who cares? Kids are mean and vicious to everyone at that stage. I didn’t spend a lot of time complaining about it; in fact, this is the first time I’ve publicly addressed it.
College was a different situation. First, we have the “bamboo” ceiling. While other minorities do not have to score the national averages to be accepted, Asians must score higher than other minorities and caucasians to be competitive with college acceptance. All this implies is that Asians are somehow smarter than the average person. I appreciate the compliment but not the extra barrier and acceptable racism. Luckily, my father works at the college and my name sounds like a nobody from the Midwest. Plot twist: I am a nobody from the Midwest.
I didn’t plan to compete in basketball at my college, but was kindly asked to attend tryouts. I ended up on the junior varsity team and even assisted the varsity in various roles. And the same problems ensued.
This time the racism came from fellow students at my school. My teammates, junior varsity and varsity, were great. The coaches were understanding and professional. The average student was either intentionally racist or ignorant. I can forgive and ignore sheltered ignorance.
One student, in particular, used to speak to me and about me in a mocking stereotypical Asian fashion. He would replace his L’s with R’s and make slanted eyes. I should’ve known that there would be problems when he mentioned his nickname is “Whitebread” or something. I believe he went on to the medical field.
“Chink” and Chinese freak were common terms I heard during my time in college from other students. This was supposed to be a Christian college. The professors, policies (minus the Multicultural Classes), and staff were always friendly and accommodating. I never wanted to be singled out or treated differently, I just wanted to be a student there. Somehow, I was both singled out and treated differently. I was just ready to be done so I handled it with grace and discretion.
Let’s not get confused. I had an amazing youth. I learned to love those cornfields and embrace small town values. I made some awesome friends along the way.
Now, take all my experiences and replace them with another minority. It may be a black guy or a Native American or even a homosexual. Can you imagine the media attention it would receive if a student section chanted the N-word towards a student? What if a student section brought cut outs of President Andrew Jackson’s head to taunt a Native American kid. CNN and the local papers would have a field day. Asians – nothing. Acceptable racism.
I’m glad Asians in the US can handle jokes and taunts or at least brush them off. Other groups lose their minds. I am not advocating for a group or diminishing the plight of others, but I think we should really think about what we consider racist today. When a couple huddles together and moves quickly through a neighborhood at night, it’s not because a certain group lives there but because it’s night and dangerous. That’s not racism.
If there are people out there that have experienced the same things (and people have experienced much worse), just know that you’ll become a better person for rising above it. It’s hard to listen to someone caucasian tell you how to handle racism in this country. I’m telling you that you are your biggest hurdle. If you figure out a way to improve, adapt, and overcome, you’ll learn more than if you join an advocacy group or make a lot of noise. (Shout out to the US Marines).