Not Always Black & White

lynn-hurBy Lynn Hur, originally published in The Mennonite and on the ReconciliAsian blog

The classroom is silent, apart from the ticking of the clock and the shifting of a chair. My English teacher looks at us pensively as my classmates awkwardly look around, waiting for someone to speak up. We had been beginning to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and the inevitable subject of race had been brought up again. My friend tells the teacher that she cried watching the assigned documentary following the Scottsboro Trials, and how she couldn’t believe the injustice of it all. Heads nod in agreement. I respond, commenting that this isn’t just something that happened, but is happening today as well. My teacher nods once again, agreeing. I try to continue, but get cut off. “Moving on,” he says. “You guys can talk more about that in a history class. We don’t have time to get too deep into the details.”

 I look around in disbelief. In history class? This stuff is happening now! And freshmen don’t even take history! This topic is so relevant in this class, but discussing the symbolism of a copper coin is more of a priority? I turn around to look at my friend, but she is already turning to the next page. The class continues, and the discussion turns to the theme of maturity or something. My ears ring and my cheeks flush with frustration for the rest of the day.

My school is predominantly Asian-American and it is a bit of a privilege to be able to grow up in an environment where I’m not teased because of my small eyes or praised for my surprisingly “good English.” However, the stereotype of Asians staying quiet is frustratingly fulfilled. Talking about religion, politics, or racism in general is a bit of a taboo at school.

During PE, I rant to a couple of my friends about this as we shoot some baskets. “Why are we so afraid to talk about what’s happening outside of school?” Swish. “We only talk about what happened in the book. We ignore the racism around us. And we even have Trump to talk about, but we don’t.” A friend looks a bit uncomfortable. “I get what you’re saying, but no need to bring him into this.” Airball. I turn around as she continues. “I mean, you’re totally worked up about this!” She laughs stiffly. I look away. Swish.

Is it weird because I’m not black and that I get “worked up about this”? Why are we so quiet about it? Maybe it’s because Asians are just never in the picture? These questions swirl around my head for the next couple months.  I almost forget the racism that Asian-Americans go through. So does everyone else.

One problem with attending a mostly Asian high school is the blindness of the racism that we will face in the real world. Not everyone is accepted so quickly, and many of us are unaware that we even face racism. We don’t get shot at or brutally killed as frequently as black or brown bodies. We aren’t called rapists or drug dealers or gangsters or trouble. But we have our own names. We are the perpetual foreigners. Our women are “exotic” so they’re sexy, and our men aren’t at all. We are called Oriental (are we rugs?). We are told to go back to our countries, even if we were born here. We all look the same. We all have the same culture anyways. We are ninjas. We put chopsticks in our hair. We aren’t expected to know English. We are submissive. We are weak. We are not athletic. We aren’t rebellious, cool or fashionable. We aren’t here to take away jobs. We are the shopkeepers and immigrants, the rude ones or the quiet ones. We want to be white. We should learn the language. We are the lame nerds in TV shows, the smart ones (by the way, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “good stereotype”), the sidekicks, that person that gets three seconds of screen time so people can call it “diverse.” In fact, we can make any group “diverse.” We are the invisible minority.

As a high schooler in the current public school system, I can say with confidence that the education system is not preparing the next generation for the real world. Rather than learning how to face racism, break gender stereotypes, or even how to pay taxes and learn proper manners, we learn how to fill in bubbles and stay quiet in class. We learn that the teacher’s word is law. We strip ourselves of our own voices and individuality to fit in at school. We don’t bother to talk about what will really matter later on.

As the daughter of two pastors and a follower of Christ, I expect to learn from church. I expect to grow spiritually, not to color in pictures or discuss Noah’s Ark for the five hundredth time. I expect to use my voice as a Mennonite youth and tackle things that I don’t at school. If these issues aren’t brought up, the church is not fulfilling its duty to the people and to God.

As a child of the next generation, I want all people to know a couple things. Number one: racism is not just a black and white situation. Racism isn’t always blatant and immediately offensive. It is not colorless. Racism encompasses the entirety of our colorful and complicated world. Number two: no one is completely innocent. Asians have their own assumptions and stereotypes of others, despite our experiences. Number three: I want us to look at racism in the eye, name it, and undo it. 

Lynn Hur is a ninth grader living in Pasadena, California. When she is not writing, you will find her in the kitchen reading her favorite cookbooks and perfecting her chocolate chip cookie recipe.

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