I just finished watching the film “Dear White People.”
Being completely honest the complexities of the issue that the movie attempts to address somewhat escape me. I think I’d have to watch it another time to capture all of it.
There was one particular moment that stood out to me, though. The dean, who is black and who, though graduating summa cum laude, was not hired as the university president who is a white man who barely graduated, finds out that his son smokes weed. When lecturing his son he lashes out in anger, telling him not to perpetuate the images that people expect to see when they look at him, shedding light on why he is so strict and demanding with his son.
In my five months so far on the northern coast of Spain, I have encountered several instances of racism. To be honest, I’ve come across a lot of racist remarks and comments for a long time, in New York and throughout my travels. It is something that I have learned to deal with my whole life. The questions began when I was in middle school and was required to check off the boxes of my race on a state exam. I was so confused because you were only allowed to choose one, but I am multiracial. And why was it so important for these people to know anyway?
Just a couple of weeks ago as I was walking home, a few teenagers were behind me. Upon seeing that I have Chinese features, they began to try to imitate the Chinese language.
Are they just being teenagers who do things to look cool and should I not be outraged because of that?
Is it just a matter of blaming it on ignorance and nevermind the fact that my blood is boiling?
Should I simply blame it on the fact that people fear that which is different and unknown and ignore the absolute sense of humiliation that filled me?
Some people say that racism is no longer an issue, but it absolutely is. When I am the only person of color surrounded by white people I am always aware of that fact. Not because anyone points it out, not because people make me feel uncomfortable, but because it is simply now a habit. I was never once allowed to forget that I am different. That I have Chinese features, that I have darker skin, that I am multiracial. To this day. To this very day as a grown woman. In Spain with children and actors in improv shows pulling their eyes back. In New York with strangers coming up to ask me, “What are you?” and not being satisfied with the answer that I am from Brooklyn and that my parents are from Brooklyn.
Maybe I haven’t been a victim of blatant racism, maybe there is less blatant racism in the world than there was centuries ago, but racism is still very much alive. I have been fortunate in the fact that I have never had to deny who I am to feel the need to fit in with one race or the other. I have been fortunate in the fact that the police don’t instill in me a sense of fear because of my skin color. I have been fortunate in the fact that people don’t openly fear me by crossing the street or clutching their purses. For that I am profoundly grateful. But I will always be aware of the fact that I have certain features that make me different from the rest, and that it’s something that I can’t escape. In Spain children will point and pull their eyes back or ask me why my skin is so dark, in New York people will tell me how cool it is that I am multiracial and look at me with awe as if I were some object on display, or someone will comment that I look especially Latina with my curly hair, or especially Chinese with straight hair, in Costa Rica I will be called la china, albeit affectionately.
So yes, I do take these remarks, stares, questions offensively.
Yes, I am outraged and do not believe in the excuse that these were just teenagers trying to look cool.
No, I will not simply attribute to ignorance and try to keep my blood from boiling.
And no, I cannot simply blame it on the fact that people fear the unknown and that which is different and let that soothe the absolute humiliation that I experienced in that moment and in all of the moments before that.
I can’t pretend to know what it is like to experience blatant racism, I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have to hide who you are because you do or don’t fit the stereotypes attributed to your race. Nor can I even come close to experiencing the sheer sense of fear that I imagine some may feel when they hear stories like those of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner. What I experience is minor compared to those out there who do know what that’s like.
The culture of hate and fear is still very much embedded in our society. If I simply attribute the small experiences I have to ignorance and don’t address the issue, how can we expect to uproot the deeper racism at hand?