Wednesday, March 19, 2014

EAST COAST. Y U SO RACIST?: On Microagressions

    Recently, I was studying Du Bois' Souls of the Black Folk novel in my Challenges of Modernity class. During one class discussion, a girl in my class brought up the "I, too, am Harvard" video that's been taking over the web to supplement our discussion on racism. Since then, I've been thinking about the microagressions I personally face. 

    Yesterday, I went over to my friend's old high school as I'm staying over at her house during spring break. Cindy's old high school is a large brick and glass structure in the suburbs of Connecticut where the student body is predominantly Caucasian. Upon the arrival of my friend and I, along with two of our other friends, Gian from the Philippines and Andy from Brunei, we ran into Cindy's old calculus teacher. We told him that we all went to Colgate also. He asked us where we were from. We talked about the school for a bit, and the next thing you know, he tells Gian and Andy, "Well, your guys' English is really great!" 


    Okay, so- Wait a second. I have to compartmentalize because every time something like this happens, I just... UGH. I feel immense rage crash throughout my entire entity, but pure rage is not what I want to spew forth on this blog. I'm going to try to express my point eloquently and calmly. But GOD. I JUST GET SO ANGRY.

    And I thought about this complement Cindy's old teacher just put forth. I knew he meant well. I assumed that he thought complimenting the international students on their English would be, just that- complimentary. 

   But I don't know if people who give compliments like this understand the preconceptions put forth by saying such statements:

- As you are an international student, I expect your English to be less than "great." 
- Why? Because, as you are international, English is obviously not your first language.
- Which means you must be struggling with English.. since you probably just began learning English upon coming to America. 
- And I can assume this because you do not look like a "typical" American. 
-  E.g. You are not white. 

-Gian and Andy are international students with "great" English.
- English is not their first language.
- But they are not struggling with English, having been taught English since a young age. 
- And they can speak it with extremely subtle accents. Not that having an accent is the prime determinant of how well one speaks English.  

   Today, I was with Cindy, Andy, Gian, and my friend from NY, Val, in New York City. We walked over to the American Museum of Natural History. (It's a pretty cool place! Lots of taxidermy animals, fossil casts, anthropological artifacts. I could explore there for days.) Anyway, all was running smoothly until, out of the blue, one of the museum workers excitedly ran up to my friend Cindy. He was a middle-aged Caucasian man in a navy button up. He walked up with an eager, cordial disposition. I guessed he wanted to help us find something.
    "Where are you from?" he asked Cindy.
    "Excuse me? Uh, oh. I'm from Connecticut."
    "Where are... your grandparents from?" he smiled.
    "Oh! Are you Chinese or Korean? I can speak Korean-"
   "No, no. I'm Chinese."
   "Oh! Ni hao!" He continued to babble on in Chinese for a few seconds before turning to me with the same eager smile.
   "And where are you from?"
   "Uh, California," I replied, confused.
   "No, where are-" I knew where this was going. And at this point, I was tired of random people attempting to speak to me in Tagalog (the a common dialect in the Philippines). 
   "Spain," I interrupted. 
   "Oh!" He stammered a bit, confused. "Madrid? Guadalajara? Monzon?" 
   "How bout you?" he turned to Gian.
   "Oh, I'm from the Philippines."
   "Mabuhay!" he began conversing in Tagalog with Gian who smiled awkwardly. 
   "And you?" he turned to Andy.
   "Where are you from?"
   "Brunei! I've.. huh where is that?"
   "It's by Malaysia."
   "There's a good Malaysian food restaurant-"

I proceeded to rant in the bathroom next to the sink after we were away from the dude. "Ugh! Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I can speak the language my grandparaents spoke! And I feel so sad when people ask me where I'm FROM. I'm from California, and I speak English and some Spanish. And the fact that people expect me speak Tagalog, and I can't, just sucks!" I ranted to Cindy (who was in a stall). 

Cue that awkward moment when a young girl comes out of the bathroom stall and stares at me like "Why are you yelling in a bathroom?" 

And later, I ranted on the train.
"Just because I look Asian doesn't mean I'm not as American as you, Mr. White Guy!" I said. The twenty-something-year-old guy sitting in the seat across from me looked over and smiled. Like, a "you go girl!" smile. 

I told my boyfriend about my daily doses of racism. And he told me that today, he'd gotten his own. He went to lunch with a little old lady from the Christian church near our school.

"She assumed that because English is my second language, I'd have trouble with reading a menu. She actually explained what a menu was! Then, she read the menu aloud for me," he laughed. He added jokingly, "I was thinking, yeah, you and me take the SATs and let's see who scores better!" He's from Bangladesh, has worked as an English tutor, and got a near perfect score on the SAT. "And then she talked about American superiority and how third world countries don't have the same standards that America does- and she's right!" 

Sometimes, I just don't know about people. SIGH. 

People can be so kind and so ignorant at the same time. The East Coast is really teaching me how to be tolerant. And I'm sure these kind of microagressions are not just prevalent on this coast. But I'm really bummed out how frequently they happen in the communities I've been to so far.

That's all for now!

No comments:

Post a Comment