“Stop taking our jobs!”
“Your eyes are big for a Chinese person.”
This is a sampling of what’s been said to me on this campus. Some are clearly antagonistic and racist, while others have been said by some of my closest friends. That’s not to say that I’m not friends with these people now and that these people aren’t good people.
I repeat. It does not mean that these people aren’t good people.
The most difficult thing to do is tell a friend that they’re being ignorant, and that by being ignorant they are prone to using racist language or behavior. It’s easy when the comment is blatantly racist and said by a stranger, because the situation is black and white: the stranger said these things to hurt, scare and alienate me. When a friend says it, these motives don’t make sense. The last thing they want to do is hurt me, and the last thing I want is for them to think that they hurt me too.
Most people don’t know how these comments aren’t appropriate, and that’s when it’s my job to explain it to them. “Your eyes are big for a Chinese person” sounds like it would be a compliment, but really it’s far, far from it. It’s only considered a compliment because of my race. And even worse, because of the racial stereotype that is put upon me. When someone says that to me, I realize that in their eyes, I’m not a person anymore; I’m just a stereotype that someone has boxed me into.
What’s most hurtful is when people don’t believe that stereotypes, jokes about race, and an attitude that allows them to shrug these comments off are contributing to an overall atmosphere that allows racism as a system to exist. Questioning my pain is almost like saying it doesn’t exist, when it clearly does for so many other people.
But sometimes people just don’t know, or they don’t care enough to make the problem theirs, even when I need that support the most. To care about race issues is to care about me.
I talk about my experiences and how to communicate with others at Honors Mosaic, a group within the Honors Program that aims to advance diversity in the Honors Program. It provides a safe space for me to express whatever I’m feeling without fear of being questioned, judged, or chastised. Everyone has had some type of experience concerning their race that has lead them to create and join this group. We have programming planned for this semester, as well as a mentoring program for honors freshmen students of color who just need a person to talk to; whether it be when racial slurs are shouted at them, when they have conflicting feelings about how to interact with their friends, or just the overall predominantly white population on campus. It doesn’t mean we’re bashing on every white person we see, we just need a place where we feel understood and affirmed, which sometimes can only be provided by those who have experienced it too.
So the best thing to do when you’re not sure what to say to me? Or when you have a feeling I might take offense to something? Just ask. Don’t worry about being offensive in your question. I’ll explain that to you too. I’ll be more than happy that you care enough to ask than to never ask me at all.
-Xiao Guo, email@example.com