Friday, August 5, 2016

To Be Asian-American: The Classroom Full Of Caucasians

A couple of years ago one of my friends showed me a class picture of his daughter’s kindergarten class. Every single child in the picture was Caucasian and blond. His daughter who is also white has darker blond hair, closer to brunette so she stood out. We laughed at this photo together.  I figured that my friend might laughed because the idea of living in such a racially homogeneous community seemed so absurd compared to his background and the way that he valued diversity in his friends.

I laughed for a different reason.

Growing up in a suburb of Seattle, there were always other minorities in my classes. I was never the only Asian student. As a child, I thought this was how it was for all children in America. As I grew older, I came to realize that this wasn’t the case and I made sure that the colleges that I applied to have a racial diversity in its student population.

At that point in the development of my racial identity, I knew that it was important that I was in an environment with other racial minorities, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t strongly identify with Asian culture, I didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese and most of the time I wasn’t close friends with my Asian classmates.  Having classmates who were students of color in my classes gave me a sense of comfort and safety. I didn’t fear Caucasians students but I knew that I was less likely to experience overt racism if I wasn’t the only person of color in the room. It’s similar to the fact that some men are less likely to make a sexist joke if half the people in the room are women.

Having other students of color in the class was an important check on my own interpretations of comments about race. There have been times in classes when a students said something that I initially thought was racially insensitive but after talking to other students of color, I realized I was overreacting and there were other times that if not for other students of color, I would have overlooked racially insensitive comments that required further discussion.

I laughed at that picture of all white kids, because it felted preposterous and kind of scary. It felt like something of out an SNL sketch. I have never been in a classroom with that racial make-up. This has to be a joke. How could a classroom this white exist?

These classrooms do exist in America and there are schools that have 100% white students. This is not necessarily a reflection anything negative about these communities. However for myself and my son, this lack of diversity is something that I could not feel comfortable with as a child, and that I feel is unacceptable for my son.

I feel blessed that Ollie’s school puts a priority of diversity and that last year; there were multiple layers of diversity in his classroom including racial diversity. Ollie knows that there are differences in hair and skin color, but he doesn’t talk about this with shame but rather with curiosity and pride because there are people in his world and in his class who are like him.

No comments:

Post a Comment