What is it about the issue of race in this country that makes it so divisive? I read so many articles and hear so many stories about other races being mistreated by authorities and I debate with myself if I should share them. I don’t because some of these issues are so serious that I feel like sharing them is almost trivializing them. Sometimes I’ll tell my friends who I follow on social media so I can keep up to date on issues other races are facing. I feel like these stories should be told from people who are experiencing them. I hope that my friends will follow those sources to learn more about the injustices other races face.
I think I’ll talk about part of my story too. My experience as a minority in this country has not been all together positive. I’m sharing this not to place blame on anyone. These issues are so old and I haven’t thought about them in so long. However, when I read other people’s stories and how quickly they get discredited I can see how that happens because it happened to me. I can see how quickly people assume it’s your fault. I can see how people assume that we live in a post-racial society.
I remember once in high school practically the whole class failed a midterm. I did not. I got a 119 out of 100. Students were panicked about their poor performance but our teacher reassured the students that she wouldn’t fail them. At the end of the quarter, she announced our grades to the class. While many were apprehensive I’m sure they assumed I was completely calm throughout this procedure. However, I didn’t feel assured or confident. I felt nervous. I knew this teacher didn’t like me. I knew she might grade me unfairly. As she announced students’ grades, I remember each student got up as she presented to the whole class their quiz average, test average, midterm, and final grade. I heard stats like 89, 95, 46 and the final grade she would curve to 100. I could feel the other students beam with joy especially since not only were their abysmal midterms absolved but their mediocre scores were also brought up to an astronomical 100 percent as their quarter average. Then she got to me. I stood before her and heard her list my grades, 95, 98, 119 and my final grade 99. She looked up and grinned at me. I smiled back. I sat down at my desk. I didn’t even feel angry.
I felt relieved.
I was certain she would destroy my grade and give me an 85 which would allow me to keep distinguished honors but destroy my rank. I knew that if she did that, I wouldn’t be able to fight it. The last time I went to the administration to talk to them about racism in the school, the bullying only got way worse. Thus, that 99 was a gift. The 1 point discrepancy didn’t feel like as much of a violation. It didn’t obligate me to stand up and speak out about this obvious injustice. If I decided to speak out, it would be more based on principle than a worrisome discrepancy. And I knew it would be useless to complain.
She wasn’t the only teacher who singled me out for my race. I remember another teacher who openly called Asians animals in class. I did extremely well in that class too, so well that the other kids had their grades curved but I didn’t. One day I asked him why. I questioned, “Why do you curve the other kids’ grades but not mine? Can I have a curve too?” He glared at me and spat out, “Why would I give you a curve?!” I sped out of that classroom before his anger could escalate. I didn’t feel like being called an animal to my face.
I had an insane work ethic in high school. I knew people noticed. I could tell in the way some of the teachers talked to me that they thought I was this stereotypical Asian kid who wanted to be number 1 in the class which is why I couldn’t help but notice that the one teacher got so much glee out of giving me a 99 instead of 100. However, I didn’t bother to tell them the truth. I worked so hard but it wasn’t for my rank. I wanted to help save money for my family so that my mom could go home to the Philippines. When we were growing up I would hear my dad say, “You have to work twice as hard to be half as good,” so I threw myself into my work determined to help my family. I knew teachers would lower my grades but I couldn’t care less about rank. I just wanted a great scholarship so I could go to school, save money for my mom and help my family in the Philippines. It’s one of the reasons I started getting involved in community service because I want to find sustainable solutions to poverty to help people like my relatives. By the way I did get a full tuition scholarship.
Years later I once had a friend tell me that I made too big a deal about how I was bullied for my race back in high school. I looked at her incredulously. I never spoke to my friends about the bullying. If they heard about it, it was from a third party because there was one instance when I cried in school. Otherwise, I kept it to myself. When the one teacher called Asian animals, I kept it to myself. When teachers lowered my grades, I kept it to myself. When kids chased me around the school hurling racial slurs at me as I walked the halls, I kept it to myself. Despite all of that I graduated in the top of my class and won a full tuition scholarship. Moreover, most of my friends are white. So where did I overreact? Years later I corrected this friend in her insensitivity and I don’t want to bring up this instance to shame her but I do want it to be brought up because even after everything I went through, even though I barely complain, and even though I succeeded so much, I still got blamed for it all.
In college, I got a full tuition scholarship. I worked two part time jobs in the summer and did a little work study during school so my parents could save money. I became very close to my freshman suitemates who all happened to be white. I made the mistake of telling them my true aspiration, my true reason I worked so hard in school. When they learned about my scholarship they told me that I had won it because of affirmative action. I was shocked by their assumption and I tried to argue with them that I won that scholarship from merit. They refused to believe me. Thus, I decided that I wouldn’t tell people anymore. It was strange to me. Even when I overcame the teachers that tried to hold me back and even when I excelled so much over my peers, whenever I got accolades there were people to tell me I only got it because white people gave it to me over other white people who they believe deserved it more.
This is a piece of what racism in America looks like. But I’m lucky that for me it isn’t worse than this. I’ve read so many other stories of other people facing incredible injustices and no one listens to them. They find ways to discredit them or minimize what they go through. I just hope that instead of judging others and instead of assuming things about them that when you hear their stories that you empathize and listen to them. Open your minds to other worldviews and realize that race is a significant issue in this country and that many are marginalized severely because of it.