There’s a video that’s been floating around Facebook that attempts to make humor of racism: Diet Racism. What caught me about the video is that it approaches racism from several different angles and with several different races.
The comment in the video that particularly caught my attention was one girl who says, “You know I’m not racist, but I would never date an Asian guy.” Immediately, I thought, “I know people who have said that!” and quite honestly, I could probably have been that person at one point in my life. At least compared to black Americans overtly being persecuted, the comment seemed much more subtle, but it’s racism all the same.
This made me think about my perception of Asians, particularly Chinese. This then led me to realize that I don’t know that many Asians, and I don’t actually have much perspective of which to go off.
Am I racist?
In the days that followed, I started observing my natural reactions to and interactions with Asians. It wasn’t pretty, and actually I am again becoming embarrassed as I remember my natural reaction. I may be racist against Asians.
Before I go on, you need to know that at the core of my beliefs, I think everyone is a little racist. And even where you are least racist, you are still on the spectrum. Its called implicit bias, where the human brain is predisposed to categorizing things, and it is happening unconsciously. This pre-categorization expresses itself where people of certain races are automatically put in certain boxes, despite whether or not they fit. When we think of racism, we most often think of the extremely evident examples of white police shooting unarmed black men. However, most racism is actually much more subtle than that, and it is harder to call out.
So, when I say I am racist against Asians, it’s more like I only just became aware of a bias, but on the spectrum, I’m not at the end where I actually want to do harm to Asians. Really, I just found out that I am not seeking them out as friends, and as a result, I lack understanding and empathy.
You’re not automatically a bad person.
Working in the refugee resettlement and language access field, I was and still am really embarrassed by this discovery, but not so much that I don’t want to talk about this. If we want people to become less racist, I believe open dialogue is the best place to start. Someone passing around that video is what got me to realize, right?
Once you discover there is something about yourself you don’t like, the (hopefully) natural thing to do is figure out how to fix it. For me, I’ve made an effort to (a) become aware of my natural reaction to being around Asians, (b) actively seek out Asians to talk with, and (c) be humble to this issue.
In this pursuit, I actively ask questions to ensure I am being as respectful as possible, and on a few occasions, I have admitted to my Asian friends about my biased discovery. I’ve found honesty makes friends, and they have, to this point, been very forgiving about it.
The weirdest and coolest part about this is that I can literally see myself changing. I can see my bias slipping away, and my fear-instinct is becoming friendlier. I am starting to understand cultural characteristics, and I am also becoming more forgiving.
What does improved understanding look like?
When I first went to Ukraine, I was so frustrated by my host-mom always harassing me to eat more and leave nothing on my plate. I just wanted to eat in peace. Then, I learned more and more about the forced famine of the 1930s, and it started to make sense that she placed a lot of value in food and eating. When I returned to the U.S., I realized that this was the same culture my grandmother came from, and she had done the same thing. Ding! A light bulb came on, and suddenly my grandmother’s annoying tendencies became explainable by an entire cultural event.
The same situation occurred when I went to Thailand (my first Asian country). Up until then, I had always been so frustrated by Asian tourists who seemed to just walk right into me whenever I traveled. Then in Thailand, there were so many people. At some point, you couldn’t pay attention to everyone around you, and you just had to walk. Thai people seemed to have some chaotic system figured out where people weren’t constantly running into each other. I learned to make last minute decisions about dodging people, rather than giving social cues so far in advance, and it worked! More importantly, I became aware of the necessity behind this trait, and I have felt more forgiving since.
What to do about your implicit bias.
Which brings me to my point: When you find that you have implicit bias (which you do), seek out understanding. In fact, any time you find yourself saying, “XYZ population always interrupts/eats to loudly/xyz.” If an entire culture is always doing something, then there is probably a reason. And I guarantee your increased understanding of why will make you more awesome.
You have to actively pursue understanding.