What am I? Confronting Subtle Racism

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My mom is Korean and my dad is, well … basically, he’s white. As a kid, the only reality I knew was mine, so I didn’t find it odd that my parents were different from each other. Evidently, some people do, and it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. The frustration and dread I feel when I’m approached and asked, “What are you?” isn’t something I can put into words. I’m tough. I’m sarcastic. I’m strong. I’m confident. But these aren’t the answers they’re looking for. 

I haven’t been surrounded by outward racism. Many people experience discrimination on a much scarier scale. I have, however, experienced the tiniest taste of it. Because I’m a Korean woman, I’ve always been told that I look just like my mom, even though my features are more similar to my dad’s side of the family. People were confused when they saw my dad with small, Asian children. 

I used to think discussing microaggressions was silly, brushing them off as people being easily offended, until I understood that every time someone asked me, “Are you related to Kim Jong-un?” or said, “Of course YOU know how to use chopsticks,” it was a microaggression. I realized that because the pit I get in my stomach when the “But where’s your mom really from?” is hurled at me is different than other things I’ve felt. 

In high school, a girl I thought was one of my closest friends tended to let these remarks come spilling out. I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering her mom once referred to me as “Oriental.” One conversation has always stuck and makes me uneasy to this day was when she was talking about our friends, who are Vietnamese, and about how she loved having Asian friends. I mentioned that I’m also Asian and she laughed. “OK, but you’re not real Asian. I mean, you speak English at home.” When I referred to myself as half-white, she laughed again. She said that not only was I not a “real Asian,” but I wasn’t white, either. 

I know that girl didn’t intend to hurt me, but that’s the problem. Racism is so ingrained into our society that we don’t always realize why the things we’re thinking and saying are an issue. If I was scoffed at for stating that I’m half-white (in a time when we didn’t have a president who is slow to condemn white supremacists), how vile now are the kids to the girl who looks a little different than they do? We should be lifting each other up, celebrating what makes us unique and finding ways to honor our diversity.

What am I, you ask? I’m a woman. I’m a Christian. I’m a student. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I’m half-Korean, half-white and fully human.