Racist Shit My Classmates Say Pt 2
I’m going to use nicknames to give the illusion that I care about privacy here, but I don’t. However, this is what all the fancy, real writers do, so I can pretend. J I was at lunch one day with a few of my classmates during our time at clinic. We don’t all usually hang out, but we were assigned to the same clinic, so there we were. We happened to be discussing good Vietnamese food. One of my classmates, Jason, mentions that his old roommate was Vietnamese, so he knew where all the good spots were.
The next thing I know he turns to my classmate, Fred, and says, “If I spoke to you on the phone, I wouldn’t even know you were Asian.” Per my usual, I couldn’t leave it alone so I asked Jason what he meant by that. He said, “Well Fred just doesn’t sound Asian.” Then I asked what a person born and raised in California is supposed to sound like. Then, he turns and says, “Well I guess you’re right. He just sounds like a regular old white boy.”
Oh really? I don’t even remember if or how I responded to that. Jason is one of the sweetest, nicest people I know. I’ve never heard him say a mean thing to anyone, but he’s fallen prey to the “One Story” that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie preaches on and that I also mentioned in the last post. The media tends to present all non-white people in one particular way. More importantly, has this graduate student really not met any other people of Asian heritage who were born in the US? Is the only way to be an American to be a white person? Let’s just ignore the fact that plenty of tribes were here peacefully before Europeans came sailing in. But let’s be fair. I mean Jason is from South Carolina, and Aziz Ansari told me all about that special place
Did you notice I didn’t call him an Asian-American? He’s American. He was born here. He doesn’t have to qualify his presence in this country by stating his heritage any more than the rest of us have to. I recently read something by Bill Cosby that was posted on Facebook. Supposedly it was in relation to the George Zimmerman case, but you know how the Internet is. Anyway, he said, “I say this all of the time. It would be like white people saying they are European-American. That is totally stupid.I was born here, and so were my parents and grand parents and, very likely my great grandparents. I don’t have any connection to Africa, no more than white Americans have to Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, or the Netherlands?. The same applies to 99 percent of all the black Americans as regards to Africa.” I couldn’t agree more. Why do just the white people get to be American?
For some reason some people have the idea that an Asian person should have an accent. Asian people have been here long enough to have grandparents without accents. I bet it never dawned on Jason that Fred’s family jokes with him about his American accent when he speaks Cantonese. This all bothered me more than it bothered Fred, maybe because I’m socially aware. Maybe because Fred and I have a brother-sister type relationship and we each get unreasonable when the other is being mistreated. I felt the same way when a few of my classmates made jokes about Fred majoring in math in college because it’s “typical” and because “Asians are good at math.” Right. I’m sure it had nothing to do with work ethic and dedication. It was only because he was just born knowing all of the math in the universe. I was thrilled when Arthur Chu, the amazing contestant from Jeopardy, stood up about all this stuff very publicly.
I don’t hate my classmates. For the most part, they’re good people. I just think they won’t make very effective clinicians if they haven’t spent any time with people who look or live a little differently. This is almost comical as cultural competence is one of the grading points during our evaluations while we are interning at different clinics. I can think of a few people to whom I’d have to give a zero. The sad thing is, they wouldn’t even realize what they’ve done is problematic, but I guess that’s the benefit of privilege, not recognizing that you and your lifestyle are the standard.