I live in a town that seems too small to gorge itself on the amount of stress that the students feel, too quiet to have flashing cameras film major news coverage down the street, and too hidden next to its showy neighbors to catch a celebrity sauntering into a nearby restaurant. It feels like nothing ever happens.
And I know our high school challenges students, gives them a cause to complain about. But deep down underneath all that teenage angst, most actually appreciate the education they are given.
But the one aspect I absolutely cannot complain about? The amount of diversity my town prides itself on having. It’s like my own nice little snow globe, only instead of snow flurries fluttering around, test papers and study guides fly through the air.
Niche rates my school a high 10 out of 395 schools in NJ in regards to college readiness. In an environment where not taking honors or AP classes is practically a sign of weakness that can be sensed by other students, the students consistently strive to reach the top of the class and grasp those As. It’s not surprising that the rating of my school should be any different. The report card is full of A+’s in academics, teachers, clubs and activities, administration… But one of the only two B’s blemishing a perfect report card is the one regarding diversity in the school. Now how can a school that so prides itself on diversity (and impeccable grades) be given a B?
According to the same aforementioned website, my school is 56% Asian, 31.9% White, 7.8% African American, and 4.1% Hispanic. So in a class with 20 students, about 11 are Asian, 6 are White, 2 are Black and 1 is Hispanic. It’s definitely not a perfect ratio of every nationality. These statistics contrast immensely with the demographics of the entire United States. As of July 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau tells me a whopping 76.9% of the population is White and a measly 5.7% are Asian. Quite a difference, wouldn’t you say?
As someone who is part of the minority to the rest of the world but the majority every weekday from 8AM-3PM, I think a definite benefit of being surrounded by different cultures and religions is the comfortability and ease with which we interact. I could say a simple sentence in Chinese over the loudspeaker in my school and a lot of the students, even without including those that actually take a Chinese course in school, would be able to understand me. There’s no awkwardness in pointing out benign little differences between my culture and someone else’s. Instead of feeling like knives are impaling your body when someone teases your culture, it’s more like poking each other with straws because the comment is usually coming from someone who understands the same struggle.
I can go to school without worrying about feeling like a minority or worrying that someone will come up to me and ask why my eyes are so small or tell me that I should be fantastic at math because I’m Asian. I can walk through the hallway without being called, even jokingly, racial slurs, because it is widely understood as disrespectful. That’s not the case for every Asian or colored teenager in their high schools, and for that, I do feel lucky. I can confidently say I have never experienced extreme racism. For that, I do feel safe. But for those who do not have that basic human right to be accepted for who you are, I apologize. I apologize that our nation stopped to tie its shoelace sometime in the 1900s and has not caught up to the changing times. I apologize that you feel separated because of the color of your skin, the size of your eyes, or the language you speak at home. I genuinely hope we can raise a more aware and more active generation that spreads tolerance and acceptance instead of cowardice and unreasonable fear.
But, unfortunately, it’s completely different when I travel to Georgia or even Virginia. It’s like being a pirate in a sea full of Captain Jack Sparrows and then hopping on a plane only to find that you’re the only one with an eyepatch and fancy hat in the place that you land. It’s jumping down from being part of that 56% majority to that 5.7% minority. And it just feels… odd. Walking through by the sandy shores of Virginia Beach for about a week, my sister and I counted about 4 other Eastern Asians relaxing on the beach. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I leave my bubble for college.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “but discrimination against Asians isn’t even that bad”. Well it’s the “go back to your country,” and the “do they have _____ where you’re from?” that angers me most. Hi, I was born in Pennsylvania, I’m just as much of an American as someone with lighter skin and bigger eyes than I do. It feels to me like Asians are, for some reason, the nationality someone can hurl racial slurs at or stereotype without any consequences. Or the nationality that someone can say “Asian men just aren’t attractive” towards and get away with it. Somehow we drew the short stick and had to serve as the punching bag for “harmless” stereotyping and “joking” discrimination.
I’m blessed to live in a town for the majority of my life where I learned about multiple cultures and felt completely at home, but I’m not satisfied with the rest of the world. When I leave my bubble of diversity, I’ll be a minority. But I refuse to be treated with disrespect because of my culture or my appearance no matter how many times I hear “it’s just a joke”. I refuse to watch repulsive nazis and members of the KKK spread an outdated and asinine message of hatred. I refuse to be ignorant in a country that can do better than it is right now.
The number of colored Americans in our nation isn’t going down anytime soon, and the same old discrimination and hatred is only becoming more and more outdated and absurd. I genuinely believe America wants to do better. Just take a look at the innumerable social media accounts pointing out racist messages or actions and making the current situation clear to those previously ignorant. Take a look at the organization I’m writing this article for and the hundreds of other similar organizations all fighting for one goal: equality.
One day when I step out into the world, it will be different. It could be the step I take out of my small down and into college, or the one I take walking into my first job, or maybe even the last one I ever take. But it’ll leave a footprint in a world that accepts the hodgepodge of cultures and religions and customs that paints the white canvas of America with a streak of tan, a splash of black, or a swipe of brown to make a bold painting of unity. I will take my bubble of diversity and acceptance and expand it until it encompasses all fifty states.