by
on November 16, 2017 on 11/16/17

What Vietnam has taught me about being white.

My white skin speaks volumes. I have never had to worry about being in danger, not getting a job, or being questioned about my abilities due to my race. In fact, I am actually protected, preferred, and welcomed because of the lack of pigment in my body. This is white privilege.

In the United States, the majority population is white individuals. Both the town that I grew up in and the city that I attend college in, are also majority white. That means that when I walk around, I see plenty of people who look like me. I have role models who look like me.

Vietnam has been a change from that norm for me, of course. I am a white person who is now in the minority demographic of a country. But let’s not forget, this is a completely different experience than any person of color being in a minority situation.

I get many weird looks, people laugh and stare. I am a weird thing to see trying to fit my legs under tiny tables while I eat bún chả (a woman who is 5’7″ is already unusual). However, the worst thing that I get is smiles and eyes.

My difference is adored, not shamed.

People of color in the United States are brutally discriminated against every single day because of their difference. That is their home. I am a visitor here. I am welcomed, they are pushed away.

“According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, job applicants with African American names have to apply to 50 percent more jobs to get a callback.”

“Black students of any age are three times more likely than white students to be suspended.”

“African Americans are typically arrested three times as often in the United States for drug related crimes. This is despite the fact that African Americans smoke pot (and use other drugs) less than White Americans.”

This is what it looks like to be a minority in the U.S. Recognizing this difference is so important to acknowledging the privilege that I have being in Vietnam. From very simple parts of my day to more complex situations, my experience in influenced by my whiteness and the role that that plays in society.

We are learning Vietnamese during our time here, and have learned just about enough to order food and tell people where we are from (though I’m sure most can already tell). My language skills are minimal, but whenever I say something even as simple as “xin chào”, people are ecstatic. I am praised for very small successes with the language.

On a very different end, many of my Vietnamese friends who I have met have close to perfect English skills. They can carry on full conversations without question, and yet they are constantly saying how much better my language is than theirs. Woah, woah, woah. That is simply not true. I am constantly impressed with how well they speak English, usually with better grammar than I ever use.

It is assumed that whiteness equals greatness. Many people I have grown up with try to darken their skin by tanning. That would be seen as a disgrace here. White skin is pure, beautiful, something to be cherished.

Being in Vietnam has opened my eyes to parts of what it feels like to be viewed as different, but not at all in the same ways that people of color are. I have learned a lot about my privilege while being here, and am constantly reminded of what it means to act within that blurred view of the world.

Quotes cited from: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/7-statistics-that-will-change-view-racism