It was past midnight, and I sat in my chair with my eyes glued to the computer screen. I watched and listened with extensive care to the transcript and slideshow of the Diversity Module. The Diversity Module was a mandatory hour-long assignment organized by my home university of Boston College. This pilot module was the result of student protests in response to BC’s inaction in addressing racism on its campus. This training marked the first step to educate students on unconscious biases, micro-aggressions, and internal prejudices.
I am no expert in racism or race relations, but I have experienced and witnessed enough discrimination and prejudice to comprehend the concepts the module desired to highlight. The module was beneficial, as it attempted to initiate a dialogue on a sensitive topic through self-reflection. From my personal experience, the task of understanding racism must be self-motivated.
My journey of studying race and identity has been an arduous task. I have studied the Civil War and Reconstruction. I have watched videos of police brutality. I recognize the names of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. However, my genuine knowledge of systematic racism was nonexistent. I understood “racism is bad,” but I struggled to elaborate and expand on this conclusion.
It was not until my junior year at BC that I began to challenge my perceptions of racism. My initial step was to enroll in a course called “American Hate.” In this class, I explored the history of racism from slavery to “New Jim Crow.” As I developed more expertise of racism through the lens of the Black experience, I started questioning the role of Asians in this larger societal construct.
Racism against Asians was rarely if ever, discussed in the neighborhood or the classroom. Racism and other injustices were issues that seemingly only affected Black and Latinx populations. I was ignorant of my own history, so when I studied the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, and the model minority myth, I was dumbfounded. I learned the Chinese remain the only demographic of people that have been explicitly banned from the United States by name. Presently, some Asian subgroups are showcased as people who have defied the injustices of discrimination and bigotry to achieve the American Dream. This idolization of lighter-skin Asians is another tool utilized to invalidate the hardships of other communities of color. When I considered this transformation of Asians as the Yellow Peril to success stories of grit and determination, I became repulsed with the whitewashing of history. This moment of awakening motivated me to engage in more meaningful dialogue about race. Those conversations are readily accessible at BC, but I have encountered difficulty in confronting the issue of race in Hong Kong.
While Hong Kong is a predominately Asian state, the issue of race is still present. I have overheard Asians of darker skin tones speak about their inability to enjoy certain privileges granted to the majority of the population. For example, the fee to enter certain establishments is more expensive. A range of products promotes the “whitening” of skin. These features may appear innocuous, but they reveal how race factors into ordinary life. As a passionate social justice advocate, I am experiencing difficulty in discussing race and identity in a distinct region of the world.