A black sports car sidled up in the lane next to ours like a stately viper, windows heavily tinted, metal accents glinting viciously in the sunlight. It stuck out like a sore thumb among the dusty and rusted jalopies that trundled down the road. Before I could even comment on its appearance, the door clicked by my ear. My grandma had locked the door, and when I looked over, I knew why: The driver of the sports car was an African American man.
Silence stilled the air as my grandma rolled up the windows. The green light finally allowed her to exhale as she shot away from the intersection and from her racist anxieties.
“He got the money for that car by selling drugs,” she explained, conviction strengthening the words that wobbled with age. And there was no reason to argue, when she was still rooted in antiquated principles. She was old, had old beliefs, and that was that.
A decade later, in a city far wealthier, my friend received a text from her father the night of the 2016 presidential election, crowing about how our new president would finally put an end to those dirty, dark job stealers and terrorists. This sentiment was echoed in my own family reunions that silenced my cousins and me to awkward side-eyes over the food.
The United States has had a deplorable history of discrimination against racial minorities, a rift typically drawn as a generalized “us against them” paradigm — a white-American-versus-all-minorities scenario that idealistically unites people of color against some ambiguous perpetrator of oppression. What any person of color can attest to, however, is the hierarchy of race within and the debilitating prejudices that it implies. Specifically in the East Asian community, Latinx, African Americans and any person of another minority race are confined to a lower level of this artificial stratification.
The trend seems to suggest that this ideology thrives primarily in older generations and thus has been uncomfortably chalked up by westernized descendants to cultural differences. South Korea has been praised for its astonishing rise to economic superpower in 60 years and has made its presence known through industry and media. But its culture stands in striking disparity to its achievements, as seen through persisting doctrines of homophobia and racism.
The stratosphere of television has allowed some to step forward and reveal the blatant racial discrimination that runs rampant in many Asian countries. In fluent Korean, a graduate student from Nigeria recounted how hotel owners refused him a room because he was “dirty.” Subway riders prevented him from sitting near them and reprimanded his friend for associating with him. Even while sympathizing with his experiences, the hosts of the variety show suggested that the fault was in the vocalization of racism and not in the principles behind it.
The familiarity of the everyday is not spared. Comments like my grandmother’s and the relegation of underpaid Latinx workers to laborious and menial positions in Asian-owned businesses express the normalization of racial prejudices and our apathy regarding their continuance. We have become so familiar with these scenes that we ignore their racist undertones, undermining collective efforts to bridge the disparity in treatment and opportunity between all races.
I stand ashamed, not only by the enduring forms of discrimination but also by the way my peers and I have offered leniency for them on the basis of cultural conservatism.
Minority races can no longer use that as an excuse. We can no longer use any excuse to justify the wrong. By pardoning racist sentiments, we paint nations of people as ignorant, as isolated from the cross-culturalization that accompanies economic growth. We brush internal racism under the rug, hoping to extinguish the evidence but merely perpetuating the very issue we claim to be fighting against.
Transformation of minority-minority perception doesn’t arise from flagrantly discrediting these outdated beliefs. My fellow brothers and sisters know that would get you only a smack upside the head and a sharp word for doing so. Instead, we need to educate and share and show each other that every individual has a role in the common battles we all face. A slow process of change begins only after a realization and a resolution against complacency.
This is not an imposition of Western beliefs. How hypocritical it would be to consider it so, when the United States is still mired in the products of lingering racism. It is a naive hope, but a hope nonetheless, of cultivating an open-eyed society that resists indoctrination and views each of its members with equal respect.
Sarah Heo writes the Friday column on the semblance of security. Contact her at [email protected].