When I was a kid, if I could have changed one thing about myself, it probably would have been the fact that I wasn’t white.
Being Asian, not being white, meant that I was different from my family, who adopted me as an infant.
It meant that I stuck out like a sore thumb in the small town in Tennessee that we lived in for four years and a slightly less obvious sore thumb in the town I spent the rest of my childhood here in Virginia.
I never really felt too different when I was around my family or my friends. Or my coworkers or my peers. I always felt like I was the same as them. I liked the same things, wore the same clothes, ate the same food, celebrated the same holidays. It was still only the outside of the that was really any different, so sometimes it came as a shock when somebody reminded me that oh, yeah, I am not the same as everyone else.
I wanted blonde hair and big eyes so that people couldn’t pull back their eyes and mock me for something I couldn’t change about myself. I wanted to not hear racial slurs or mean jokes. I wanted to look white so that people wouldn’t ask me “Where do you REALLY come from?” or “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” or “Can you speak English?” just because of how I look on the outside. More than anything, I wanted my outside to match the way I felt on the inside, which was just like everybody else I knew. I wanted to blend in so badly that it hurt sometimes.
It’s taken me every bit of my 30 years on earth to get used to the fact that I am not white and to become okay with that. But these days, it’s actually really scary because I feel like it’s becoming more popular and more culturally mainstream to hate minorities. If the fact that men can march as Nazis and KKK members openly without masks is any indication, at least. As a minority, as a woman, I feel like once again I am being told, “it’s not okay to be not white”. That makes my heart hurt for my future children, for my African American husband, for the many, many people I know who are not white, but are some of the best people I’ve ever met. This makes my heart hurt for myself, who always desperately wanted to not be Asian because it didn’t seem like it was okay to be Asian.
My biggest fear right now is all of the turmoil with North Korea and how quick the hatred from these groups will focus on Asian Americans. I know it’s probably coming. Muslims have been a target because of people’s fear. African Americans have long been a target. And Asians were right in the center of it way back in the thick of World War II. Who knows when it’s coming, but with someone leading our country who doesn’t disavow outright acts of racism and makes it mainstream, it’s almost certain it will happen.
It’s 2017 and I am scared to be not white in America. How awful is that?