I’ve encountered racism many times before but have been lucky to grow up being surrounded by diverse and educated group of people who appreciate cultural differences. Growing up attending an international school, you learn, at a young age that everyone’s equal no matter where they come from and rather than seeing ‘different’ as weird, you embrace it and try to respect it even if you may not understand it. I’ve encountered subtle racism and am pretty good at not being offended by it… those subtle things happen because people just don’t know better. In Boston, I was faced with more racist comments but those comments didn’t offend me because people didn’t make those comments with bad intentions. Simple things like ‘Are you Chinese? Japanese?’ can be considered rude instead of asking ‘Where are you from?’ and saying ‘Ni hao ma’ or ‘Konichiwa’ as I walk past can be annoying but according to the situation, I’d either ignore them or turn around and smile to correct them. Asking me if I’m from North or South Korea, I’d just wish you were more educated.
However, being in Europe, traveling to isolated towns and cities, I’ve encountered a lot more racism than I have – ever. Simple things from group of school kids chuckling and pointing at me on the bus to old men assuming I am one of the immigrant workers have all been part of my travel experience. I see this happening not only to me but to other non-white travelers as sellers go up to them saying ‘Filipino? Chinese? Japanese?’ to their faces. A lot of the people who make racist remarks think that I don’t understand what they are talking about because I don’t speak the language – but like in any other languages, you know when someone is talking about you even if you don’t understand a word they are saying. It’s written in the gestures and the interactions. People staring at me as I walk past is nothing compared to everything else I’ve witnessed and experienced.
Should I be angry? In all honesty, I’m not. I’m a little uncomfortable, just as I would be if someone was talking about me for any other reason such as my clothes, weight, hair, big zit on my nose, etc. but I’m not angry. When that old man handed me his room key as he was checking out because he thought I worked there, I laughed. It’s unfortunate but that’s the mentality he grew up with. I feel sorry for him but I know he didn’t do it to insult me. However, when kids, teenagers, point, whisper and laugh, I’m a little sad – sad for them and the society. I’m sad that these kids are not educated to respect other cultures. I’m sad that they are stuck in their little bubble and really don’t know better. We say that the world is ‘globalized’ today yet kids are still growing up not knowing anything about respecting differences that are out there in the world. That being said, I was on the bus when a group of middle school kids started talking to each other and chuckling as soon as they saw me – I knew what was happening and ignored it. Then, one of the teachers went up to them and started lecturing them. I looked over at her and smiled but secretly wished we could live in a world where the teacher didn’t have to do that and kids grew up in a society where respect for all types of people despite race, skin color, economical status, body shapes, etc. were embedded deeply in everyone’s minds and attitude.
I’m more than grateful that I grew up in such a diverse community and was brought up to embrace and respect differences.