Living in California, especially the Bay Area, can really screw up your perspective on the world. I know I’ve talked about this before, but this time I’m talking about race relations. Living in California can really give you a warped perception of race relations in this country and quite frankly, just make you a bit soft. For example: not all Hispanic people are Mexican, bilingual education is not a universally accepted concept, interracial couples are not as common as you might think nor are they always considered “cool,” “hip,” or “beautiful,” and often times, people of color, no matter how much money, education, or fame they have, face prejudice everday. Period.
I am often reminded of this, but it’s particularly driven home when I talk to people who grew up in California or who have lived in California for much longer time than I have (it’s been about eight years now). Nobody’s burning a cross on my lawn, but the little barbs, the comments, the questions– they happen more often than you might think. For example: yeah, you know, being part of interracial couple is not as easy as you might think, even in California. Oh, and don’t even get me started on assumptions about Asian fetishes. Is it possible that someone might be interested in someone for who they are, not what they are? Yes, thank you, our children would be beautiful, but some bizarre breeding goal is not the reason we’re together. Oh, and where am I from? Uh, New York. No, you mean “originally?” Uh, the Bronx? Oh, I see, you weren’t looking for “New York” or anything else within the US or the Western Hemisphere for that matter as an answer. And no, I’m not Chinese or Japanese. You realize that there are other Asian countries out there, right? And no, I’m not the same person as my Asian female coworker. If you’re so politically correct and culturally sensitive, why can’t you tell us apart? And yes, I keep up with the news on North Korea, but no, I don’t have some special “inside information” nor am I responsible for what that crazy fuck is doing there. Or how about this one: “oh, well, you had help getting into Stanford because you’re Asian.” Yeah, because at nearly at 25% Asian American undergraduate enrollment, they’re really looking to accept more of us even if we’re unqualified. You know, because that’s how affirmative action works.
For many people, these anecdotes may not be very surprising and you’ll write them off as the everyday experiences of being a person of color in this country. But often, when I discuss it with people who have grown up or lived in California for a significant period of time, they are surprised and to some extent, don’t actually believe me. The even weirder part of this is that it’s not just white males that have this response– I often meet people of color here who have these reactions. Everyone seems so surprised that there is still intolerance in this world, or at least that there is still intolerance in California, this “great melting pot” of a state.
Then why is it that materials like these could be produced so high up in the 49ers organization— you’ll take six million dollars from a Chinese-American for your stadium, but you’ll turn around and portray an Asian man as buck-toothed and speaking in broken English (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, anyone?) in your media training tapes? Or two Asian police officers only have to pay a $250 fine after clubbing and pepper spraying a 59-year-old black man?
I don’t know if it’s just an overgrown sense of political correctness, but when faced with a racially-charged situation, I find people desperately trying to find some other explanation. Now, I hate it when people play the “race card” unnecessarily, diminishing the credibility of true accounts of racism and prejudice, but sometimes, when it’s staring at you in the face, you should call a spade a spade (no pun intended). To not do this, to not confront it is to say that these episodes aren’t important, to say that people’s feelings about these issues aren’t important. As human beings, we’re the same, but we’re also different: history has shown us that the fact that you’re white, he’s black, she’s brown, and I’m yellow surely affects the way we interact with each other, for better or worse. Saying that race or ethnicity doesn’t play a factor in certain situations when they clearly do or even saying that it is an issue, but that we should “rise above it” or “ignore it” or “not focus on that” only perpetuates the cycle of intolerance and feeds our complacency.