Privilege You Didn’t Know You Had

CHS Guest Contributor highlights challenges for non-white students


Kathryn Nevers, Sandscript Guest Contributor

Check your privilege. So much of 2020 was about bringing attention to the very prevalent issue of racism (institutionalized, internal, blatant, or otherwise)—and to discredit someone’s success because they happen to not be white is both ignorant and detrimental, and is entirely counterproductive to 2020’s fight for racial equality. A very personal issue is the way it’s become normalized for Asians to face micro-aggressions on a daily basis. We are the “model minority” because we’ve supposedly assimilated to western culture more seamlessly than others? No. 


First of all, that is completely disregarding the egregious mistreatment of Asians throughout US history (and into the present). Chinese Exclusion Act? Internment camps? “Wuhan virus?” 


Second, anyone who is not white will always have to make a greater effort to escape being seen as “other.” Regardless of class, income, or hometown. My mom read a book about this exact social tendency, and she told me that when telling a story, a person is more likely to identify race if the subject is Black or Asian or any other non-white race. If race isn’t mentioned, it’s just assumed that the subject is white. For the foreseeable future, we will always have moments that remind us that we are not the same as our peers, colleagues, passengers on a flight. Playing with Barbies that look nothing like us. People asking to touch our hair (or, more often, not asking). Drawing in elementary school and looking for a crayon that looks like our skin tone and having to settle for “peach.” Being asked where we’re “really from.” 


Third, this idea that Asians are the “model minority” is proposing that all Asians fit the schema many Americans (but not all) have built- that we’re all intelligent. That we’re all overachievers. So now, any success we achieve isn’t because of our own talent or dedication but because “oh, well of course. It makes sense: they’re Asian.” And for us women, it means that we are all dainty and complacent. We have small eyes and petit figures that, on occasion, white men sometimes find attractive. And now, for some reason, there is a group of men who has taken it upon themselves to give us some credit (thanks but no thanks). So we’re being fetishized for the traits we used to get mocked for. These stereotypes are so crippling and add an unspoken but immense pressure on Asians to uphold these societal expectations. 


Fourth, this does not excuse the way any of us are treated. Being the supposed “model minority” means you have a free pass to make snide remarks and thoughtless comments? I’ve had people pull their eyes TO my face. I’ve had people ask me if I’m a bad driver. I’ve been called slurs (only once to my knowledge but does this detail really matter?). I’ve had to fake laugh when people make “ching chong” jokes and “dog/cat eating” jokes. Over the course of four years, I’ve been mistaken for a handful of other Asian students despite looking nothing alike. I’ve bonded with peers and friends solely because we share similar experiences of prejudice or hatred. I’ve had people tread lightly around my adoption story as if that’s something I should be ashamed about (although intent is usually kind). So despite being the “model minority,” I have not managed to escape microaggressions disguised as good-natured jokes or, without fail, unapologetic racism either. 


I think it’s important, also, that there be larger discussion on the idea of racism within selection processes– be it college, profession, internship, or other. This idea that kids are getting into colleges due largely in part to their race is almost laughable if it weren’t so painfully ignorant. 


it is such an unsubstantiated assertion that a college like Michigan would admit a kid just because of ethnicity. a university with that much prestige has thousands of kids applying and surprise! Nearly ALL are on the honor roll. Smart kids are a dime a dozen- it’s what you do outside of school that puts you ahead of your peers. Whatever marginal benefit race MIGHT have on your decision has nothing on the rest of your application, so if you are someone who thinks so-and-so got in somewhere because of race, maybe use that energy to edit your application or apply yourself to something that colleges clearly thought you were lacking. No need to project your own frustration onto someone who worked just as hard—if not harder—as you did. 


Also. Sorry to make this about me again, but for many Asian applicants, there exists an “Asian penalty” under which Asian students feel pressure to “appear less Asian” to increase their chances of getting accepted. I read an article by the Boston Globe a while back about lawsuits that were filed against Harvard and other Ivies because they use/d racial quotas to admit lesser qualified candidates over Asians just to avoid being construed as “Asian schools.” Besides this, though, is the absurdity at the base of this argument. Asians who apply to a school are competing with other Asians…kind of like how white students are competing against other white students. Or like each student of ANY race is competing against their own. So maybe consider trying a different perspective going forward. 


Lastly, it is a fact that a majority of impoverished communities are dominated by non-whites. So the system is rigged against kids growing up in these places, right? Not a question. They are. So on top of defying racism, they also have to defy odds. I cannot speak from a place of personal experience, but I understand that for a kid growing up in a poor, neglected, underfunded community where crime runs rampant and racism unchecked, it is infinitely more difficult to obtain a good education and find his/her bearing in the world. 


So when that person triumphs over those conditions? You know full well I am going to celebrate this person for beating the odds and excelling and getting themselves out of the poor conditions to which they were born. That’s not even common sense, really. It’s common decency. And even if most kids at Chesterton don’t face conditions as dire as these, maybe their parents did. Or their grandparents. Almost certainly someone did down the line. And you just can’t know everyone’s story. I was left on the doorstep of an orphanage in a cardboard box in the dead of winter by a parent I’ll never know. I was cared for at this orphanage but minimally, so the bed I slept on left a permanent scar on the back of my head you would see if I ever shave it. And I’ll never know my birth parents or the siblings I undoubtedly have. Sitting in health class freshman year, I was assigned a separate activity because I couldn’t draw my biological family tree. In seventh grade, my history teacher spoke to me privately and asked if I felt comfortable watching a documentary about adoption. And I am constantly referred to as the “Asian waitress” by customers. So would it kill you to express your congratulations and sit down when I, or anyone who shares stories similar to mine, get into a college? 


The way you talk about race shouldn’t be based on who’s in the room. It shouldn’t be based on politics or outdated beliefs or feelings of superiority or what’s trending. I think some people truly believe it would kill them to have a real conversation about this. 

So I feel no need to apologize for the length of this. I could easily go on but I won’t because I’m pretty sure none of my followers are idiots. Hopefully I’m preaching to the choir. Maybe this will reach someone who needs to hear it. Whatever is cool. My anger is less now so pat on the back if you read all of this. Do something nice for someone today, tomorrow, and every day.