“I grew up reading princess stories, just like every other little girl in America. There seems to be no problem, but there is. American princesses are the classic “white” beauty queen: tall, fair skin, big blue eyes, blonde hair, long eyelashes, etc. Every little girl in America grows up learning and trying to live up to the “white” definition of beauty. I was one of them.”
China is not the only country in Asia. Yet, from the time I was just six years old, random children would walk up to me on the playground and ask if I was Chinese. The prospect of being greeted with a rude, outright racial question without a “hello” or “how are you” was never very appealing. It was –– and still is –– quite tiring to explain to those many children that, no, I am not Chinese, I am American: Korean-American. In my twelve years of life as a Korean-American, I have experienced much prejudice and racial stereotyping based on the color of my skin and my ethnicity.
From the tender age of four, as a minority in my pre-kindergarten class, I have realized what a different person I appear to be. The class bully, Abigail, was harassing me for looking different than the people she had grown accustomed to seeing. She was only a child, and probably influenced by her parents, but she apparently felt that I had no right to be with people who looked so much “better” than me. She would say things like, “You can’t sit here because I have a big nose and you have a small one.” I was confused and wondered why she would be proud of a large nose, which I thought meant “nosy.”
As I grew older I became the top of my class, and was known as a nerd, geek, bookworm, and smart. Even at ballet class, where everyone else was in 8th grade and hardly knew what grade I was in, my peers said I was smart. Imagine my astonishment when I realized why. “And I know you’re smart,” they said, “ because you’re Asian.” I hardly knew what to say. Technically, it was meant to be a compliment, but their remarks still made me uncomfortable. I would appreciate my achievements much more if people knew I worked hard for the results, not because the work was naturally easy or something I enjoyed doing.
Only last summer, I was playing tennis when a group of boys passed by the tennis court. Apparently enraged that my sister and I got to play tennis while they couldn’t, they began to jeer and mock us, and threw stones and nails and even a gallon jug of water that completely drenched me over the fence. They began to yell something to the effect of the classic “Ching Chong Chinaman” taunt and “… chopsticks with white rice.” They also attempted (and failed miserably) to imitate the Chinese language. While very maddening, it was also slightly ironic that they didn’t even know if we were Chinese.
I grew up reading princess stories, just like every other little girl in America. There seems to be no problem, but there is. American princesses are the classic “white” beauty queen: tall, fair skin, big blue eyes, blonde hair, long eyelashes, etc. Every little girl in America grows up learning and trying to live up to the “white” definition of beauty. I was one of them. Still, it’s no use if anyone tells me I’m beautiful, because I don’t (and can’t) believe it.
When I was in pre-kindergarten, my classmates would tell me how they told my twin and I apart. “You have squinty eyes, and she has bigger eyes,” they would tell me cheerfully, never knowing how much that upset me. No one would like to be called “Squinty Eyes,” yet my classmates expected me to accept, and even enjoy, that horrible title. Furthermore, the phrase “fair skin” is a phrase that I find racially discriminating. Fair skin means you have light colored skin, and, by default, beautiful skin. My skin color is what people would refer to as “yellow” –– a skin color often seen as sickly –– so I obviously do not enjoy being called “yellow.” But, my skin is not “fair”… which leaves me wondering, if you don’t look “white,” do you have unfair skin? Is your skin not beautiful?
Kids shouldn’t participate in stereotyping and racism. Sadly, many innocent children unknowingly take part in racist habits by copying their parents’ stereotypical actions, and impulsively exclude friends who are racially different. When kids engage in these habits, they think they’re normal, but as they get older they continue their racism and stereotyping on a broader scale. My experiences as a Korean-American proves that prejudice against Asian- Americans still exists. The boys from the tennis court and Abigail from my pre-kindergarten class should know how their actions make people feel, and how their insults feed into a larger, deeper ingrained system of racism. If everyone was loving and understanding, we could all live together nicely, respecting and valuing each other’s differences. If we all dream this dream of the world as one big loving family, than perhaps that dream will become reality.