On Racism, Bruce Lee, and X-Ray Vision

I am Korean, and I’ve been a victim of racism my whole life.  I hate to use the word “victim,” but really, your race is nothing you ask for, and in a melting pot like America I’m still painfully aware that I am not like most people.

More than my faith, my socioeconomic status, my intellect, my demeanor — this has been the one dividing wall between me and my white friends that is just as tangible as the seat I’m on.  I am an alien.  I have different traditions.  I also own a dog.  I keep explaining myself to people because they think I’m going to eat him.

I grew up in the States but I’m still the token Asian guy.  When I visit an American church, they are proud to have an Asian person in their midst. They try to make me talk to the other Koreans. I am a victory for their diversity.

Since I’m this hybrid-Asian, it’s apparently okay to make jokes about chopsticks, Bruce Lee, martial arts, and eating octopus.  The thing is: I love chopsticks, Bruce Lee, martial arts, and eating octopus.  So do a lot of people.  I just don’t feel like making this a point every time I introduce myself.  I want to be a human being, not a flyer for AsiaFest or a punchline on South Park.  I don’t want to cater to anyone’s relaxed stance on ethnicity, as if “I’m cool enough to make racist Asian jokes because I’m friends with this one Asian guy.”

Probably the worst thing though is that Asians have zero rights in America.  I don’t mean legal or civil rights.  I just mean: If Abercrombie and Fitch decided to make racist t-shirts about you, or a news station read off some racist names for the pilots of a crashed Asiana flight, or a major Hollywood movie used yellowface for their white actors — then about three people would care for roughly two days.  Asians are known to have passive dormant voices in the Western culture because we do have passive dormant voices in the West, and if an Asian kid was killed in the middle of the street by a white guy, no one would know about it.  Except this already happened to two fourteen year old Korean girls, and no one knew about it. No viral blog posts, no outrage; just quiet grief.

This probably sounds like I’m endorsing racial entitlement, but I hate entitlement. No one owes me anything. I can only hope for X-Ray Vision, that perhaps some day more of us will see we’re just a bunch of skeletons walking around with the same frailties and weaknesses and hopes as the next guy. I want eyes to see you as a God-created fellow individual, with the same dignity due to your very existence. I want to care about your dreams and what you do and what you like to do and who you’ve become. If your race is part of that, I will love that too.

My race is an important part of me, but it’s not the whole story, and while I love my roots, I am way more than knowing how to say hello in my language. I want to talk about other things besides Asian things. I want a voice that at once distinguishes myself as an Asian-American with a rich vibrant heritage, yet also I am a person of color who is just a person. I like white people things. I like black people things. I like Latino people things. I like Middle Eastern things. And yes: I like people-people things. My eyes are probably smaller, but my heart can be just as big as yours.

— J.S.

3 thoughts on “On Racism, Bruce Lee, and X-Ray Vision

  1. There must be something in all of us that wants to arrange people into handy categories. I guess it helps us to sort through the complexities of life. Like you, I resist labels. I’m an ordinary middle class Caucasian woman, but I too get labeled and slotted into my assigned place. Christians know the truth of who we are, uniquely created and wildly loved children of God. If only we’d always recognize that in each other. Thanks for reminding me to do that today.


  2. Christian religion has been notoriously racist over history. Spiritual Christians who see others as God-loved souls are fresh air in the dank and moldy world of all the “isms”. I am Caucasian so didn’t experience racism until I began to work with a non-Caucasian people for “Human Rights”. It took my job away twice, and finally my career. While I would do it again, I could never have imagined when I started out that human rights evokes such hate.


  3. My daughter and I were talking yesterday about how different we are from other people. For years I fought the difference whatever it is only to find out the difference is the calling on our lives from God. Most people never knew that difference and our daughter can’t explain it. As a white, middle aged Caucasian woman the difference stands out more than what I look like, how short I am compared to my 5’10 gorgeous daughter and how much I was ridiculed for being so little. Once I began to understand God wanted me to embrace my difference, life took on a whole new meaning. Whatever our differences, God wants us to accept them as his gifts to us.


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