Raised in a normal Korean family in a multicultural environment, I always thought that I was just a normal girl with a normal background. But ever since I moved to Tallahassee, things have changed. I started feeling different about myself because I look different than most people. Although racism exists everywhere in the world, racial stereotypes are more common on our campus than any other place I have been, especially since Maclay does not have a racially diverse demographic; only 4.7% of the entire student body are Asian. As one of only a handful of Asian students at Maclay, I see and experience prejudice against Asian-Americans while the contributors do not even realize that it is an ongoing issue. However, racial stereotypes are rarely addressed since they are usually done in forms of microaggression, which is not obvious enough to tell whether it is intentional or not. It is also hard for students to speak out about these issues and their stories because when they do, they are more likely to get called “sensitive.” As a result, the problem never gets fixed.
One of the most common mistakes that people make against Asians is grouping them all together, making each individual invisible. I feel most frequently described as “the Asian girl,” as if nothing makes me special other than being Asian. I have also seen people mistaking me for another Asian girl on campus and telling me that I look exactly like her. This grouping culture puts all Asians into a giant category that often belittles my individuality. Whenever people pay more attention to my ethnicity than my interests, abilities and accomplishments, I feel unacknowledged and ignored. Moreover, because physical appearance of an individual is generally the first thing that other people get to see, in the presence of racial stereotypes, people become more inclined to make assumptions and judgements before they truly get to know the individual.
“Nerdy,” “uninteresting,” “good at math.” These are words that Asians are often told to be. One time, I heard a kid asking an Asian friend of mine, “Are you smart because you’re Asian?” This was the moment when I realized that Asian stereotypes keep us from being recognized for our strengths. People sometimes assume that all Asians are inherently smart. However, that is not the case for most Asians; in fact, I put a huge amount of time and effort everyday to achieve my academic goals. Whenever people say that Asians are intelligent because they are Asians, they contribute to a generalization that diminishes the individual’s hard work; especially when I am good at solving a math or science problem, I am just meeting another expectation, not being talented. This is another situation that makes me feel like just another Asian girl as people are taking away my distinctiveness.
I am proud of my Asian identity and thankful that I have had the chance to develop a unique perspective from which I look at the world. However, in a society where racial stereotypes are one of the biggest factors that determine my impression on people, I have struggled being true to myself. Sometimes, I choose to be something that does not belong to my identity just for the sake of fitting in. Stereotypes often make individuals feel denied or make them deny themselves. They also underestimate students and rarely speak the truth.
Due to the lack of diversity, it is harder for Maclay students, teachers and other staff members to get familiar with foreign cultures and learn to grow an open mindset, making them more reliant on racial stereotypes that society defines. The right to define who we are is given to us, not society. As one community, Maclay should put more effort into bridging the gap between people coming from different backgrounds by having more open conversations about stereotypes, encouraging people to share their own stories, making school an inclusive place where different cultures are represented and promoting growth mindset.