In light of the recent racial controversies on campus, I, an Asian non-American student, feel appropriately yet disconcertingly removed from the narrative. When students exclaim, “Support women of color!” they do not seem to be referring to people like me. I also understand that if I truly want to be supportive, I must not intrude upon the spaces meant for other minority groups who are pursuing justice and inclusion. The spotlight is theirs, not mine, and rightly so. Yet somehow, silence still feels stifling. Silence still feels wrong.
Representation of people of color does not immediately make people think about Asian representation. Nevertheless, Asians remain underrepresented in political and executive positions across North America. In the mainstream media, Asian culture is often painted in broad strokes of martial arts, chopsticks and exaggerated accents. Hollywood rarely casts Asian actors, even for Asian roles. Generally, the world considers Asians to be less vocal in their fight for equality and less attached to issues of racial identity.
How can we speak up and ask for more when society continues to say that we are already privileged enough? This dismissive attitude is amplified by seemingly benign tropes that ultimately do more harm than good — for example, the stereotype of the smart Asian. I cannot comfortably laugh it off when people define my ambition by my race. Or when they attribute my success not to my hard work and perseverance, but to something completely out of my control. I cannot comfortably remind people that yes, Asians have suffered systemic racism in the past. And no, Asians who ask that their struggles be recognized do not at all intend to eclipse other groups’ painful experiences. We are partners. We are in this together.
As an international student, I have felt even more out of place the past week. Racial tensions are much higher in the United States than in Canada, because of a complex and gritty history I never had a chance to learn about in my high school. So I suppose it’s difficult for me to identify with the struggle on campus. I want to care, but I keep hearing that I am a “model minority,” that I am somehow complicit in the oppression of other communities. I’m confused, and I’m worried about being confused. I want to learn what these terms mean in an American context. Yet, if I ask a question about the American Civil War, about emancipation or slavery reparations or about the Confederate flag and its implications, will I be mocked for ignorance? Will I understand the essence of this history if I have never lived it, walked down its streets or breathed its air?
Every Yalie comes to New Haven from a different place. Will we be able to tie all these threads together into a common understanding of cultural appropriation, privilege and racial exclusion? I am optimistic that, one day, we will. The first step is noticing the interconnectedness of the difficulties we face, especially for those of us who are people of color.
Perhaps the past week represents a problem that is too complex for me to parse out by myself. Regardless, this is my campus. This is your campus. This is a communal space that must be made safer and happier for everyone. This is more than a race issue; it is a human one. Universal human values — compassion, patience, respect — must be upheld. Yale should encourage not only discussion and activism, but also inquiry. We should not feel uncomfortable trying to learn more about what is happening around us, and we should not have to feel guilty trying to put ourselves in others’ shoes to better see their perspective. All of our hurt is valid. This narrative belongs to all of us.
Vicky Liu is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .