I live in a town that seems too small to have the flashing cameras that cover major news stories down the street and too hidden next to its showy neighbors to catch a celebrity sauntering into a nearby restaurant. It feels like nothing exciting ever happens here.
Yet I also live in a town that feels too small to gorge itself on the amount of stress that the students feel. It’s like living in a little snow globe, but instead of snow flurries fluttering around, test papers and study guides float in the air.
And yes, I know high school is created to challenge students and give them something to complain about, but deep under all that teenage angst, we do actually appreciate the education we’re given.
Niche.com rates my school tenth out of 395 schools in NJ for college readiness, but I hope they don’t mind if I disagree. In terms of academics, I would say the students graduating have a strong grasp on the core subjects. But in terms of readiness in the world, I would lower the rating.
In a school where not taking honors or AP classes is practically a sign of weakness, students strive to reach the top of the class and grasp that A. It’s not surprising that the rating of my school should be any different. The report card is full of A+’s in academics, teachers, clubs and activities, and administration. But one of only two B’s blemishing our perfect report card is for school diversity. I disagree with that score.
According to Niche.com, my school is 56 percent Asian, 31.9 percent White, 7.8 percent African American, and 4.1 percent Hispanic. So in a class with 20 students, about 11 are Asian, 6 are White, 2 are Black and 1 is Hispanic. It’s definitely not a perfect ratio of every nationality, but compare these numbers to the demographics of the entire United States. As of July 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau tells me a whopping 76.9 percent of the population is White and a measly 5.7 percent are Asian. Quite a difference, wouldn’t you say?
I am a minority to the rest of the country, but the majority every weekday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I feel proud of our school’s diversity. A benefit of being surrounded by different cultures and religions is the comfort with which we interact. I could say a simple sentence in Chinese over the loudspeaker in my school and a lot of the students would be able to understand me. There’s no awkwardness in pointing out benign little differences between my culture and someone else’s. It doesn’t feel like knives impaling your body because it’s done with mutual respect.
I can go to school without worrying if someone will ask why my eyes are so small or tell me that I should be fantastic at math because I’m Asian. I can walk through the hallway without being called, even jokingly, racial slurs. That’s not the case for most Asian, black, and Hispanic teenagers in this country.
I have never experienced extreme racism. For that, I feel lucky and safe. But for those who do not have that basic human right to be accepted for who you are, I apologize. I apologize that our nation stopped to tie its shoelace sometime in the 1900s and has not caught up to the changing times. I apologize that you feel separated because of the color of your skin, the size of your eyes, or the language you speak at home. I genuinely hope we can raise a more aware generation that spreads tolerance and acceptance instead of cowardice and unreasonable fear.
When I leave my town and travel to Georgia or even Virginia, it’s like being a pirate in a sea full of Captain Jack Sparrows and then hopping on a plane to find that you’re the only one with an eye patch and fancy hat in the place you land. It’s jumping down from being part of that 56 percent majority to that 5.7 percent minority. And it just feels … odd. During our week staying on the sandy shores of Virginia Beach, my sister and I counted about four other Eastern Asians. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I leave my bubble for college.
Now maybe you’re thinking, But discrimination against Asians isn’t even that bad. Well, it’s the “Go back to your country” and the “Do they have _____ where you’re from?” that angers me most. I was born in Pennsylvania; I’m just as American as someone with lighter skin and bigger eyes. It feels to me like Asians are, for some reason, the nationality people can hurl racial slurs at and stereotype without consequences. People say, “Asian men just aren’t attractive” and get away with it. Somehow Asians drew the short stick and have to serve as the punching bag for “harmless” stereotyping and discriminatory “jokes.”
I’m blessed to live in a town where I learn about multiple cultures and feel completely at home, but I’m not satisfied with the rest of the world. When I leave my bubble of diversity, I’ll be a minority. But I refuse to be treated with disrespect because of my culture or my appearance no matter how many times I hear “It’s just a joke.” I refuse to watch repulsive Nazis and members of the KKK spread an outdated and asinine message of hatred. I refuse to be ignorant in a country that can do better.
The racial diversity in our nation isn’t going away – it’s increasing – and the same old discrimination and hatred is only getting more and more outdated and absurd. I genuinely believe America wants to do better. Just take a look at the innumerable social media accounts calling out racist messages or actions and making the current situation clear to those who were previously ignorant. Take a look at the hundreds of organizations all fighting for one goal: equality.
One day when I step out into the world, it will be different. It could be the step I take out of my small town and into college, or the one I take walking into my first job, or maybe even the last one I ever take. But it’ll leave a footprint in a world that accepts the hodgepodge of cultures and religions and customs that paint the white canvas of America with a streak of tan, a splash of black, or a swipe of brown to make a bold painting of unity. I will take my bubble of diversity and acceptance and expand it until it encompasses all 50 states.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.