My Angle: Subtle racism can hurt just as much as the real thing


It’s the word that frightened me most about attending school in the United States six years ago.

Coming from an elementary school in Taiwan that had 2000 other Asian children, I felt queasy about being one of the only Asians at Camellia Waldorf School.

So on the first day, I expected to be showered by hurtful remarks about my race.

But I received none.

And it stayed that way for the two years that I spent at Waldorf and the years since then at Country Day.

In fact I haven’t met anyone, student or adult, who has discriminated against me—in other words, someone that I would call “truly racist.”

But I have heard my share of racist jokes.

“Hey, open your eyes.”

“What do you mean? They are open.”

Oh, wait. I get it. Ha. Ha.

It is also not uncommon that some people make fun of me for my “Asian-ness.”

“You’re doing homework? That’s so Asian of you.”

“Umm, so you eat dogs?”

While these jokes pop up every so often at school, they don’t offend me much for two reasons.

First, I know that the person probably intends to emphasize the joke more than the racist aspect behind it.

Secondly, I am likely friends with the offender—or at least know the person well enough to not take offense.

But those reasons are also why there’s a problem at Country Day.

I see the school as a place where everyone is acquainted. Yet this positive quality also leads to carelessness and insensitivity about potentially harmful jokes.

Racist jokes are around at this school, just as they are at other high schools, because they’re “funny” and not often punished.

People on the receiving end of these jokes are stuck between laughing them off, as I do, or taking offense. But due to the friendly environment, it’s hard to be seriously angry. In fact, it’s socially awkward to be.

“What, you can’t take a joke?”

So most victims don’t confront the offenders even if they’re truly hurt, and consequently the people think that their jokes are okay and continue making them.

The racist jokes at Country Day are so minor that they don’t bother me, but I understand that that’s not the case for others.

I really believe (and want to believe) that the offenders don’t mean their jokes to hurt. But I encourage the victims to confront these jokesters if the jokes do sting.

Maybe for some, equality among races is now so established that jokes about a race are just as reasonable and humorous as other common jokes.

But then again, maybe the time still isn’t right.

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