October 1, 2021 | OPINION | By Andrew Hoffman | Illustration by Kira Schulist
For the vast majority of my life, I tried to ignore my race. That is not to say I didn’t value my identity, it was simply that I thought it was something to ignore. But that all changed when I came to Colorado College.
I saw myself as a misfit white boy, but when I came here, I was faced with the privilege, power, inequity and the sheer lack of people who looked like and related to me. It was eye-opening.
When I got here, I listened to other POC students talk about their struggles with feeling foreign and alone. Their stories triggered an all-too-familiar empty feeling that began to expand at the back of my mind.
While normally I would’ve written this off as some defect of mine, I began to wonder if maybe this hole was a product of a certain facet of myself that I had long pretended to not see: my race. With the birth of that new thought, I began to look at my race critically.
For context, I am a half-white, half-Japanese male. I am the son of a green card-carrying mother (who is the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor,) and a father from central Pennsylvania, who can trace his family tree all the way back to the American Revolution. In other words, my family is from two very different worlds.
Before I go any further, I want to pause and make a quick point about the supposed myth of race blindness. Individuals’ racial and ethnic features have an effect on how they interact with society. When I see someone with Asian features, for example, I assume they’re Asian; I assume they might even have a deeper connection to some of the cultural happenings that I hold dear. Similar scenarios hold for the way other racial identities view other racial groups.
In the simplest terms, implicit biases and our preconceived notions about different cultures and the ethnicities associated with them predispose us all to racial assumptions. I lay all this out because I want to clearly establish that our racial features do affect how we engage with society. To pretend that this is not the case is to lie to yourself.
I spent most of my childhood feeling left out. I remember growing up never really feeling like I had a consistent group where I “belonged.” I forgot who said it, but I always felt the phrase “too white to be Asian, too Asian to be white” resonated with me.
It also didn’t help that my mother was really the only Japanese person who I spent a significant amount of time with. I remember being jealous of many of my Chinese and Indian friends, because they all had other people like them.
Even the people who were religious and ethnic minorities in the broader racial terms of Chinese and Indian (i.e., spoke Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin, or spoke Telugu as opposed to Hindi) had a couple others in my eyes. I still remember how some of my friends called me white-washed, and frankly, it was true.
Despite all of that, I, for whatever reason, believed that my “difference” was something I could control. Perhaps that is why in high school I was drawn towards theater. It was a community filled with misfits (many of whom were members of the LGBTQ+ community and have their own struggles with marginalization), and I guess something about a community built around finding home for misfits truly resonated with me.
Despite all these very real feelings and experiences, I felt almost too guilty to claim any ownership of my feelings of cultural homelessness. That guilt, however, began to disappear in college. I think it was because I recently have begun to discuss and think critically about my feelings towards race and how I interacted with it. Quite literally, it was through conversations with my POC peers that I began to be at peace with my racial identity.
So why tell all this? Well, this small anecdote was to highlight a social feature that can be all too easy to ignore. Race and all the issues that come with it are very real and prevalent on this campus.
So please, while this short narrative could be written off as anecdotal, let’s instead begin to think critically about our race.How do our features and the way our society views those features both benefit and hurt us? It is painful and uncomfortable work, but it is the only way we can begin to address the many racial inequities that plague us both as individuals and as a society. It is time to think about race.