Dear White Classmates

6.16.2020



Dear white classmates,

I am writing to you for two reasons. The first is selfish. I am frustrated and writing often provides me with a needed outlet to process and reflect upon my experiences. The second is for the both of us. I hope that maybe together we can reach a new understanding and become better citizens and advocates. We have learned a lot from each other, after all.


The lessons started small: in kindergarten, with our stick-like drawings and our Barbie dolls, we showed each other that "light peach" was the default skin color. As we grew older, the faulty teachings grew. Perhaps without realizing it, you bore witness to some of the most formative events of my primary education – the ones that taught me that I was not white. You were there the first time I heard chants of “Chinese, Japanese, look at these,” screamed by eager kids on the playground who pulled their eyes at the corners. You were there both times teachers told me to join diversity club – at two different schools – because my tan skin was different. You were there in history class when the blond and blue-eyed proclaimed they would have “survived” the Holocaust, there for the “racy comments” and later the racial slurs.

Maybe you weren’t the one who said it. But you were there when I realized that “ching chong” was meant to be an imitation of my mother’s tongue. (I heard that one from students and teachers.)

You were there when another student told a Black peer to “go back to Africa” the day after the 2016 election.

You were there with me in English when across four years we only read two books by Black authors and none by other authors of color—something I have only now realized indicates the Eurocentric nature of our curriculum.

Every time that racism bared its ugly teeth, you were there. I never spoke up. You never did, either. We taught each other quiet and complacency. I learned that my silence was my survival, the way to endure and succeed as an Asian-American in majority-white schools. You learned that I would be silent, that I should be silent, a model minority.

I refuse to be silent.

How original we thought we were. How sick is it that we were one of hundreds of schools living through the same parochial ideas, perpetuating the same system of racism that has plagued our country for hundreds of years? We taught each other stereotypes, cruelty, and complacency.

We cannot be complacent.

It is not enough to say that you see me, and you hear me.

It is not enough to point out that you have friends of color.

It is not enough to post a black square on Instagram without action when Black Americans must continue to square off with the implications of systemic racism.

It is not enough to pretend that you are informed. I have seen you share misleading articles claiming that systemic racism and police brutality do not exist. Not only are Black drivers more likely to be pulled over than white drivers (see this study of 100 million nationwide traffic stops) but Black men are two and a half times more likely than white men to be killed by police (National Academy of Sciences, study of police shooting databases). You cannot claim to be open and understanding while denying the reality of police violence against Black people.

It is not enough to say that you are not racist. I have heard you say that you are not racist in the same breath that you proclaim that white privilege does not exist. The phrase “white privilege” does not mean that you have never faced hardship; it means that your race has never worsened your hardship. 

My dad, who is white, was pulled over by a police officer two weeks ago for speeding while driving home. I did not have to fear for his life, and that is a privilege. To go for a jog (Ahmaud Arbery), to rest in your apartment (Breonna Taylor), and to live (George Floyd) without fearing for your life because of the color of your skin is a privilege. To be able to view racism as merely a “social issue” because racism does not threaten the normalcy of your life is a privilege. To be reading this letter rather than experiencing racism firsthand is a privilege. You cannot assert that you espouse equality when you do not acknowledge the advantages that a white birth grants you.

I do not claim to have all of the answers. I am young, I am privileged, and I have a lot to learn. I have spent the past month questioning what it means to be Asian-American. But if we can teach each other complacency, I have hope that we can teach each other to be anti-racist.

I will not ask you to change to be on the “right side of history”, because this issue is not about your self-fulfillment, nor our redemption arc.

I will demand that you change because it is the right and just thing to do. Because for hundreds of years a population has suffered, and you have the power to do something about it.

6 comments :

  1. This was an amazing, eloquent post Claire! I'm really sorry you had to go through these experiences. I hope that some of the people you went to school with who were so hateful see this post, and change their ways. Kids can be so cruel, and it begins with how they are socialized at home too. It is important that these students change their ways so that they do not influence the next generation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was really well written! The past couple of weeks have definitely shed light on how ingrained internalized racism is in both my community and my personal life. My high school has recently began posting "confessions" from students of color and it's incredibly heartbreaking and enraging to see what goes on in front of our eyes without any repercussions. This is truly a time to speak out and to lend both our voices and support for the marginalized communities because change is long overdue. ❤️

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was so eloquently written. As a child, I didn't realise the small bits of racism, and I didn't even think about it now until reading your post. In particular, your post reminded me of an incident where I asked someone to pass over the "peach" colouring in pencil, but they said "don't you mean skin colour?" That hurt me at the time, because my skin was not that colour. This is really slight compared to the blatant overt racism that so many others face, and I feel for those who have to experience it every day

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh Claire, I continue to be amazed by what an amazing writer you’ve become! As your fifth grade teacher I couldn’t be prouder of you! I also am so sad by what you wrote about the horrible mean comments you endured in elementary school and can only pray they never occurred in my classroom. I never really saw this in my thirty years at Pinckney or was told by students or parents and I thought my students always were pretty open with me. But maybe I have not known as much as I thought I did. I am so very sorry for what you endured. You wrote a wonderful piece that I agree with. Thank you for writing it and I am sorry if I ever was not there to protect you like I should!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think you did a wonderful job expressing yourself, and I can only hope this makes people stop and think. I'm sorry you've experienced hatred and prejudice--no one deserves that.

    ReplyDelete