The Moment I Found Out I Wasn’t White

I was advised a long time ago to keep not only my personal stories to myself, but also my views on politics to myself and away from social media. It doesn’t feel right anymore to stay silent. For months, I retweeted and quoted tweets never taking that firm of a stance on Yow Yow, but the news of the weekend has taken a toll on me. I’m distracted at work. I’m losing sleep because I am consumed by what is happening in our country. You can ignore all of this for a long time and focus just on what directly affects you, but the truth is – this affects all of us.

*****

I was 5 years old and in Kindergarten when it was pointed out to me just how different I was. My hair wasn’t brown or blonde, but black. My classmates had similar clothes to me and we were the same size. I imagined that everyone could speak two languages at home. I just didn’t know if it was the same as mine. No one had ever treated me as if I were different up to this point. You were considered the “bully” of our class. My parents told me to not engage and back then, I hadn’t discovered how confrontational I could be yet. I boarded the bus like I did every day and took a front seat because the sooner I could get off the bus, the faster I could get to my seaweed wrapped rice crackers that Grandma always put out for me as my afternoon snack.

You singled me out. Pointed to me. “Go sit in the back of the bus.” An order.

“Why?”

“You don’t belong up here.”

*****

Every day I climbed on top of the chair to talk to my mom as she prepared dinner for our family and she would ask me about my day. “Today, he told me to sit in the back of the bus. Why did he say this to me?”

What I remember is the glass shattering moment that I discovered how white I wasn’t. The part I don’t remember is the look on my mother’s face.

What I didn’t realize until I was much older was how much I tried to self-correct myself after this happened to me. For years in my childhood, I pushed myself to be athletic because I thought it was who I was supposed to be. I never liked participating in sports, but all of my caucasian friends were in cross country and track. I didn’t want to bring rice for lunch; I wanted a Lunchables. I stopped speaking Vietnamese until I forgot how to completely. Instead of embracing the culture that I grew up with, I did all that I could to be anything, but different so as to never feel as isolated as I was during that moment when I was five.

*****

I think about this story all the time, but I never thought to ask my mother about how she felt when I came to her until Sunday. I wish I had a recording of this phone call, not to share it widely, but because it was so honest and meant a lot to me to hear her own point of view. What she told me was that she never forgot that moment. Like me, she too, thinks about it. Back then, she couldn’t go too into depth about race or Rosa Parks or the kind of hatred that could live within a child without them truly understanding. I wouldn’t have understood it fully and I sure as hell could not have taken that discussion with me back to school. She admitted to me that she knew my life could be challenging and that I would have to always work harder and be smarter just to be considered equal to my peers. The expectations for me would be much higher and that I might endure more instances like this in my life in different forms. And I did.

*****

So I watched what reminded me of a witch hunt this weekend play out on Twitter. I read the articles about the young man named “Peter” who decided to March at UVA on Friday with a torch and then claim that he’s not the angry racist we see in that photo. And I wondered how a man this young could be taught to be this way – to have this kind of hatred in his heart. Who taught my 5-year-old bully to also have this same way of thinking? I’ve tried to be patient. I tried to understand and read the point of views from both sides to have this awareness, but I’m disappointed and frankly, heartbroken. I never want to have to explain this to my future son or daughter the way my own mother had to with me.

So your vote wasn’t the same as mine. It’s not about our egos and our pride, but let’s move forward. Let’s just agree that we need a better future than what is our current state right now.

And because this is an important recap from the weekend…

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