A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about how Asians only hang out with each other. There was a warm and fuzzy message in the end about why we develop friendships in the first place. Plus it was a relatively light-hearted article with sprinkles of humor, mostly making fun of myself and how ridiculously stupid I can be from time to time. I thought it would be relatively easy to swallow. But then I forgot Cornell doesn’t encourage its students to have a sense of humor. I mean, laughter? What’s that? Is it defined in this textbook?
For those of you who missed the column, I basically said, “Hey, I think it’s time we looked past our cultural barriers and start looking for the similarities among all of us. I mean, regardless of race, we’re all human, right?”
You can probably guess how surprised I was when I got responses like, “You’re white-washed, and you don’t understand what it means to be a true Asian or live in an Asian community! How could you internalize such racist stereotypes about your own people?!”
Uhhh … what?
Even if I didn’t make my original point clear enough, nowhere in my column was I being self-righteous or malicious. In fact, I emphasized my ignorance at the beginning to make it clear that I was wrong. By the end of the column, I made it even clearer that I had acknowledged the fault in my thinking and that I had learned from my previous mistakes.
I completely understand that there is a sense of community among all races. I understand that as a minority, we have faced, and still face, many difficulties. I am in no way condoning the disadvantages and injustices we have to put up with sometimes. But because I suggested that we should try to look past racial barriers, I’m suddenly less Asian? I’ve suddenly lost my cultural identity because I’m not always with a group of Asians all the time? I didn’t know that I had to hang out with a group of people who are the same race as me to be absolutely confident in my own sense of self. Am I the only one that thinks this sounds a little ridiculous?
At this point, I’m not directing this only at Asians — I’m directing this to everyone. I realize there are differences among all cultures, but I don’t understand what we can possibly accomplish by focusing on just that. Yes, we should respect these differences, and most importantly, we should learn from these differences. But why do we have to build a wall, like many people do, between them? If we’re all striving to stand on equal ground, wouldn’t it make sense to welcome different people into our lives so we can gain a better understanding of each other? The more you learn about others, the more you recognize the fact that we’re really not so different after all.
Absolutely nothing can be accomplished if you constantly victimize yourself and, in turn, do absolutely nothing about it. What’s the point of sitting there, griping and moaning to people who gripe and moan about the same things you do? Congratulations, you’ve come to the same conclusion that some things just aren’t fair — now what?
A common problem I see is that Asians (and other minorities) assume that “white people just don’t understand what we go through.” It’s true, some really don’t understand. Some have never heard of the Autumn Moon Festival or what you’re supposed to do on Chinese New Year. And some don’t understand what it’s like to come face to face with blatant racism and discrimination. But instead of putting up your defenses and pointing the accusatory finger, why don’t you try to help them understand? Most are willing to learn and sympathize, but they never get an opportunity to do so because of the walls we erect.
Even if I’ve never lived in an exclusively Asian community, I still identify with my own culture — this has nothing to do with being a “true Asian,” whatever that means. All I know is that I’m Asian enough to understand that there are differences between me and everyone else, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of getting to know an individual for who they are.
Sandie Cheng is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. That One, Please appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.