Racial microagressions leave big impacts

By Jade Pham

10. This is where it started. 10 was the age that I began to realize my race was going to have a big effect on my life, and not in a good way. It occurred to me when I was in the fifth grade, that my appearance, my culture and the language of which I didn’t even speak, was all apart of the negative aspects of how people perceived me.

I guess the first time I truly felt self-conscious about myself and my ethnicity was at the mall with a close friend of mine. We were about 10, and we were walking around by ourselves until we met up with her mom again. I distinctly remember buying a huge bag of popcorn, the kind that you get at the fair in a large, cylindrical plastic bag. I didn’t even care that it was about half the size of me, and I could never finish it all by myself, even if I tried.

As we were going down the escalator, a group of teenage boys, whom I didn’t even know, were on the escalator going up. I didn’t pay any attention to them until we passed, when one of them spoke a bunch of gibberish nonsense in my face. I glanced back at them, not quite understanding what had happened right away.

At first, I thought they were making fun of me for carrying and eating such a large bag of popcorn, and I just didn’t hear what they said quite correctly, but it wasn’t until my friend yelled some sort of snide remark in defense for me, that I finally realized what had happened.

These boys weren’t making fun of me because of my oversized bag of popcorn; they were making fun of me because I was Asian. They made fun of me for a language that I didn’t even speak, and because “jokes” like that were funny to them. It didn’t matter how old I was or how I felt, because it was just a “joke.”

I can’t remember exactly how I felt after that, but I remember the experience sticking with me, like it had been imprinted into my brain. I couldn’t really shake it or forget it.

That might’ve been the start of my realization that who I am, was going to play a role not only in how others perceived me, but how I perceived myself. I began to question my facial features and everything about myself in general.

My eyes became my biggest insecurity. I began to ask myself questions like: Are my eyes too small? Are they too squinty? How can I make them appear bigger? And it wasn’t just my eyes that I started to despise. It was also my naturally tanned skin. The things I couldn’t control or change were the things I wished I could.

Without knowing, I was whitewashing myself. I looked at myself, and then I’d look at my friends, and I picked out the physical features that separated me from all of them. My monolids, my yellowish-tan skin, my thick black hair were completely opposite to their big eyes, white skin and blonde hair.

Because of my differences, I’d sit in front of the mirror for up to an hour, trying to figure out how to change my appearance. I thought stretching my eyes open just a little bit wider would somehow make them stay that way, and my eyes wouldn’t be so small anymore. I thought using whitening cream would make me the same as everybody else.

It took me a long time to accept that I couldn’t just make myself look a way, when the only way I could look, is like me. I couldn’t really change the way I looked without being “fake” or “artificial.”

In the end, I could only be myself, and all I could do was embrace my features and accept that my race did not separate me from others negatively, but instead made me stand out positively. And that was a good thing.

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