Racism Hurts

This past week was particularly hard for me — the theme of the whole week was racism.

Last Saturday night, I went to cover an event trying to raise the awareness of racism toward Asian students on campus. It was the day when the Kunming knife attack happened in China.

Last Thursday, I interviewed Sam Horne Van who works at the UI Assessment. He shared findings of the 2013 Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey on the international student experiences. One of the key findings is that international students feel significantly less respected on campus and less belonging to campus than domestic students, which is similar at other universities. Discrimination against Asian students on campus is not just pieces of tweets against random people; it happens on a much larger scale.

Last night, a Chinese student told me that at a staff party, her drunk boss said, “I hate Asians” in front of her. He said he hated those Asians who drive luxury cars and those who laughed in the library. I asked her, “Did you feel angry?” She said she didn’t because he was drunk, and she knew that he was not talking about her. “He was talking about OTHER people,” she said. She left her work later because of all of the unhappy experiences  with people there and of the drunk statement that her boss made. I then asked, “Why didn’t you speak up?” She said that she didn’t think speaking up would make any difference because her boss wouldn’t change his mind anyway. Plus, she didn’t want to cause any trouble. I got really emotional, arguing with her that if none of us brought this issue up, nothing is going to be improved. It’s OTHERS today, but it could be YOU and ME tomorrow.

Chinese students didn’t growing up exposing to diverse races. Some wouldn’t realize when they are being discriminated against based on nationality or even look. Even if they do, they don’t know how to deal with it. The fact that we have been taught not to stand up and and speak out for whatever happens makes things worse — it seems no harm has been done on the surface. When hate speeches and racist tweets against Asian students are floating around and the university doesn’t take a firm stand, I as an international student feel unsupported.

By the way, scholars have defined discrimination based on culture and nationality as neo-racism:

“Neo-racism rationalises the subordination of people of colour on the basis of culture, which is of course acquired through acculturation within an ethnic group, while traditional racism rationalises it fundamentally in terms of biology. Neo-racism is still racism in that it functions to maintain racial hierarchies of oppression.” (JENNY J. LEE & CHARLES RICE, “Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination,” Higher Education (2007) 53: 381–409)

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