Student Section: A Take on Systemic Racism


I am mixed. My mom is Black and Chinese and my dad is White. I don’t look Black enough to receive as much racism as others with darker skin tones, but every once in a while, I do run into some situations where I feel singled out because of my race.

An example of this is when people ask, “What are you?”. I hate this phrase because I always feel awkward in this situation. Maybe the person is asking out of curiosity, but it feels like people are making assumptions.

What I dislike even more are the normal responses I get after I state my ethnicity. I’ve gotten many rude and interesting responses, some of them being, “Oh, you don’t look Black/Chinese”, or, “But I thought Black/Chinese people should look like…”, and even, “Wow! That’s so exotic!”. I never know how to respond to these comments. Do I say “thank you”? Because I don’t know if it is meant as a compliment or not. I can’t change anything with these statements because this is just how I look, how I was born. I’m proud of my heritage, but in these awkward interactions, I always feel like I need to change to fit into people’s expectations.

Another situation I run into often is incidents with my hair. My hair has turned quite curly since middle school, and when I brush it out, it gets very frizzy, almost like a wavy Afro. I already have a lot of hair, so when I wear it naturally (which it most of the time), it becomes very big. People touch and play with it without asking, and when I hang out with people, some of my friends ask to straighten my hair to make it “prettier”. In our society, the definition of pretty hair is hair that is straight and shiny. Just think of the hair product ads: “Easy, breezy, beautiful”. That’s just not my hair. I don’t fit into that standard that society has put on girls and women, so when my hair isn’t straight, I’m immediately tagged as being different.

The thing with all of these situations is that I don’t think any of the racism is purposeful. I was talking to my mom about this the other day, and the term she used to describe the interactions was “inherent bias”. Peanut butter is a good example to explain this. When I say peanut butter, what do most people in America immediately think of? Jelly, right? But why do people think that? In other countries, they don’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Maybe instead they’d think of marmalade. 

Now, when thinking about inherent bias in regards to race, black people are associated with gangs, violence, danger, etc. Inherent bias causes people to hold their bags closer when in an elevator with a black person or cross the street to avoid them. Black Lives Matter protests are an important and necessary step to change the way Black people are treated in our country. However, to truly ensure that all people are treated equally, we have to also change this inherent bias that our society has learned. We have to learn that black hair is beautiful. We have to all think about our words and actions and how they might make others feel. 

I’ve learned to be proud of my race, but the sad thing about our society is the fact that I even needed to learn to love my unique background in the first place. I know that there are other people in our community that experience more racism than I do and that perhaps my experiences seem silly compared to the life-threatening situations that other people of color have to deal with. All I can do is share my thoughts and experiences in the hopes that someone will read this and reflect on their past and present actions. I’m not sure what will happen after these protests, but I do know that we all need to change.