Privilege vs. Prejudice

Can people of color come from a place of privilege?

Asian Americans in general are stereotyped as being smart, talented, financially successful, resourceful, driven, overachieving, a model minority.  A friend often says, stereotypes don’t come out of a vaccuum.  Growing up, I felt burdened by these “positive” stereotypes.  But be in a room full of Korean mothers – whether they are full time parents or not – all of them have a degree or two and are stand alone accomplished women.  Browse through a KoreAm magazine and there is always at least one story of a someone pursuing their dream in the arts or theater or something not medicinal or lawyeresque only after having achieved that MBA, MD or Esq.  Personally, it mattered to me to try and get into an Ivy League school.  Was it all those stereotypes that pushed me to see that as a possibility when no one else in my family did?

Is it privilege we Asian Americans have that other minorities don’t have?  Is it privilege to walk into a hospital and have people assume you are the doctor?  And yet, I’ve walked into a building with a plastic bag of lunch to share with a friend and it was assumed I was there to “deliver” the contents.  The conundrum that feels unique to me as an Asian American is that fine line between acceptance and discrimination.  Do I look for racism or assume good intent?  Having been raised White, does it make me more perceptive to White privilege and able to see the difference better?

I grew up looking at other Koreans the way the White people in my life saw them – foreigners, backward, rude, misogynistic.  I felt frustrated when struggling to speak to Koreans and would ignore them and walk away.  But now, I cannot deny I am one of them.  I want to be one of them.  So, I see and recognize the little gestures of patronizing and polite indifference others gave to them and in turn, now to me.  The innocent request for an English name instead of trying to say their given name makes me incensed.  I am becoming one among the group that stands to the side on the playground huddled among the Korean mothers.  It feels great but then I feel the pull to step back and seek my fair haired friend to laugh outloud with.  At times it feels like a double privilege to walk both worlds and get acceptance and friendship.  And yet, the other stuff continues to pain me.  Someday, I will have this conversation with my boys, this betwixt and between.  Is it sufficient to say that the world is a crazy place?  How will I teach them these subtelties?  Will they even care by then?

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