Friday, May 18, 2012

the invisible minority

photo: D Boyd

I didn't even know I was considered an invisible minority until my friend Deanna mentioned it the other day.

In fact, I had to look it up.

Apparently there is some debate which ethnic group makes up the invisible minority, but people generally agree that it is Asians because, as a group of Americans, they do not suffer from the widespread ills with which other minority groups contend.

The crime rate is low among Asians. The employment an earning rates are high, and we tend to be well educated.

Many of us identify with white culture. We sometimes call ourselves "twinkies" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), though in my case you might have to go with oatmeal creme pie.

So what has my experience as an "invisible minority" been?

First of all, let's talk about the label.  "Asian."  Asia is at least 30% of the land mass in the world, and it is home to over half of the world's population.  India and China each have over one billion people.  An Asian can be a communist or capitalist, fascist or democratic, wealthy or impoverished.  Do we really only get one box on forms?

Asians represent 5% of the US population and 15-16% of Ivy League college admissions.  Sounds good right?  Except schools who have race-blind admissions policies admit nearly double that percentage of Asians.  Why? Asians are the highest scoring ethnicity on the SATs.  While I can't prove that I have been discriminated against because of my race, I know that my parents advised me to just put "Caucasian" down as my ethnicity when applying for scholarships and such.  It's a sad day when being a white male is better for you on quota-based applications.

Since I don't look "Asian," I often get spoken to in Spanish or treated as Middle Eastern (aka anti-American).  Again, I look like a billion other people in the world, but because I don't have almond-shaped eyes, people don't assume I'm good at math or have strict parents.

I've been followed around Wal-Marts in small towns in Nebraska before.  I don't know if they thought I was going to steal or buy suspicious amounts of fertilizer, but they definitely seemed to think something was up.

Probably the worst thing about being an invisible minority is when people think they are funny.  Since I tend to identify with majority culture and am frequently self-deprecating, white people, especially younger ones, tack that as a license to trot out borderline (or not so borderline) racist and hackneyed joke material.  Here's a clue: if you're going to make a race-based joke, be sure that it is a) original, b) funny, and c) something that won't get you punched.

I can promise you that I have heard every slurpee-hocking, camel-jockey, towelhead joke you can throw at me and all of them from people I like a whole lot more than you.  Political correctness can eat my curry, but obtuseness is always offensive.  Your permission to make racially themed comments around me depends entirely on the closeness of our relationship, not on how hilarious you find Apu from The Simpsons.

The high school I graduated from had a 98% white population.  My college was not much different.  Needless to say, my photo made it into several yearbook spreads and brochures.  Yet, I didn't get an extra scholarship for multi-cultural-ploitation.

While I'm not a fan of government-sponsored "leveling" of the playing field, I often find myself wishing that my brown skin and funny-sounding name would either afford me similar perks to what other minorities receive or not get noticed at all.

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