I write this post with the acknowledgement that I own many privileges as a male, heterosexual, college-educated, Christian, able-bodied, employed, and a person living in America. Even with these privileges, there are times when I am faced with situations that remind me of my inferiority as a person of color. It was only last week when I went to a Best Buy store and the sales person would not even acknowledge me when I was just a couple of feet away from him. It probably took more effort to ignore me than to say hi or say the words “how may I help you”? Did I not look like I had any money to spend? When a waiter so obviously ignores my table and treat us and my friends like we don’t belong there, it bothers me. When a sales person at a Nordstrom store goes out of their way to go help a white couple, looking affluent, across the store and ignores me while I’m standing next to him, it bothered me. It bothered me enough I went and spoke with the store manager.I asked myself, was it my age, my look, the way I dressed? Today, a person at my university told me, unsolicited, “I didn’t wear my tie today just to feel important.” a reference to the fact that I was wearing a tie, like I do most days. I half-jokingly pointed to my arm and tells him “I have to wear ties just to be equal to others because of my brown skin.” This person says “Oh no, I didn’t mean it that way, not at all.” When another person jokingly, I think jokingly, asked me “whose ass did you kiss to get to where you are?” my immediate reaction at that moment is that they were just kidding and laughed it off, just to wonder later on what they meant. Did they think I got to where I am through some exception or tokenism? Maybe I don’t need to prove myself, but I have the feeling as if I need to prove my worth by working harder, longer hours. When a vendor I invited to demo a product chose not to look at me during his one hour presentation and focused on my two white colleagues the entire time, I wondered why was that?
As a person of color, an immigrant, there are things I notice that maybe my other colleagues or those around me probably don’t. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a gut feeling when these things happen that things just don’t seem right. The response I’ve gotten when I’ve questioned situations was “I was too sensitive.” Am I too sensitive? I don’t know. Maybe. At some point, I stopped sharing some of my concerns so as not to hear those words. What I do know is that I sometimes find myself trying to find reasons to justify the actions of others directed at me and leading me to ask myself why was it that I was treated in a certain way. Is it simply because of how I look, how I act, how I speak, that I’m short? is it because of my skin color, my race? Maybe it has nothing to do with me. It’s just them.
When I was a freshman at UCSB a couple of decades ago, several of my hall mates had a discussion about how we were accepted to UCSB. One of them told me I was accepted because of affirmative action and that he had other white friends who had better grades than I did who did not get in. Somehow I still remember this situation probably because throughout my life since this occurred, I am reminded of the fact that I am still seen as inferior and my accomplishments may have just been a result of tokenism and maybe that somehow I did not earn them.
These negative experiences I’ve had pale in comparison to what other friends of mine have told me. I’m fortunate I didn’t have to go through what they’ve gone through as persons of color, and here I am again, trying to minimize the negative impact of these experiences have had on me, but sometimes, they really do get emotions out of me. As individual incidents, they probably don’t amount to anything, but when these things happen often enough in one’s lifetime, they become hard to ignore.