I remember drawing my white friends with the “skin color” crayons, blond or brown hair and blue eyes for an assignment that encouraged us to share facts about ourselves with our classmates. It wasn’t until my classmate drew a picture of her friends (myself included) I noticed she used the brown crayon to draw me.
Growing up in a predominantly white town, with all-white friends and raised by all-white family members, I too viewed myself as white. That was until my 7-year-old self saw my friends drawing me and viewing me in a way I, at the time, did not identify with. During my childhood, I was raised thinking adoption was the norm. My older brother was adopted and I remember asking my friends at school “So where are you adopted from?” As a child, you think the experience you have is what the majority has. This idea even came down to my birthmarks and asking others “Where is your birthmark on your knee?” as I had a noticeable one on my right.
Going into young adulthood I started to realize I do not identify the way others may view me. As someone who looks Asian on the outside, but is a white suburban-raised child on the inside, this idea of self-identity and imposter syndrome was inevitable. One experience where I felt this imposter syndrome was when I was in Colorado for a mission trip with my church in high school. Learning about gentrification, we were led around the city of Denver by a Native American local to the area. During the trip, they challenged us to think about how colonizers moved into their space and how that still impacts the community today through gentrification. As someone who looks Asian, the leader asked my white counterparts questions that he did not direct toward me because of my race.
Another instance that occurred was when I was covering a protest against discrimination at MSU in the spring of 2021. At the event, several hundred people within the community and surrounding cities gathered on MSU’s mall to fight against racism and white supremacy. During the protest, I was covering I was approached by one of the organizers who was an Asian woman. She asked me if I wanted to speak about my experiences on stage for all to hear. I thought she was just looking for a student perspective, so I recommend a fellow student at the event she could ask as I was not a participant. She politely told me she was not interested in them, she was specifically looking for an Asian student.
These are just a few instances where it is not only white people who look at me and make assumptions. It is everyone. Whether it stems from good intentions or bad, from my experience prejudice does not discriminate.
Write to Julia Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org