Asians are often labeled to be slit-eyed math freaks, trapped in a world of conservatism and vigorous tiger parenting. We marginalize them as the people of the yellow with subpar English skills and idiosyncratic accents. Muslims are racially profiled to be terrorists on the loose and so are African Americans who are treated to be part of ominous gangs. We tend to arbitrarily categorize people into different races socially and culturally, based on their skin color, appearances, and attributes. We exclude foreigners because they are different, alienated, and culturally eccentric. We refuse to treat others the same on streets, schools, and workplaces. Contemporary politics are now even geared to manifest on these racist and xenophobic fears and systematically suppress others under legally binding forces. But are we so different? I recall a girl in elementary school.
The girl tightens her hijab across her face to only reveal her dark, ebony eyes and gazes at me with an unwavering spirit before she looks away. She chatters away giddily with her new friends across the lunch table – her invigorating laughs heartily filling the cafeteria. She stuffed a handful of delectable curry into her mouth with her slender fingers and scraped the bowl clean in a flash. Quickly brushing away the food remnants smeared across her face, she stares at me again, catching me staring at her in curiosity. But I kept my distance then. She seemed so different, so peculiar – her eating habits, her clothing styles that clearly clashed with mine, her skin color, and her scent. Everything about her was new and so culturally different. I was too taken aback to approach her – to approach someone from a different race who seemingly doesn’t understand my Korean habits. As uncomfortable as I was, I foolishly scurried out of the cafeteria to my next class without even a moment of hesitation.
“Hadil will be partners with Joanne for the upcoming science fair,” the science teacher bellowed as he pointed at the Muslim girl and beckoned me to sit next to her to plan out our project. I was uncertain to open up myself to someone so different from me but I managed to give a flimsy smile on the surface, edging towards Hadil in small, trudging steps. Would we get along, and most importantly, would she understand me?
She might have been different, belonging to a different culture and custom, but she was in a way the same individual I was.
We started off awkwardly, fidgeting and apprehensively stealing glances at one another. Beads of perspiration condensed on my forehead and rolled painfully down my cheeks. My throat was parched, my heart pumping. Not one of us dared to make the first move.
But as time lapsed by in such roaring silence, Hadil finally decided to break the ice by introducing herself and flashing a bright smile that revealed her tiny, pearly-whites. I felt the strain of effort she put into affiliating with me when she initiated our fiery talk about Korean dramas, which coincidentally starred a character that shared the same name as mine. Chuckling, she re-enacted one of the hilarious scenes which made both of us burst into inevitable laughter. Her giggles were sweet and delicate, and she gushed on about her favorite Youtube stars, her movies, and hobbies. Surprisingly enough, we had a lot of things in common: we loved the rejuvenating rides in the amusement parks, comedy and horror movies, and the lush park near the school. We wanted to be celebrities living in our dream houses with the flashing paparazzi, concerts, and fans- picturing the moments of our futures together.
She might have been different, belonging to a different culture and custom, but she was in a way the same individual I was. I never felt so close, so similar, to someone like Hadil. When I looked at her glittering eyes glazed with intrigue and boundless passion, I wasn’t looking at someone from a different country but a reflection of my inner self. The fact that there are so many similar beauties and attributes in the inside that bring humanity together was a pivotal asset that I gained from my experience.
It is significant to note, especially nowadays, that people are not biologically different as normally perceived. Race is simply a superficial social and political concept and not at all scientifically substantiated. DNA samples have shown that 99.9% of people have the same genetic material and only the 0.1% difference determines our individual variations. Our actions and polarized thoughts are direct results of misconstrued beliefs and assumptions that were inculcated within us throughout history, and it is time to break away from this constricted view of humanity to a one encompassing of the essence of human spirit.