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race journal three: belonging (?) in classrooms, in three parts

hannah's picture

where to begin?

i have a lot of feelings and a lot of memories and i just read calamityschild's post and that stirred up a lot of emotions (in case you're reading this, c, it was in a good way, and i love you and your posts v much) and basically i don't really want to talk about this. i don't want to talk about race. i don't want to talk about education. i don't want to talk about my experiences right now.
but here i am. and here we go.

i was homeschooled, which i think i've mentioned to a lot of you before. i was homeschooled in a predominantly white, predominantly conservative community (which is somewhat puzzling since my parents are neither of those two things). but i still went to lectures and sat in halls and did group projects with all these (white, conservative) people. even when i was very small, i was acutely aware of the fact that my race made me different.
i remember being in class and drawing myself and my (asian) friend as princesses with curly blond hair and blue eyes -- partially because none of the crayons in the box were dark brown, partially because i hated my own thick black hair, partially because even at that age i'd already picked up on the fact that princesses never looked like me.
she looked at it and told me "but hannah, we don't have blond hair".
i was upset.
i told her i wanted us both to look pretty.

when i was sixteen i went to school in switzerland for a year.
it was, oddly, a place where i felt okay being foreign, because i was foreign on purpose. i was foreign as an american.
i remember, though, still being different. i was the only asian in my class (although not the only POC -- my friends in western europe were, rather ironically, much more diverse as a whole than my friends in the usa). people consistently asked me where i was from, despite the fact that i'd told them before. as if somehow asianness and americanness were incompatible, and i needed to erase one to be the other.
honestly, i didn't blame them. sometimes i felt like that too.

even though i'd been experiencing the impacts of my race in the classroom for most of my life, bryn mawr was one of the first places i ever felt like it was okay to talk about that out loud. i was suddenly discovering new things about myself, new ways to relate to the world, new identities that i hadn't ever had to think about.
and i loved that.
i loved (finally!) not feeling isolated. not feeling invisible. not feeling like i had to "act white" (although by that time, i was pretty good at it) in order to be heard.
it felt like, for the first time, the asian-american part of me had a place, had a voice, in the classroom.

but bryn mawr isn't perfect. and i'm not, either.
even in this 360, i often don't know how to talk -- or don't want to talk -- about race and education. about my experiences.
i feel like that doesn't have a place, or that it shouldn't (?) have a place, here... in this discussion of black and of white,
and i don't want to hijack anyone else's story or interject my perspectives somewhere they don't belong,
nor do i want to act as if my experience as a NBPOC means that i can empathize (oh, the problem of empathy) with the day-to-day struggles of BPOC,
nor do i want to pretend that i don't also benefit from my proximity to whiteness.

but at the same time, when people equate non-blackness with being white,
in clear or in less clear terms,
i can't help but wonder
(and this really is a genuine question)

does/should the asian-american part of me have a place, have a voice, in this classroom?


Sunshine's picture

I'm super duper looking forward to discussing this in class!