This is a post about race that relates some thoughts and memories that I have been having recently. It doesn't really go anywhere. I mean, none of my posts go anywhere in particular, but since this is about a heavier topic I figured I'd leave a little disclaimer.
I can't remember why, but I was recently thinking about the "I Had a Dream" episode of The Proud Family. For those who don't know, The Proud Family is an old Disney Channel cartoon following an Afro-Latino girl named Penny Proud as she lives a life surrounded by friends and family. Given the episode name, you probably won't be surprised when I tell you that the episode involves Penny working on an assignment for Black History Month and being swept about fifty years in the past to a segregated society. My primary memory of this episode is this scene (see above photo) in which Penny realizes that she and Zoey are no longer friends because Zoey is white and Penny is colored.
This was one of the first times that I understood race as a barrier. Of course I always recognized that the people around me weren't necessarily the same race as me. As the only Chinese kid in my class, it was hard not to notice. But like most kids, I didn't think that race divided me from other people. As far as I was concerned, the only difference between me and a Hispanic kid was what we ate for dinner and what language we spoke with our parents.
The existence of these differences really hit me when I started learning about segregation in history class. Teachers told us (extremely watered down) accounts of discrimination against black people. You know, the typical photos of bathrooms and water fountains labeled "white" and "colored". Of course there was absolutely no mention of lynching or beating or the absolute disrespect with which black people were treated, but even without the harsher details, I remember thinking that segregation was cruel and unusual. I remember being relieved that it was in the past. I remember feeling lucky that people of my race weren't targets of hatred.
Then I thought about this episode of The Proud Family. I imagined what my life would be like if I had been born fifty years earlier. At first I figured I'd be fine because I wasn't black. Immediately after that thought was the realization that I wasn't white either, which meant I didn't get to use the fancy bathrooms. I wasn't really sure where Asians would've fallen on the spectrum of discrimination, but at the time I pictured myself mopping a floor. Now that I'm older and (kind of) wiser, I assume I would've been washing dishes in my parents' restaurant or ironing shirts in the backroom of a laundromat.
It's just weird to think that fifty years isn't too far in the past. In school, they tend to teach history with this implication that racism is over, that all of those horrible things are in the past. Luckily, a lot of those things are in the past. But at the same time, too many forms of racism and segregation are still present in our society. It's an unsettling reminder that complacency is not an option because there is still work to be done.