A Life of Discomfort
I am a thirteen-year-old Korean-American girl and I live a life of discomfort. There has never been a moment in my life when I felt that I was truly out of reach of racism’s grasp. I’ve never been free over the boundary that is racial discrimination. Ever since I can remember, I have been a victim of racism- especially throughout the course of the academic career.
I guess for a few years of education, I was oblivious to the racism that took place in my day-to-day life. From the time I was very young, I’ve easily comprehended deeper concepts such as death, fragility of life, sexism, etc. It was only when I left elementary school that the veil was removed. My school district is broken up into four sections, elementary school (K-3), intermediate school (4-6), middle school (7-8), and high school (9-12). I’m a seventh-grader attending the middle school.
I remember that when the Covid-19 pandemic initially took over, I was in fifth grade. At the time, all we knew was rumors. According to our teachers, the district was being overdramatic, and after our two-week break from school, we would be back to normal. That’s not what happened.
Before they announced our two-week break off of school for the district to further evaluate the depth of the issue, the school was an absolute shitshow. Everyone was freaking out, people were spreading rumors. Random people would come up and cough in your face like a neanderthal just for your reaction. And most of all- racism. Before you could say “Coronavirus originated in China”, kids were pointing fingers, shouting slurs, and trying to convince me of things that were simply incorrect. “Ching-chong!” became a part of almost everyone’s vocabulary, and all of a sudden, a bunch of tweens thought they had the smarts or the degree to explain whatever the hell was going on. I remember being on the bus one day, and a kid from my neighborhood said, “You’re going to get corona, ’cause you’re Chinese!”
I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t stupid. If anything, I was one of the smartest kids in school, and I was DEFINITELY a smartass. I said, “First of all, I’m not even Chinese. Get your facts straight, dipshit. Second, we live in the same neighborhood. If I get the virus, you probably already have it with your smelly ass. You probably haven’t seen a shower in years, and you certainly haven’t been washing your hands for twenty seconds.” As you can see, I am King of the Mountain when it comes to telling people off, and I had a filthy mouth for that of a 10-year-old. I didn’t tolerate (explicit language), so I went home and told my parents about it. I wasn’t a snitch- I was correct. If you wonder what my parents told me, they told me not to tolerate (explicit language), and that I could use any rude gesture or cuss word in the inventory that was my brain against a racist. Of course, I was one step ahead of them. A few days later, a similar incident occured. This stank ass kid in my lunch tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re the virus. You’re going to get corona.”
I was embarrassed, once again. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes, and I could feel the quiver in my voice. Maybe I felt braver on the bus, when none of my friends were around me. But at lunch, all the people whose opinions I cared for were seeing me shamed. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m wasn’t stupid. I went up to the lunch monitor and told her right away. I guess I thought that I had done something and conquered that (explicate language), but looking back the lunch monitor was painfully unhelpful. She just gave him a weird look and told him not to do it. But that was all you needed to reprimand a fifth grade kid. He was red as a tomato and never gave me shit again.
Still, I went home and told my parents about what happened. My dad was furious, he said all this stuff, like, “Is this what they teach young kids in school, now? Is this behavior acceptable?” And being the kind of upfront person he was, he took his case to the vice principal. He demanded that the students of this school be educated. He thought they would comply. They didn’t. There were no repercussions against the students who were racist to me. No one received any anti-racism education. I realize that now.
I remember in sixth grade, when the school introduced us to a “hybrid” schedule, I was the only girl in my gifted homeroom. I couldn’t sit around any girls during lunch and I was girl-less for 1/3 of the school day. There was one boy in my class who became my friend. He was Romanian- born there and visited quite often. It felt nice to be able to talk to someone who wasn’t some plain old American whose however-many-greats-grandpa was a patriot or something. I guess I took that feeling of friendship and safety and let it squeeze me. I’ll just say it. He was a racist. I would say “lowkey” racist, but those don’t exist. A racist is a racist.
So here we were. This kid was a racist. I found that I would periodically become the butt of his jokes. But he wasn’t telling these jokes to anyone else; we only ever talked to each other. So he couldn’t mean any harm, could he? This is where the gaslighting and compulsory heterosexuality comes in. I didn’t mention this before, but I am gay. I don’t like boys at all, but calling myself lesbian is only comfortable for me, apparently. I was already well-aware that I had no interest in boys. Really, the idea of having a romantic relationship or even potentially having sex with one made me feel disgusted, uncomfortable, all the bad things. I had already experienced a romantic relationship with a girl my age the year previous. We broke up because I didn’t want to accept myself for who I was and who I loved. It sounds dramatic for a fifth-grade relationship, but we were very serious about each other at the time.
Anyway, the Romanian kid was a boy, I was a girl. Does anything else have to be said? The students in our three other core classes were absolutely crazy on the idea of me and him together. Shit, even the teachers shipped us. They put us together on the classroom seating charts, on the cafeteria seating charts, for projects, etc. And honestly, the feeling that people thought we were good for each other made me happy. To know that our peers thought that I had the potential to be in love with someone and have a serious, heterosexual relationship, made me think, “Shit, maybe I’m not gay.” And that is where it all went downhill.
Back to the fact that this boy was racist: I knew it was wrong. I knew it was stupid of me to not tell him he was wrong or to not report him to a teacher like I did to other students years previous. But I was just so obsessed with being a normal, young, loveable girl that I couldn’t stand to let anything change. And having everyone always say that he was my “soulmate” or some other shit, I was sure that he couldn’t be that bad. Surely, he didn’t mean any harm?
And the truth is: he didn’t. But it made me uncomfortable, and being treated differently for my racial, ethnic, and cultural background at my own expense was literally the DEFINITION of racism. I wish I’d acknowledged it back then. Looking back, I’m incredibly embarrassed. the boy and I are certainly not as close as we used to be. Back then, we had a very playful nature. I was the bossy girl and he was the laid-back boy. We were like something out of a book. All the things that happened to me made me feel like I was the main character for once, and the way I dressed, the things I did outside of school- it was all just perfect. I didn’t think anything needed to change.
When this year’s school year started, he and I were still pretty close. Yes, we were a little uncomfortable from being separated for three months, but nothing had changed. Except for the fact that I wasn’t taking any bullshit from him anymore. This year, I found that the smallest things he did ticked me off. I knew him better than most people in that class, and when he said something that meant different things to him than to other people, I knew what he REALLY meant, and I would tell him off. I found myself not only being the “bossy girl” but being on edge in his presence. Things that other people couldn’t pick up on, I did. I remember once, the teacher (who I felt very comfortable around and had a casual relationship with) asked me, “Why do you always pick on (name removed)”?
I was immediately infuriated. I could sense that over the summer, he’d grown as a person. He never made any jokes about me anymore, and to be quite honest he was very respectful about my race and culture. Maybe others felt that he had always been that way, but I couldn’t forget the way he was before. So I couldn’t give her an answer. My chance to get some closure with him was over when we left for summer break last year. I had to forgive and forget. I find that I struggle with both.
This year has been the most unbearable year of my life. Last year, I literally had an F in one of my classes for the first time in my life, and to be honest- I didn’t give a flying (explicate language). I got the grade back up and nowhere on my records would you be able to find that I had an F that year. Shit, last year I was out here arguing with teachers, rolling my eyes at them, using my phone during their classes. I sincerely did not give a shit, and maybe that was why I was having so much fun. This year, my grades are worse than ever, my mental health in absolutely shattered, and most of all- I think I might have a fundamental bully.
You might be wondering what I mean by that. Well, there’s this kid in my class. He is a lowlife, a racist, a homophobe, and a (explicit language) creep. Every single day, I hear things like, “(racial slur)” or “dog-eater”. This shit is repeated and targeted. That’s what a bully is all about, right? The only reason I don’t really think I can call it bullying is because I give him shit, too. (explicit content removed ). And to be clear, I didn’t start it. And so you’re probably thinking, “Wow, he must have gotten in a shitload of trouble from you, right?” Not really.
Here’s the thing- all my life I’ve tried to have this confident persona that doesn’t get phased by anything. But inside, I feel like someone who is slowly going insane. This new kid is so comfortable making racist jokes and calling me slurs that I’ve slowly been compressed more and more until I feel like my entire existence is a flat sheet of paper. He has found a way to make me feel crazy for thinking that he’s a bad person for being racist. “It’s just a joke,” is a phrase I hear far too often. Every second of every day, I wonder if I really am crazy. Aside from all this racism shit, I’ve lived in a mentally and sometimes physically abusive household. I don’t know who I am as a person. I don’t have a personality. I can’t decide what I want.
But these kids at my school make me not want to go to certain classes just to avoid them. I sob uncontrollably because of shit like this and the school year is almost over and I’ve let this go one for too long. I plan on saying something. Two days from now, these bitches will see me in the front office, probably crying my ass off, and giving them exactly what they signed up for. I’m not weak. I’m not stupid. I’m not crazy. I am strong. I am brilliant. Maybe I am a little bit crazy, but I don’t (explicit language) care. I am in the right. And there is nothing they can say to change any of this. Don’t let them walk all over you.
FIND SOME HELP:
- Thank you for sharing your story, what you shared took courage. We can tell from your story that you are hurt and angry, and with reason. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not okay. We are sorry you are experiencing these things.
- Link yourself with a supportive adult. This might look like an education advocate, a teacher at school who is an ally, a parent, a supportive family member, guidance counselor, therapist, or religious leader.
- Look for ways to cope with the anger and hurt you are experiencing. We have lots of ideas here within our TeenCentral website, you could consider things like daily positive reminders, yoga, mindfulness, journaling, art, getting in nature, or expanding your social network beyond school by volunteering or joining clubs and activities outside of school.
- You had mentioned in your response that your home has been both ” mentally and sometimes physically abusive”. If you ever feel as though you are not safe, or someone is hurting you. Please contact the hotline for abuse. We have listed this below. If you do not wish to talk to someone there is also the option of texting ” Hello” to 741741 to the crisis hotline and letting someone know what is going on.
Child Help USA National Hotline
Available 24/7, over 170 languages
Helps youth who are suffering child abuse
CONSIDER THIS LATER:
- Take a look at our LEARN tab and peruse the Social Injustice, Bullying, and Racism sections. We also have information about Understanding Racial Microaggression on our TOOLS tab. Lastly, we have information about Racial Injustice on our WHAT’S NEW tab. Looking over this information may help shed a light on some of what you are experiencing.
- Please remember that two wrongs do not make a right. While we empathize with what you are going through and we do not mean to minimize your feelings, it was the profound words of smart, articulate women who have both experience systematic discrimination in their careers such as Michelle Obama who said, “When they go low, we go high” and Ruth Bader Ginsberg who astutely stated, “Fight for the things you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
- Power comes from education and knowledge. Learn your history, whether that means the history of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity. Consume knowledge of your own past and present. Exercise your rights, read your student handbook, talk to school leaders, and participate in clubs and activities. You can learn much about most histories by searching by time period or subject matter from this reputable website: Teaching People’s History | The Zinn Education Project (zinnedproject.org)
- Nothing good comes from negativity. Consider writing an appropriate letter about your experience to the school board. Much like every school has LGBTQ allies, see if you can find allies for people of different backgrounds. Are there any groups or clubs in your school for not only LGBTQ, but also for people of different racial and ethnic origins? If not, can you help start one? But people will only listen and follow if you present yourself in a way that others want to hear what you are saying. It sounds as if you are a talented, smart, articulate, and resourceful female. Put your skills to work and “…be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi).