During my first semester writing for the Michigan Daily I noticed myself wanting to write more about my experience as a freshman of color. Because what I’ve realized the past several months is how much race seemingly plays a significant role in creating new relationships. Back home, even though my high school friends and I come from different religious, socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, the extent of our differences never interfered with our capacity of connection and intimacy.
The past several months I have been diminishing a large part of my identity. I began to forget certain Korean words because I didn’t want to speak my native tongue in front of my white peers. I started to eat less East Asian foods I craved because they were “too smelly” or “gross.” I detached myself from anything “oriental” because I didn’t want to become an Asian culture and heritage guide in social groups.
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” Zora Neale Hurston encompasses how I feel, because I was detaching myself from my race as it was the most salient trait people here noticed about me. I have never felt more Asian, Korean, yellow and ashamed. While I haven’t experienced blatant discrimination or racism, there are subtle moments of ignorance or stereotypes that I have been confronted with, which has made me feel alienated from my peers.
I want a balance between white-washing myself and restricting my social circles to people who look like me. I will go through life with a one-dimensional lens, however, the more I immerse myself with a diverse group of peers, the more empathetic, understanding and multi-dimensional my perspective will become. And in short, Michigan in Color combines my zeal for writing and allows me to express my racially charged stories freely, without sacrificing or completely taking over my identity.
I’m using my position in this section to finally allow myself to revel in the fact that I am a proud Korean-American and exemplify how much of an impact my ethnicity and race has towards how I view myself. But more importantly, I’m using my position to learn from others: people who have both similar and different experiences of people of color against a sharp white background.