I'm not ashamed to go to Panda Express. I grew up with it as a fifth generation Japanese girl with a family that eats pasta and burritos more than any kind of "Asian" food. But lately, with Halloween over and the new spotlight on cultural appropriation, to the latest events of Mizzou, I find myself questioning my values of my own racial and ethnic background, and where the gray areas are.
I have very little experience with racism. I come from a city in Northern California where the majority of my high school was of Asian ethnicity, and as a freshman at college I have experienced very little. And by very little, I mean someone asking if I went by a different name when they couldn't find my name on a list for archery club. But I remember that bothering me. Why? Because I knew that if I weren't of Asian decent, I would have never gotten that question nearly as quickly.
I am of the few lucky people. Recently on my campus, there was an issue of racism involving a fraternity and the student government president, that has prompted a recent discussion of diversity and the call to action. Unfortunately, it seems like the racist comments that were yelled at our president were only because one of the fraternity members recognized her for her position - someone of influence.
There are too many Asian stereotypes to count. But when it comes to being Asian, regardless of race, we get put in the same category. For example, bad driving or how much rice we eat (seriously, it's not that much; also, rice is delicious...respect it). However, when referencing historical events, stereotypes and racial slander get more specific. As a Japanese person, I know that there are some of the older generation that have hated Japanese people since World War II, and I've heard a few Pearl Harbor jokes before. But where do we draw the line?
Quite frankly, the line differs from person to person just as much as the line differs from one race to another. I will never know the bigotry against African Americans firsthand, nor will I ever know the bigotry against a more specific racist comment directed at a Chinese person. But I still have a sense of morals. As much as I love being satirical and dark in my humor and as sarcastic as humanly possible, when you are being dead serious about your slander which stems from hatred, mockery and/or insensitivity, then that's a problem. No, I'm not offended by Panda Express, as much as their commercials with talking pandas make me cringe, but I am offended by your "Geisha" costumes at Halloween and your sumo suits at parties. Geishas and sumo wrestlers are rooted in a history that is so distinctly Japanese, that to go there just doesn't sit well with me.
The problem for us as a society, besides the fact that racial discrimination is still rampant, lies with how this line of racism differs from person to person and how there is no "right" or "wrong" other than the ends of extremes. Violence, slander, and hate speech? Wrong. Attending a rally for those who have been discriminated against?Right. But Panda Express? I know people that are offended by it. But I also know many who are not, and would just like to enjoy their orange chicken in peace. Are we in the right or also in the wrong to judge these people for these gray areas?
I know I have a lot to figure out about where my lines are, and why those lines exist. Often we see lines as straight. But I know that my moralistic line is not that linear.
Lead Image Credit: Steven Depolo