“I didn’t realize that I was being bullied — it just didn’t register.”

In elementary school, one white classmate approached Rachel Chih, pulled her eyes sideways and said, “Look, I’m Japanese.” Not only did this gesture feature the racist stereotype that Asian Americans have slanted eyes, but Chih’s family is not Japanese.

At the time, she didn’t even realize how offensive it was, “Racism towards Asian people is so normalized that I didn’t blink twice.”

Ariana Lee’s elementary school classmates would also make derogatory gestures and slurs, but she thought little about them until she came to SJS in middle school.

“I didn’t realize that I was being bullied — it just didn’t register,” Lee said. “I thought they were just being weird, and I didn’t connect it to my Asian identity.”

Chih did not even realize that she was considered a person of color until freshman year. When she came home one day wearing a Women of Color affinity group sweatshirt, her father expressed similar doubts.

I didn’t realize that I was being bullied — it just didn’t register.

— Ariana Lee

“People tend to lump us in with white people, simply because of lighter skin tones,” Chih said.

The perception that Asian Americans are not people of color extends beyond school. In a November 2020 equity report, a Washington school district lumped Asian American students into the same category as whites, because their standardized test scores were the same. In addition, the Pew Research Center found that Asian Americans have a higher median income compared to the general population but also exhibit the greatest income disparity among ethnic groups nationwide.

“People don’t see Asians as people of color,” Maria Cheng said. “They think that there is no racism against Asians, and we don’t get discriminated against.”

Cheng emphasizes the importance of taking multifaceted approaches to address discrimination against Asian Americans, which  often goes ignored because it can be less overt than the prejudice faced by other minorities.

Chih encourages her Asian American peers to stop “pushing the stereotype onto ourselves” and advocate on their own behalf. Nothing will change if “we belittle ourselves because we don’t want to cause trouble, but our problems matter.”

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