In dealing with my ordeal I have come to the realization that the idea of prejudice is important and I was hoping to share my thoughts on this with you.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. In my high school there were 500 students in each class, coming to a grand total of about 2000 students in the school. Why do I tell you this? Excluding myself, there were about 5 other Asians in the entire school and 2 or 3 African-Americans. The rest of the 1,992 students were Caucasian. The make-up of the community was the same. One would think that in my upbringing these numbers might lead to prejudice and racism. Surprisingly, with the exception of the odd comment here or there and the scarce incidents, my memory of growing up in Omaha is not filled with racist encounters; in fact I have a hard time remembering any incidents that stemmed from my race. This is not to say that prejudices did not exist in Omaha. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that while the prejudice was not overt it was still present. When people saw me they automatically made some assumptions. Perhaps they thought, “I bet he’s good at math” (unfortunately I am not) or “He is probably a bad driver” (which I am), or simply insert any of your preconceived notions about Asians here. I do not think these thoughts make you a bad person, in fact many of these thoughts are simply a product of evolution: if I were to come across a grizzly bear in the forest, I would (quickly) assume it’s dangerous and that I should run. These assumptions are engrained in my DNA and allow me to survive. I realize that this is a fine line I’m walking: on one side intuitively we know that prejudice can be detrimental and that incorrect assumptions can lead us astray; but on the other hand I tell you that some degree of these assumptions is not only okay but imprinted in our genes. I hope you do not come away from this post thinking Chris said it was okay to be a racist. My point is simply that there is a fine line we must walk between overt, detrimental racism and useful assumptions. Anyhow, I digress. Growing up I did not deal with overt racism but instead, hidden prejudices.
This is significant because I realize that now more than ever; I am constantly fighting preconceived notions about myself. This is ironic because none of these beliefs are due to my race: when I hobble across the hallway to introduce myself to someone, the first impression is not I bet he went to Harvard, played professional tennis, and is a doctor. I’m not going to pretend I can read the minds of every passer-by and guess their first thoughts of me, but I assume that many may question my cognitive abilities. This constantly puts me into an uphill battle whenever first meeting someone. As a physician I have to convince patients that my cognition is intact and that I can help them. As a human being, if someone were to see me in the grocery store and assume that my physical disabilities imply I am mentally handicapped as well, it would be easy for me to think defensively, “They can think what they want, I don’t care.” But as a physician I do care what patients think of me. That is why much of what I do is aimed at dispelling any of these beliefs.
My hope is that when you meet someone, even though your mind may drift and make some incorrect assumptions (my aim is not to erase these beliefs that may deeply engrained) that you try to get to know this person. You may find out that everything you assumed is correct, but you most likely will discover that your thoughts misled you. For me, I will continue to battle any preconceived notions about me, a battle that I did not know existed, but has been ongoing since my childhood in Omaha.