It was in August of 1997 when it happened. I was five and had just returned home from my first day of Kindergarten. When I walked in the door and saw my mom, the first thing that I said wasn’t “Hey mommy! I’m home!” or “Mommy! Did you miss me?” No, the first sentence that burst from my lips was, “Mommy? Am I black?”
Hi, I’m Naivasha Hani Burrows, and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to come to enlighten and talk to you about Racial Ignorance. In case you haven’t noticed, I am in fact not black, but Hapa-Haole, which is half Chinese, half white. My mom is Malaysian-Chinese, meaning she was born in Malaysia, but her ancestors are from China. Hainan specifically. My daddy was born in California, raised in Washington, and although he spent his teenage/high school years living in Kenya, Africa, he is in fact Caucasian, or more commonly known as white.
Coming home from school that day, I was just as confused about my ethnicity as the kids in my class were. They had never seen someone who looked as different from them as I did, so what did they do? They assumed that I was the Chocolate to their Vanilla. Of course, I’ve always considered myself more of a Carmel or butterscotch, but who can afford to be picky about their flavor of skin? My mom explained to me that day that I was the same as them, but because she was Chinese, I was just a little browner than them, in every other way I was just like them. Ever since then, I’ve embraced my racial background, and loved the color that I am.
It is not only the little Kindergarten children of our culture that are racially ignorant. It is our teens, and it is our educated, and sophisticated adults! Both my brothers and I have experienced this lack of knowledge right here at Lone Peak. Weekly I am asked if I am Latino, or Indian, or Brazilian, or Poly, or Mexican. Once I was even asked if I was a Philippine-Cambodian mix. Yeah-no! Also, people sometimes ask whether we are Chinese or are we Asian. Umm, people? China is in Asia, therefore Chinese is Asian! Surprise surprise!
I also have adults ask me where I am from. I always say I’m from here. Then they go, “No, I mean, what country are you from?” I always say that I am from America. Guys, I am an American. Just because we are a different color, or our ancestors come from a different country doesn’t mean we aren’t Americans. I am an American, Tarrah Samuels is an American, President Barrack Obama is an American, every single one of us in this room is an American, no matter our race, no matter our background, and no matter our ethnicity. We need to educate our fellow citizens that people are from different countries, and we do need to be sensitive to that, but just because they are from different countries, like my mom, that doesn’t mean they aren’t American. Just because a person is brown doesn’t mean they are black or a Mexican. Just because someone is Hispanic doesn’t mean that they are an illegal immigrant!
Racial Ignorance is a huge problem we face today and we don’t even realize it. You may say that it’s okay to be racially ignorance as long as we aren’t racist or mean about it. You are right in the fact that you can be racially ignorant without being racist, but it is not okay. People need to be educated, and we can do that by:
1.) Being more open about our ethnic backgrounds, don’t be afraid to let people know that you aren’t just American, you are a Chinese-American, African-American, Mexican-American, but do let them know that you are an American and proud of it.
2.) Being a lot more tactful when we question people about their race. Instead of asking, “So where are you from?” because if they are like me, they are from Utah, or California, or I don’t know, Tennessee, and that won’t give you the answer you want. Try “So, what is your ethnic background?” for a change. They will feel a lot more respected and more comfortable sharing their cultural background with you.
3.) Educate your friends and future kids, and even grandkids if you have any, that just because someone may look different from them, they are still American. Also, let them know that there is more that just white and black out there; there is brown, there’s yellow, there’s red, there is even orange, and lots of other colors in between. Educate them on other cultures and if you are of a different ethnicity, let your kids know that it is okay to look different, because in Chris Sossou’s words in his article “Obama Candidacy Exposes Diverse Falsehoods and Racial Ignorance: “Is a [different colored] person not a human being, made in the image of God?”
We as a country need to strive to become less racially ignorance, and more racially educated, we must overcome this as we are also overcoming racism to bring our selves into a tighter knit country. We need to unify ourselves as Americans, especially during this time and realized that we are all the same, and we are all Americans.