As an immigrant, I can remember many experiences where race mattered. Particularly on the Lenten reflection of Sacred Stories: Because Black Lives Matter, I am reminded of a time in eighth grade when racism came at me from multiple angles.
I was still struggling to learn English and trying to make new friends in Queens, NY. I managed to become close with a few girls and started spending time with them outside of school. We took turns going over to each other’s house, but I noticed Barbara was always excluded whenever we went to Elaine’s house.
Not having learned the social decorum, I naively asked Elaine, “How come Barbara never comes to your house?” To which Cathy replied matter of factly, “Oh, Barbara can’t come to Elaine’s house because she’s black. Mr. Y is a racist.”
I was confused and asked, “What about me? I’m not white.” Elaine answered, “Well, my dad’s okay with Asians but he’s just racist against black people.”
I felt the blood draining from my feet. In all honesty, it may have been a feeling of relief – ‘whew! Glad it’s not me.’
For the next several weeks, I struggled with various emotions with unfamiliar intensity. I kept revisiting what was said and how it was said in such a nonchalant manner. Were they really my/her friends? Why only blacks and not Asians? What about Hispanics? Are the races ranked and where am I? Are white people better? I felt inferior for being non-white and angry at Elaine and Cathy for making me feel that way.
More than anything else, I felt extremely guilty for feeling relieved, and agonized over what I imagined Barbara must be going through. I didn’t know how to speak my feelings with her at the time. My thought was very simple. I liked Barbara for being black as much as I liked Elaine and Cathy for being white and I wanted my friends to like me for being Korean, too.
This experience has taught me and greatly affected me to accept differences and celebrate individuality, which I now know to be gifts from God. Aren’t we all made in the image of God and shouldn’t we honor each other for who God made us to be in all ways, remembering that love covers all?