My experience with the term race

The first 10 years of my life I lived in a small town in Ukraine. Considering that everyone is white, I never learned what race really meant. I saw people of color on TV but I never put much thought into how their lives differed from mine. However, most of all, I never considered them to be inferior to me. I just considered them to be different than me but that’s as far as that thought went. I then moved to America at the age of 10 and spoke absolutely no English. I was put into an English Second Language to learn English. The diversity of people in the class was enormous. There were people from all over the world and we all looked different. You would think that there would be some sort of culture shock but there wasn’t any at all. We all got along very well and became really good friends even though we could barely speak the same language. We all had a common goal to learn English and we worked on it together. It wasn’t until I was put into regular classes that I started hearing racist stereotypes. While sitting in class and watching the videos about what race was. I thought back to my experience of trying to figure out what race meant to others. I clearly saw differences in looks between everyone in my class. There were students from Africa, South America and Middle East. I just did not seem to have a need to classify them as I never really thought about race. However, my real confusion came when I was applying for a job at 15 years old.  The application had a section where race is selected. I’ve learned about racism and discrimination but I never considered what the word race actually means. I am clearly white but I had no clue what to pick. I am not black – but how can you even distinguish me from someone who is Hispanic? Then there was also a box for Asian and that made no sense to me since half of Russia is in Asia. There was also a check for “other” which was very confusing and I almost put that. I then went online and looked up the definition of the word race. It says: any contest or competition, especially to achieve superiority. In our class we talked about the play on words: the association between a race of competition and the human race is pretty fitting. It really does seem to be a race and people are doing disgusting and hateful things to win. However, back to my dilemma, I still didn’t know which box I should check off regarding race. I had to do more research and later learned that the term race was looking at the physical trends among people to classify them. This still didn’t make sense to me but I just decided that “white” is what I should start putting down. My latest encounter with the term race was just last semester in Psychology 100 where we looked at a website that made us choose the race of people in pictures. I only matched 3 out of the 10 people in the picture to their actual race. It was then that I realized I was right the whole time – trying to distinguish between the races can be impossible and is not worth our time. Classifying people based on their looks is so odd and difficult. However, what is even worse is making assumptions such as intelligence based on these groups.

One comment

  1. Serhiy, although I did not deal with a situation quite like yours, I did not realize that there was such a large discrepancy in how one was treated based on their “race” in society until a much older age. I grew up in an area that contained a relatively even distribution of three different races; those different races being White, Hispanic, and African American. Everyone recognized race, but no one really was ever attentive to it. We all meshed together as one big group. I didn’t grow up hearing racial slurs thrown around in the lunch room or outside of school at the parks. Everyone was friends with everyone. Coming to college I experienced culture shock because race was an idea that was attended to very closely. The racial incidents that happened last year around the time of the election were events that I had never directly been exposed to. Sure, I had heard about things similar to this in the news, but it’s very easy to distance yourself from such events when they do not occur directly to you or in an area that you belong to. Going to college in a very rural area that is very different from my hometown was very eye-opening to me, I enjoyed reading your post and seeing that someone also shared an eye-opening experience dealing with race (although yours’ was much more drastic than mine).

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