Since April 5, signs promoting the white supremacist hate group Patriot Front have been spotted on Miami’s campus. Although the posting of these signs is not a violent attack, it adds a new level of reality to the Miami community’s racist reputation. It suggests there is organization and encouragement behind it.
Upon reading the news, a feeling of unrest washed over me. As an Asian-American from Oxford, I suddenly felt unsafe in the surroundings I’ve called home for the last 19 years.
Being a student of color at a mostly-white school, working at a mostly-white newspaper, I felt troubled by the reactions I saw in a couple of my white classmates and fellow TMS staffers. Even though they were concerned, some spoke in a lighthearted way about the story and its consequences. It showed they clearly felt distanced enough from the issue to feel more or less unaffected. This displays an ugly unawareness of their privilege as white Americans.
Acting this way doesn’t mean you are a racist person, but it shows that your attitude towards racism is clouded by the advantages you have as a white person. When it comes to being an ally to your minority friends, the unchecked use of this advantage marks the distinction between concern and empathy. You can worry all you want about your minority friends and classmates – but you are not helping until you understand that our lives have been different because of our race.
And even as much as you empathize, there will always be a difference between caring about minorities and actually living as one. Our day-to-day experiences that add up to feeling discriminated against are unique to us.
As much as you care about me (which I do appreciate), you really won’t ever quite understand what I’m going through.
If you are white, you are allowed to have a level of apathy for the Patriot Front signs that people of color do not. However shocked you may be, the worst possible implications of this story do not affect you to the extent that they affect minorities. As much as you may hate Patriot Front, their ideal future still includes you. The white supremacists are glad you’re white, regardless.
These signs take on a different meaning to minorities. They amplify and warp the alienation I already feel as a student of color. They turn my loneliness into fear. I don’t just worry that my race is seen as a separator anymore. I feel like I’m seen as a problem.
I take these signs personally. I feel like someone has organized against me. Me as a biracial person. Me as a first-generation American. Me as the child of an interracial marriage, born and raised in their precious, majority-white college town. To them, my family and I threaten the nation’s “ideal” lifestyle, so much so that they banded together to “Reclaim America” (their motto) from us.
My mother left South Korea for the U.S. after college to further her studies. She teaches biochemistry at Miami in English, even though she didn’t grow up speaking it. She is no longer a Korean citizen, only an American one.
She’s shown me that white ancestral ties and patriotism have nothing to do with what’s so great about America. But according to Patriot Front, she is a threat to their essential “pan-European” culture simply because of what she looks like, despite the sacrifices she’s made for American students.
I don’t mean to gather pity by talking about my mom, but rather to explain some of the experiences that people of color have that make joking about these signs inappropriate, and how our version of America directly contradicts everything that Patriot Front stands for.
Caring about minorities is not a game of self-preservation. Making an edgy joke about these signs doesn’t automatically mean you are racist, but it’s an inconsiderate thing to do. It shows that you don’t understand your advantages enough to respect the experiences of people unlike yourself. Besides, isn’t “not a white supremacist” kind of a low bar to set for yourself?