By HONG NET
Studies have shown that every ethnic group has to deal with some sort of bigotry toward them or their lifestyle. Every person, young or old, is labeled with either positive or negative traits. It is part of our everyday life. We hear it every day and everywhere.
In my opinion, bigotry in any form is a big problem in our modern society. It puts labels about how a person should act or live according to their sex, race and personality. I also believe that bigotry is among the most unsavory of realities and it involves verbal abuse that targets people with disabilities and specific sexual orientations, purposely and sometimes inadvertently.
Bigotry occurs when an individual starts to make remarks about the way we look, the way we dress, the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we act, the way we eat and the language that we speak. We know that we get criticized about what we hear every single day. We even are criticized in which music we listen to and who we hang out with.
There were times that I was not so open to the idea of meeting new people and making new friends. I did not want to go outside, because I had put my own set of rules in this world. I once was a very different person. I had an upbringing with a lot of views that were not exactly open-minded, and as a result those were the views I held. Even if I have deluded myself into thinking I do not, I thought I was somewhat better than others, particularly my fellow Cambodian children in my village and could not believe or see things differently.
Perhaps it was because I was so sheltered from other points of view that I really had no idea what they were all about. For having been born into and raised by a Cambodian-Chinese family, I thought my fellow Cambodians in the village who had darker skin than mine were more primitive than I was. Because of the fluent language from my Chinese grandfather, most of the time I preferred to befriend Chinese kids or people with light skin. We had put the bar way up high, maybe too high for our potentials. I was convinced that people with light skin were smarter because all I saw was that they worked for my grandfather and other Chinese families at the time. When I looked at them, the first thing that I would look for is that they spoke proper language and what color their skin was.
Besides judging others from what I saw, I also judged them from what I heard from other people. Once or twice I had participated in making fun of people with disabilities by impersonating them for how they walked, but I never let them see what I did. I also had been feeling uncomfortable being around LGBT people and had difficulty accepting them. The media, however, had me believe that black people were better at sports and music, but were more prone to violence.
There was a time that I disliked the way people were sagging their pants. I even made comments that when it comes to trouble, the people with saggy pants would be left behind for being unable to run. I also heard people call Hispanics “beans” because they assumed that Hispanics eat only beans. Because of such remarks, it took me some time to want to try Hispanic food because I am not a big fan of beans or peas.
As a young person, I was convinced that it was true the Muslims were cocky by hearing the story told by elderly people in the community I lived in. They even made remarks that the Muslims’ fingers can reach the sky.
However, things started to change when I was judged by other people, and as well as when I became exposed to many more people and more points of view. In life, people prejudge others by their appearance, but I have learned that it is not what should be judged.
Bigotry has happened to me so many times, I have lost track. Every time that it has happened, I expected someone to stop it, but I got let down. So it came to the point that it did not bother me any more. But what about the people who are new to this place, and they are used to people who look the same? And when they first experience bigotry, they might only feel very sad and not even know what to do. They might also think that it is OK to do it to someone else and expect not to get punished for it.
I have come across some bigots and close-minded purists in my life. I got pushed around by bigger kids. I was forced to eat grass and called names. I was called big head in a mean way. During the Khmer Rouge regime, I was sent to a hard labor camp because of my Chinese name. They called me a capitalist. They believed that Cambodian-Chinese or people with light skin deserved to be severely punished, even put to death because they used to have an easier life than the pure Khmers. They said that it was time for them to pay for being more advanced in life than they were. The Khmer Rouge soldiers were predominantly made up of pure Khmers with dark skin, uneducated, and speaking with heavy accents. In refugee camps in Thailand, I was beaten and kicked numerous times by drunk Thai guards just for being a refugee. They would laugh and joke by saying, they all just refugee animals, refugees in our land.
In Bangkok International Airport, I was shooed away from the public area by the airport employees just because I was a refugee boy with bare feet and rags. They would stare at me with disgust. Therefore, I came to believe that it was my karma. These abusive actions have left a traumatizing effect on me and it somehow still remains in me to this day.
Another time that had occurred, when I first arrived in the U.S, one of my history teachers in high school yelled in my face saying that I was a “lazy little Cambodian” for not understanding the new language. I was so embarrassed and started to cry in front of my classmates. Then some students tried to lure me to a fistfight with them. They said, “Come on Bruce Lee, you wanna fight?” One of the kids threw a punch at me, I then twisted his arm throwing him into a pile of snow on the ground in front of a school building. From then on, everyone assumed that all Asians knew karate or kung fu.
In college, my academic advisor told me that I should not have majored in politics because of my appearance and my heavy accent. She said that only tall people with blue eyes and have no accents could be in politics.
I also had been followed and pulled over multiple times when I borrowed my parents’ new car, and they were making remarks toward me the way that they should not have made.
Having been educated from past experiences, it is best to get to know a person before judging him or her. I also have learned that appearance is not everything. What a person looks like may not be exactly what he or she is like on the inside. I have met many people that I thought were amazing and everything that I looked for in them, but I was proven wrong. After I got to know them, they were mean and thought too highly of themselves. I realized then, that I should get to know the person’s personality before I judge him or her based on looks or what I’ve heard about from other people. I believe that people who have not been in this kind of mindset simply cannot comprehend it. Their perceptions of how bigots think which only ends up making an even bigger mess of things when they get into arguments and debates. I strongly believe that knowing a single story of a person or a country can cause misunderstanding and create a bigot. Bigots have enormous impact on people’s feelings and can cause people to feel lonely and sometimes depressed. Let’s stop judging people before we even get to know them.
Learning from my own experiences, bigotry is creating problems in children. These problems can create confusion in them because they are growing up thinking that there should be one way because society thinks that is the ideal. A bigot also creates false ideas of how children interact with others. Our kids should be taught to value other people for what they are, not what they appear to be.
We are the new generation, it is our responsibility to do something to avoid these problems. We can start to change our perceptions of bigotry, therefore, it is important to teach our kids to respect each other regardless of race, culture, religion, sex, sexual orientation, personality, and more. It is our moral obligation to teach them these values because they are the future of our society.
Hong Net is a Lynn City Councilor at large first elected in 2011 and a state Department of Revenue employee.