Justin Li


The Big Race

2008-12-19

I was going to write a post telling secrets I've (for the most part) kept about myself, but while I don't mind telling secrets to strangers, I find myself lacking the courage to own up to what I write. But this is something I feel comfortable talking about. I feel strongly about this, and probably more revealingly, it doesn't reflect negatively on me (by my standards, at least).

I don't think I'm a racist, and I highly doubt anyone who knows me thinks I am one. I know, however, that I won't past the Implicit Association Test; for one thing, I do grip pens and/or keys in case I need to defend myself (however hopelessly) when I pass African Americans on the streets at night. That probably sounds really bad, although I think that's statistically correct. Please comment and let me know if I'm wrong.

Anyway, I've been raised through a number of cultures. My family is of course Chinese, and I have been through a lot of those custom. Large family dinners for Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Winter Solstice are common events in my childhood, as are feasts for my grandparents' birthdays. At the same time, when I was at a local Hong Kong school for 2 and a half years in middle school, I never really fit into that culture. Although my primary schooling was with Asian peers, it was in under the British system. I've come to accept the Western philosophy of education, and that as much as my incompetency in Chinese contributed to my hard time. When I switched out for high school, I joined an American school, the culture of which influenced me at my most influenciable time. My social group then was half Asian and half Caucasian, although I was one of the few full Chinese.

Being in an American high school for 3 and a half years has made my thinking more western than eastern. There was a PostSecret card, I think, which had an Asian guy on it. The author, however, wrote "I wish I was white". That expresses some of my thoughts, because my thinking, behavior, and language are all products of western culture. People are often surprised when they hear that I grew up in Hong Kong, usually for my fluency in English but also for how well I blend into America culture.

For other people, being in one culture doesn't make them want to renounce their previous one. I personally have some negative perceptions of the Asian culture. I know these do not hold true for everyone, but I find it pervasive enough that I think it applies to the culture. I also know that these apply to American/western culture, but I think to a significantly lesser degree. I think there is something materialistic about the Asian culture. I don't mean that in the sense of possessing material wealth, but in the sense of personal gain. One would be hard pressed to find Asian parents encouraging their children to be, say, park rangers. There is always a push for social recognition and respect, and success is defined by these values, and not by how content one is with life.

Perhaps due to this tendency, I find Asians to be loud and, for the lack of a better word, tactless. No, both of these are the wrong adjectives. Americans too are loud and rude, but I have a less of a problem with it. No, what I'm trying to describe is a self of composure and detachment. I find it most often in Europeans; they seem aloft and unbothered by things in this world. I've always compared them to marble statues: beautifully cold and elegant. Something about their superiority attracts me too.

And no, I didn't mean that as a statement of romantic preference. It's just something I like about the culture.

Some people reading this might say, "you should be ashamed of yourself. You were born Chinese, and you should be proud of your nation!" Sure. I was raised partially British, too, and now live mostly in the States. I was also born male and attended 4 different schools. Hong Kong has a number of sport teams, as does the US, Chicago, and Northwestern. The truth is simply that, I don't get proud of much anything. Political states, sport teams, these are all very fickle to me. I'm certain if you examine your own life you will find inconsistencies; perhaps you support a sports team not from your state, or find yourself unable to care for the local government. This next one would probably get a lot of people: you're born earth too, but I see very little spirit for the environment and protection of the planet. I just have that apathy on a smaller scale.

Most of all, I find schools, cities, states, and countries to be too fickle. These are very artificial boundaries. Sport teams win and lose, countries rise and fall. I am interested in things grander and more ubiquitous. I want to know how plants and animals work, how the earth is kept orbiting the sun, how humans work together to form organized societies. Our difference in cities, countries, race, all pale in insignificance. I would much rather spend time learning than cheering on the local sports team.

If and/or when I get famous, I will not acknowledge my Chinese ancestry, or my American culture. The one thing I probably will acknowledge is that I am human, the race we are all part of. One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind...

...until, of course, we find other intelligent life. Then I'll proudly represent intelligence.

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