With the KTVU gaffe about the alleged names of the Asiana Air pilots lingering throughout the media, racial ignorance is once again being addressed throughout the nation. One woman has taken the discussion about race by a storm on her website, The Race Card Project. Michele Norris, one of the hosts of NPR's afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered, started The Race Card Project to "help foster a candid dialogue about race." This past June, I had the honor of meeting Ms. Norris through the Asian American Journalism Association's (AAJA) annual JCamp, a rigorous program for high school journalists. I immediately became inspired by her passion as a journalist, and, even more, to start considering race as a key to my identity. How does race affect who I am, and my everyday actions?
I think of all the times when someone has asked me where I'm from, and been dissatisfied with "Vermont" as an answer -- "No, where are you really from?" I know I am not the only one who faces this; nearly every person whose looks divert from the socially-accepted "American" has surely faced this. Somehow, people are unable to accept me as an American. But isn't the United States known as the "melting pot" of cultures, the place where diversity is widely-accepted, the place where we are free to express, speak, and practice what we wish? While it can be tempting to blame the society for showing little regard to racial diversity, I am beginning to realize that people aren't merely being disrespectful; they're being ignorant. Ignorance is the problem in our society.
One of the primary objectives of AAJA's JCamp was to engender a discussion about race amongst a highly diverse group. As Ms. Norris noted, "Race affects all of us." What we, as a group, soon realized was how enlightening talking about race could be. We became inquisitive, asked questions, and broke down the barriers that often arise with talking about race. In fact, understanding each other's backgrounds and heritages attributed to a tighter community; all it took was conversation.
One recent post on the Race Card Project struck me: "Your lack of education is voluntary." Ignorance is a choice. My solution to this problem: learn about the world, by traveling, talking, and reading. The latter is particularly essential to becoming open-minded. Earlier this month, I attended the Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C., where I had the pleasure of conversing with John Seigenthaler, a journalist who covered the Civil Rights Movement in spite of being raised in a racist society. When I asked him about this, he told me he overcame racism by opening his mind with books. It was as simple as that. Reading a variety of literature acquaints us with diverse perspectives, and consequently opens our minds. Just as ignorance is learned, it can be unlearned.
I am an Indian-American. The hyphen represents the fulcrum balancing two rich cultures and societies, both of which equally constitute my identity. I should not, and will never, choose one side over the other. Being a part of two cultures is, in itself, eye-opening; however, if I've learned anything, it's that there is always more to discover about the world and other people.