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“Every day I would clench my fists as I stared out into the window, imagining scenarios where I actually stood up for myself and the Indian American community,” writes Jiya, 14. “As I go to high school, I wonder if this is just a lack of maturity in middle schoolers or if I should expect this racism for the next four years and then the years after.”

Photo, “Bus Stop,” by Jiya Mahajan/VOX Media Cafe

Asian American Teens vs Racism in Atlanta [OPINION]

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Many students in middle school face the challenges of fitting in with the social cliques or navigating social media. As a 14-year-old Indian American teen, I however faced another challenge — defending myself from microaggressions and insults about my race.

As I climbed the steps on my bus daily and made my way to my seat, 8L, weaving through a flurry of your moms and that’s what she said from tiny sixth graders, I prepared for the next 20 minutes of the bus ride. Every day, without fault, a Black-mixed 13-year old would board the bus and sit three seats behind me, but not before he made some remark to the bus driver. As the yellow Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) bus pulled out of the bus lanes, the kid would start to shout out comments like “Chicken Tikka Masala” or “Beta” in a stereotypical Indian accent whenever he was bored or the conversation got quiet. And every day I would clench my fists as I stared out into the window, imagining scenarios where I actually stood up for myself and the Indian American community.

These outbursts weren’t necessarily directed at me (even if I was the only Hindu Indian on the bus). They weren’t directed at anyone. As the school year flew by, his friend’s snickers, once loud, slowly dulled, and people stopped reacting to his remarks. One day, he continued his daily antics until he saw an Asian father and son playing outside with their scooter in a neighborhood. He yelled the c slur out of the window as soon as we were out of their vicinity. I never expected his comments to offend me, as I was taught to have thick skin and not reply. The bus driver would never hear him because of the bus engine and how far back he was.

This was just one boy in a sea of hundreds. As I go to high school, I wonder if this is just a lack of maturity in middle schoolers or if I should expect this racism for the next four years and then the years after.

Microaggressions and racism against Asian American teens in the suburbs of Metro Atlanta have crawled its way to schools and day-to-day activities. From my perspective, Asians are underappreciated throughout Atlanta. Duluth, GA, is known as Koreatown due to the Korean businesses and churches that surround the city. According to the 2022 US Census, 23.9% of Duluth’s population are of Asian origin.

Even though we make up almost a quarter percent of the population, other teens fail to recognize that there are different ethnicities within the broad title of Asian. Our generation has the privilege of being exposed to so many different cultures due to internet access. This should expand our knowledge. But when I check the box “Asian” during the PSAT, I still have classmates ask me, “Are you Asian?” to which I reply, “Yes, India is in Asia, therefore I am Asian.” Do I sound passive aggressive? Possibly, but you can’t put the blame for the lack of knowledge of diversity on their parents. The school system and curriculum is partially responsible for not teaching us the entire story.

According to a 2023 survey conducted by the Asian America Foundation, three in 10 Americans can’t identify a significant Asian American historical event or policy. Parts of our history are missing from our textbooks. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students statewide should be able to learn about their history — from the World War II era American Japanese internment camps to the Chinese Massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles.

If school curriculum incorporated Asian immigrants’ stories or events that helped form the Asian American community, teens would be more educated. With a more diverse education, we can stop racism and discrimination, as a child’s perspective on the world lies in the hands of their knowledge and experiences.

This lack of awareness caused instances like GCPS rising freshman David Gil experienced. When asked how he coped, he said, “I just really started to ignore what they say, because at a certain point you just get used to what they are saying. And I hear it [racism] coming from teens my age, which is high schoolers 14 to 18.”

We shouldn’t have to get used to teens our age calling out racist comments. Experiences like the bus and shouting out hurtful words should not be a frequent occurrence.

The racism and microaggressions must stop. A Chinese American 14-year-old student from Gwinnett County shares her experience from last year with racism among peers at school. “One of my classmates in theater called me the c slur and didn’t even apologize, straight to my face.” These instances occur daily to hundreds of students nationwide according to the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign. When asked how this impacted her, she said, “It still made me pretty wary of how people see me and my race.” AAPI students are getting harassed by their own peers. We, as Asian Americans, deserve to be treated the same as other races.

The stereotypes that surround Asians costs us our self-identity. The amount of stereotypes that others put on us causes prejudice throughout our lives. A 15-year-old rising sophomore from Alpharetta High said, “There’s definitely been instances where people of Indian ethnicity have been profiled for being too smart or not street smart, only academically smart.” They go on to explain how this impacted other’s perspective on him. “They use me just so that they can get good grades on their assignments. They never really thought of me as a friendly person. It definitely made me more aware of the environment I am in. And it definitely made me very self-aware, maybe even in a bad way. It changed who I am today.”

We should not have to change to meet society’s standards. When asked what demographic do you hear most of this racism from, they responded, “It’s either gonna be middle school grades when people are so focused on being funny, being accepted, that they occasionally make jokes about it just so that people can get a laugh out of it. But even now, as someone who has just completed freshman year, I would definitely say that there’s a lot of racism from that group. But I would especially say the early teens, that’s where I hear the most racial discrimination.” This answer is consistent throughout Atlanta. And the real question is why.

As the summer is coming to an end, I must brace myself for the start of the school year. I hope that by the time my children and their children grow up, they won’t have to deal with the racism and microaggressions I face today. We deserve our history to be mentioned in the curriculum. We have a right to feel comfortable in our own skin. We belong within society no matter what the stereotypes are. David Gil shouldn’t have to get used to being insulted by his own peers. Asian American teens should be able to go to school without fear.

 

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