What Challenges do Those who Have a Minority Identity Face?
There are many conflicts that may arise when one has a minority identity. These include, but are not limited to, derogatory speech and treatment by others, being marginalized by the media, and ignorance of the diversity that exists within the human race. These hardships are experienced by many today. Alex Dang and Winona Lynn both shared their experiences through the medium of spoken word poetry. In spite of the fact that their experiences can be summed up in similar ways, Dang’s poem, “What Kind of Asian are you?” and Lynn’s poem, “Knock-off Native” have some fundamental differences. Winona, who is Canadian First Nations, speaks in detail about one incident with racism, while Alex’s poem tells of a long history of racism and bigotry throughout his experience as a Chinese-Vietnamese-American. Regardless of the surface details, both poems highlight the importance of standing up to stereotypes in order to alleviate these hardships. The negative effect of stereotypes is brought out by these poems in the form of three major points: racial slurs and derogatory speech, marginalization, and the ignorance of diversity. By combating these, society can counter stereotypes, thus improving the lives of those who have a minority identity.
To begin, both Alex and Winona have, on a regular basis, had the experience of being referred to in a derogatory manner. Alex tells about slurs such as “chink”, “gook”, and “zipperhead” (Dang, 38, 56), while Winona mentions being compared to the historical figure-turned-Disney princess Pocahontas. There are some significant differences in their situations and experiences, though. Dang looks Asian, and therefore people’s first impression of him is ‘Asian’. This often leads to him being thought of in the context of, and as, a stereotype. He lists, among others, the ideas that any given Asian is an “Awkward math genius,” or “Cold and calculated Kung-Fu expert,” (Dang, 8, 9), or that he is a poor driver. On the other hand, Lynn does not look the way that the majority of people envision First Nations people to be. In her poem, she speaks about being accused of being fake. One person in particular calls her a “knock-off Pocahontas,” (Lynn, 1) saying that she is not truly First Nations because of the fact that her hair, skin, and eyes are not the same colour as the stereotypical First Nations person’s are. Stereotypes play a large role in derogation of ethical minorities. An important first step towards elimination of this thoughtless and uncivil treatment of those who are not the same is the elimination of one of its biggest sources, namely—stereotypes.
Secondly, those who have minority identities are often marginalized by the media. The vast majority of successful movies and television shows are focused on white people. There may be other ethnicities included, but as Alex Dang points out, they are most often shown as “the secondary role, And never the leading man” (Dang, 48, 49). This can often lead to self-worth issues. When one seldom, if ever, sees people who look similar to oneself in the media, it can cause feelings of isolation. This effect is exacerbated if one looks different from those around him or her. These conditions are not conducive to high self-esteem. If this is not addressed, then it becomes more pronounced, and can even lead to thoughts of suicide. It should be noted that there have been recent improvements, with movies such as Black Panther doing very well in the box office. But this is, so far, an isolated incident. In order to truly make a positive change this must become a trend. The lack of representation in the media reinforces stereotypes, and is therefore counterproductive to the goal mentioned above of eliminating such generalizations, especially in reference to minority groups.
Finally, both Lynn and Dang faced the challenge of people confusing them with or mistaking them for other races. This is degrading and depersonalizing to those who are victims of it. Dang, who faced this kind of ignorance said in reference to his experience: “Every time you confuse me/With some other nationality…it’s stripping away my individuality,” (Dang, 66-68). He feels that his very identity is being taken from him, that he is, to others, a clone of any other given Asian person. When people ignore the differences between others, when those things which make everyone unique are disregarded, humanity becomes one homogenous mass. There is nearly infinite diversity within the human species, and so many people have only a limited concept of the sheer number of races that exist on the planet. This is emphasized especially well by a poignant quote from “Native”. Upon being compared in a derisive way to Pocahontas, the author said, “Pocahontas was Pohatan, and I am Meskwaki,” (Lynn, 4). With this simple sentence she both points out the vast diversity of the First Nations, and the ignorance exhibited by so many, including those who are not malicious in their rudeness. The source of this racism, whether intentional or not, is stereotypes. The importance of removing these stereotypes cannot be overstated. It is wishful thinking to assume that society is able to get rid of all stereotypes, but if it were possible, the effect would be extraordinary. With an action so apparently simple—ceasing to allow stereotypes to influence our thinking—would likely result in an immediate increase in quality of life for innumerable people.
In conclusion, those who have a minority identity face numerous and varied challenges, including derogatory treatment by others and marginalization in the media which can easily lead to low self-worth and even suicidal thoughts or actions. Another major challenge faced is a lack of recognition for diversity, which can cause one to feel a loss of his or her own identity. These and similar may seem insurmountable, but if society works to eliminate them, then the lives of those whom they affect may be greatly improved.
SlamFind. “Alex Dang – ‘What Kind Of Asian Are You?”.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Apr. 2016, m.youtube.com/watch?v=uKAFQF19ciI.
Slam, Vancouver Poetry. “Winona Linn – Knock-Off Native.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 Jan. 2013, m.youtube.com/watch?v=i_zFOsd_pqA.
What I was Proud of in This Essay
I was pleased with the diversity of the arguments I was able to use.
What I Would Like to Improve for Grade 12
I would like to have a higher word count. I would also like to use more detail in my arguments.