My first American history lesson started with the Crash Course series on YouTube in the summer of 2017, about two months before I came to the States. My “teacher” was a white woman from Texas whose name I failed to remember, who seemed nice and honestly was the spitting image of white Americans in media products I had consumed. She taught me everything from “checks and balances,” “electoral college,” and the Constitution to using “bathroom” or “restroom” instead of “toilet” and not double-dipping my fries, but at no point in that one month of my America 101 class was I told about how indigenous people got chased out of their land or how black people ended up on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean even before the United States existed as a country. A similar negligence happened in my junior year of high school, although this time it was during a whole year of US History. Our teacher was a Virginian white man who I honestly liked for his sarcasm, stoicism, and intriguing storytelling. Despite this, I expected or should have expected from him less reliance on the textbook since he could have implemented his storytelling skills better and explained to us that racism does not end after the emancipation proclamation or the abolition of segregation, that it is a parasite to the core of the American society – white supremacy. I wish he could have told me racism cannot happen to white people because it never oppresses them and, in contrast, reinforces their privileges.
As an international student, hence an outsider to the equation of racism in the United States, I have the privilege and the freedom to opt out of “race talk” or any racial issues since academia is “safer” than the outside world to some extent. If worst comes to worst, I can still go back home anytime. Then it hit me that by thinking this way, I am shielding myself from understanding the experience of minority groups – the population towards which I aim my future practice – just like white people in this country. I have the privilege to be here and not engage in a difficult topic such as racism because I am a foreigner. If things go south, and I decide not to acquiesce in the glamorized American Dream, I can always book a ticket, hop on the airplane, and fly across the Pacific Ocean to get home, a place with its problems, but not racism. Nevertheless, as a Psychology major whose professional tendency now leans toward community counseling for minority groups, I need to break out of my comfort zone and enter this tumultuous power dynamic, which enables me to see my reflection in American society – a Vietnamese heterosexual cis-gendered woman. I’m not just a foreigner; I’m also Asian and female, meaning there is at least some chance that racism or gendered racism will happen to me.
On the other hand, it seems not all White people are given the chance to discover their racial identity. In fact, they live in an echo chamber that barricades “race talk,” due to a common belief that only people of color, or Black people particularly are entitled to discuss race and racism. “Race talk” is the only topic that White people immediately associate with Black people, in which they expect Black people to be experts. Of course, there are White allies willing to break out of the echo chamber, but many of those who stay either refuse to acknowledge the persisting existence of racism with avoidance or lack fundamental knowledge of racism, and these echo chamber residents easily feel attacked or insecure once their implicit bias against people of color or ignorance about racism is named. I believe this is partly an aftermath of a lack of standards in history education. There is no general history curriculum in the United States, and many textbooks currently in use are already dated and uninformed. History is stories in the past that bring lessons to the present; therefore, narratives of people of color are crucial to understanding the impact of racism in American society. Teachers need to learn and teach their students; students need to learn and teach the younger generation when they grow up, so that hopefully one day in the future, White children will be comfortable raising their hands in class and saying, “Let’s talk about racism.” The echo chamber needs to be broken with education.