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Koji's Column


I admit that I cringe whenever I see or hear of an Asian American or Japanese American doing something stupid, embarrassing, or downright immoral and unlawful. I always feel as though it reflects badly on myself.

Like when that crazy Asian American kid shot up his college in Virginia. Or that Japanese American guy that was involved in the Barry Bonds homerun baseball lawsuit. Or even something smaller, the bad Asian driver or the Japanese tourist taking photos of everything.

After any of these kinds of public moments of humiliation or confirmation of long standing stereotypes, I always feel that non-Asians will look at me and connect me to them. Think less of me because of something someone else has done. Confirm in their minds who I am or how I drive my car or solve math problems.

Do other people feel like this? I heard Chris Rock talk about it once, so I know I’m not totally alone on this one. But do Latinos feel like that too? What about women? Gays/Lesbians? And what about Caucasians? Do they wince when they hear about another white serial killer?

I guess I’m wondering if this is a uniquely people of color/minority thing. I wonder if this is just because our social status is so fragile that a little thing here or there could push us one way or another – at least in the minds of everyone else.

Some of you are probably thinking I’m overreacting. (I probably am.) But recently there was another shooting at Virginia Tech by, you guessed it, a young Asian man. And right after, even before everyone knew all the facts, there were rumblings amongst some of the parents that their kids (non-Asians) should be careful of the Asian students. As though we carried some kind of crazy murder gene, which, needless to say, is worse than being considered a nerdy perverted ninja.

The messed up part of the story is that my reaction wasn't “How horrible! Another murder at a campus that is probably just returning to normal.” My reaction instead was “Not again! Why couldn’t it be some one else? Anyone else!”

I know I shouldn’t feel that way. Just because one person is crazy or stupid or rude, shouldn’t say anything about me or anyone else for that matter. It should only speak about that one person.

But until that day comes, I think we should all make a strong verbal commitment not to do anything that might cause others (like myself) embarrassment. So if you are willing to make such a commitment, repeat after me… I (your name) promise not to do anything that will make me, my family, my friends, people who share the same racial/ ethnic/cultural/religious/sexual orientation as myself any shame.

A good rule of thumb here is that if you have to ask if something will break your vow, it probably will. So please, please, please refrain from doing it. I know it can be difficult at times, but for a moment consider what the rest of us have to go through.

© 2009 Koji Steven Sakai

race stereotypes

About this series

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.