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Like Hannah Montana, I live a split life. I go to Acalanes High School in Lafayette, just a 15 minute drive east of Oakland. In the afternoons, I return west of the Caldecott Tunnel. The two cities are worlds apart. The more time I spend in the diverse and accepting Oakland world, the more I notice something that sets me apart in Lafayette: my race. As a biracial student that identifies more with my Asian culture, Acalanes can be a polarizing environment.
In my mind, Lafayette denotes a different set of ideals than Oakland. For every progressive classmate I know, there are five others that chant “Build that Wall!” and tell girls wearing hijabs to “go back home.” This hateful rhetoric is not representative of Lafayette as a whole; maybe those with bigoted ideologies are those who yell the loudest. The issue of prejudice, whether based on race, gender, religion, or sexuality, is still prominent.
Every year, Acalanes organizes Care Week to celebrate the diversity of the Acalanes community. The only problem is that Acalanes isn’t very diverse. Just 28 percent of students are of minority descent, according to the US News and World Report. The centerpiece of Care Week, which was held two weeks ago, is the Care workshop, in which a series of activities are conducted with the intention to raise student awareness on issues of diversity.
Students were presented with 13 statements, which they rated with either 5, 3, or 0 points. 5 meant they could always relate to the statement, 3 meant sometimes, and 0 meant never.
The statements weren’t extreme, but they demonstrated how small occurrences create an atmosphere of prejudice. One statement read, “I can be in the company of people of my race most of the time.” I looked around my classroom and saw little more than blond hair and pale skin. I gave that statement a 0. The next statement, “I can turn on the television and see people of my race widely and positively represented,” also a 0. After scoring each statement, we added up all 13 numbers and separated into groups based on our scores.
I was alarmed at how prominently the groups divided along racial lines. The largest group consisted of Caucasian students that scored from 55 to 65, the maximum amount possible. Next, about ten students, mostly mixed-race or Asian, scored between 25 and 55 points. Lastly, three students scored below 25. I was one of them, coming in with a whopping score of 22 points.
After the activity, some of my peers approached me about my score. “But you’re only half-Asian,” they said. “You don’t face prejudice.” And in some ways they were right. I still feel comfortable when pulled-over by a police officer. I have never been called a racial slur. I don’t face blatant racism in my daily life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t encounter inherent biases. At Acalanes, I feel that I am seen differently because my skin is darker than the average student.
After the recent election, the atmosphere of Acalanes, the greater community, and even the country as a whole has turned more volatile. At Monte Vista High School in Danville, someone drew a line down the bathroom wall, labeling one side for “Whites” and the other side for “Coloreds.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded more than 400 cases of hateful harassment in the US since election day, according to CNN.
But I still have classmates who claim racism no longer exists. I still have classmates that don’t see that generations of systemic oppression of minorities continue to impact society. I still have peers who question my racial experience on the basis that I’m only half-Asian. And racial prejudice and bias continues to be a prominent issue in our local and national communities.