March 13, 2021

Fueling Misperceptions

According to the U.S. Census, only 1.3% of Maine’s population is of Asian ethnicity. If these statistics are compared to the 1.3 million people who live in the state, that means that there’s only about 17,000 Asian people in Maine, which sounds large, but it really is not. Due to the large percentage of this group that reside in the inner cities, many people I know, who live more rurally, have met very few Asians in their lives.

To me, this poses a very startling realization. In the circle of people I know, which is admittedly small, I might be the only Asian person they’ve ever really known. And while this does not seem particularly profound in itself, I daresay it is. Because of my singularity, I hold a responsibility to represent my culture, and possibly, influence the way which it is perceived.

For example, I, a Chinese American teenager, have struggled with acne in the past. However, one might look at me, notice that I am of Asian descent, and assume that is a trait of the majority of Asians, without further knowledge or research. This particular assumption is for the most part harmless. It is a deduction based on unverified facts and what this person has observed. However, sometimes these assumptions are not just about acne. Sometimes these assumptions are spread to the entirety of an ethnic group, causing hurt and misunderstanding.

This is important for us to realize because the way we act has the ability to fuel or dispel such perceptions.

You see, when we interact with people, especially those who don’t know us as well, we are not just representing ourselves. In these situations, our behaviors are the representation of our cultural group, ethnicity, etc. Why is this? Each person, thing, or experience influences one’s perceptions of the world, and for us who are “minorities,” we not only affect how they view us, but also, how they see all of our ethnicity as a whole.

And while every person should live with a mindset of responsibility and hold themselves with integrity, I feel that for those belonging to a minority, this truth is even more so applicable.

Truthfully, whether people care to admit or not, we, as humans, group people together by any factor that can possibly be compartmentalized. This, for better or worse, applies heavily to aspects such as ethnicities, especially ones that are foreign to us.

Is this about forming unfair, unjust perceptions? Yes. Does prejudice play a major role? Also yes. However, this is not a matter of them, we cannot control them and trying to do so will only spark anger and division. Rather, this is a matter of you and me. Whether we like it not, our actions and behaviors can and will affect the perceptions of others.

The responsibility we hold has the power for radical change, in both us and others. In our actions, our speech, and our relationships, we can be the embodiment of millions before and around us, and this is a power both motivating and potentially dangerous.

My intention is not to intimidate but rather to inform and, hopefully, encourage change in each of you, regardless of your ethnicity. I urge you to reflect on yourself and ask, “Who do I represent? As a representative, how am I portraying them? Are my actions doing their part to positively present the bigger culture I belong to, or are my actions able to fuel misperceptions?”

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