I don’t look for what is and what is not racist. I just happen to have the ability to think.
Just last night, I saw a frat pledge dressed as Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, a beloved anime (Japanese animation) which America embraced and broadcasted. It is still popular today among youth and young adults regardless of background, especially on its Nintendo games.
The pledge class has a handful of Asians among their total of 26 pledges. This pledge happened to be Asian. My initial reaction was my amusement at the pledge task* because of my own childhood memories with Pokemon. However, I started think of the implications of having him as an anime character for his task for the rest of the semester. I have no prior knowledge to how the selection process of the tasks worked. I did, however, know that these tasks were organized by the members of the fraternity.
While on my shift at Summit, I asked two of my good friends, who have been part of that frat for a year, if that pledge was Japanese. How that pledge was chosen to be Ash? Both of my friends did not engage in conversation with me.
X, a white male, said “it is not a race issue. That’s ridiculous.”
Y, an Asian American male, agreed.
I had to get back to work, but I still didn’t have an answer. Why was that pledge chosen for the task of being an anime character?
How do I approach this? I did not want to damage my friendship. I did not want to stay silent. I texted Y simply, “Can we talk about the Ash pledge later?” and he defensively said “What’s the problem? It isn’t trying to be a racist if that’s the problem.” X texted me around the same time (perhaps they were communicating about this ordeal) and reiterated that the pledge task “was not assigned as a racial kind of thing.”
I texted him, “Was this task made for him? Perhaps he has his own personal connection to the anime. Was it chosen randomly? Was he chosen because he was Asian?”
Because if he was chosen solely for his Asian-ness…
I didn’t want it to be racist because I trusted these two friends, but how they blew me off angered me and did not help.
Already my two friends were defensive. Controlling my anger, I asked them again how exactly the task was assigned. Apparently a junior chose that freshmen pledge for the way his hair flowed, nothing explicitly for his race. This has been a task for several years now, and this year it happens to be an Asian freshman.
Done. I got the answer to my question, and I concluded that it wasn’t racist.
Through this interaction, I experienced handling race issues with two people who refused to see the possibility of it. What Y said stuck with me: “It wasn’t trying to be racist if that’s the problem,” as if his lack of intention would make something racist okay. At the time I brought up the pledge being Asian, neither could see how assigning one of the few Asian pledges the task to be an anime character for the next several weeks could be racist. Neither wanted to be labeled racist or have their fraternity associated to racism. In the end, both apologized for acting defensively and not engaging in the conversation with me, defusing my bubbling irritation.
Currently, the push for being politically correct may be scaring off people from engaging in conversation like mine last night, which is something I would love to explore.
*Part of pledging to a fraternity usually entails a “task” that pledges have to carry out until they are officially accepted into the fraternity as a member.