You wouldn’t think it from looking at me, but I am, in fact, half-Asian. This is because my father’s side of the family is Russian. You don’t think that makes me half-Asian? Get out a world map, find Russia and put your finger on it. OK, what continent are you pointing to? Asia. Therefore, Russians are Asian.
So does this mean that it is a stereotype to think Asians look like they come from Japan, China, etc.? Absolutely. And does that make you racist? Yes, it does. However, I’m not talking about KKK-caliber racism here. Far from it. I just mean stupid, little things that get blown way out of proportion by people with too much time on their hands, which does no good in the fight against actual oppression. I think the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q” put it rather well: “Everyone’s a little bit racist, it’s true. But everyone is just about as racist as you! If we all could just admit that we are racist a little bit, even though we all know that it’s wrong, maybe it would help us get along.”
But still, every time I see comedians telling racially based jokes in their stand-up routines, something in me cringes and says, “C’mon people … what are we doing?” This is because I view the issue of race from a pseudoscientific standpoint. The only difference between a person of one race and that of another is a slight variation in the genes that control cosmetic features. We are all sentient life forms of the same species, so I see no reason why race itself should matter.
Yet it is clear to me why people think it would matter – the confounding of race and culture. Culture comes not from your genes but from who teaches you, who you hang out with and your general surroundings. The confusion exists because of the little-known fact that people tend to have physical traits similar to those their parents, including skin tone. However, if parents raised a kid of some other race, I have no doubt that the kid would turn out approximately the same way, assuming this was done in an environment that did not include racism as a major part of its culture.
Of course, not all areas are well-suited for an experiment of that nature to take place. Even here I have come across accusations that I cannot relate to issues of racism and bigotry just because my skin tone happens to be a slightly tanned beige. But the irony of such statements is not the only thing I can use to relate. For instance, by having social and mental disabilities – such as a form of autism – and being much smarter than most everyone around me growing up, I was rendered quite the outcast for many years of my young life. To put it simply, I’m a nerd. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, but I won’t delve deeply into my personal life for now. By the way, think about the stereotypes that entered your mind when you read the word “nerd.” You probably made at least a couple assumptions based on that and quite possibly tried to suppress them. But they still happened, didn’t they? That’s bigotry for you.
To bring things to a close, I bet everyone $5 that I will get at least one piece of hate mail in response to this column – oh, man, I’m gonna be rich. In the unlikely event that I don’t get any hate mail, then I’m just kidding about that bet.
Michael Nicolayeff is a Daily Nexus artist.