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Prejudice limitsa us and prevents harmony

by Shelly Awaya

The national holiday that commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brings to mind such words as freedom, boycott, assassination, and, resonating down through generations, prejudice. The last is probably the single greatest obstacle faced by King and others in the long struggle against segregation in the United States.

Although the black community has won many victories in the struggle for equality, similar challenges are faced by other ethnic U.S. communities, especially those comprised of Asians and Asian-Americans, and more specifically the Japanese.

In November 2003, Jan Stephenson, an LPGA golfer, commented that “Asians are killing the (golf) tour” and that Asians are “emotionless.” Stephenson also insinuated that Asians refuse to speak English when they are in America. The Asian and Asian-American communities saw this as a deliberate remark aimed toward Asian women golfers in the LPGA.

Stephenson apologized later, saying her statement wasn’t meant to sound like racial bashing and quoting the popular saying about “sticks and stones.” Unfortunately that phrase refers only to the tip of the iceberg of prejudice. The view that Japanese people are emotionless or expressionless stems from prejudice. Just because a Japanese person is in America, there is no requirement that person must adopt American culture.

The United States has a close relationship with Japan, but the behavior of Japanese people still confuses most Americans. For example, if a Japanese tourist shoves you when you are trying to get on the bus and doesn’t say “sorry”, that is not necessarily rudeness. In Japan, it’s important to get on the Shinkansei (bullet train) on time, or else one will be late for work. It’s the same as an American speeding on the freeway or interstate to get to work because he or she overslept. At least the Japanese tourist won’t give you the finger because of your driving.

Every culture is unique in its own way. The Japanese have martial arts, much the same as other Asian cultures. Prejudice considers every Asian a kung fu fighter. Karate, kung fu, taekwondo, among others, all stem from different Asian cultures. To prejudge and clump them all together is like saying all Americans are fat and lazy.

Who says that Americans are better than Asians? It is a preconceived notion that has been instilled in American society. Again, the word is prejudice: Americans tend to prejudge others based on their own cultural norms and values. Only when they are on the receiving end of racial slurs or hate crimes do they really begin to understand how prejudice hurts every one.

The harmony that the world can achieve is as simple as dropping our reservations and assumptions about people and getting to know them better.

Now, I’m sure that if Jan Stephenson had taken the time to introduce herself to the Asian women on tour, she’d find that they all share a common ground – for one thing, they’re all professional golfers dedicated to winning.

Stephenson might also be surprised to learn that many Asians look up to Americans. Even when we are the self-righteous bullies on the school bus, they are the shy new kids wanting to be our friends. Why do you think that after so many years of peace in Japan, its prime minister gathered a defensive army to go to Iraq and help with the rebuilding? Doing so strengthens Japan’s relationship with the United States; it allows the Japanese to be our allies fighting for the same cause.

So take this scenario and turn it into a positive lesson in life. Think about the wrong in treating others badly, and reverse it onto yourself. Then decide whether to assume someone is one way or another. It’s not a good thought, is it?



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