Awareness (or lack thereof) of race

When I lived in San Francisco and attended schools that had what felt like anywhere between 40-60 percent Asian students, I never really thought much about race, whether it was that of the people around me or my own. When you’re surrounded by people who look just like you, race is not an obvious thing to think about because your world is more or less homogenous. Race becomes something you think about when you are the minority, when you are the one who stands out or is different than the rest. Because of that, when I am in work meetings, whether it’s onsite with a customer or in group meetings where a lot of our leadership team is present, I’m always deathly aware of not only my race, but also my gender. Oftentimes, I am the only person of color in a room, and in addition, I am oftentimes one of very few if any women in the room. It’s not uncommon for me to be sitting at a conference table fully surrounded by white men.

I was telling this to my manager, who is leaving the organization soon for another role. He’s ethnically Chinese but born and raised in Ohio, which is obviously a very white part of the country. He was surprised. “Really? Wow. I never really think about that that much when I’m in meetings,” he said. “But to be fair, you do have a lot of customers in the South.”

While that’s true, our company is headquartered in San Francisco, which is not in the south. I work out of our New York City office, where everyone who is considered a member of the leadership team is white and male. Plus, it’s strange to me that he, as an Asian male from a very white part of this country, would not think much about race, given that he would have stuck out as a minority where he is originally from. It’s the exact opposite mindset of what I would have assumed.

It’s a luxury to never have to think about race and gender. But that luxury usually belongs to the white males of the world, doesn’t it? And I suppose in this case, it also applies to just males of the world who may have been predominantly surrounded by white males, so then he suddenly becomes race-blind, as well?

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