The Shocking History of My People and My State
I didn’t think racism was much of a problem until I took ethnic studies.
Though the country’s first ethnic studies department was born at University of California–Berkeley in 1969 and the first ethnic studies Ph.D. program was established there in the 1980s, the discipline is still widely derided on that campus. People tend to think ethnic studies classes are full of disgruntled brown people ranting about “the system,” “oppression,” and “white/male/class privilege.” A common response to saying you are an ethnic studies major goes something like “Oh, so you don’t care about having a job.”
I, too, saw myself as someone who would never take an ethnic studies class, but for a different reason. I’m Asian American, born and raised in San Francisco, and every school I ever attended there was majority-Asian. This can skew your racial identity just a little. Not only did I never encounter racism, I felt like Asians were past that. We were one-third of the city’s population and had established ourselves deep in the city’s politics, cultural institutions, and society. There was no question we were Americans. We spoke flawless English. We wore American brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Hilfiger and ate at McDonald’s and watched MTV. We had white friends. Racism was dead—hoorah!
I learned otherwise when I arrived at Berkeley.