A Thought Experiment in Asian Minority Psychology

We’ve all heard the scoffers — both Asian and not — who insist that race is just a state of mind, that it’s only real to the extent we allow it to be by dwelling on it.

Interesting concept. Is our minority status a mere figment of our beliefs and expectations? In other words, if we could be skillfully hypnotized into becoming totally oblivious of our physical racial difference from Whites, would we no longer feel any discrimination and alienation?

If so, it would be kinda nice — like finding yourself in a treacherous environment far from home, then awakening to the realization that you are safely in your own bed.

Let’s imagine how such an experiment might go.

The first indication of anything out of the ordinary would be the overhearing of certain puzzling words on a regular basis. It wouldn’t necessarily happen every day, but unless we are living in a mostly Asian environment, we would hear them at least a few times a week. Of course, at first we wouldn’t think the words had any connection with us. We’d just be puzzled as to what words like chink, jap, gook, slope and slant mean in the context in which we hear them. We might eventually look them up in a dictionary. Upon learning that they are offensive slurs for various east Asian nationalities, we would become even more puzzled given our hyposis-induced oblivion to our racial difference.

In time the repeated coincidences of hearing the words would lead us to suspect they were spoken in reference to ourselves, though if the hypnotist had done a superb job, we wouldn’t be able to see how they were descriptive. Sooner or later, however, we would have to conclude that they refer to some observable trait of ours — possibly our fashion sense, haircut, speech pattern, tipping habits, choice of cars, attitude or personality.

That suspicion may prompt us to focus on discerning the precise ways in which we differ from others around us. That suspicion may also lead us to notice the subtle differences in the way we are treated — being frequently consigned to certain kinds of social or professional roles, being accorded less friendly or respectful treatment at times, even being outright ignored occasionally. These observations may cause us enough concern to prompt an effort at conforming our dress, grooming and behavior to those around us.

When we see no dropoff in the frequency of the baffling words applied to us or instances of discriminatory treatment, we may begin to suspect that we are suffering from some psychological condition. Could there be a widespread conspiracy directed at us à la The Truman Show? Could we be suffering from some persistent delusion? Could we even be schizophrenic?

Those suspicions would make us extremely conscious of every aspect of our personal style, demeanor and actions. It may even make us less interested in going out in public or meeting new people. Ultimately it may direct our thoughts inward, motivate us to rely more on our inner resources rather than social interaction as our primary vehicles for advancement, achievement and gratification. We may undertake to master more intellectually challenging skill sets and work. Feeling as though we have been denied a measure of social acceptance, we may feel the need to assert our value in visible material ways by acquiring credentials and titles, driving status cars, flashing name-brand clothes and accessories, living in prestigious neighborhoods.

Sooner or later some of us would tire of conforming and push back by making an effort to adopt deliberately unconventional or even eccentric behavior as an affirmation of our individuality. We may even win recognition for being original and creative. Yet ultimately, as long as we expose ourselves to society, we would feel as though we are marked by those special words and differential treatment from at least some segments. In time we would come to recognize that this status is one we will never escape though, if we are fortunate, we will see that its impact on our lives can be limited through conscious effort.

If the above sounds like the probable outcome of our little thought experiment, we can rest assured that our minority status isn’t really a figment of our imaginations.