By: Subha Ali
The Identification Of An Underrepresented Identity
The United States is considered a land of opportunity and freedom. That's the reason the U.S. is made up of so many immigrants. There are many communities, and this country is full of diversity. Yet many ethnicities are underrepresented, judged, and people's thoughts about them are based on stereotypes.
I first noticed this when I was filling out forms for school, the doctor, job applications, etc. On a document, it states, "what is your race." The top options are White, African American, American Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Latino. Then there's "other Asian" and "Other Pacific Islander," where you have to write in your race. If you fit none of these categories, you select "other" and write in your race.
Each person considered "other" doesn't have their race represented even on a form and needs to write it in. I am one of those people. The feeling that comes from the lack of even having your identity missing on a form creates a sense of an empty hole inside you. Like a part of your identity does not fit into the country you live in.
How Do You See Me?
However, a lack of representation does not only affect the ones who are underrepresented. It also has a direct impact on how others see the underrepresented. Without representation, it leads to stereotypes and discrimination because there is a lack of knowledge about these ethnicities. American school systems also focus their curriculum on more prominent countries and must teach their students about other countries and races.
Some states have an enormous population of a specific ethnicity than other states. Depending on the state you're living in with underrepresentation, there is also a need for more sense of community if there are few other people with the same ethnical background as you. This tends to lead to people seeing you as "exotic" or a "foreigner", even if you have grown up, lived, or were born in the U.S. .
Based on what was mentioned earlier when it came to certain labels society can create, not being exposed to or taught things about underrepresented communities can cause individuals to see others as "exotic" and "foreigners". Although this is considered to be a natural instinct for people who are unaware, these ways of observing someone from an underrepresented community can be based on stereotypes, which most people can often view as offensive.
Finding Your Tribe While Combating Stereotypes
Being a part of an underrepresented community creates a lack of belonging. Being surrounded by stereotypes, people's negative thoughts about you, and constantly witnessing or hearing things about your ethnicity that are not true should not be the impressions people should have to tolerate. Every person in America should have a sense of belonging in the country they live in.
Figuring out ways to find a community of people like you or create a sense of belonging is difficult. One way to accomplish this is through Facebook groups; start by searching for a group with people of the same ethnicity as you in your area. This is an excellent way to become part of a community. Another method is keeping an eye out for local places such as restaurants, festivals, and religious sites, to meet new or familiar individuals with the same background as you. It can be difficult in certain smaller cities without other people of the same ethnicity, but connecting with people online can help fill in the blanks.
Even groups of people that are represented in America are still seen through stereotypes and are still discriminated against. The issue of racism and discrimination in the U.S. has been long-lasting. Learning acceptance of others and making an effort to educate yourself can help expand your views on others. From a personal perspective, if you have encountered someone that said something to you in a racist manner, learning to embrace the fact that their behavior is not your fault will help you move on from the situation and continue living your life.
Education Is Key... Knowledge Is Understanding
While it is impossible to stop racism and discrimination completely, it is possible to put an end to stereotypes. Educating people about your background is a meaningful way to share reality rather than feeding into the opinions of others when it comes to discussions about certain ethnicities. Creating petitions to provide to American school boards and college boards to add curriculums about underrepresented communities is a great way to start a change. Educating each other about their ethnicity or correcting others when they say something incorrectly is also effective in bringing change.
For some of us who find it complex to belong in a society where underrepresentation is prominent, rest assured there are ways to gain a sense of belonging. The United States is full of immigrants
and other people just like you. Despite the discrimination people have to face, there is a plethora of human beings that walk this Earth to show a spirit of kindness.
Before making assumptions about other people or falling victim to believing in stereotypes, take a step further to learn about the culture instead. This is highly significant because everyone in this country lives together as Americans. And the knowledge we share about our cultures together will enhance our understanding so that we all can feel a sense of belonging.