From the ages of 5 to 14, I was one of those kids in school who stuck out like a sore thumb. The one your eye inadvertently went to – not because I was exceptional, but because I was weird. I was a classic dork: nerdy, oftentimes shy, exceptionally awkward. For years before I discovered the miracle of contacts, I had thin glasses that shrunk my eyes and enlarged my chubby face. For an even greater number of years before I discovered the miracle of semi-decent presentation, I wore dirtied boys jeans and had black, middle-parted, greasy hair. I was on the math team and in the “ELA” club. I was into sci-fi novels and “DnD”-esque games. And I was glaringly, unmistakably, a minority.

Correction: I am a minority – very proudly so. Yet when I was a child, this facet of my personhood seemed far more distinct, driving me to a place of insecurity rather than pride.

Majorities and minorities exist ubiquitously. But in elementary and middle school, your peers usually haven’t developed the tact to not blatantly note your differences – especially when what makes you different only applies to 5 percent of your state’s population. Hence, it is rather predictable that your differences can become somewhat polarizing in a child-dominated social setting.

What is this difference I keep mentioning?

Simple: I’m not white.

Well, not entirely. I’m half Japanese. Yet for the sea of white kids at my school, this was enough to label me as different.

Now, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t even close – more just part of my everyday life. If I solved a hard math problem, a joke would be made. If we were discussing couples, I would immediately be matched with the only other Asian kid. If I was dropped off by my white father, I would be asked if I was adopted. At the time, I was indignant at the remarks, but in hindsight, we were just inexperienced about our differences. We were just kids.

Over time, however, I also began to realize I was one of the lucky ones. I went to a nice elementary school in a nice school district with nice kids. My sister wasn’t so lucky. She went to the same nice elementary school, but the kids in her year were ruthless. Where the comments aimed at me typically came from a place of naivete, she was bullied for her race. Taunts included jokes about bombing Japan, or that her eyes were so “squinty” they could be those of a “chink.” She knew she was different to begin with, and their comments only fostered a greater level of self-consciousness.

However, in spite of the torment she faced, both of us later came to recognize: We still hadn’t seen the half of it.

As we approach the modern age of digital media, the acknowledgment of such persecution is greater than ever. It can now be broadcast with the click of a touchscreen – with countless scandals now being divulged across the nation.

Maine is no exception. Alleged accounts of Maine student sections yelling racist remarks at opposing teams, a black Kennebunk teacher being bullied out of her own position, even the casual racist encounters of everyday life have all been publicized in one way or another – and with good reason. Such publicity is crucial to our education on a broader image of the world.

In the three short years it took for me to follow my sister into school, there was an undeniable shift in both parents’ and children’s perception of minority children – resulting partially from the rapid increase in awareness regarding such matters. In our state of 95 percent whiteness, it can be easy to forget the importance of educating yourself about diversity when you do not encounter it regularly. It can be even easier to forget the importance of educating your children about it when they have barely encountered it at all.

Yet we must use this new publicity as a medium to familiarize ourselves with these oftentimes-unfamiliar differences, to widen our perspectives and eliminate prejudice from our hearts. For Mainers must remember that it is not our status as white, status quo Mainers that makes us human – but our status as strong, compassionate humans that makes us Mainers.

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