Personal Narrative: “I’m A Sexist, Homophobic Racist”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives. Today’s is authored by Michael “Trixie” Kengmana ’14.

My name is Michael Kengmana. I’m a 21 year old Jewish-American man of Asian descent who has grown up living a privileged life and has been lucky enough to not have the racial problems that plague America affect me nearly as badly as they affect many. As a man I’ve never had to think about my gender as something that got in my way or something I could be belittled for. As a heterosexual I’ve never had to worry about being ridiculed for my sexuality, discriminated against because of my sexuality, or having basic rights of citizenship denied to me because of it. You might ask yourself, then why am I writing about a problem that has not truly affected me personally? I am writing this because I am part of the problem.

I grew up attending a New York City private school that was and still is predominantly white. I was the only Asian kid in my grade (somewhere between 50-60 kids) from 3rd grade until 9th grade and in total I would say that the numbers of non-white kids in my grade through the years at best flirted with double digits. I am not here to vent about personal stories of discrimination because truthfully, like I said before I have been lucky to grow up in a way that I never felt the true force of racial problems like many others do. It was only relatively recently though that I even began to understand what the true problems of race relations were in America, or what “race” even means. I was one of many kids who playfully threw around racial stereotypes without any idea of what they actually meant, how they came to be, or how truly degrading they are. The same goes with issues of gender and sexuality. I played on sports teams where the word “faggot” was routinely thrown around and me, not really knowing any better or having the courage to do otherwise occasionally joined in and certainly did not stand up to try and stop it. My friends and I knew better than to ever make fun or say something degrading directly to someone’s face who was not heterosexual, but we also had no problem making countless jokes and spreading rumors behind the backs of the few people brave enough to openly express their sexuality. I never talked about gender relations because as a man I never had to. Everything favored me so I felt no need to question it. I would love to say that now I’m some sort of enlightened individual and I have cast this former version of me aside. The truth is though that after a whole childhood of being surrounded by political correctness and the norms of dominant culture, I have become exactly what I was told not to be: a sexist, homophobic racist. For most of my life I let the relatively few brave calls for change be drowned out by the overwhelming and deafening silence of the dominant culture that surrounded me. I also know that while not everyone has had an identical experience, most people at Kenyon have definitely had some sort of similar experience as me. As a sexist, homophobic racist at Kenyon College, I’m not in the minority. I fit right in.

When I was in high school there would be several days each year where the entire high school would get together and discuss issues of race, intolerance, and diversity. It was always a strange scene; a large gathering of white kids with a few minorities scattered here and there discussing racism and maybe, just maybe talking about sexuality. My high school liked to champion how it preached diversity and how it taught students to be open and globally minded, and these “diversity days” were much of the basis for that claim. The only real lesson learned, if any from these discussions was that basically as long as you don’t say anything to offend anyone then everything is fine. Little was said about the portrayal of different races and cultures in American society and how we think of them as a result. Little was said about how hard it still is for sexual minorities to openly express themselves and simply be who they truly are. Nothing was said, let alone discussed on how women are still treated as second class citizens in America.

These were always said to be open discussions but barely anyone spoke. The only ones who did openly speak for the most part were minorities themselves speaking about how they had been affected by racism, homophobia, and intolerance. Looking back now I admire the bravery of those who spoke greatly, and I feel terrible that their bravery was wasted on myself and the rest of my school because in order for a real discussion to take place about these issues there needs to be more said than just how people have been victims.  For a true discussion to take place there needs to be an honest voice from the other side of the equation; the side of those who perpetuate the problem. But most of us were scared of actually discussing these issues because we felt we didn’t understand the issues enough to talk about it. We were afraid of “offending” people and being called a racist, sexist, or homophobe. Ironically, it is this fear of being called a racist, sexist, or homophobe that has led so many like me to become just that.

This is the environment that many young people like me grow up in today: we all can openly acknowledge that there are issues, but we can’t openly talk about them. We don’t talk about the issues because we are scared which makes us ignorant which in turn makes us that much more scared. Instead of fighting the ignorance that is force-fed to us in American society with education, dialogue, and ultimately action we just don’t talk about it in the hopes that it never truly rears its ugly head. But it has and has been for a long time, regardless of whether we want to admit it or not. What has resulted from this cowardice is a generation of young people growing up with access to more media outlets than ever before but no real educational system in place to combat against racial, sexist, and homophobic thought and stereotypes being circulated through these outlets. As a result we have a generation full of many people who are completely ignorant to just how ignorant they are.

I am a product of this factory of political correctness and ignorance. I am the beneficiary of a system that makes anyone who is not a heterosexual feel as if there is something fundamentally wrong with them. I am a beneficiary of a system that treats women as inferior beings and makes them feel incompetent and lesser. I am a product of a system that teaches us that racism only takes the form of extreme bigotry and is something we overcame 50 years ago rather than a caste system that serves as the foundation of American society and continues to oppress millions of people. I am a product of this system that teaches us that it is better to avoid all of this rather than confront it.

Perhaps the most frustrating part for me personally is that even though I am aware how wrong racism, sexism, and homophobia are, I am still struggling to change because ignorance and cowardice have been embedded into my  thought processes for over two decades and have all but become instinctual. How are we supposed to create change when we are reusing old and obscured thought processes? How are we supposed to work through problems with progressive dialogue when most people are afraid to join the conversation?

Even though I may be aware of how wrong and disgusting it is, If I am to be truly honest with myself I can come to no other conclusion than to say that I am a sexist, homophobic racist, among other things. I’m another perfectly manufactured American product that has been taught all the right answers to avoid all the real problems. There are so many others out there just like me. The worst part is that there are more on the way because this system of political correctness is a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine that is constantly running on all cylinders. It shapes the way we view ourselves and each other and makes sure that we are too scared to address any of it. If we want to actually start creating change, diversity, and equality we all need to take a long hard look at ourselves and realize that we are all a product of a system that molds us into accepting a white- heterosexual-male standard that eats away at the humanity of anyone who does not fit into it.

13 responses

  1. This was a great piece with a refreshing examination of political correct society. But I don’t understand the temptation to look at America as a “factory” that produces “products”; racists, homophobes, idiots, patriots, exceptionalists, or whatever. There is no “factory” HQ with an agenda to breed little hate-mongers. It is a combination of human nature and society—not America.

  2. So someone who used to be oblivious to the perils of minorities and didn’t stand up for what’s right is part of the problem faced by most minorities in America today? Wow, shocking! One can be in the “majority” and still not be part of the problem. It’s all just about awareness and acting correctly. No one can help how they are born, whether it be the tone of their skin, their sexual preference, or their parent’s economic status. But they can help the problem by being knowledgable and helping those who aren’t as fortunate.

  3. On the real beginnings toward the work of reconnecting, and the work of cultivating human empathy, all we can say: can’t promise you won’t get hurt, but we can promise we’ll be there with you.

    Do something, and then do more. Thanks for modeling this ethic, Trix, and for this benificently disturbing piece.

  4. Pingback: Michael “Trixie” Kengama ’14 On The Importance of Dialogue (And The Purpose Of All Those Posters) | The Thrill

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