Here on WTFab, I tend to keep things light-hearted and focused on the finer things in life, including fashion, food, and beauty. But every now and then, I sit down to write up a blog post and the words that tumble out are completely unrelated to those things.
There’s a reason nearby communities hate Oak Ridge. Nestled in a predominantly white, mid-upper class suburb, we’re seen as privileged brats. At the time I was in high school there, I didn’t really appreciate why. But after gaining a bit of perspective that comes with leaving your bubble, traveling, and just generally living your life a decade past high school, it’s pretty crystal clear. As an example, when our basketball team traveled around to play other teams in different towns (many that were less well-off than our hometown), we had shiny new uniforms, matching Air Jordans that our parents had bought us, complete with gold and blue bows in our ponytails. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to roll up to their children’s basketball games in a brand new Escalade.
I recall one year when everyone on the team was buying new, matching sweatsuits. Likely exasperated from shelling out cash for new shoes (to replace perfectly good kicks that simply didn’t match the team’s shoes) and sponsorship fees, my parents decided that they were not going to be buying me a new sweatsuit. When it became apparent that only myself and one other teammate weren’t getting a new track suit, my coach pulled my dad aside and asked, “Is it the money?” One of the moms even talked about having all the other parents donate to “the cause” so that I could get a team track suit. To be clear, my parents were doing just fine financially. They just thought it was stupid to throw $150 out the window for an ugly track suit that I didn’t need. And in case you’re wondering, my parents did end up buying me that track suit after all of this commentary. Probably so that I wouldn’t become the social pariah of our basketball team. [Edit: This particular tracksuit story happened in middle school, across the street from ORHS. Just wanted to make sure the current ORHS basketball coach didn’t catch any flack for this.]
Being half Japanese in this type of community wasn’t exactly a joy. It was confusing, embarrassing, and at times, painful. Not that I always felt like this (to be clear, for the most part my ethnicity didn’t feel like an issue), but it’s fair to say that the mere mention of anything “Asian” made me tense up for fear that someone would take it as an opportunity to turn it into a racist joke. It wasn’t until I left my hometown after high school that I realized that my Japanese heritage was a beautiful thing, and something to be proud of.
And so, I’d like to apologize on behalf of Oak Ridge and the Lady Trojans. I apologize for the hateful cheers. And the racist taunts. I can’t even imagine how those McClatchy girls felt out on the court. I probably would have burst into tears. And I hope for these Oak Ridge students’ sake that after high school they’re able to get out of their bubble and broaden their horizons.
A couple years ago I was at one of those awkward but also super amusing nights at a local bar in El Dorado Hills where you run into all sorts of people from high school and politely make small talk with them. A guy who was from my graduating class at Oak Ridge started chatting me up. If this was my first time meeting him, I would have thought that he was a perfectly nice person. But I couldn’t help myself. I looked him dead in the eye and said exactly what I was thinking: “You know, we didn’t know each other well in high school, and I don’t remember much about you. But I do remember that we had a science class together, and that you called me a ‘nip’.” He was shocked. Maybe due to my forwardness, or maybe due to the realization that he was a prick in high school. He apologized. Profusely. And you know what? He seemed genuinely sorry and embarrassed.
So I have hope for these students. I hope they learn that their words and actions have meaning, and that they come to understand how they’ve embarrassed their school and their community. Mostly, I hope they learn how to be decent human beings.
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