Preparing for Your Life as a Minority

By Skipping Stones Staff

Students of color often face many difficult and discriminatory situations throughout their lives. Whether it’s at school or in social situations, when applying to jobs, or in their careers, it is an unfortunate truth that people still display biases about skin color, race, national origins, looks, etc. This affects how they treat others. Although it might seem scary or daunting as a minority to face unfair treatments based on prejudice, bias, and ignorance, knowing how to deal with these situations can help you deftly navigate out of them in effective ways.

In order to prepare for the real life issues that you may face as a minority, it is important to think about the kinds of situations where your ethnicity may play a role. Social situations are a common place where this can occur. Say you are an Indian-American and with a group of people where someone asks if you are a doctor or computer engineer. You would likely be fed up with having to deal with such stereotypes, and you might be tempted to react with anger. However, this will likely not help you. Confrontation might even serve to reinforce stereotypes people have about different ethnic groups, as unfair as that is.

When navigating these kinds of conversations, it is important to differentiate between people who are simply ignorant about racial issues but don’t harbor ill-intentions, and people who purposefully act and say discriminatory things. Telling the difference between these two types can go a long way into protecting yourself and ensuring you effectively navigate racial conversations. If someone says something out of ignorance rather than ill-intention, you can help educate them. With the example of career stereotypes, you could explain to them that while doctors and computer engineers are common jobs among Indian-Americans in the United States, that ethnic group doesn’t always act as a single unit. It is made up of so many different people, just like Caucasians, Chinese-Americans, and other ethnic groups. Each person is different, and can have different career goals. However, if someone intentionally tries to discriminate against you, the sad reality is that trying to engage with them directly will generally not help the situation. That is why it is so important for others, perhaps bystanders or people of different ethnic backgrounds than yours, to step in and stand up against such stereotypes and discrimination.

When dealing with those without racist intentions, having patience is key, as is an awareness of why people think the way they do. Some people who make ignorant racial comments do so because they didn’t have exposure to people of different backgrounds. Perhaps they lived in rural areas and didn’t get to interact with many Asians, Hispanics, or African Americans, for example. It is easy to have twisted notions about other ethnicities when you never interact with them yourself. Of course, this is no excuse for racist words or actions, but understanding why some people might be prejudiced can help effectively navigate difficult situations.

Social situations are not the only place this prejudice can manifest though. If you are a minority, you may sometimes find bias or a lack of respect from people in the workplace. One issue in workplaces is something called affinity bias, where people prefer to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds. Therefore, if you work for an organization where most people are of a different racial background than you, you may feel excluded (because others may tend to socialize together). To help reduce this you can show when you do have similar experiences or interests as them. If you share common hobbies, or play similar games in your free time, these can be points of common ground to build upon.

This kind of bias can also manifest in the hiring process itself, and is incredibly unfair to minority candidates. A recruiter or hiring team may subconsciously connect with applicants who are similar to them or had similar upbringings. On the surface, a white recruiter may not think they have much in common with a minority candidate, due to different upbringings, cultural values, etc. To overcome this, you again must put in extra work to show how you do connect with the recruiter or manager, in addition to showing your skillset. Many U.S. businesses and organizations are run by older, white employees who may not have received a ton of cultural exposure, or may not have taken cultural competency training, and therefore they may show a lack of respect for minority candidates. They may repeatedly display stereotypes or lack of cultural understanding, or mispronounce non-American names, for example. This is a well-documented phenomenon but many times this is unintentional, so it is a good opportunity to (politely) correct them, if they mispronounce your name.

However, both bias and a general lack of respect towards minorities can take a toll on you mentally if you constantly have to deal with these types of racial issues. To cope with this kind of stress it can be useful to talk to other people in similar situations and see if they have similar experiences. It can also be helpful to have a support group of friends and family who will listen and empathize with what you are going through.

As an Asian American, my experiences with bias and prejudice will likely be different than those who have different backgrounds, including those who are African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, or from other ethnic groups. Skipping Stones is interested in hearing your perspectives, to the extent you feel comfortable. Do you have experience dealing with bigotry or discrimination? How do you deal with those kinds of situations? We invite you to share your experiences as other readers may find your stories useful and helpful in dealing with such issues in their lives. It could show us all that we are not alone in feeling discriminated against or stereotyped.