Reflecting on the Absence of Privilege

I had written about privilege previously, but this article by Philip Guo on his experience in college really tells of how powerful silent privilege can be and how utterly unnoticeable and indeed unremarkable its recipients can feel. As someone who basically shares the same privilege and demographics, it’s easy for me to empathize and resonate with his feelings on the stereotypes and expectations that come from being a Asian male in America.

Looking back on my educational history, I realize now that the one time I felt offended by the educational system was when in fact this ethnic and gender-based privilege was not acknowledged.

In my high school years, I was transferred over to the local school in a small town that saw something like a 3% Asian population. The school’s top students were almost completely white, but even then the path to better, i.e., not necessarily the best, universities came from equal measures of scholastic and athletic prowess. There was no indication of any particular academic strengths from the Asian students who were enrolled.

Coming into this environment, my initial meeting with the course advisor was one that left me puzzled for years afterward. I had taken Honors Math up to that point, so I figured I’d be a shoo-in for the highest-level math coursework the school had to offer. Instead, the advisor warned me that a lot of students had trouble with math, that the Canadian curriculum didn’t correspond their system, and that I should not be trying to skip grades until I knew what I getting into[1].

In retrospect, her advice was sound if not a tad conventional. The students that school received did have trouble with math for the most part, and they were expected to perform adequately in accordance to the state’s standards. The stereotypes of Asian math prodigies and computer nerds just did not apply here, but I was too immature to understand the why and occupied myself with proving the what and whom.

Ultimately though, this perspective did not last, and at Cal I was a part of a student population that saw a 45%+ Asian contingent. It felt familiar and comfortable to slip back into privileged status, silently accepting the associated positive image and expanded opportunities. As the tech industry struggles with reconciling its own privilege, we may better overcome our own biases empathize by reflecting on those times we did not enjoy our elevated status.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. That said, I did end up just being bored that year in 10th grade trig, and skipped to AP Math the year after anyway.