Because of the concept of the word race, wars have been started and millions of people have been discriminated against. To me, it appears to be simply another evil in the world that we, as humans, must deal with and potentially overcome. Since the beginning of time, race has done nothing but give people a reason to argue, fight, and discriminate. It gives people reason to not associate with their fellow man. It causes a fear of the out-of-the-ordinary. Without education, race can be a barrier separating us.
It takes an intelligent, genuine person to see past this nonsense. Education helps one realize the fallacy race creates. There is no such thing as a superior race. Unfortunately, many people have difficulty seeing past portrayed stereotypes. It may take a person years or decades to come to terms with the fact that their skin color means about as much as their eye color. Eric Liu, an Asian-American, and Malcolm X, an African-American, take us on their journey through the difficult process of accepting their individual races. Both authors have periods of confusion and disorientation about their races which causes them to change their appearance in order to feel accepted. Ultimately, they overcome their misconceptions and learn to appreciate themselves.
During his childhood, Eric Liu had difficulty coping with the fact that he was an Asian-American living in a predominantly white community. His appearance and his home life, among other things, made him feel out of place. Living in a middle-class suburb that was dominated by whiteness, Liu was disoriented by his role in school and society.
And so in three adjoining arenas- my looks, my loves, my manners- I suffered a bruising adolescent education In each of these realms, I came to feel I was not normal. And obtusely, I ascribed the difficulties of that age not to my age but to my color. I came to suspect that there was an order to things, an order that I, as someone Chinese, could perceive but not quite crack. (415)
His confusion only grew with his age. He began blaming his race for his own inability to find a girlfriend. Complimented on being sweet, smart, and nice, he could find no other reason for the void he felt in terms of relationships (Liu 416). As a teenage boy, he needed to find a reason to explain his shortcomings. He needed something to blame for his disappointments and setbacks. He found the easiest solution just by looking in the mirror.
On the other hand, Malcolm X was the small town African-American living in the big city of Boston. He looked to others, specifically his friend, Shorty, to show him the ropes. Similar to Liu, he looked different than the rest of his peers. Man, that cat still smelled country. Shortyd say, laughing. Cats legs was so long and his pants so short his knees showed an his head looked like a briar patch! (182). Prior to his arrival in the city, Malcolm had never drank alcohol, experimented with drugs, played the lottery, or participated in many of the activities which were daily routines to his new friends. In contrast to Liu, Malcolms need to assimilate stemmed from the people around him and was not nearly as internally driven. This outside pressure played a huge role in his assimilation into this new culture.
Liu attempted to change in many ways. He battled the Asian stereotypes for years, searching for any possible way to defeat them. The first attempt came when he was in junior high. Sick of his Chinese hair, he did the only logical thing: he cut it all off. I had managed, without losing face, to rid myself of my greatest social burden. (416). Liu could possess the straight, stylish hair that he craved, so he got rid of it altogether.
His defiance of Asian stereotypes continued throughout his college years. He wouldnt let himself be that typical Asian kid. He wouldnt let himself be placed in a group. Because of this, Liu made sure not to become part of an exclusively Asian club. He never went out of his way to make friends with other Asian-Americans. Liu became overly obsessed with distancing himself from Asian stereotypes. If Asians were reputed to be math and science geeks, I would be a student of history and politics… If Asians were shy and retiring, Id try to be exuberant and jocular. If they were narrow-minded specialists, Id be a well-rounded generalist. (419) Lius actions, from shaving his head to hanging out with fellow marginal public-school grads, gave him the satisfaction he desired, albeit only temporarily.
Comparably, Malcolms appearance and behavior underwent significant changes as well. Like Liu, he made a major change to his hair. However, instead of shaving it off, Malcolm got a conk. Gone was the nappy, curly briar patch, in favor of a head full of straight, red hair. He withstood an incredible amount of pain and suffering in order to temporarily change his hair to look more like a white mans. Malcolm even bought his first zoot suit, a sky blue one with a matching hat. The biggest change in Malcolm, though, was his behavior. The country boy that had moved to Boston slowly disappeared and was replaced by a hip city cat.
The first liquor I drank, my first cigarettes, even my first reefers, I cant specifically remember. But I know they were all mixed together with my first shooting craps, playing cards, and betting my dollar a day on the numbers, as I started hanging out at night with Shorty and his friends. Shortys jokes about how country I had been made us all laugh. I still was country, I know now, but it all felt so great because I was accepted. (188)
Although his new group of friends was into illegal activities, they accepted Malcolm as one of them. As a newcomer to a big city, this was all Malcolm could ask for. Just like Liu, he changed significantly for temporary happiness.
Ultimately, the authors have both realized that the changes they underwent were extremely unnecessary. Lius attempts to break Asian stereotypes and shave his head only provided hollow satisfaction. His assimilation was so important to him; it nearly grew to an obsession. The irony is that in working so duteously to defy stereotype, I became a slave to it. For to act self-consciously against Asian tendencies is not to break loose from the cage of myth and legend; it is to turn the very key that locks you inside. (419). By the end of his college career, Liu realized that his race was not the problem, as he had thought all along. His hair was just as cool as anyone elses. There was no reason to stress over the minor, unchangeable details of his life. Unfortunately, he may have missed out on some good friendships when he disregarded some of his fellow Asian-Americans.
Eventually, Malcolm also realized the error of his ways. After being arrested, Malcolm had time in prison to think about what the consequences of his actions truly were. He finally understood how ridiculous many of his new changes were, in particular the conk. This was my first really big step towards self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white mans hair. (191). It seemed acceptable at the time; many black men were getting conks. In retrospect, it was horrible and completely absurd. Fortunately, he learned a valuable lesson from this experience.
These two characters attempted to assimilate into a society where they felt like outsiders. They fought through hardships and broke stereotypes only to realize in the end that they were fighting for the wrong goal. The truth is they were searching to find themselves. After many years passed and many mistakes were made, they were successful. The person they were trying to become and change into was inside of them the entire time. The changes both authors made were shallow attempts to adapt and become normal. Finally, both authors learned to appreciate themselves and their races.