Oppression can be motivation in disguise

October 19, 2017 — by Kevin Sze

Columnist takes criticism and racist comment and turns it into life motivation.

“You are so bad at basketball!” shouted a fourth-grade teammate of mine. “Is it because you are Asian and you see everything widescreen?”

I felt the tears welling up and frustration rising from my chest. My third-grade dreams of making it to the NBA had been crushed beyond repair.  

Thirty minutes prior, I had excitedly run to the basketball courts. I had dreamed about playing for the Golden State Warriors and nailing a buzzer beater to win the NBA Finals.

I joined a game of blacktop basketball with the fourth graders, playing point guard in an intense game, until one of my Caucasian teammates shot that racist comment at me. At first, his comment did not register, but soon I was furious that he blamed something that I could not control, my ethnicity, for why I could not make a proper pass.

For the rest of the day, school was a monotonous chore. I walked away from the courts in tears and ignored onlooking friends, obsessing over what he had said to me.

He’d shaped my future in 17 quick, ruthless and decisive words. He could have said something like, “Jeez, you need to work on your game,” and I would have taken it with a grain of salt, but pinning the blame on my ethnicity shattered my confidence.

For the next few months, I woke up wanting to be someone else. I wanted to be able to make the pass on target and seal a victory, to be able to run faster, jump higher and have limitless range on the basketball court. But I never tried to achieve any of these lofty goals, because I figured that small stature and small eyes made it impossible for me to excel on the court.  

Elementary school was supposed to be for nap time and Fun Fridays, not bullying and derogatory remarks. I was shocked by what my peers could get away with and the ignorance or agreement of everyone else.

I stopped playing basketball after that day and for the rest of elementary school. My doubts only got worse when my parents told me that being Asian meant that I could not make it into the NBA.

Six years later, I confessed my story to a few close friends who also felt that minorities were being short-changed for their appearance.

When I let it slip that I had once been told that I could not play basketball because of my small eyes, one of them told me something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

“When you look like a model, you only need to be OK,” he said, “but as a minority, if you want to be included and loved by everybody, you have to be great.”

Ever since, prejudiced attitudes have fueled my motivation to prove people intolerant of other cultures wrong.

To anybody going through any form of oppression, whether it be for your race, gender, religious beliefs or anything in between, just know that flipping the script on the ones who frown upon you is not easy, but it can be done.

In fact, I owe that insensitive fourth grader a thank-you. Although I have not played competitive basketball in six years, he is the reason why I have worked harder to improve skills that I lacked before, such as writing, and learn the intricacies of my new favorite sport, golf, to prove that being a minority can’t hold me back from achieving my goals.