The RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, in downtown Seattle, is creating conversation about race in hopes of breaking down racial stereotypes and preconceived notions.
For two Seattleites, racial discrimination is all too familiar.
Edward Kim and Berty Mandagie are both immigrants to the United States. They have experienced racial discrimination during their years here, but not solely for their appearance. They believe their ability to speak English and their accent also has been the basis of discrimination.
Kim, originally from Seoul, South Korea, owns a dry-cleaning business in the University District of Seattle.
“Racism is everywhere…I know it, I feel it,” Kim said.
Kim says he has been told to go back to China on numerous occasions, when he isn’t even Chinese. He says these comments don’t always come from customers, but people who come in off the street asking him for services he doesn’t provide.
He thinks his English is a contributing factor to these negative comments. Kim admits his English isn’t perfect; however, he doesn’t believe it makes him any less of an American.
“I‘m a citizen,” Kim asserted. “This is my country too.”
Kim’s livelihood depends on the success of his business. He is afraid a negative reaction to disrespectful comments could hurt his business, so he refrains.
His strategy is to ignore negative comments towards his race or his ability to speak English.
He never knows who might walk through his doors each day, but to him it doesn’t matter. He is there to provide the best dry-cleaning service possible to all who enter.
In fact, Kim is getting a lot of business from Chinese international students at the University of Washington. Race is never an issue with them.
One of many interactive screens in the exhibit addresses discrimination based on language. It allows visitors to match voices with faces. Its purpose? To expose the racial assumptions we make based on the accents and tones of a person’s voice. According to the display, language is learned. The way you speak depends on your surroundings, not your race.
Mandagie, a recent UW graduate, also knows what it feels like to be discriminated against based on his English and his accent.
“I did not speak a lick of English when I got here other than the word Pepsi,” Mandagie said.
He first encountered discrimination on the soccer field. When he tried out for his high-school team, nobody would talk to him or pass him the ball.
Mandagie was the only Asian on a predominately Latino team.
“I was different; they didn’t know any Indonesians,” Mandagie said.
The discrimination extended into the classroom. His peers joked about his accent.
Mandagie is now an educator at Sherwood Forest elementary school in Bellevue.
“I have an opportunity to teach young kids about respect and how to respect other cultures regardless of their differences,” Mandagie said.
He believes that teaching kids respect for others is fundamental at a young age. He hopes he can teach his kids to look past stereotypes and racial assumptions. He wants to prevent what happened to him from happening to others.
The RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit is jump-starting the conversation about race. It seeks to give information that may challenge your previous idea of race. Kim and Mandagie are just two men who have experienced the negativity and discrimination. Hopefully with more conversations about race, we can eliminate the injustice surrounding the socially constructed idea.
These two men are positive about the future in terms of race. Despite the discrimination, Kim says he is living the “American Dream”.