Please welcome today’s guest writer, Anna Jeffries (‘20). Anna recently acquired a degree in mathematics and English literature. While she hopes to pursue something along the lines of technical writing for a career, she keeps herself busy with baking, reading, watching BBC murder mysteries, and laughing at r/HistoryMemes. You can probably find Anna somewhere in Michigan or North Carolina.
As a moderately idealistic twenty-one-year-old, I’ve re-shared Instagram posts to my story, posted articles on Facebook, and spent hours scrolling through Twitter and Reddit… yet, I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do or say. Recent events have propelled questions of race and privilege to the forefront of the public mind. I feel sad and angry, but I also feel perplexed and guilty because I’ve grown up as a minority with white privilege. As I question external institutions of justice and equality, I’m also questioning myself and the liminal space I occupy in the United States’ discourse about race.
As a twelve-year-old, I was known for throwing myself with zeal and delight into my schoolwork. I focused on my grades and on being the top student. This “made sense” to many of my peers because I was Asian; I was the only Asian—in fact, the only non-Caucasian—in sight for nearly all of my classes. But I got Starbucks every week, attended summer camps, travelled abroad with my family, and was told I could go to any college I wanted.
As a seventeen-year-old, I was enrolled in a freshman orientation program at a private liberal arts university that was specifically meant for minority students. I was included with students of all backgrounds and ethnicities as we participated in team activities and shared our stories. But my story wasn’t special or inspiring, and I felt lame—embarrassed—that I came from such a privileged background. Throughout my four years at university, I felt like a fraud. My parents paid for all of my college expenses, loaned me a nice car to drive, funded my semester abroad, and flew me home for every holiday break. But at the same time, I was a stranger and an outsider to Midwestern culture, to the city I was living in, and to the largely Caucasian student body at my university. I was still “math Anna,” that Asian girl who was from somewhere down South.
Now, as a twenty-one-year-old, I find myself with two college degrees, a fairly “bright” future, and the same dregs of confusion and dread for my in-between state of being. I have a loving family, financial security, an excellent education, and a world of possibilities—all of which I take for granted every single day. But I’m embarrassed and self-conscious of the fact that I was adopted from an orphanage, still have a Chinese middle name, and don’t understand what people are saying when they try to speak to me in Mandarin—all things that I try to block out and ignore every single day. I want to learn to not be ashamed of my origins in a Chinese orphanage, and I want to learn how to understand the privilege that I’ve been raised with.
There’s an inherent tension between my privilege and my race, just as there’s an inherent tension between the lawful social justice I want to see and the Christian faith that I ascribe to. I feel stuck because I don’t feel like I have a valid voice to address either side of my racial and cultural heritage; I cannot truly understand the Asian experience in America, and I cannot truly understand the position that my white family occupies. I know that many of us are grappling with these same questions right now—doubts that, I suspect, we’ll be grappling with for the rest of our lives—and feeling weak and insufficient because our hearts are heavy and our hands feel empty. Every ounce of my Enneagram 5 self loathes the idea that there are no neat and tidy answers for these conundrums of esoterica, but I’m also painfully aware of the fact that I cannot detangle the knot of my privileged existence—like the privilege of knowing that race is a socially constructed concept—or the knot of systemic injustice.
There are a lot of reasons to feel defeated and hopeless these days. There are a lot of conflicting messages and ideologies that we’re trying to sift through every single day, and it’s like eating soup with a fork. But, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” Thank goodness it’s not up to me to save the world—that’s already taken care of by someone far more capable and loving than I—and that I’m still able to wrestle with these soulful questions of identity as I try to love and understand my confusing little place in this confusing and hurting world.