When reflecting back on the days spent in high school, most people choose one of two approaches. The first approach involves misty-eyed reminiscing, while the second is with wry cynicism. While I did receive an excellent education and I have a fair share of cherished memories, I will admit that I am a member of the latter group. This is partially due to the fact that I was one of the few conservatives hidden amongst a vast liberal campus. I went to a small, private K-12 school. While most people might think that a program like this would encourage each and every individual opinion, it didn’t for me. For eleven years, I assumed the role of “closet conservative” only talking politics with my other conservative friends. I only knew one guy, who didn’t call me a woman-hating bigot if I voiced a different opinion than his. I always found it so ironic that my school made sure we all knew it was okay to be unique and different, but put down or reduced any conservative beliefs. This sentiment was highlighted during one assembly my sophomore year.

The whole high school gathered in the gym to listen to an inspirational speaker. Admittedly, I would have endured anything that got me out of math and didn’t mind listening to the bubbly man standing before us. Trust me, I would have been better off in math class. He instructed all of us to stand in a circle around the outside of the basketball court and then he stood in the middle. He said he was going to read some characteristics off of a list. If we identified with them, we were to step inside the circle. Being a veteran of these “kumbaya games,” I was under the impressions that this was going to be a harmless game where we would compare favorite colors and whether we were morning people or night owls. That naive vision was shattered quickly with the first statement. He called over the microphone, “if you are Asian step forward.” Wow, I thought, as I hesitantly stepped forward with the two other Asian students, he didn’t waste any time. He made us stand there inside of the circle and called for silence. I looked around completely horrified. Here I was, one of the few Asian students in my entire high school, standing in the middle of a circle while my peers stood there and stared. I felt like an animal at the zoo. He didn’t stop there. He moved on to religion, sexuality, and mental health, calling for those who identified as gay, Christian, atheist or mentally unstable into the circle for their turn to be gawked at. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, one of the girls in my advisory whispered, “I can’t believe how dishonest everyone is being, I mean everyone knows that he is so clearly gay.” There was no winning in this sick game. You were judged for stepping in the circle and criticized if you did not.

Towards the end of my time at that school, I found that there was very little one could do without being judged like this. The teachers and the kids would talk a good game about acceptance and equality, but then turn around and make a racist joke or mock anything remotely conservative or even Christian. I remember my French teacher telling us that race and beliefs do not matter and that everyone is equal, but then showed us a John Stewart video where he claimed that every Republican was an idiot and homophobic. One time, my Spanish teacher who wrote “Trump is an ass” as a translation phrase for a test. I remember being told I would be a horrible driver because I was an Asian female. Another time, one of the seniors on the student council calling one of my latino friends “chimichanga.” Diverse students were flaunted to perspective families like show ponies, but then bullied and teased by their peers. I felt like I was allowed to be diverse when it best suited everyone else. I also felt like I could identify with anything as long as it wasn’t the Republican party.

When I was growing up, we were told that everyone was equal and to treat everyone with the same amount of  kindness and respect. Equality meant helping each other on the playground and being friends with everyone in class. My friends were simply my friends, without labels attached. Stepping inside the circle frustrated me because it seemed to take all of that away. How ironic is it that a school so headset against “seeing color” or discriminating, eagerly encouraged their students to participate in a game that directly exposed all of these differences. For a while, I was so baffled at what the point even was. They wanted us to step forward and expose these deep parts about us, but then claim that we did not see these differences. Sure, maybe the game was to show us that when it game down to it, none of these things really matter, but then why subject us to the inevitable judgement of our peers.

I’ve found that this snowflake sentiment of diversity is simply one large fallacy. They claim not to see color race, sexuality, or religion, yet they always seem to harp back on those subjects. If these things really don’t matter, they shouldn’t even be a big topic of conversation. Focusing on these topics leads to an increase of discrimination and judgement. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to someone about their heritage and story. I have nothing against having these stimulating conversations and learning about what makes people unique. In fact, I can have these types of conversations with people, yet still be eager to share what makes us similar. What brings us closer are the things we share. One of the greatest feelings is looking at someone and having that “met too!” moment. This game taught me a lot about what’s wrong with the world and what’s wrong with how we as a society see things. People forget about forming true human connections, yet think they are entitled to know some of the most intimate details about each other. Empowerment is not pushing all of your identifications in someone’s face. We will not find equality by insisting those traits always mean we receive different treatment. We are all human. We all have our differences. It doesn’t mean our identities will be erased if we put aside our differences and come together through our similarities.

Hannah N