ABC: “B-sians” need to proudly accept who they are


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

In the first installment of ABC: American Born Chinese, reporter Jonathan Zhang reflects on how his mentality towards grades as an ABC has changed.

“Grades are back.”

My heart starts racing, beads of sweat start to gather on my forehead and my hands suddenly feel as if I’ve soaked them in a pool of oil. It’s amazing how just a few words can change your entire mood. It’s more amazing how much a simple number can dictate your life. It’s even more amazing how people change the way they think about you just because of how high or low that number is.

Simply put, the mention of grades brings to me memories of terrible stress, anxiety and frustration, amplified by the stereotype that you have to do well just because you’re Asian. It means that the only range of emotions you feel after receiving a grade is somewhere between complacent and shattered.

Why is it that if I have a B on my report card, and I’m Asian, I’m considered academically challenged or dumb? Why is it that a B for me is different than a B for my white friend? Looking back, this was a fact that has haunted me ever since grades became “a thing” in elementary school. As a kid, it was drilled into me over and over again that when I got older and started to apply for college: I wouldn’t be treated as just a student applying for college, but as an Asian applying for college.

This simple fact meant that I would have to score much better than my white peers just to obtain an equal chance of getting into the same colleges. This also meant that a B for me wasn’t the same as a B for a white student because I needed to do better than them in order to go just as far. The result? Asians are expected to be the academic leaders, the “try-hards” or the straight-A students of the class.

Needless to say, this is a seriously unfair and racist notion. But for some reason, I never questioned it, nor did I get angry because of it. I simply accepted it and moved on. And when grades negatively affect me today, I still don’t get angry because it’s unfair. I simply observe how it affects me, wonder why it does so, and adjust.

The notion that Asians have to do better has become so ingrained in my head that I no longer question the idea even though it’s unfair. It’s taken root in me, clasping itself firmly to my self-identity. In an effort to combat this, and I’m not saying that this is what everyone should do, I’ve decided that the best way for me to cope with the unfairness is just to accept who I am when I get a bad grade. I have to accept that I tried my best and that I should be happy with the grade that I achieved.

There was an episode in my life in which, despite my best efforts, the highest grade that I could get on a test was a B, and it would devastate me every time. I realized that I couldn’t keep living like this. In fact, my biggest regret to this day is that I took a pause from playing on our school’s soccer team just to raise my grades. The pain and sorrow that I felt from quitting something I loved so much only affected me more negatively. Even worse, it put more pressure on me to do better on tests. All I could think about before a test was that if I didn’t do well, I wouldn’t be able to return to the soccer team. Needless to say, I would always be an emotional wreck before and during the test, and my grades started to decline even more.

My solution was simple: if I tried my best and ended up getting a grade that wasn’t an A, I was happy. It’s the effort that counts. Worrying about something that wouldn’t change no matter how hard I tried was something that I both couldn’t control and shouldn’t stress over. Instead, I should shift my perspective from “I only got a B?” to “Let’s go! I got a B.”

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter what grade you get. A grade shouldn’t define who you are. Grades are meant as measures of proficiency and stressing over a number is neither healthy and nor will it change anything.

Other people may take a more radical approach when dealing with “B-sian” stress, but for me, simply accepting that I had tried my best, and since then, I have felt much more confident. Grades are no longer something to dread, but something to look forward to because of how I view them. It’s okay for you not to get an A. As long as you gave it your all, you should be proud of whatever grade you get.