Daniel Tkach teaches Freshman Lit/Writ and VMC. He has been working at Tino for two years.
Q: What race do you identify as?
I would identify my race as white. My ancestry comes from Ukraine and Ireland, so [I am] half Ukrainian and a quarter Irish.
Q: Growing up, did you notice differences in the way people treated you, or others around you, because of race?
I think I did not realize how important race was in everyone’s daily life, until [around] high school to college. Being a white person, oftentimes you have the privilege not to have to think about race, so until it was brought to my attention that this was an issue that is important, I walked through life unaware of it.
Q: When you came to Tino, did you notice race and racism playing a role our interactions?
I think race does play a role in my daily life, as well as students’ daily life here in Cupertino. For example, being a white male you get the benefit of the doubt sometimes, or you are given expertise in things you do not have expertise in. I think that that is true here as well as in many places. I think that it is unique in Cupertino where both the city and the school have an Asian American majority. Being white is being part of a racial minority, whereas in the larger region, city, and country, being white is being part of the majority. So you navigate between both of those and I think for myself it is kind of interesting to see both of those. However, having grown up in a mostly white community and living in a mostly white society, I think that even though I am a minority in this school, I still have access to a lot of the privileges that come with being the majority for most of society.
Q: Can you elaborate on how the privileges of being white change when you’re in a predominantly Asian American community?
I think anybody who is in a majority group has the privilege of seeing a lot of people like them and not necessarily having the burden to be the voice of their race, sexuality or people. I think that is true for any kind of majority group, and some of the dynamics are different here in Cupertino because of the racial breakdown, but I think that feeling is still similar. For example, if you turn on the TV, you are probably going to see a wide range of straight actors in roles, whereas the roles of LGBTQ people on TV are more limited. The same thing with race and with other types of identities.
Q: Has race ever been an obstacle for you?
I think it’s been an obstacle in the sense that by being white, part of that history is one of ignorance to some degree, and so you don’t get a lot of practice talking about race growing up. While I think there are a lot of privileges and benefits that come with it, I think one of the obstacles is you don’t get practice thinking and talking about race in the same way that, for example, I had about gender. I talked about gender and gender differences and things like that, whereas I don't think I had as much practice talking about what it meant to be white in contemporary America.
Q: What are your thoughts on how race plays a role in our interactions at Cupertino and is there something in particular that we can work on?
I think that race is something that affects people’s day-to-day life, regardless of how much they’re aware of it. I think that it’s something that students are thinking about and dealing with, and so it should be part of our curriculum. It should be part of our day-to-day interactions and discussions that we talk about. I think that we have to create spaces where students from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives can come together to share their experiences and feel legitimate in that space.
Q: Sometimes there’s this belief that stereotypes aren’t harmful if they’re said by the people who they’re against, so do you think it matters who’s saying the stereotype?
Sometimes I hear phrases like “that’s just kids being kids,” or “boys being boys” or just phrases like that. I take offense at that because what matters isn’t so much the intention so much as the outcome. If it’s offensive, it’s offensive. I think it’s easy to hide behind phrases like “kids being kids,” but in fact, saying things that are offensive or hiding under a racial joke, is actually a harmful thing to do. I think that it’s important that we create a culture where insensitivity is not part of the norm, where we want to respect and celebrate the differences that we bring.
Q: In your opinion, is there such thing as a stereotype we can laugh at?
I think it’s important to be able to laugh and to laugh with other people. Part of celebrating our differences is to laugh at our differences. Having said that, I think that you need to be able to change your mind about things. You might have a stereotype about what it means to be a Cupertino student, or what it means to be an African American, or what it means to be a female teenager or things like that, but then when you meet people, you need to be able to change your mind about it. Part of it is, yeah, we should celebrate and enjoy and find interest in those differences, but also we should be able to change our mind of, “Hey, wow that stereotype isn’t very accurate.” Maybe for some people it is, and it does hold true, but it seems like we have to be able to change our minds about it.
Q: How do you make that distinction between stereotypes we can laugh at and stereotypes that shouldn’t be said and are harmful?
I think that it’s more about the idea of understanding that a stereotype is inherently an oversimplification, and so it’s impossible not to be affected by stereotypes. [Like racism], we breathe it and internalize it, whether we want to or not. To me, it’s not so much the distinction of whether something is an okay stereotype to laugh at and that’s a not-okay stereotype to laugh it. It’s more about acknowledging it so that we can move past it, because if that’s all you see another person, as a stereotype, then I won’t be able to fully understand who they are as people. I think it’s like it’s not so much about distinguishing between good and bad stereotypes, but more about moving on, from all these stereotypes.
Q: How can we as individuals go about fighting racism and working to make sure that we’re not discriminating against others?
I think this is a good question because it takes personal responsibility in it. I would say a couple of things: one is that it’s important for people to know that pretending not to see race doesn’t make it go away. Color-blindness isn’t a real solution to our problems. I think it’s also important that you actively seek out and listen to perspectives that are different than your own so that you break out of your bubble. If you’re an Asian American, and all your friends are Asian American, then you need to break out and listen to the experiences of people who are a different race. I think in doing that, you will find small day-to-day acts that help promote a better, more equitable culture, instead of necessarily grand acts of civil disobedience or things like that. Those are also really important, but I think that for a lot of people, the small steps are more viable.
Q: What are some times that you have felt discriminated against?
Most of the experiences I’ve faced where I felt like I was either ostracized or deliberately discriminated against actually have come in different areas outside of Cupertino. When I lived abroad before, I remember feeling very aware of my nationality and my appearance and things like that. There were a couple of times where it was not a benefit, and a couple when they were.
Q: What are your thoughts on the saying, racism doesn’t or does “go both ways” (meaning, racism is not the same for different races, and there are certain types of racism that cannot be experienced by both the majority and the minority)?
I think it’s important when thinking about a phrase like that to think about individual versus institutional racism. So I think you can have any sort of discrimination on an individual level, but the difference between an institutional level is the power: the history and the logistics of who has power to implement their beliefs. Institutionally, there’s still a large pattern of bias happening, and so I think it’s important to take whatever kind of individual actions there are and put them into the context of the larger issue. Looking at who gets a larger sentencing, or gets stopped by cops, or has access to resources, for food, tuition, housing, yes, individual acts of reverse racism certainly are true and happen, but I think they happen within the larger context of institutional racism. I think that is the more important one to break down rather than just the individual [instances of racism].