Since I was a little girl, my dad taught me how to play tennis. I have fond memories of hitting the ball back and forth with my dad, mom, and older brother. As I got older, my parents enrolled me in various tennis camps, and I slowly improved. I wasn’t always the best player on the court, but I held my own — plus, I had a mean back-hand.
So when I entered high school in 2003, I decided to try out for the girl’s tennis team. I had been training hard the summer before, with the help of a local tennis academy. To pick the new members of the team, the high school coach had each girl play two matches, each one against a different girl. Happily, I won my first match. Then, I managed to win my second match. Yes! I was so excited.
I ran up to the coach and reported the score from my second match. Later, he approached me and said, “I’m sorry, Jane, but you didn’t make it on the team this year.”
I blinked, thinking it must be a mistake. “But, I beat Monica — two zero.”
“I know, but she is recovering from a sprained wrist, so we need to give her a break.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled apologetically. My head nodded, but my mind didn’t follow.
I honestly don’t remember what went on in my mind when he said those words. All I know is that I didn’t challenge it. I didn’t even tell my parents what happened. I did tell my coach at the local tennis academy, who shook his head disapprovingly. I didn’t try out again the following year. To this day, I’m not sure why I so passively accepted such unfair treatment — treatment that I would find unacceptable today.
Fifteen years later, my best explanation is culture. My Korean immigrant parents had raised me to be very deferential to authority figures, even when I thought they were wrong. Keep your head down, follow instructions, don’t question me — nae nae nae. So by the time I encountered such blatant unfairness from an authority figure in high school, all I could do was accept his bullshit rationale and angrily blink back my tears as I watched pretty blonde Monica celebrate her new place on the Davis High School tennis team.
During college, whenever I remembered this experience, I asked myself why I hadn’t tried out for the tennis team the following year. I used to blame myself for not trying again. Maybe I would have gotten on the second time. You gave up too quickly. That’s your fault. But now, eight years past college, I have more sympathy for my high school self. I think I understand better the sentiment of folks who experience an unjust system and respond, “What’s the fucking point?” I think that was what went on in my mind back then. And among the many things Davis High School taught me, one lesson was that some people in this world were going to judge me by factors other than merit — and if they were in a politically correct area, they weren’t going to have the self-respect to do it honestly.