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The crimson lines sparkled like electricity over my skin. I gazed at the small screen expectantly, but the Macy's barcode scanner only blared: "ERROR. NO BARCODE FOUND." I laughed merrily before dancing off to follow my mother. This was a practice I always did whenever I went shopping, even though I knew the answer: humans didn't have any barcodes.
I was wrong.
It's not just apparel and gizmos that have those rectangles of toothpick-thin black and white lines. People have barcodes too. Once others see them and register the data, they automatically know what to say and think. When people started judging me to be someone I wasn't, I knew I had been too na´ve to assume that I had avoided this system.
People everywhere, from my teachers to the random stranger in the street, assumed everything about everyone. Too often in school, someone inquired, "You're sitting over there, right?" before pointing to a table of people who had the same narrow eyes and yellow skin as me, huddled together in a corral separate from the other students. People have spoken slowly to me, believing that I was incapable of English speech. When I succeeded in academics, I've received eye-rolls and muttered "Typicals." I have been greeted in three different Asian languages from complete strangers, none of which are mine.
People would swipe me at the scanner, ignoring who I was, throwing me onto the conveyor belt without another glance. After years of living in this scan-read-interpret society, I realized that my physiognomy simply matched the data. Years of discrimination have engraved the public with fallacious material, and now the art of barcode-reading has been integrated into them. My government teacher summed it up aptly: "People think with their eyes."
Underneath this yellow skin is more than just a database of stereotypes. I'm no one's "Made in China" product. I hate math and I love humanities. I don't eat rice; I eat bean salads. I don't write calligraphy; I write essays analyzing America's greatest orators. I can draw more than just Japanese cartoons. I don't weave sweaters in a sweat-shop; I weave stories out of thin air. My age and height does not constitute inexperience; it's not the body that matters, but the travels it embodies. I speak to people of all ethnicities.
I've startled my peers at my nonconformity. I'm the system error of society's scanners, the one who is misread and contains the data that disrupts the programmed information in their minds. In the world of machinery, I represent untamable, adapting nature, self-reliant and unpredictable. In this black-and-white barcode society, I express my multitude of radiant colors. I'm both diversity's vessel and seeker.
During Christmas shopping, I returned to Macy's and put my palm under the barcode scanner. I waited as the machine tried to evaluate my complexities, my beliefs and perspectives. After a few seconds, it finally admitted defeat: "ERROR. NO BARCODE FOUND."
I grinned. This was one system that I enjoyed breaking.