In case my last name doesn't give it away, I'm Asian. And as you might have heard, for non-white people like me, life in this country hasn't always been the mushiest of oysters. We're mostly past the days when some random bigot will yell "Chink," "Jap," or "Gook" at me on the street. (If you're an asshole, I'm officially only one of those three.) In 2016, no one sees me and thinks my only viable career option is to be their personal laundromat.
But just because it's no longer socially acceptable doesn't mean people don't still harbor some subconscious racist beliefs. No, we may not be surrounded by hooded cults taking a shit in people's yards, but passing silent farts can still be pretty nasty. Especially if you don't even know you're doing it. For instance ...
6 Seemingly Innocent Comments Can Have Questionable Implications
Say I'm out at a bar one night, and some random guy starts a conversation with something like this:
"So, where are you from?"
"No, where are you originally from?"
"I mean, where were your parents born?"
If you're part of a minority group, questions like these totally make you cringe, because you've no doubt heard some variation of them at some point. On the other hand, if you're not part of a minority group, you might wonder, "Wait, what's wrong with those?" You might even add, as a white friend of mine once did, "Whatever, dude. I have an exotic-sounding last name myself. People are always asking me about that, and I never have any problem explaining. Just chill out." Note for those of you who just got chills: It's because every single minority reading this article just said in unison, "Oh fuuuuuuck yoooouuu!"
Or waved a couple of these at their screen if they're at work.
Even ignoring the fact that his response is a dismissive pile of festering horseshit (even if he didn't intend it to be), this is when a tiny bit of steam starts leaking out of my ear holes. When someone asks where I'm from, often the implication is that I'm an outsider. It's a statement of exclusion. That's the difference between a stranger asking a white guy about his exotic last name and a stranger asking me about my "other than America" origins.
For example, years ago I threw a Halloween party, and two random white guys tried to crash it. I let them hang around until they started harassing some of the women there. Then I went up to one of them, and I politely said, "Hey, man. This is a private party, so I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."
In response, he looked me straight in my (apparently not almond-shaped enough for his liking) eyes, and he asked where I was from. I told him that I lived there, and that this was my house. To this, he replied, "No, where are you originally from? Cuz this is my turf."
"You wanna play that game, bruh? Seriously?"
And before I could say anything else, he sucker-punched me in the face. A guy walked in on my party, in my house, and punched me because I was supposedly on his turf.
Sure, this was a single extreme incident, and I obviously don't expect that every encounter I have with an unfamiliar white male is going to escalate to a fight (and now I walk around with a bald eagle on my shoulder at all times, just to be sure). But, I admit, now when some random guy asks me where I'm from, my guard immediately goes up. Is he genuinely curious about me as a person or is he subtly pointing out that I don't belong here?
And the reality is, any minority who reacts harshly to such a question probably has a similar story from their own past. So, here's my advice to you, hypothetical subtly racist person: If you are just dying to know more about a stranger's ethnic background, bring it up later in the conversation. Just get to know them first. Make it clear that you see them as a human being, not just a stereotype. Oh, and please don't punch people in the face. That's just rude.
5 It's Never A Singular Act That Gets To You
Imagine you're trying to get to sleep one night. Just as you start to get cozy, you realize that your bathroom faucet is dripping. Every few seconds or so ... drip ... drip ... drip. Of course, you try to ignore the dripping. But that just makes it even more obnoxious. Finally, at some point, you kick off your covers in annoyance and trudge over to your bathroom to tighten that goddamned faucet. With a sledgehammer.
For the same reason, even the most innocent of comments about my ethnicity get annoying: because they don't occur once in a rare while. They occur all the time. And like the drops of water coming out of that faucet, it's the culmination of one comment after another, throughout my entire life, that starts to get to me. At some point, I just want to snap back with, "I'm a goddamned American, OK?!" (This is when I point to the bald eagle.)
His name is Freedoms R. Liberty.
And that's why the situation I brought up in the last point will likely sound like no big deal to the average white person. You're hearing a single story from a single encounter. If that happened to you, it would sound like totally meaningless small talk. But to get the full effect, I would have needed to write a 1,000-page book of all the other encounters that led up to that one. Drip ... drip ... drip ...
Jari Hindstrom/iStock/Getty Images
Sometimes it's fully running. The problem is no plumber knows how to stop it completely.
Keep that in mind the next time you're inclined to call a minority oversensitive. Are you aware of their experiences? Can you step inside their body and say with 100 percent certainty that the lifetime of slights they've experienced are no big deal at all?
That's why people who have never experienced racism have a hard time comprehending why innocent comments elicit such dramatic reactions. It's like the burden has been laid upon us to prove to one stranger after another that we're not walking stereotypes.
You're farting on our lawns, man. One or two just gets blown away by the wind. But get a whole bunch of them together, and it makes our house smell like a backed-up sewer. Please stop doing that.