I'm Asian: 6 Forms Of Racism I Deal With Every Day
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 ...
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.
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 ...
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.
It Puts You In A Can't-Win Situation
A couple years ago, me and a white friend of mine were at a club and the DJ started playing "Gangnam Style." My buddy turned to me and said this:
"You should be singing along!"
My reply: "Yeah, man, I'm not Korean."
His response: "Come on, dude, I know you know every word to the song!"
The first comment -- OK, maybe he never realized I'm not Korean. Fine. But when I called him out and he wouldn't back down? Yeah, that's not cool. With the second comment, his underlying racism was clearly poking through.
Along with his terrible music taste.
Still, it wasn't that big of a deal, right? I was annoyed because 1) I'm Taiwanese, and Taiwanese people don't speak Korean, 2) he was like the 50th person to assume that I must love the song because I'm Asian, and most importantly 3) I hate that fucking song. But maybe my friend didn't know all this. And I really wanted to believe it was just an innocent joke. So, I let it go.
But over the next few years, this same friend would occasionally make comments about my "Asianness." Mostly, it was dumb stuff like calling me a "good Asian" for singing karaoke. Drip ... drip ... drip ... Still, because that first exchange was already seared into my memory, his continuing comments festered inside my head, and one day, I snapped and called him a bigot.
The result of the ensuing argument was that we're no longer friends. I stand by my assertion that he acted like a bigot, but ultimately I realized that, in one single moment, I had become that guy -- the oversensitive minority with the chip on his shoulder, who's quick to take offense at every little thing.
Pictured: The chip.
"Oppa is Gangnam style!" Goddammit, now I have that stupid song stuck in my head. Gotta focus. Where was I? Oh yeah ...
That's why I'm in a situation that I can't possibly win. Because that's the only thing my friend ever saw. He was not privy to the internal battle I had to fight every time he made a comment about my ethnicity, every time I had to talk myself out of saying something, every time he added one additional drop of water. All he saw was the moment I snapped. Up until that moment, in his eyes, everything was fine.
That's why some of the onus has to be on you. To be clear, I'm not looking to silence or shame you. I just want you to have some clue as to how your comments can be interpreted. Because ...
You Can Be An Open-Minded Person And Still Be Somewhat Racist
The most insidious thing about this hidden racism is that it plays into the subconscious assumptions we make about other people, and it can be terrifying to confront. The fact is, unconscious racism absolutely exists and can manifest itself in so many different ways:
-- You're walking down the street, you see a black person walking toward you, and you clutch your belongings closer to your body.
-- In response to Black Lives Matter, you point out that "all lives matter," dismissing the unique issues that blacks face in our country.
-- You get stuck on a problem in calculus class and think, "Maybe I should ask Lee-Yang for help. He must understand this stuff" (complimentary stereotypes are still stereotypes).
-- A future vice president describes his future president as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" ... Well, that's pretty obvious, right?
Drip ... drip ... drip ...
Even just talking to a white person about race can create stress and anxiety for them. This is how the internal justification system can go for many of them:
*Reads list* Whoa! I've said/done stuff like this before. But wait, I'm totally not a prejudiced person. Well, that means all these minorities must be oversensitive, then, because it can't possibly be me who's in the wrong. *Long, drawn-out fart*
I'm guilty of this myself. Last year, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post about how women can make themselves hotter. One of the things I encouraged women to do was make their hair "shiny and silky." I was just attempting to poke fun at shampoo commercials, but I didn't realize I had played into the Hollywood stereotype that female hair needs to be long, straight, and smooth to be attractive. Understandably, many women who don't have hair like that (i.e., anyone not stereotypically Aryan) were offended.
There are documentaries solely about how hard a negative natural
hair image like that can be to overcome.
The post was a disaster, and yeah, it was hard to confront the fact that even though I was trying to be funny, my words were taken as anything but.
When that happens, the only thing you can do is apologize. Every single human being is going to stereotype others at some point. It doesn't mean you're a bad person. Yet, some people have such a hard time acknowledging this uncomfortable truth that they claim ....
It's Even Hard For The Victims Of Racism To Tell Where The Line Is
Here's an article about a Hispanic student who took offense when a white classmate used the term "futbol" to describe what we all know is properly termed "soccer." It goes on to describe the rise of a problematic "victimhood culture," wherein self-proclaimed victims call for the public shaming and silencing of even the slightest offenders. But do the ridiculous overreactions mean that the issue itself has no merit?
Just as the Westboro Baptist Church doesn't negate Christianity and Nickelback doesn't negate music, a few gutter balls do not negate the cause altogether. What they do is get us to acknowledge that, yeah, there really is a gray area. We can't just draw a line and say, "OK, here's where racism ends and overreaction begins." Because let me tell you, that line is going to move for every single interaction. Really, it's not even a line at all. It's more of a fuzzy gray blob, like a superpowered amoeba that broke free from the lab and is coming to ingest us all.
Hollywood, you can have that idea. You're welcome.
The problem is that minorities are held to a different standard of behavior, because of the way human brains are wired. There's even a scientific term for this: illusory correlation. Here's an explanation of how it affects our thinking, and here's how it applies to racism: Let's say you have a sneaking suspicion -- though you would never admit it openly -- that black people are thugs. Then, one day you get mugged. And lo and behold, the guy who mugs you is black. Obviously, this confirms your suspicion. Black people really are thugs. Never mind the thousands of other black people you've interacted with over the course of your life who have remained mugless. Mug-free. They are, and will forever be, without mug.
The reality is that there are upstanding citizens and total fuck-ups in every single ethnic group out there, because that's just the way humans are. But the fuck-ups are the only ones who stand out in your mind, especially if you already harbor some preexisting prejudice against this group. That's how illusory correlations mislead us, and that's why, if you already have a sense that minorities are too sensitive, then of course any random incident can be taken as proof that your suspicions are correct. But remember ...
Denying It Is Just An Excuse To Be An Asshole
If you make a questionably racist comment and offend another person, keep in mind that your offensive comment affects them way more than their hurt can possibly touch you. And if the issue boils down to your right to say whatever you want versus another person's right to not feel like shit? Guess what, the other person wins, because the world is a shitty enough place as it is. The last thing we need is to encourage people to be even bigger dicks to each other. If someone calls you out for making a questionably offensive comment, the only decent human response is, "I'm sorry."
"Oppa is Gangnam style!" GODDAMMIT! It's still there. What's worse is that I only know that one line, so it's just playing in my head on a loop. Concentrate, dude ...
And that segues into a perfect opportunity to initiate a discussion. Ask them what it was about your comment that came across as offensive. Ask them what you could have said differently. Ask them about their experiences that led to this moment. Ask why they are walking around with a bald eagle on their shoulder. But for fuck's sake, don't be condescending or confrontational about it. The goal is to learn something, and that lesson is not, "How do I make you not be such an overreacting crybaby?"
The emotional version of "Stop hitting yourself" doesn't work.
Aside from that, accept that you'll probably offend someone at some point, and be ready to reflect on that with an open mind when it happens. Seriously, it's not about self-censorship. It's not about coddling minorities. It's not about glorifying the victims. It's just about showing empathy for your fellow human beings.
Yes, some minorities may overreact. And some white people won't want to acknowledge racism at all. That's exactly why we need to be talking about it. And once we learn to be just a bit more considerate of each other, maybe then we can all dream of one day joining hands and singing "Kumbaya" together in a worldwide circle-jerk.
Check out why Disney has given us a solid foundation of racism, from Sebastian the crab to the merchant from Aladdin, in The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters, and if you don't see why Glee is racist, then we strongly urge you to read The 5 Most Bafflingly Racist Shows On TV Right Now.
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