You may not see many of us on a regular basis. Even if you do, you may not personally know any of us in a real relationship of true knowing. Having one of us do your nails or check you out during your medical visit is not the same thing as the type of relationship I mean. I mean the type where we will tell you our unfiltered, honest opinion on topics that some of us do not want to go into with you even if that means possibly chipping away at the ignorance. Since there may be countless out there in this category, this is a PSA to drop a little knowledge and hopefully chip away a tiny bit.
When you see an Asian person walking in the mall, minding her own business and obviously not wanting to be bothered as she refuses your kiosk sample while briskly going by, do NOT yell out greetings in any Asian language to her. She does not speak Chinese so do not yell out “nee hau!” She does not speak Japanese so do not follow up with a “konichiwah!” to cover your bases. You do not speak either of those languages either so why are you shouting out those greetings like a fool? Do you randomly shout out “bonjour!” and follow it with “g’day, mate!” to every white person that walks by you? No. That would be dumb. Same is true here. Do not assume that you know what language she speaks (it’s English) just by looking at her.
Even if you were lucky enough to guess the right language of her ancestry, yelling out one phrase that you know does NOT make her feel instantly bonded to you and now wanting to sample and purchase every item from your kiosk. Would you yell out, “HELLO!” to every white person who walks by you? No. Still dumb.
Not every Asian would stop well after they passed you, take the time to turn around, retrace her steps in the opposite direction of where she wanted to go, and walk directly to you to tell you these things. Not everyone would say to you that you should not yell out those words to Asians because it is racist. Your face responds to that word because no one really WANTS to be racist. No one says they hope they do something racist today. Your face says that you believe you are a nice person and for this little (crazy) Asian lady to tell you that you are being racist is pretty far-fetched.
Ok, fine, but admit it that it would not have had the same affect to say to you, “don’t do that because it is a microaggression.” After all, microagression is a cousin to racist. They may not be the same thing, but they are totally related and come from the same family tree. So let’s just help you NOT go all the way to your cousin’s level and help you detach from that genealogy by not committing that microagression again in the future. You have been told to your face that it is not cool. You seemed receptive and actually thanked the crazy lady, but ultimately you are responsible for what you do in the future with that chipping away of your ignorance. Like the lady said, you may have had no bad intentions, but now you KNOW. And knowing is half the battle (G.I. JOE)!
When I (obviously the crazy confrontational lady) retold this part of my day at the dinner table, my older son said that he would NOT have done that (gone back to talk to the dude). He said he would have just ignored it and kept walking. My younger son asked, “What’s nee hau?” I could not just give him the definition. Being who I am, I had to add in a few lines reiterating why the guy should not just yell that out and “if anyone says that to you…” That is when my older son then tries to stop me in a way by covering his ears and giving an annoyed sound of some sort. I look at him and wonder how he is my offspring. But later when my friend reminded me that his responses are totally understandable because of course he just wants to blend in. He just wants to live a “normal” life despite my telling him that he can’t, that he will face things like this in his life and he might as well know how to respond. But my friend’s more understanding reaction to him transported me back to when I was his age. I was EXACTLY the same. I so desperately wanted to blend in, never talk about, let alone BE Korean. He is normal even if his life won’t totally be. Maybe in 3 decades he WILL be turning around and telling the kiosk guy what isn’t cool. Maybe. I can hope so.
Again, no one wants to be a racist. No one wants to raise up racists. But racism is not born overnight. It is similar to thoughts I have been having about the Stanford rapist. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the absurd 6-month sentence for this star athlete who was convicted of rape. He and his parents seem to be in denial that he raped his victim. It is easy for them to say it is just some silly darn mistake made when you get too drunk. Although a jury unanimously convicted him of 3 counts of sexual assault and the outrage of a nation is reacting against his sentence, they still are having a hard time believing that he is a rapist. There is no personal responsibility. I make my kids tell me what they did wrong when they fight like WWIII. They have to spell it out without blaming their sibling or other circumstances. They have to tell me what they could have done differently so the next situation can have different results.
But they live a good life and are already spoiled in some ways. My older son acted like I was putting him out when I had him fix his own English muffin for breakfast this morning. He really, REALLY wanted me to do it for him. No, I am not your maid. You get your own muffin, toast it, put it on a plate, and butter it yourself. These are small parts of the day, but they add up. Just like a lifetime of privilege, wealth, whiteness, entitlement, education, class, and social circles can all seep into your being unnoticed to bring you to the point that you are defending your son’s sexual assault on an unconscious victim. I have crossed into some of those factors of privilege enough to see how they could combine in so many subtleties that inadvertently breed an unnatural outcome worthy of the world’s contempt. So do not tell me that yelling “nee hau!” is totally harmless. It can combine with many other factors that may have you one day questioning a judge’s ability to be impartial because of his ethnic heritage or thinking it is ok to yell the n-word at someone while you cowardly drive past. I hope that my boys are surrounded by crazy ladies who confront them when they are stepping across a thin line because maybe it will disrupt the complex formula that could result in unwanted behaviors and attitudes. Please give them your PSA’s and thanks for reading mine.