But that begs the question, What, exactly, qualifies as small stuff?

Last week, my wife and I met with someone from our denomination.  Although we’ve exchanged emails and phone calls, this was our first face to face meeting with this person.

After giving some personal background, along with some of the difficulties we’ve experienced along the way, that were relevant to our conversation, this person stopped and remarked:

Oh, you both speak English so well!

Ugh.

Here we go again (I’m always tempted to sing the chorus of that cheeseball Whitesnake song whenever I hear or say that phrase).

My wife and I both, calmly, explained that I was born and raised in Michigan, that I basically only speak English and that my wife came to the States from Korea at age one.  I gave this person the benefit of the doubt, because she came from an older generation and, judging from her sunny disposition, probably meant it as a compliment.

And we received a letter from our daughter’s school explaining that since we had marked that we spoke another language at home during the registration process (although we very clearly indicated that English is the primary language) that she had been evaluated by her teacher.  Our daughter’s results: advanced in speaking, comprehension and reading (ah, her first perfect report card — makes my Asian heart proud! Ha!)

In part, I share this because incidents like this are so common in the Asian American experience and, after all these years, I’m still learning to deal with them.  Outright, blatant racism from aggressive jerks is one thing (and those incidents occur with more frequency than many might imagine); but what to do with these “small” daily offenses?  Lately, I have seen several comments throughout the internets that suggests we Asian American people should just get over it, racism only has as much power over us as we give it or, worst of all, ignorance is our fault because we don’t teach people in the majority culture about it.

As much as many people would like to ignore it or wish it away, racism is real. It is not only an interpersonal issue, but a structural one as well.  And, the fact of the matter is, some people just don’t care — I could deliver the most wise and compelling treatise on why racism is wrong and they simply will not be persuaded. Don’t try to wash your hands of responsibility by blaming the victim.

Back in the day, I would have nervously laughed off comments like, “You speak English so well” or “I can hardly hear an accent,” buried it under a mountain of passive-aggression and exploded/imploded at an indeterminate time in the future.  Later in life, I would have immediately pointed out the ignorance of such a statement and dealt with the fallout.

Now, especially with the idea of leading the way for our daughter, I am trying to deal with these things with a gentle but firm grace.  Trying, at least — I’ll let you know if and when that day comes.

EDIT: What I need is an iPhone to carry around so that I can dial up this YouTube video on how to tell people they sound racist for those who need it (and, yes, that was my desparate attempt to justify getting an iPhone). [h/t: David Park at Next Gener.Asian Church]

Advertisements