Live Through This

It Takes a Lot to Laugh

Using humor to deal with racism.

Re-appropriate racist language/imagery/stereotypes.

This one can be tricky, and sometimes it can lead you down a bad path of self-lampooning and even self-loathing, and some people believe you shouldn’t fuck with racist language and that it’s best to just not use it, but DA-YAM is it satisfying to tell someone that my mother’s maiden name is Ching Chong Chang and watch that person’s face screw up in total confusion. When I took improv comedy classes at the UCB Theatre in New York, I once did a job-interview scene with a dude who addressed me as “Mrs. Chang,” and the whole class laughed immediately, which made me uncomfortable because the Chinese last name was the entire joke, which basically meant that having a Chinese last name is funny, which basically meant that my last name is funny, and I, for one, certainly don’t bust out laughing every time I remember what my last name is. But I went with it. I replied that my hobbies were eating rice, catching flies with my chopstick, dressing like a geisha, being inscrutable, and practicing kung fu. That got an even bigger laugh, and I felt good, because I no longer felt like I was the butt of a racist joke; instead it felt like the whole class was laughing at racism and racist humor.

Pre-empt racist comments.

Again, sometimes this backfires, but when it works, it works. Once, some dude told me that the birthmark on my back looked like “Asia,” which was ridiculous, so I started to tell people that I had named my birthmark “Asia” because I wanted to preemptively self-Orientalize before anyone else could do it to me. That particular joke usually prompted an uncomfortable silence coupled with a WTF does that mean look, which was fine with me, because at least it established a tone of Yeah, racist jokes are uncomfortable for everyone, so don’t do it, OK?

Sometimes, when I see an Asian person on TV, I will tell my friends, “Oh yeah, that’s my uncle,” or when we go into a Chinese restaurant, I will say, “By the way, that waitress is my mom.” It’s a silly joke, and it’s not even that funny, but it feels satisfying to make, because you’re basically saying, YO, DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT MAKING A “YOU ALL LOOK ALIKE” JOKE ’CAUSE I ALREADY HEARD IT ONE MILLION TIMES, SO SHUT YER MOUTH. For all the times that someone has asked me if I’m related to Jackie Chan, or if I know kung fu, or if Chinese people eat cats and dogs, or whatever the stereotype du jour happens to be, and made me feel powerless, I loved being able to say: HEY, MY DAD IS JACKIE CHAN, I HAVE A BLACKBELT IN MARTIAL ARTS, I JUST ATE FIVE CATS BECAUSE I’M CHINESE, AND I CAN’T OPEN MY EYES SO THAT’S WHY I BUMPED INTO YOU. WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU GOT?

Now, you have to be careful with this one, because the point of pre-empting racist comments is to show how inappropriate and uncreative they are, NOT to give racists an opportunity to enjoy “The Self-Loathing Internalized Racism Comedy Hour,” if you know what I mean.

Exaggerate racism to expose just how ridiculous and absurd and abominable it really is.

I once had a friend tell me that his father told him that Asian women had sideways vaginas. He knew, of course, that it wasn’t true, but he thought it was a pretty funny joke, and it made me feel humorless because I didn’t think it was funny at all; in fact, it was the kind of thing that made me feel sad and sort of violated, so I wrote a poem about having a sideways vagina:*


me I stay a cynic
later becoming a stoic
later my friends point out I’m neither
you’re a zen Buddhist, they say
and your skin has the texture of rice
oh right
my name is the sound of three pots clanging
against a tin garbage can
my family is related to lao tze
and my mother taught me filial piety
my vagina grows sideways
when a man wants to fuck
he gets at a right angle
a yi ayi a ya a ya a yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
and it’s over.

It’s a really fun poem to read aloud at a public reading. Usually no one laughs at the part where I list all of the ludicrous stereotypes I have had the misfortune of encountering in my fairly privileged and sheltered life, but I always feel relieved when I get to the end and everyone laughs and (hopefully) realizes that it can be funny to lampoon racism.

Also, I don’t know why I’m wasting time with my amateur efforts at satirizing racism when I could be showing you this clip of Margaret Cho KILLING IT here:

And when all else fails, it’s all right to cry.

Or scream, or write an angry rant in your journal, or throw your shoes at the door, or punch your bed, or whatever it is that you need to do to let it out. It felt really good to laugh at the racist drunk girl at the Melt-Banana concert with my boyfriend, but that feeling was cut short when she grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Are you calling me a fucking racist?” and then turned to her equally drunk friend and said, “This bitch just tried to call me a fucking racist.”

My boyfriend tried to defuse the situation by explaining to these girls why what the first girl had said to me was indeed racist—but that only made things worse. The girl’s friend tried to throw her drink in my face, and the original girl kept jostling me and punching me in the shoulder during the concert, shouting, “You’re the fucking racist. You’re the fucking racist. Don’t you ever call me that again,” even though I hadn’t called her that, even though she was that, and even though I wished I had been brave enough to tell her so.

I ended up fleeing the show and crying in a bathroom stall. That night I lay in bed with my boyfriend, still crying, still shaking. He cried too.

“I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry it’s ever happened to you. I’m sorry it might happen to you again. I’m sorry I can’t protect you from it.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “It’s OK and it’s not OK.”

That night, I went to bed feeling like I was born sad.

The next morning, I woke up feeling much better. I went to brunch with my friends and told them, “You will not believe what happened to me yesterday. This drunk girl wandered into the Melt-Banana show and thought I was with the band because I’m Asian. And then she told me I was racist. It was not a fun night.”

One of my friends joked, “You should have said, ‘Konichiwa.’”

Another one said, “Or, like, ‘Namaste,’ just to confuse her.”

It felt good to be with friends who had my back. It felt good to be in a safe environment, one where I felt comfortable enough to laugh. It felt good to exist without fear, even though I knew there would be another time when I wouldn’t be able to laugh it off. But it felt good, that morning, to have some fucking fun. ♦

* This poem has been edited every so slightly.


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  • jenaimarley October 5th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Thank you so much, Jenny!
    Racism (however subtle) really makes me sad. This piece is so inspiring.
    Also I love Melt-Banana! But that night sounded absolutely awful!

    • jenaimarley October 5th, 2012 3:27 PM

      AND YOUR POEM IS RAD. The idea of a sideways vagina is really sad and disturbing but you take it back, make it surreal and poetic in such a fabulous way.

  • NotReallyChristian October 5th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Despite taking two years of Japanese, I had a mental blank and read ‘arigatou’ as ‘affogato’ … I was all, ‘why are the racists shouting at you about delicious Italian desserts?’ Sigh. I need more sleep, I think.

  • MoonSunRai October 5th, 2012 3:28 PM

    I probably would have fought the girl at the Melt-Banana concert… which would perpetuate the stereotype of black women being hostile and violent. How do you deal with that?

    • Jenny October 5th, 2012 4:07 PM

      For me, that’s the point where you can’t laugh about it anymore. You feel angry, you want to do violence back, you want the right to not feel small and violated by another person, and that’s not a time when you can be thinking of clever quips to diffuse the situation. This isn’t totally related, but this Wanda Sykes clip: about wishing women had detachable vaginas is really satisfying to me because she references the physical AND psychic VIOLENCE that men to do women on a daily basis & even though she doesn’t say it, I think her comedy bit implies that we have EVERY right to never have to wish we had detachable vaginas, and we have EVERY right to defend ourselves. I think finding cool comedians of color who get that, who talk about that, who make art about our RIGHT to be angry and to defend ourselves is satisfying… I’m sorry I don’t have more video clips to post & I’m sorry my answer doesn’t totally resolve your question, but maybe other readers will post their favorite stand-up bits that deal with racism in all of its insidious varieties and we can all watch them and laugh!

    • Tyknos93 October 5th, 2012 4:17 PM

      Man I CANNOT STAND THAT! As a result I make it a point go out of my way to be nice. It is frustrating especially when maybe you do like some things that people term “ghetto” or “hood”. It’s like can I just be?
      Can I not like both? Can I not wear colorful weave OR an afro and still be the same girl without others injecting their opinions?
      I don’t want to be angry, but sometimes it just IS NOT funny and you don’t want to take anymore ignorance off of jerks. I totally get that MoonSunRai.

  • dearmia October 5th, 2012 3:40 PM

    I feel you on this one, Jenny. I’m Mexican American and I’m part Scottish, as well. When I tell people I’m Mexican, they’re like “but you don’t LOOK Mexican…?” (the Scottish in me kind of overpowers the Mexican in me, that’s why) And being the only Mexican in my group of friends was kind of hard growing up. They would always make the “oh look your cousins” joke or anything along those lines. It would be funny at first, but then it got SUPER annoying after the fiftieth time!

    And then people automatically think I can speak Spanish or that my family can. I mean, sure, some members are fluent, but others don’t know any Spanish at all (like my mom). And then they also figure I’m first generation! Dude, I’ve been Mexican American for five generations!!! Sheeeeesh.

    So yeah this article is really amazing! I’ve used some of the techniques displayed here and it does help a lot.

    • dearmia October 5th, 2012 3:42 PM

      Oh and another thing they associate me with is the “spicy latina” persona. Dude, I grew up in the suburbs of southern new jersey! I’m not really all that “spicy” ughhhh that one really rustles my jimmies lol

  • AnaRuiz October 5th, 2012 3:47 PM

    I think that just like someone can use humor to fight back, many times it’s humor that’s causing the problem.
    I declare myself a public enemy of racist jokes of any kind. Anyone want to join me in on the battle?

    • AnaRuiz October 5th, 2012 3:50 PM

      Aaaa, I should have read that over before sending. What I meant was to be the public enemy of ever laughing at stupid racist jokes (not the kind outlined here that are used as self defense), of watching movies like Borat, and of never openly telling people that what they just said was racist.

      • Jenny October 5th, 2012 3:55 PM

        I totally agree with you! I will be public enemy #2 with you against racist jokes of any kind. That’s why we have to create our OWN jokes. Jokes that we can have for OURSELVES to laugh AT racists who are never gonna get the punchline and if they do, maybe they’ll realize THEIR racism IS the punchline! XO

        • Johann7 October 9th, 2012 5:40 PM

          My favorite anti-racist (can be adapted to any marginalized group, I heard it with “Black man” as the marginalized person) joke:
          What do you call a Black man flying a plane?
          A pilot.

          It plays like a slap to the face if someone has been telling racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. jokes. Sell it extra hard by starting with a humorous demeanor, then switch to flatly serious for the punch line. It’s AMAZING to see it work.

  • beefyx October 5th, 2012 3:55 PM

    I cried reading this. Thank you so much for writing this, this is exactly what I needed. I’m Chinese and I get racist jokes all the time at school and what angers me the most is that a lot of the time people don’t even think twice about the things they say to me and they never expect me to be offended.

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 1:59 PM

      Oh, it makes me cry to think about you having to go through this. Lots of love and lots of anger from me to you <3

  • clairee October 5th, 2012 3:57 PM

    Jenny Zhang, I am in love with you. Well, with your writing. And that poem. I have heard all these “jokes” and gotten the same comments and felt the same hurt when people don’t realize it’s hurtful and you try to explain why it’s hurtful and they’re like jeez it’s just a joke! Love this.

    • clairee October 5th, 2012 3:58 PM

      But then sometimes you laugh at the joke and make your own Asian jokes and it’s like what is the line between me being self loathing and laughing at racism? It’s hard. Thanks again for this.

      • Jenny October 5th, 2012 5:08 PM

        <3 you too, bb! I know, the line is weird and hard to define. For me, if I feel sad about myself after I make a joke, then I realize that I may have crossed over to the self-loathing part. If I feel exuberant, and free and like BOOM JUST ROASTED YOU, YOU RACIST MOFO, GET AT ME, then I'm in a pretty good place.

  • Teez October 5th, 2012 4:01 PM

    thanks for this jenny. being black i have used these kind of deflective tactics and whilst i feel like it may be useful for rookie’s white readers to see the kind of thinking that goes into dealing with racists, i don’t know if this piece is as helpful to myself as an ethnic minority, as these kind of tactics are just mere survival tactics for people like me and you. we don’t need to be taught them we’ve been forced to learn them through experience.

    also it’s frustrating feeling like you have to compensate for you race by having a sharp wit to cut down those around you. it feels like a lonely and very armoured reaction, especially with the pre-emptive calling out you suggest, because though on the outside you are tough and to-the-point, inside you feel crushed, and that sanppy outward comment you made bears no indication to communicating the pain that person has caused you. why give the racist a brief sting of embarrassment when you feel the dull pain of dehumanisation? basically what i’m trying to say is i feel like sometimes you gotta let these people have it, if either way you’re gonna feel shitty, otherwise they get off light.

    • Jenny October 5th, 2012 4:35 PM

      You’re right–these tactics very much are survival instincts, or at least, for me, they started out as survival instincts, but now they are more than that. I WANT and NEED and DESERVE the right to humor, to fun, to creativity when it comes to dealing with the racism I encounter on a daily basis. For me, it feels powerful and necessary to use humor, something that started as a way of defending myself from pain, and actually find ways to own it and manipulate it to create beauty, to create joy. This means that the people who get to share in that beauty and joy with me can sometimes be a very limited and selected group of people (other POC and WOC who GET it and white allies who GET it.) And yeah, even that is frustrating. But it doesn’t leave me, personally, feeling lonely and armored, as you beautifully put it. It feels like I have an army of people who GET IT, who create WONDERFUL things out of the misery and pain that we have all been forced collectively and individually to experience. My favorite comedians of color–Richard Pryor, Margaret Cho, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes–I am positive they have all had moments when their experience of being dehumanized left them shaking and unable to joke. But DAMN, am I glad that there were other times in their lives when they sat down to write jokes. I know that there are times when jokes don’t help, but other times, I swear it makes me feel like Oh wait, I am not confined to one response (sadness, anger, humiliation) but I am allowed the full range of human emotions and that includes being FLIP, childish, bratty, FUNNY, & more.

      • Jenny October 5th, 2012 4:39 PM

        And also, I agree with you that it ain’t right to require that the person being cut down ALSO be totally witty and like able to bounce right back with a quip. I’m definitely not saying that POC NEED to find ways to be funny. I’m saying use humor if it makes you feel powerful, if it relieves the sick feeling in your stomach, if you feel attracted to the ways humor resolves hard questions. I know people who have been victims of sexual assault who will never make a joke about sexual assault, and I also know people who do choose to joke about it, not because they are in a sad lonely island where their jokes only deflect and lead them away from having to deal with past trauma, but because it genuinely feels good to joke. I personally fall on that side of the line, but I also know people who fall on the other side– people who have created a lonely island only accessible via sarcasm and humor and self-loathing.

        Anyway, I was just excited by your comment, and wanted to keep the conversation going <3

        • Chimdi October 5th, 2012 7:53 PM

          yeah I’m really glad “not having to be witty” was addressed. Of course this is not the type of humor you were talking about, but something that reminds of when racism and humor intermingle is this one article written by a white feminist on why she didn’t have black friends, and it pissed me off (I tried to find it but in the process I ran into ANOTHER white feminist’s article on how the idea of “retro racism” is supposedly just white people uneasy when people of color are “racist” to each other all the time, and quoted LENA DUNHAM SAYING WHY SHE THINKS IT IS OK FOR WHITE PEOPLE TO USE THE N-WORD.I am annoyed and stopped looking for it sry) because she was talking about how when she was younger, only one black girl went to her school and she actually said something along the lines of “she always made jokes about herself being black to resolve the unspoken tension,” which I hate. Why is it MY JOB to make you feel comfortable about your white guilt?

          I’ve felt this a lot, and I think it is important and needs to be discussed.
          Just one reason, I think (there are many) is because of the “trading of power for patronage” by minorities which really, really hurts other people of the same minority. For example, one of the (three? four?) black people in my grade said that he runs quickly because his ancestors ran from lions all the time in Africa. (I know him, this is self-loathing not parody.) One of his white, male, openly misogynistic friends asked me if I could run quickly because of that reason. I felt discussed, hurt, and unsafe as the only black in the room.

        • Anaheed October 6th, 2012 12:15 AM

          Chimdi, thank you for this thoughtful comment! I want to clear up one thing, though: Lena Dunham never said she thought it was OK for white people to use the n-word. Think whatever you want about her show, but I think it’s important to nip this rumor in the bud (it has been going around a bit; I don’t know where it came from).

          I hate that dude in your class! I’m so sorry you have to deal with a-holes. It sucks, especially when you know you are so much better than them, but they still have the power to hurt you, and they use it.

        • Teez October 6th, 2012 7:05 AM

          I get that humour makes you feel powerful, I guess I read it in a different way as I used to be someone who always played up to the class clown archetype as a kind of defense mechanism in a very white school; humour made me feel safer in terms of getting along, as opposed to powerful. But now that you’ve explained I can understand how that it could make you feel that way, as you take control of your reaction as opposed to going straight to synaptic sadness or anger. As you mentioned, it’s the self-loathing side that worries me, too often I see PoC sell themselves short just so not to cause awkwardness around white people, or more frustratingly refuse to back me up when I call out racism. To Chimdi below, I feel your pain! But I agree with you that it would be a relief to not be confined purely to a sad or angry response, and I’ll admit though it may not be condusive to teaching the person who has offended me, I do enjoy acting bratty. Thanks for this helpful reply Jenny!
          ps I love Richard Pryor too!

    • lylsoy October 5th, 2012 9:27 PM

      I am half black, half German.. and from Primary school to high school I was the only black kid. And I was better than most white children in most subjects, so whenever I went to my friend’s house and they asked me what I had in my essay, they were saying like, oh how interesting that you are so much better although you’re black blablabla. I grew up in Germany- my father is German and I speak, write and understand the language as good as, if not better than them!! And still this discrimination ;(
      So, I make racist jokes whenever I feel like someone deserves to feel awkward around me- I know it sounds weird/mean- but when I notice that people are about to say/ask/pack out stereotypes about Africa, I say that I am related to 2Pac/Prince/ sometimes Jimi Hendrix ;)

  • kayak October 5th, 2012 4:08 PM

    would just like to say THANK YOU SO MUCH AND I LOVE YOU JENNY
    As an Indian, living in London, racist stereotypes and offhand comments are not something new to me. I have this friend who recently declared that ‘Indians smell like sweat and curry’ TO MY FACE and thought it was okay. These types of comments stun me to silence with their sheer ignorance, they also fucking piss me off! When people I know laugh about Indian names such as ‘dikshit’, put on Indian accents or make other comments about arranged marriage and the caste system in India I pretend to laugh it off and be okay, cause that’s what rational people do, BUT ITS NOT! No, you can’t call me an anglisized version of my name, just because my actual name doesn’t suit you! Thank you Jenny for pretty much summing up how I feel about this and giving me good outlets for this anger- YOU ROCK!

  • Taylor WM October 5th, 2012 4:18 PM

    I’m so glad an article has been made that highlights how even peoples ‘harmless’ comments can actually be racist – as many people don’t even realize it and it can be hurtful! This article is so well constructed and has tackled this important issue in a very knowing and focused way… I love it, Thank you :)

    Taylor x

  • Bethany October 5th, 2012 4:24 PM

    Thank you so much for this article Jenny, I’m half Syrian and I get sooo sick of intrusive, dehumanising comments. I think the worst incident was when I went out for a meal with my white grandparents and the waitress thought I was their sponsor child!
    They thought it was hilarious but I was mortified.

    It really inspires me to see how women of colour subvert and reapply racism (I’m not sure if that’s the correct phrasing but I hope you know what I mean) to cultivate their own personal power and it just reminds me to keep on trying to be brave even when situations seem sad and scary.


  • jeans kinda girl October 5th, 2012 4:34 PM

    I’m asian too and one of my classmates asked me (with the most serious expression on his face) “Can you tell the differance btween your cousins?” At first I was angry, but then I laughed and said “Can you tell the differance between yours?” That shut him up. Anyways your article means alot to me. P.S. Margaret Cho is awsome!

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 2:01 PM

      Whoa, this comeback is genius. Big ups <3

  • LittleBear October 5th, 2012 4:44 PM

    I’m sorry, I really truly see where this article is coming from, but after seeing hundreds of women and men of the rainbow co-opt themselves into ‘everyday racism’ by making themselves and their culture a laughing point, I can’t agree with this. If you belong to a minority, you already know that you have to deal with so much shit that people of invisible ethnicities would not even contemplate. It is not okay that you have to laugh at this predicament in order to neutralize any potential conflict or awkward situation. This is not your ‘ethnic burden’. The same thing applies to gender issues or other minorities. Imagine if we were telling people that the response to sexism was laughing. Is it truly empowering to find humor in the oppressive hierarchies in our society or are we legitimating the very existence of these discursive practises? Does humor enable resistance to these hierarchies, or does it act as a convenient bandaid so no one has to really confront these issues?

    • Jenny October 5th, 2012 4:59 PM

      Hey, I’m with you on so many of your points. If you see my above comment, you’ll see that I agree that the burden is NOT on the POC of to neutralize racism or to make life easier for racists. In fact, I think, you might be missing my entire point, which is that RACIST humor makes people of color and their cultures something to laugh at and mock. WHY should racists be the only people who allowed to laugh? Why should racism be funny? Ever? Why are stand-up comedians STILL getting away with LAZY racist jokes and using racist stereotypes? That is fucked. I want comedy in my life. I want NON-RACIST comedy. I want comedy that laughs AT racists and AT racism. That’s the point of the article. And to say that people of color who already have no choice but to subject to racism, who already have no choice but to live in a racist society, can only have one response to racism–which is one of anger, one of fear, one of frustration, one of sadness, one of misery–is to deny us of our right to be three-dimensional, flawed, contradictory, confusing human beings, is to deny people of color of the full range of our humanity, which can mean that a person of color might FEEL ANGRY AS ALL FUCK but also might want to also LAUGH. I want to create humor, I want people of color to create humor. I want to watch sitcoms that don’t use ethnic stereotypes as a punchline. I want to see people of color have POWER. I want to have allies with other people of color.

      • Jenny October 5th, 2012 5:01 PM

        Just as a racist joke alienates me and makes me feel like I don’t belong and am hated and violated, when I make a joke ABOUT how disgusting and horrifying racism is, I create a SAFE space for me and other people of color who GET the joke. I create discomfort for racists who don’t want to be called out. Who get don’t get WHY they deserve to be called out. That doesn’t solve racism. It doesn’t mean you HAVE to make jokes, or that you MUST spend all your time making jokes instead of doing other things like going out and organizing your community against racism, or whatever action or form of empowerment that you find worth your time. It means that as people of color who are subject to racism, we DESERVE the right to laugh. Laughing is not reserved for bigots. It does not belong to people who benefit from white supremacy. And it means that racism should ALWAYS be criticized, thought about deeply, and smartly, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to think or criticize racism. Humor needs to be one MORE mode in which people of color have every right to access and use as a mode of criticism and resistance. Hope that addresses some of your concerns. I’m glad you added your voice to this conversation. I’m glad we are having this conversation. Let’s keep it going.

  • Jeffertitti October 5th, 2012 4:50 PM

    This is so so wonderful. My mom was adopted from South Korea, and everyone else on all sides of my family is Irish/euro American. I live in a really accepting area for the most part and it makes me so happy, but you don’t always realize that this sort of racism, the subtle, sometimes unintentional kind, is really just inescapable. I love my family, but sometimes it is just so hard to be proud of yourself and your heritage when people can be so ignorant. If I’m ever really down about it, something that helps me personally is to just immerse myself in Korean things; I don’t even have to tell anyone about it. Art, etc. When we hang out at our family friends’ house, which is a mixture of American/Korean/Taiwanese, where everyone is so asian and so NORMAL and cooks amazing food, always. It’s so comforting and really reminds me how awesome my personal culture mix is, and everyone who can’t understand really just won’t ever know what they’re missing.

  • Birdbrain321 October 5th, 2012 5:14 PM

    I’ve sat thinking about this article and crying for over an hour. Yes, I’m upset about the racisim, the stupidity, the jokes at your expense, the hatred. But what upset me so much whas the comment you made about how much it hurt you when westerners couldn’t tell the difference between japaneese, Chinese, and Koreans. I hate to admit it, but I can’t tell the difference myself. That’s part of what made me cry. I know it’s insensitive to admit it, I’ve always known that- but the idea that my bit of ignorance was just contributing to the racisim upset me so much. No, I honestly can’t understand the difference, and I hate myself for it. I don’t know if I ever will, and I don’t know what I can do about it. Is this insensitive? Please help me…

    • GlitterKitty October 6th, 2012 1:37 PM

      It’s not insensitive to think Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people look similar. They don’t all look exactly the same but there are obviously similarities. But to think their cultures are all the same is insensitive and quite frankly, incorrect. There is a difference between appearance and culture. If you don’t know the difference between their cultures then do some research. If you have authentic Chinese, Japanese, or Korean restaurants in your area, go to them, if you have multicultural friends, ask them about their cultures. It could be kind of awkward with your friends but just tell them you are genuinely interested and want to learn something new. You don’t have to be ignorant and you don’t have to hate yourself, just try to learn something new and appreciate other cultures.

    • natleboo October 6th, 2012 10:48 PM

      Hey! I understand where you are coming from. Whenever I go through diversity training for my job I recognize and understand more and more of my thinking patterns that may have lead to inadvertently discriminatory acts– and it sucks. As a ethnic ‘minority’ female, I think it is important to admit that I too am capable of behaving in a discriminatory manor due to unfair prejudices– and a lot of this is just ideas and images that I have received and not thought deeply enough about.

      It is important to recognize where you are because racist/not racist isn’t a static label; I truly believe that people are differently paced journeys towards (or away from) behaving inclusively and justly toward one another. I think your recognition of your place in this journey is important as you visualize where you would like to be but do not be paralyzed by guilt. Guilt and shame are useless to you and everyone else so the quicker you shed that, the quicker you can start thinking about how to be different.

      I would say the best way to start this journey is with small steps. Think critically about the media you consume and the information you take in and process day to day. Immerse yourself in the culture and lives of those different than you. A common phenomenon for whites or anyone who benefits in a unjust society is to assume guilt for privileges they never knew they enjoyed and other people suffer from

      The experience of race in this country is a sensitive subject but to make strides in improving equality for all one must be dedicated to change. You have made the first step. You can do it

  • Sophii October 5th, 2012 5:16 PM

    I think a lot of racist comments are just people being stupid and ignorant because I think it seems obvious that some of these things are just in no way socially acceptable. It’s all about the context and the situation. If you’re in a friendly situation then it can be OK to make jokes about racism but otherwise it really is just pathetic. The film Four Lions was made to make a joke out of racism and I think it’s a really good film and they did it really well. It has also won awards but then I know other people that think it oversteps the mark a little bit. The trouble with racism is that that said ‘mark’ is in different places for everyone but at the end of the day if it made the other person feel uncomfortable or upset then that mark has been passed.
    I learn Japanese at school and one day I was at a Japanese restaurant and I spoke some Japanese to the waitress which was fine because she was Japanese but my friend once started speaking Japanese to someone who was cutting sushi at an oriental buffet type place only to find that the man wasn’t Japanese. All she could do was keep apologising because she felt really bad.
    All the comments on this are really long. There is a lot to say on racism!

    • Chimdi October 5th, 2012 7:57 PM

      Racist comments are a result of white privilege, and in POC, internalized racism, period. Racism is a result of centuries of systemic oppression towards people of color, not just being stupid. Not angry at you, just wanted to point that out :)

  • lxmldrt October 5th, 2012 5:26 PM

    I often make fun at racist people and jokes, AND some people don’t get it and think i’m being serius and actually being racist myself, and then i laugh at THEM for thinking I was being racist when laughing at racism.
    I liked this article.

  • Sorcha October 5th, 2012 6:02 PM

    This is a fantastic article, but I’m saddened that the poem was edited to be more “appropriate.” That’s not what I expect from Rookie. I guess there are legal issues and you guys have to keep it pretty much PG-13, but I wish there was a way to work around it.
    That aside, I really appreciated this. I’m half Arab and it’s always good to remember that I have the power to make all the horrible towelhead terrorist “jokes” myself, before anyone else can pull them on me. It sends a strong message of, “I know what you’re thinking, it’s not original, and it’s not okay.”

  • puffling October 5th, 2012 6:05 PM

    I really just want to know what was so inappropriate about the original poem…

    • Anaheed October 10th, 2012 5:02 AM

      We only changed one word.

  • Bug October 5th, 2012 6:56 PM

    “when they confessed that they honestly could not tell the difference between Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people.”

    I’m sorry to have to ask this, but what makes this racist? Or is the ‘confession’ what’s racist?

    • Teez October 6th, 2012 7:35 AM

      it’s not the confession that is racist, it’s the thought pattern. this is what is hard to explain a lot of the time and is partcularly saddening because it is an internalized racism. society doesn’t always bother to shape out the differences between these cultures and conflates them under the ‘asian’ banner. this problem is called orientalism, making it harder for the individual to take these diverse cultures separately. therefore perhaps jenny’s friends honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the three, the fact is that they do not all look the same, so therefore the assertion is racist. due to society’s attitudes (films, tv, books, the news, ‘pan-asian’/fusion cuisine, cultural appropriation in fashion etc) it’s the kind of racism that we have to actively work against and educate ourselves about. sometimes not being racist takes work.

  • Terra October 5th, 2012 7:02 PM


    I grew up in a pretty much entirely white town (I’m white myself) and I’ve always been sensitive to racial slurs (which happened ALL THE TIME since there were no people of color to actually HEAR THEM), and I have never ever known how to fight back. I have always been in such a radical minority with my belief system that I didn’t even know how to BEGIN explaining to my friends how cruel it was to call the one black girl in our school a “white-black” girl because she didn’t fit stereotypes for black women. How awful and ignorant they sounded offhandedly asking the single Chinese kid EVERY SINGLE DAY whether he could do their math homework.

    I’ve always felt an extreme mix of ignorance and fear towards the subject of (combatting) racism, as it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve even had a non-white friend. I feel like being raised in rural upper Michigan left me damn stupid about this all and I want very very badly to educate myself to the point where I can articulately tell someone off for their racism (it’s deeply embedded in my family too– this is gonna be tough).

    I have this hope that the generation represented by this site will be wayyyy more educated on stuff like this than our parents were, pretty much entirely because of the Internet. So please please please keep talking about stuff like this because everyone needs to hear it incessantly until we all just get over it.

    JENNY. Girl. You are awesome and I’m so so sorry for aaalllll the shit you’ve been through. Please stay loud and articulate about this all, though– we need it!

  • MissKnowItAll October 5th, 2012 7:21 PM

    Just a question Jenny, Did you grow up near Roosevelt or East Elmhurst by any chance?

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 2:03 PM

      I lived in Flushing for a few years!

      • MissKnowItAll October 8th, 2012 11:04 AM


        I lived near new world mall for about 3 years

        • Jenny October 8th, 2012 2:17 PM

          We could have been eating delicious Chinese food together!

        • MissKnowItAll October 14th, 2012 12:42 PM

          agghghghgh omg yes!
          I sound like a freakish stalker but I’m determined to find you in Flushing one day and drink bubble tea with you.

  • TessaTheTeenageWitch October 5th, 2012 7:23 PM

    You see, this is the kind of article we need to read as white/non bi-racial people as well. Actually, just everybody needs to read this.

    I believe I have a pretty good radar for racism. I know that someone putting on an “Asian” accent when the Japanese girl in our grade is around is uncomfortable and hurtful, and that people who continuously ask the Indian girls if all they eat is curry is really really wrong. But to be honest, it kind of shocked me to hear you say that people getting nationalities mixed up Hurt you so much. When I think about it, it makes sense, but the culture we live in is so stuffed, that we just don’t get the message.

    I am part of a string ensemble. We are really like a family. In it are 4 white Australians, 1 girl from Papua New Guinea, and one girl from Korea. The girl from Korea boards at our school. Her english is good, but a little broken, and she is the sweetest person I’ve ever met. But every now and again the girl from Papua New Guinea (who is rather loud) will ask “So your from… China? No? Wait… Japan? Omg I don’t know, you all look the same”. Of course the Korean girl just laughs. So immediately we all think that she’s okay with it and that she doesn’t mind.

    I’m not at all saying that laughing at the assholes is the problem here. It obviously makes you feel better, more empowered, and just more comfortable. But I wish that everyone in the world could read this article so that they could understand that what they are saying is wrong, AND IT IS HARMFUL, and the recipient of your words Laughing is not a signal to keep on going.

  • MissKnowItAll October 5th, 2012 7:26 PM

    I’ve dealt with racism as well. I went to a high school that was predominantly asian. People would love to walk up to me and say “you’re not REALLY asian, right?” (I’m Indian).
    They just had this stereotype of this Chinese girl.
    Another problem was when people reffered to others as “FOBS”.
    When I would go to the mall with my friends, if we saw a Chinese girls, with blonde highlights and Hollister clothes, they would laugh at what a FOB she was. It was wrong and I’m so glad we have awesome badass chicks like you.

  • ivoire October 5th, 2012 7:32 PM

    omg i luv u jenny!

    Has anyone been to Cronulla? Everytime I go there there is at least TWO people yelling out KONICHIWA and NI HAO MA and some other bullshit in broken english. I just get so mad and I never have a good comeback. So it just ends up as a fuck you fight. Thank you Jenny for this handy guide.

    Also, I’m not sure if this happens in the US but the word Asian is an adjective to describe nerdy, reserved people who listen to k-pop? It is so annoying especially when its my ASIAN FRIENDS who do it! Ugh.

    • Graciexx October 11th, 2012 8:38 PM

      I know right! I’ve been to cronulla quite a few times and I always see that happening (usually by 20-something-year-old white men with nothing to do because they have no jobs because they’re lazy -insert extremely rude word of your choice here-).

      As for your last point, I’m not Asian but a lot of my friends are and do the same thing and I find it really upsetting. I wish I could tell them it’s not really necessary, but I guess it’s like what Jenny talked about in this article – their way of dealing with it.

  • Pashupati October 5th, 2012 7:32 PM

    What to answer when people say things like:
    “I can make jokes like that, I know POCs who do!”?
    Or really, they say that about any group, “shut up you’re overreacting”, but the way to answer is different if it’s about POCs or women or disabled folks or anygroup.
    They don’t understand the whole reappropriating their joke to mock them and that when they do, it’s still offensive? Then it’s not that funny seeing them not understand, since they use that as an excuse to be more of an ass…
    (the thing is, I myself do not make such jokes or about other groups because it makes me uncomfortable, but I’ve heard people say that they knew POCs who joked at/about racism or appropriated racist jokes, so it was okay for them to make them while being white.)

  • 062131 October 5th, 2012 7:33 PM

    I don’t live in the US, things are not exaaactly the same here. But one of my best friends is descendant of japanese (I don’t know what the right term is, equivalent to asian american?) And I always notice these things people ask, these jokes they make, and it bothers me. I always think “oh god, not this one again,” or say “yeah, yeah, she’s never heard that one before.” It’s hard to discuss it, to point it out, because it’s not intentionally racist.
    I don’t know if I have much to say here, as I’m not a target of this kind of racism. But I’d like to thank you, this was a very good article, a good discussion to have here.
    I think I’m gonna ask my friend how she feels about this.

  • Sushi October 5th, 2012 7:54 PM

    Thank you, Jenny! This post is awesome! That was the first time I watched Magaret Cho, too. Now she’s one of my idols!

  • umi October 5th, 2012 7:58 PM

    WOW this is –literally– the best thing in the entire cosmos

    when i was younger,kids would ask me constantly if i was mixed…i dont think i was offended or anything but i was afraid of being singled out.I asked my dad why they asked so much and he told me to tell them “yes,i am mixed.i am a frog mixed with a unicorn” ((or anything random like that))

    so next time somebody asked if i was mixed,i told them i was a gorilla mixed with a flower and proud.they were really confused and baffled.i stopped getting asked about my race after a while~

    thank you,jenny.this is awesome,just all the way around

  • mayamidori October 5th, 2012 8:07 PM

    I’ve been reading Rookie pretty casually for a few months now but, OHMYGOODNESS. I finally think I understand that connection that so many readers have with this site & I am so happy to have read this, I feel like I’ve had some sort of an epiphany. THANK YOU SO, SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS.

    I am mixed: my dad is Irish/German American & my mom is Okinawan American but I look Latina/Native American. I can’t even describe how confused I was growing up when people spoke to me in Spanish, asked me cultural questions I couldn’t answer or just gave me those “I’m just trying to figure you out” looks. And what’s worse is that I felt like I was doing something wrong because I wasn’t living up to this expectation (which I later realized is just a stereotype) that 90% of the population had of me. I felt I was at fault for not acting, dressing or thinking the way I was “supposed to.”

    I’m still struggling with it, & while I’m sure this will be a lifelong issue (unfortunately), I’ve never struggled so much as I am right now. I’m a sophomore at a smaller midwestern college that is full of students from suburbs and small towns, which isn’t a part of the population I am used to interacting with (I grew up in a mid-sized college town) & I feel like a spectacle. I feel like the token “mixed girl who dresses like she’s from the 50′s.” I’ve never felt like this before & it is so scary & uncomfortable & I feel like crying a lot.

    Anyway, I just really wanted to say thank you. I have not tried humor (or anything at all really) as a coping mechanism/defense but you have given me the confidence to!

    • Ellen October 5th, 2012 8:47 PM

      I love you, Maya.

      • mayamidori October 6th, 2012 12:49 PM

        Ellen, I can’t believe you found this! Love you more. For real.

        • Jenny October 7th, 2012 2:05 PM

          This is such a beautiful thread & beautiful friendship! Maya: I feel you on the dread of knowing that for people of color, this will be a lifelong issue for us. I mean, I hope it won’t, but I also know it will. The least I can hope for for those of us who have to deal with this, is that we can have some FUN, some JOY, some LEVITY. Maya, I wish you the best at your college! I hope you find your peeps <3

  • Jane Lane October 5th, 2012 8:09 PM

    When people tease my best friend about being Australian-Chinese, I tell them that she is the exact same amount of Australian I am. (I’m second generation Australian-Irish, she’s second generation Australian-Chinese.) I am so sick of people being racist. Seriously, get over your fear and hate. Ok, I’ve stopped ranting now so I’ll go eat a potato and hang out with a leprechaun. :)

  • Epik-Roscoe October 5th, 2012 8:15 PM

    thanks for the post, i’m black i’ve got a lot of asian friends i guess we’re used to joking about each other’s race cos we’re more prone to racism but unless it was like a close friend who was comfortable with that i wouldn’t dare be offensive to anyone else, cos i know what it feels like to be hurt like that.

  • christinachristina October 5th, 2012 8:39 PM

    Jenny, this might be the best thing I’ve read on Rookie. And your boyfriend & friends sound amazing.

  • min October 5th, 2012 9:10 PM

    Thank you, Jenny. These are words that I live by everyday BECAUSE RACISM. As a Chinese who just moved to Australia, the examples of racism I’ve experienced range from the obvious (NI HAO) to the insidious ones (YOUR ENGLISH IS SO GOOD!!!!1). It takes an extraordinary amount of… strength (and willpower and god knows what) to laugh it off and frankly, being the Asian bitch calling out people on their casual racism is really tiring as well (not that I’m ever going to stop). But, it’s always so, so, so rewarding to know that you’re not alone. So, once again, thank you. xxx

  • Lucy23 October 5th, 2012 9:15 PM

    This is so good. SOOOO good.
    Also, your poem is 100% win.

  • katherine08 October 5th, 2012 9:29 PM

    Thank you so much for this post, Jenny. I can completely to relate to your stories. I am also chinese and in the seventh grade, three or four guys in my math class ganged up on me and basically tormented me for months with racist comments everyday. There were other chinese kids in my class who claimed to “not care” when they’d say these horrible things, and the guys targeted me because I was the only one who seemed to be affected. About a year later, I asked one of the other asian kids why he hadn’t cared and he responded with “Of course I cared! I hated what they were saying!” But he never said that in front of them. They’d say things to me like “You smell like a factory”, “Did you make those shoes you’re wearing right now? Can you make me some?”, and “Hello my little yellow friend.” I hated them so much and I’d mostly I tried to get them to stop by yelling at them and threatening to tell the teacher. It took 2-3 months, but they finally did. I feel like a big part of why they were so harsh was because I was so bothered by it. They wanted to entertain and impress their friends with all their “funny” racist jokes and the “hilarious” reactions of the asian girl they were targeted at. Three years later, I’m actually sort of friends with those guys. They’ve apologized and said that they’re ashamed of the things they said. I forgive them, and I’m much more likely to just laugh off racist comments nowadays. You’re right, Jenny, it does take a lot to laugh. For me, it took a lot of yelling at them and crying at home and three years of growing up.

  • gnome October 5th, 2012 9:32 PM

    THIS IS SO RELEVANT! I’m Japanese American and this is SO relevant. oh my glob i love rookie so much
    out of every beautiful thing on this website, so far, this has personally connected with me the most.
    thank you so much Jenny!

  • Malexhe October 5th, 2012 10:25 PM

    I’m Jewish, which is a bigger deal than it should be. I live in the south, and any type of diversity is rare, so my teachers used me a lot as an example for educating my classmates that there’s different beliefs out there, and different ways people live their lives. To be honest, I had no issue with this. Nobody had anything mean to say, and despite some innocent questions, nobody really cared. Then Middle School happened, and Jew jokes started to become popular. I remember getting pretty upset over them, and feeling alienated. Once my close friends started making them, and that’s when I decided to say fuck it and make them too as a defense mechanism. This was all fine and dandy up until this year (12th grade) when I had a falling out with a close friend. Long story short, a week after we agreed that we disliked each other, he took out some pocket change, announced that he found Jew bait, and started chucking pennies at me. I freaked the out, of course. So now I’m the Jewish bitch with no sense of humor, and I just don’t care any more.

    • Soft Graphite October 6th, 2012 6:00 AM

      I’m Jewish in Los Angeles right now (with “right now” referring to location and not my status as a Jew, obvs), and it’s a bigger deal than it should be. Somehow. I’ve come across so much *actual* neo-nazi stuff here (like, swastikas and insults that are just so, so ridiculous) here.

      And why is Jew a hilarious put down? Seriously, am I missing something? I don’t even get a comparison to something stereotypically Jewish or anything. Just “Jew”. How is that insulting on its own? Argh life is strange and odd. Why is racism a thing?

    • KirstenCT October 6th, 2012 8:05 AM

      God, I’m sorry, that’s awful. Screw that guy, and screw anyone else who laughed at that shit. It isn’t funny and you shouldn’t have to pretend that it is to please other people!

    • Ariella95 October 6th, 2012 7:51 PM

      When I tell people I’m Jewish, I’ve gotten the following responses:
      “I knew it! Your hair is curly.”
      or “Do you speak Jewish?” I have met a few people, though, who were genuinely trying to be nice, but were just ignorant.

  • mloxe4210 October 5th, 2012 11:25 PM

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU JENNY! I love all of your writing, and this one I could especially relate to. Being an ABC myself, people are always telling me my English is surprisingly good, along with everything else you must ask the weird Asian kid… When I was in Brussels, random people would walk up to me all the time, saying “nihao! nihao!” and pulling their eyes sideways. I SO wanted to yell at them and tell them to shut up; that just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I’m Chinese. Except I can’t say that – I am Chinese!

  • llamalina October 6th, 2012 12:44 AM

    THIS ARTICLE OH MY GOD. This article is basically my life. I am Filipino and the only Asian in my group of friends. It’s easy to laugh whenever someone makes a comment, but it’s not as easy to tell them how much it bothers me.

    “They still hurt me when they laughed during the parts of movies when the broken-English-speaking Asian character showed up for comic relief.”

    I love this. Lost count of how many times I want to tap a friend on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me? Why are you laughing? That’s what my family sounds like.”

    I feel like I could go on and on about racism, but I have lived with it all my life and it’s always going to be there. I feel like people look at me different because of the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, the accent of my mother’s voice, etc. etc. I hate having to worry about having friends over for dinner because they won’t like my food, and how someone is /always/ going to ask me if I’ve ever eaten a dog. Being a colored girl is a struggle in itself, and it gets really hard sometimes.

    • Hazel October 6th, 2012 3:41 AM

      YES. Could totally relate to the whole “scared friends won’t like my Filipino homecooked meals” thing.

  • worm October 6th, 2012 12:52 AM

    JENNY I LOVE YOU FOR WRITING THIS <3333333333333333333

  • Maggie October 6th, 2012 1:26 AM

    I’m now remembering this terrible presentation I did in 8th grade about prejudice/racism against Asians. I wore an Chinese “costume” and delivered my oration in a theatrical Chinese “accent.” God, how I cringe to recall this. And the worst part is that I got an A+ on the presentation! NO ONE taught me that what I was doing was wrong/unhelpful, so I just remained ignorant for years. Which is painfully ironic, because the whole purpose of the presentation was to foster racial awareness. I clearly had none.

    • Anaheed October 6th, 2012 1:44 AM

      I love that you had the balls to admit what a dummy you were. I am going to use HUMOR to mock your RACISM forevermore.

  • toomuchjess October 6th, 2012 1:30 AM

    This article is great.
    Being half-asian myself I find it hard to differentiate when things, like jokes, go too far. I found the best way for me to deal with the jokes was to make them myself, because in the joking manner it meant that I wasn’t targeted, it was more of a group joke thing.
    I’ve found that I don’t seem to mind little jokes anymore but the biggest thing for me is when a joke goes to make me feel like I am completely identified by my race.
    I feel like this can be relatable to discrimination against gays. The main thing is that I don’t want to be defined by my race, the same way people who are homosexual or of any other sexual preference don’t want to be defined by that. I want to be defined by who I am and not how I look and when I do feel like I’ve been judged because of how I look, that’s when it actually becomes a real problem for me.

  • jessica j October 6th, 2012 1:48 AM

    i’m really glad to see rookie talking about racism here and i really appreciate this article. i hope this conversation can continue in the future. i’d also love to see a piece on cultural appropriation.

    • Anaheed October 6th, 2012 1:49 AM

      We are actually in the middle of putting together a post on just that, for November.

      • Graciexx October 11th, 2012 8:49 PM

        hey Anaheed, would you mind putting something in there (or just rookie in general) for people of Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian decent please? I haven’t seen many on this site. Or on the internet in general actually. Thanks, Gracie

        • Anaheed October 12th, 2012 12:04 AM

          You should submit something, Gracie!

  • Sparletta October 6th, 2012 1:51 AM

    Thank you for this article. Reading this has made me aware of times where I, admittedly made racist comments to someone although I wasn’t trying to hurt them intentionally (I’m white btw)
    It must be so hard for someone to live somewhere where their race is a minority – I think if the unintentional racists go overseas and actually live in a place where they are a minority, they will understand the impact of their racist comments. One day I will go overseas and experience it for myself…. but for the meantime I will try and stop myself from judging people based on racial stereotypes.

    • Libby October 6th, 2012 3:14 PM

      I don’t think that always works though, an white person going overseas and living where they are a minority. My grandparents and father (white) have lived in China, Malawi, Sri Lanka, and a handful of other places, but as white people in a colonialist bubble. (I think colonialist is the right word to use here?)
      My dad has said himself that he just didn’t interact with the POC, even though it was their country. There was a circle of ‘nice white folk’ and then the POC still remained second-class citizens.
      Obviously there is a generation gap, and a class gap, but I think white privilege still exists even in a country where white is not the main ethnicity.
      However my grandparents are shockingly racist (mostly unintentionally) and my dad is what I call a ‘recovering racist’ (me & my brother call him out on the racism he grew up around and explain the cruelty to him) so I think that also had an impact on their white bubble in these overwhelmingly ‘non white’ countries.
      I know I’m babbling but basically… living in a area where a white person is a minority doesn’t’ necessarily make them less racist, although it may do in some cases.

      • Graciexx October 11th, 2012 8:53 PM

        I think the word is expat (expatriate). My mother did the same thing but I think that it was different where she lived as she made many friends there whom she still keeps in touch with today.

  • jiyoon October 6th, 2012 1:55 AM

    Wow. Thanks so much for writing this. I’m Korean, and I feel too different from Caucasians. Since North America is mostly populated by Caucasians (although, now, perhaps it may become multicultural central) I want to “fit in” and be just like them. But after reading this, I feel so much more comfortable in my skin! There was one time when I brought gyoza to school and a dude told me that it smelled like trash. That really hurt me, and I felt embarrassed bringing Korean/Japanese food for lunch. I CAN SO RELATE TO THIS ARTICLE LIKE SO MUCH ugh it’s just perf. <3

  • Hazel October 6th, 2012 3:35 AM

    I love this article. Thank you, Jenny! I live in Toronto and have been very lucky to not have experienced too many racial issues in such a multicultural city.

    But just two days ago, something happened that made me feel uncomfortable. I take a social science class and my professor is an anthropologist who spent a couple years in the rural area of northern Philippines studying the people there. During class she often talks about her time there and shows photos of various customs that local tribes practice.

    After her presentation, we were put into small groups to discuss the topics she covered and while we were introducing ourselves someone asked me where I came from. I told her I was Filipino. Then she said, “OH! So you probably know ALL about what the prof is talking about in her lecture.” I was just like, UMM NO, I came to Canada when I was 7 and I lived in the city, not the rural area of the Philippines so I actually DON’T KNOW about those customs she spoke of. Then she looked at me like I was weird for being all sensitive about it.

    It’s not as bad as what you experienced at that concert but it was still soo frustrating that this person whom I just met is already generalizing about my culture. There isn’t just ONE type of Asian. There are SO many different kinds of Asians and many different kinds of Filipinos who all speak different things that it just seems sad and unfair that more people don’t take the time to learn the nuances.

    So again, thank you!

    Btw I think I spotted a typo on the second page where you say, “HEY, MY DAD IS JACKIE CHANG” Should that be Chan?

  • Soft Graphite October 6th, 2012 5:54 AM

    Oh, I love this. I went to school in this really WASPy town (nothing wrong with WASPs, inherently, of course, but this lot weren’t really tolerant) and I got really good at deflecting/defending/generally putting up with way too much bullshit over my half hispanic, Jewishness. ugh. Not that it’s abated completely out in the real world, but I don’t feel like punching someone everyday. Only, like, every week or so instead.

  • jenni October 6th, 2012 7:49 AM

    <3 I love this post. I've never been the victim of racism (at least that I know of) but I surely know that people can be discriminating and insensitive. It's VERY important to talk about these things.

  • salmonds October 6th, 2012 8:39 AM

    One boy in the 3rd grade asked me why my skin was darker than his pale self. I told him it was lighter when I’m in the sun. I wish I could’ve punched him or something, ughh, I had a crush on him too!

  • Frenchie R October 6th, 2012 9:50 AM

    I too have suffered from racism because… i’m French ! And i agree with you, all those stereotypes people have like “is it true you eat frogs and snails every once in a while?” is quite offensive and in particular when it occurs every day. Also, because i wore glasses at that time, people thought every single french person wore glasses ! Thankfully now i have moved to an international school and it litterally changed my life : everyone there comes from all around the world therefore it is practically impossible to be confronted to racism :)

  • hchristin October 6th, 2012 10:02 AM

    Great piece. After every sentence I was like: u-hu, UUU-hu.

    I don’t know if you can call it racism, but I guess we share a different opnion about the definition of it. I prefer to call it stereotypes.

    I know what you are talking about because I also have an asian background. As a little kid people always made jokes about my background. Not to hurt me intentionally, but still… . You just want to be accepted for who you are and not for what you look like.

    Stupid questions like: Do you eat rice every day? Have you ever eaten dog or cat meat before? The most rude thing someone asked me was: Can you handle high temperatures ’cause you know people over there are so used to it.

    When I was a little kid I just wanted to be a white girl like everyone else so no one would ask those stupid questions and I never talked Chinese in public because I was scared for the reaction of others.

    Getting older, I gained much more confidence and those stupid remarks really make you stronger as an individual. You build up some kind of shield around you and you just don’t care about those remarks anymore.

    Now I’m quite happy that I have another background and that I don’t look like others and I have so much respect for other cultures.

  • nox October 6th, 2012 11:10 AM

    I pre-empt it all the time. It’s an automatic reaction when I meet new people. Oh yeah, we eat Indian food all the time. And yes, I make THE BEST curries. No, I don’t have a curry for lunch today. And if you were wondering, I eat chillies in MY SLEEP.

    BLAHBLAHBLAH. I just make a joke out of everything, self mechanism. Sucks. Great read though, I feel like no one really talks about racism like this.

  • DW028 October 6th, 2012 11:20 AM

    My mom is Korean and my dad is black and I live in an EXTREMELY conservative town. People are constantly confused when my (Korean) mom comes to pick me up from somewhere, goes to parent meetings, etc. One time someone even told me that “people should just stick to their own color” because it “looks weird when they don’t”. I didn’t say anything at the time (I was too shocked) but I really wish I had. WHY DOES IT LOOK WEIRD? WHY IS IT STRANGE THAT TWO PEOPLE LOVE EACH OTHER, GOT MARRIED, AND HAD KIDS? WHY IT SO CONFUSING, PEOPLE?
    My friends actually call me the “blazin’ blasian” when anybody ever asks, which usually gets a laugh and makes me feel tons better about the prodding questions about my background.
    Thank you for this article. You’re beautiful.

  • GlitterKitty October 6th, 2012 1:20 PM

    Jenny, I just want to hug you for your awesome articles. People usually get really confused and can’t quite figure out that I’m mixed (Indian and white). So obviously I’ve heard the usual “do you eat curry everyday?” Or “then how are you catholic?” Especially going to a predominantly Filipino school I get a lot of confused and shocked looks from me to the Filipino kid next to me with the response “NO!? You’re not Asian.” And obviously the other negative comments about Indians from people who may or may not realize they’re talking about me. the biggest question I get though is “but you’re more white though, right?” I don’t even have a comment for that one. This needs to stop.

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini October 6th, 2012 1:48 PM

    Thank you, Jenny. Being half-asian I periodically get ignorant people asking me why my eyes aren’t smaller, making fun of my middle name and drunkenly going “what ARE you exactly?” And then they get furious when I say that they’re being racist.

  • AndieP October 6th, 2012 2:29 PM

    I’m Mexican American, my biological dad WAS FROM MEXICO. But my skin is fairly light so I’ve had Mexican friends assume I’m white despite knowing my last name is “Portillo”. When I visited my boyfriend’s family, they live up north and every restaurant we went to, I was the darkest person in their super-small town and got weird stares by the really old people there when they saw me cuddling my boyfriend publicly. (his family was super awesome though)

    A couple of months ago I went to an art show and bought a piece from a woman whose last name was Garcia. When I gave her my credit card, she read my last name “Portillo” and thought I was Italian. She kept asking me as if she didn’t believe me. “Really? It sounds italian. Are you there’s not a little bit Italian in your blood?” I just wanted to be like, “Lady, I am not white. Believe me, I know.”

  • Kaleidoscopeeyes October 6th, 2012 3:38 PM

    In a world where being called a racist is more offensive than racism.

  • xdogbaitx October 6th, 2012 3:48 PM

    that video makes me sad. I feel uncomfortable when white people are blamed for their ancestors behaviour which cannot be changed no matter how much youd like it to. So the karma bites for someone elses behaviour

  • Ariella95 October 6th, 2012 7:38 PM

    I understand that Wanda Sykes is a comedian, but I disagreed with her idea that racism against white people doesn’t exist. I work with kids in a predominately black neighborhood, and I have sometimes felt mistrusted for being white. I agree, though, that “reverse racism” is a misnomer – really, it’s just racism.

  • anom_aly October 6th, 2012 10:39 PM

    Anyone who believes reverse racism doesn’t exist hasn’t been around enough. Racism does exist but it affects every single group and it can be perpetrated by anyone. I’m half Cuban but my skin is white and I can’t tell you how many times someone has made the assumption that I’m a prudish rich snob who listens to classical music. It might seem like a harmless thing to be mistaken for, but that accusation cuts pretty deep when you’re in middle school, you’re on welfare, and the girl who’s accusing you of being rich has a bathroom the size of your living room. Racism isn’t when a majority group oppresses a minority. Racism is when anyone replaces an individual’s identity with their race. I hear a lot of bad things about white people, and when I hear that, well, that’s half my family — and they don’t deserve the exactment of ill will more than anybody else, regardless of their ancestry. There is a white stereotype. It’s that white people are cultureless, vapid, and spoiled; and it is as dire an obstacle to racial harmony as any other stereotype.

    • mayamidori October 7th, 2012 11:32 AM

      I think that for the sake of this discussion it’s going to be very important to define racism. While individual actions can be considered racist, I think it’s important to note that racism is often systemic and ingrained in our society. Therefore while “reverse racism” may exist on an individual level, it cannot truly affect the lives of white Americans the way it affected other minorities. To be more specific: slavery was systemic racism and it adversely affected not only those who were sold into slavery but many, many generations that followed. It’s hard to ignore that it affects the generations today when you look at unemployment rates between different races, or incarceration rates, and even median income rates. That is systemic racism. And since slavery was kind of an easy pick, I’ll also argue that the way my grandparents land was seized by the government during WWII and the Red Scare adversely affected their income (they were farmers), place and feeling of value in our society. (My grandparents are Okinawan.) And by no means do I think that white Americans today should accept blame for possible systemic racist actions committed by their ancestors but I do think it’s important to look at how you might have benefited from it, acknowledge it happened and then work to make positive changes today because those are the actions you ARE responsible for.

      • anom_aly October 7th, 2012 11:35 PM

        Doubtless systematic racism is worlds more harmful than individual racism. I agree with you completely there. But I feel like racism against white people is important to speak out about solely on the basis that few people are willing to give it validation. You say that only individuals perpetrate white racism. But many individuals make up a group, and I can safely say that I have met many individuals with a negative and narrow view of white people as a whole. It is most certainly and most powerfully racism when someone — me for example — is attacked with a guilt from someone else because, frankly, I look similar to the perpetrator. I actually don’t have any ancestors that were involved in the systematic oppression of African Americans. But that really shouldn’t matter. Because the point should not be whether or not that I am “ancestrally innocent.” The point should be that I am being judged, based on my appearance, and mentally herded by someone else into a group titled “white and guilty.” Am I not the victim of racism when I turn down a boy who asks me out, or refuse to lend someone my pencil, and they whisper to me, “Racist.”? Should I not be free to be who I am, instead of fearful that I will offend someone else by expressing my true feelings? I don’t mean to sound like an asshole if I do. I’m worried that you’re going to think I’m arguing this point just because I can. But it actually means a lot to me. It hurts me in my soul when someone decides who I am just because I’m white. For many years I actually did carry around a guilt like my skin meant something bad.

        • Jenny October 8th, 2012 2:33 PM

          Hey–I don’t think you’re being an asshole, I believe that you are honestly trying to express a frustration and a real experience you’ve had. I think this link is a good starter for what Maya is saying: which is that there is a huge difference between centuries of institutionalized racism that still exists up till today. An easy example is the studies that have been done with employers receive two identical resumes, except one has a stereotypically ‘white’ name like Ellen and another has a stereotypically ‘black’ name like Lakisha, and employers are much MUCH more likely to choose the person named Ellen. This is only one SMALL example. Now, are you the person who decided Ellen is more employable than Lakisha? NOPE. But could you potentially benefit from it without even knowing it? YEP. That’s privilege. That’s invisible privilege. It means getting things that you are not even asking for. I get that you are feeling frustrated because you see yourself as a good person who has been judged negatively because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness, and I appreciate that you are asking for some sympathy and empathy, but it would be wonderful to also extend that same generosity to people of color who deal with racism everyday–and not only have to deal with it, but have to fear if they call someone out on racism that they will be humiliated, made fun, attacked (physically and emotionally) and put down. (continued..)

        • Jenny October 8th, 2012 2:56 PM

          The point of this article is to help POC who deal with racism have the right to a little bit of joy and play in their lives. This is a safe place for people who have experienced racism to express it & NOT be shot down or made to feel like the worse crime is making someone feel bad by calling them a racist. Racism makes everyone feel helpless. POC who experience racism feel helpless everyday because not only do we experience racism, but we have to experience other people telling us that NO, I’M NOT A RACIST HOW DARE YOU, which is frustrating because it denies the reality of our experience. I can understand that a white person might feel similarly because you might feel like no matter how much you try to be a good person, you still risk being called a racist. I get that, & I also get the urgency of realizing there are NOT a lot of places where POC get to explain the reality of their experience. This article is one such outlet & it’s important also to step back and realize there aren’t a lot of places that allow POC to talk about racism, but there are tons of places that are safe for white people to talk about their feelings on racism or to simply silence discussion all together. Working towards a non-racist future is about ACTIVELY wanting to reject your privilege& ACTIVELY wanting to learn about other people’s realities. It’s about ACTIVELY learning about the history of racism that exists up till today. It’s less about, I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this, & more about, everyone deserves to a live a world where they have access to dignity & humanity in big and small ways.

        • Jenny October 8th, 2012 5:45 PM

          Oops, sorry, there was an incomplete sentence in the first paragraph of my earlier reply. It should say: “I think this link is a good starter for what Maya is saying: which is that there is a huge difference between centuries of institutionalized racism that still exists up till today and personal examples of incidents where you feel you are being judged negatively because you are white.” And I also just want to add that there’s no need to carry around your guilt if it only makes you feel bad. That couldn’t have felt good. Instead, take that ‘guilt’ or whatever emotion it initially presented itself to you as and turn it into ACTION. Learn from others, listen to others, read about other people’s experiences, participate, be part of the world, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, be open to other people’s realities, and if we all do that, then we can get closer to the world we want and soon your guilt won’t feel like guilt, but it’ll feel like beautiful, necessary knowledge that you are actively using in your life to be the model of change you wish to enact in the world. I’m rooting for you and everyone! <3

  • anisarose October 6th, 2012 10:57 PM

    Jenny, I really loved your article. I think that’s pretty obvious because I’m making the effort to comment but I wanted to let you know that I actually used another article of yours, Other Girls, as part of an anthology about the psychology of race that I did for school last year. The topic of race relations in the United States has been an interest of mine since my later years in middle school but that article made me realize that I haven’t read much about the experience of women or many things that aren’t about African Americans. While I could have found another study or a passage from a book written during the Civil Rights Movement, I decided that I had enough of those and that the story of an Asian girl would be important for my project. Your honesty and relatability are very refreshing and I really admire that you are able to take a serious issue and make it funny.

    Thank you for educating young girls because while some might not be ready to get heavy and read Cornel West, at least they have you.

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 2:07 PM

      Oh, I am so happy to read this! Thank you so much for using my article, Other Girls. I wish I could sit in on your class… what I miss the most about school is knowing that I was so frequently in a room with people who were not afraid to engage in real, hard, frank, honest, and open discussion about issues of race and gender and sexuality and all of that. Hugs and love to you <3

  • redblueblueberry October 7th, 2012 7:44 AM

    I feel for your article and your arguments. still I have to say I dont really know how to act being white myself. Reading this, I’ve become even more scared to do anything wrong.

    I think it is still important to remember we are human and we dont know everything everytime and there must be the possibility to ask questions without the other person being hurt. If I want to reduce my ignorance by asking a person who comes from a different country but can’t because i am to scared to be labled racist – where does that leave us? Isn’t better to have an open disscusion? I may lack certain knowledge sometimes but I desperately want to learn and know all the backgrounds. I am really scared of the other person getting mad or hurt. Seriously – How do you ask something which can be such a delicate matter? Isn’t it ok to want to know?

    For example (this was in the comments section): “One boy in the 3rd grade asked me why my skin was darker than his pale self.” Ok I admit 3rd grade is pretty old already and an age where you should know about these things. But what if he never had the chance to ask? To learn about it? And now he is asking? Can’t his question just be answered from the point of view that he’s trying to understand the differences between people in general?

    Don’t get me wrong and I hope you know where I am coming from. I am just always so, so scared to ask/do anything wrong even though there is this big desire to learn and understand different heritages (see, is saying this being racist already? I’m confused.)

    • Jenny October 8th, 2012 3:39 PM

      Hi!!! I really really really appreciate this post a lot and your questions, which are HARD questions. I don’t have all the answers for you, but I will say that I sympathize with you and I understand the feeling of wanting to be educated but fearing that if you express any curiosity about something you don’t know a lot about that someone might be upset with you, and that very fear may well prevents us from learning more about each other.

      To use a somewhat parallel situation, I remember having conversations with dudes about catcalling and street harassment and once I was telling my friend about being constantly harassed on the street and he was like, I’m sorry but that makes ME feel bad because now I feel like if I even tell a girl she’s pretty then it’ll seem like I’m just an asshole trying to harass her. On the one hand, I understood his frustration, and on the other hand, I felt like he missed the point. The point is not that he doesn’t ever get to tell girls they are pretty ever again, but the point is that hopefully, he now has more awareness about his power and privilege in the world as an able-bodied man. So if a girl ever did react negatively to him hitting on her or complimenting her looks, instead of thinking, “What’s her problem,” he might have the generosity and awareness of understanding to think, “Ohhh, I totally GET what her problem is. And it’s not HER problem, it’s MY problem too because I have a responsibility to take ownership for my own actions, and my own power and privilege to make someone else feel powerless.” (Continued…)

      • Jenny October 8th, 2012 3:56 PM

        Now, this is a really hard thing to do–to accept one’s own privilege. My male friend was reluctant to do so because he admitted that there were many times when he felt POWERLESS because of a girl, & I understood that, but also I wanted him to understand that it doesn’t change the fact that we live in a world where women’s bodies are constantly under threat of being violated or harmed by men, and until that changes, he has a responsibility to learn about his privilege & his power. And once he was able to accept that, it was less about him feeling like he wasn’t allowed to do anything out of fear of being called an asshole, but it became about how he was actually MORE free to be himself because he wasn’t scared of being called out. Once he was no longer afraid of being called a sexist and more afraid of perpetuating sexism, he was actually more free to learn stuff and be educated. I think this applies to racism too.The example you mentioned from the comments–yes 3rd grade is DEFINITELY still a time when we are learning. We will be learning well into adulthood and beyond how to combat racism. Of course, a 3rd grader can ask a question like that out of genuine curiosity. But the person who was the recipient of that question can also genuinely be hurt by it. It seems impossible–that innocent, good intentions can hurt someone, but that’s why racism is so insidious. It’s not easy, but I think once we get over the fear of being called out for racism, once we accept that racism itself is the enemy, not the act of being called a racist, then we can be courageous in combating it. <3

  • julalondon October 7th, 2012 8:42 AM

    Jenny, can you tell whether someone is from Germany, the Netherlands, Austria or Sweden?

    You can’t? That’s totally fine with ME, although i’m german myself. I’m really sorry, but i really don’t get why it is racist to not be able to tell whether someone is from Korea, Japan, Vietnam or China.

    I agree with most of your article but not with this one part.

    Of course i personally do consider it as racist too, when someone sais that all Asians ARE the same but i don’t like you calling people racists just for not being familiar with the different appearance of people of different asian countries.

    I hope i didn’t offend anybody with my comment. I didn’t mean to be racist or anything, there was just this one small part i personally didn’t like.

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 1:38 PM

      Hi Jula, the point is NOT whether or not I can accurately determine what someone’s heritage is, or what country a person is ‘from’ based on someone’s facial features. And in fact, what you point out is the VERY irony I’m talking about–I have definitely been exposed to enough people and seen enough images and examples of people who are Dutch, Austrian, German or Swedish that I could probably make a decent educated guess about that. Same with Eastern Asian ethnicities. But that’s besides the point. The point is that even if someone cannot tell the difference between different European ethnicities, THAT inability to tell the difference has not historically been a way to mock and put down and humiliate and alienate people of European ancestry. A girl of European descent, a person who passes for ‘white’ does not have to walk down the street and expect 90% of the catcalls directed at her to include the question ‘Are you English or Welsh?’

  • Jenny October 7th, 2012 1:44 PM

    White kids growing up and going to school, whether that school is predominantly white or not, do not have to deal with daily, public, vocal reminders from their peers that ‘OH WE CAN’T TELL YOU APART YOU ALL LOOK THE SAME.’ You may feel that the inability to tell different ethnicities apart is an innocent act on your part, but what is not innocent is a society that is constantly permitting and even encouraging the idea that it’s okay to tell a person that you don’t know if they are from China, Japan, or Korea, when people of European ancestry do not get the same treatment. When there are not movies where the entire joke is that someone is an ‘inscrutable European.’ That joke does not exist but there are plenty of jokes where the entire joke is JUST that someone is an ‘inscrutable Asian.’ I think if we accept that racism is not about pointing out who is evil, and not about equating ignorance with some kind of horrific intent, and if we are open to the idea that racism, as I pointed out earlier is a systematic devaluation and dehumanization of entire groups of people, which means it’s pervasive, which means it’s structural, institutionalized, which means as individuals who live in a system that does that, we must figure out how to subvert and deny racism ALL THE TIME, and it’s less about, ‘but I truly don’t know the difference between East Asian features’ and more about ‘look, a lot of so-called ethnicities look the same, but why should only people from this part of the world get shit for it?’ and more about, Let’s examine that! I hope this helps.

    • Jenny October 7th, 2012 1:58 PM

      oops, that was meant as a continued reply to above, sorry!

      • julalondon October 12th, 2012 5:46 PM

        That was indeed helpful. Thank you for taking your time to replying!

        I guess i understand your point now. It was only when i read that one sentence in your article that i didn’t understand how someone could feel that bad about that. And then i read the other girls’ comments and some of them were even hurt because they thought they were being racist.

        But i totally get what you wanted to say now. Thank you again for replying, Jenny!

  • Jenny October 7th, 2012 2:11 PM

    Thank you everyone for these comments! I started to reply to all of them, but I felt like I was writing the same thing over and over again (I LOVE YOU! or I’M SORRY YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS SHIT) Reading these comments make me feel hopeful, like we are all gonna find each other one day and band together and live in a bubble of beauty, NON-RACIST beauty. <3 <3

  • Anjali N October 7th, 2012 4:25 PM

    Thank you SO much for this post! I needed this so much. Just yesterday I was shopping at the outlet mall and got so upset. I was waiting for a fitting room at Gap, and one of the employees was making the usual small talk with the customers. So she got to me and my mom, and she asks “How’re you folks doing today?” and I reply “Gooooood” like I always do, but before I even finish she says, “So where are you folks from?”. I kind of know where this is going, but I’m hoping for the best so I say the name of my city: “Oh, Raleigh..”. Usually that’s enough of a hint. But this girl is just completely ignorant or something, because she says obnoxiously, “No, you know..your NATIONALITY. Are you Indi– nah… Where are you guys from? You know….ORIGINALLY?” I got so mad I just was speechless. My mom was polite and just humored her, saying India.

    I’ve been so upset ever since, because this has happened so many times. My nationality is AMERICAN. I’m originally from CALIFORNIA. What gives you the right to question my nationality on the basis of my skin color? I’m just as American as any other citizen of this country. I have a stereotypical “Valley-girl” accent, and I dress like any other 16 year old American girl. What makes you think that you can single me out and question me about my cultural background?

    I guess what threw me for a loop was that this employee was a POC. I’m used to this coming from Caucasian people, but not other POCs. It’s a funny thing that often times minorities are extremely discriminatory towards other minorities.

  • ali October 8th, 2012 4:34 AM

    this is so beautiful, and i especially like this part :
    I ended up fleeing the show and crying in a bathroom stall. That night I lay in bed with my boyfriend, still crying, still shaking. He cried too.

    “I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry it’s ever happened to you. I’m sorry it might happen to you again. I’m sorry I can’t protect you from it.”

    “It’s OK,” I said. “It’s OK and it’s not OK.”

    That night, I went to bed feeling like I was born sad.

    it makes me what to quote it to everyone, especially the general beauty… wow you write well, and i’m glad this is somewhere where it’s cool to talk about this, AND show teens dirty poems hahahah

  • Anna F. October 8th, 2012 11:47 AM

    Jenny, this piece was so powerful and resonant and filled with your typically beautiful prose. I am so glad you wrote it.

  • sflwr428 October 9th, 2012 1:36 AM

    While I agreed and related with most of your article, especially being half Iranian with an Iranian surname and having to unfortunately deal with some racist attitudes in a predominantly white suburban town, I was a little surprised at the section “Pre-empt racist comments.” I love comedy and think that it’s such an intelligent, uniting, cathartic outlet. However, your suggestions seemed a little overly aggressive to the situation. Of course I wasn’t in that particular situation to know the vibe of the speaker, but how is saying a birthmark looked like Asia offensive (unless what they meant was that it looked like China or another Asiatic country, in which case that is sloppy and an ignorant metonymy)? Asia is a continent that is also a shape, and a birthmark could just as easily look like Australia or a baseball or a raccoon. And I was wondering why you would say random self-Orientalizing things like [in a Chinese restaurant] “By the way, that waitress is my mom,” around your friends, people who I assume aren’t racist and who you would feel comfortable around. It seems as though you have little faith in a large group of people people who aren’t going to think that just because you “look Chinese” you’re related to Jackie Chan. I would agree that wit is a a great tool for change and there needs to be a lot of change in eradicating racism of all kinds, but I feel like the tone of what you suggest sometimes is an obliteration of anything that could potentially, in any stretch or outcome, be found racist. Shouldn’t we open discussion instead of violently dismissing?

    • Pashupati October 9th, 2012 9:01 AM

      She says that to laugh with her friends about racist stuffs other people said in the past/might say now (those who just see her enter with her friends.)

  • okipie October 9th, 2012 7:36 AM

    I want to add to the responses about why the comment about not being able to differentiating between Asian ethnic people is racist (for context, I am Korean American, and obviously heard this a lot growing up). Like Jenny and others have pointed out it is not the inability to differentiate that is racist, but rather the *need* and desire to point that out to me, the person of Asian ethnic descent, and the racist-historical context that comes from. On top of which, this lack of differentiation, when pointed out this way is basically a flaunting of how much you couldn’t give less of sh*t about knowing anything about world history, about all the inter-East-Asian conflict for example. When someone says that or something similar to me, my first thought is, why do they feel the need to tell me that? Often it is soon after I meet said person, and it is as if they look at me and they see ASIAN–WHAT KIND OF ASIAN– DON’T KNOW–KNOW ANYTHING ASIAN TO SAY TO ASIAN?– DON’T KNOW– WILL TELL ASIAN I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ASIAN. wow, thanks for sharing dude. and even when its someone closer to me, as with any racist comment, it recalls all these other past racist encounters, it recalls kids at the playground pulling their eyes up, sideways, and down, yelling, “Chinese, Japanese, Kor-e-an!” and then looking at me, it recalls racist propaganda about anonymous Asiatic immigrant hordes, it’s a subtle or not so subtle gesture to let me know that I am just another “other”, another yellow face and beyond that is beyond your imagination.

  • krissyt October 9th, 2012 5:47 PM

    *cry* *nod* *slow clap*

  • Johann7 October 9th, 2012 5:49 PM

    This is fantastic; thanks so much for sharing Jenny. As you point out, you shouldn’t HAVE to run around explaining how racism works to blindly-privileged White people, but given how many people are comfortably oblivious and aren’t going to take it on themselves to educate themselves, it’s valuable that you’re willing anyway.

  • LeaMarie October 18th, 2012 11:40 PM

    thank you so much for writing this. I really appreciated it. It’s actually really cool that I ended up reading this tonight. It was nice being reminded that I am not the only one who goes through race….problems, because just today someone asked me what race I was and I told him that I am Indian, and my friend (An Indian girl) said “Lea, don’t lie. stop telling people you’re Indian, your only half. you need to tell people that you’re also white, because people will get confused”
    I know that she probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but it actually hurts. I know I should have told her that she hurt my feelings, but I just let it slide, and I regret that now.
    All of my siblings are Indian, and I am the only mixed kid in my fam. I often feel like an outcast, and I cry about it…a lot. I grew up in a house where the predominant culture is Indian culture(ballywood movies, speaking Hindi, always eating biryani). so yes, I do consider myself Indian, and yes it does hurt when people tell me that I’m a wannabe and I am too white to be brown.
    so ,yep…thank so much:)

  • Stienz October 27th, 2012 2:06 PM

    Thank you so much for this article.
    I live in South Africa and racism here is…complex. African people are certainly the victims of racism (hello – apartheid?), but white people are the minority.

    At the same time, there are many Indians and coloureds* living here, as well as Asians – who were all also subject to the horror of apartheid.

    Even as a white, we have the Afrikaners (Dutch descendants) and the English – who also discriminate against each other.

    So, yeah, it’s confusing around here, everyone seems to be racist in some way or another. As a white, I’m part of the “guilty party” because of my past (or more, my grandparents’ past). But at the moment, and probably for the next few decades, Africans are totally in power.

    Our president has 6 wives (culture shock what whaaat?).

    Anyway, I feel like we have racism going in all different directions and its a problem we’re going to face…forever.

    What I love about us is how it kinda brings us together. We have a comedian that makes fun of all the races (Trevor Noah) and somehow, it’s okay. It wouldn’t have been if he was white, but that’s understandable.

    Thanks again for allowing me to learn about your perspective, it’s so hard to identify when I’m being racist, especially since reverse-racism really does happen here. We should all be working towards ending it together, as you said in one of your comments, I think.

    *In South Africa, a “coloured” is like a mixed race, but not really:

  • KaiSparda October 29th, 2012 6:22 PM

    This article and some of the comments definitely just made me cry. As a black woman, it’s so frustrating to know that I always inevitably have these strikes against me and there’s pretty much nothing that I can do about the racism around me. It’s so sad and so frustrating and fighting all of the time can be extremely draining. I’m definitely starting to learn that sometimes, all you can do is laugh at it.

  • Peachcore December 2nd, 2012 9:29 AM

    I cried reading this. It’s never going to end, but that doesn’t mean we can let them get away with it.

    One time at a party, a stranger came up to me and asked if it’s true Asian women have sideways vagina’s. I never heard someone say that to me before and I was too shocked to talk back. When I came home, I was so angry I let him get away with it and I literally cried myself to sleep.

    I hate it when people make racist remark and say you shouldn’t get so angry about it because it’s “only a joke”.
    They just assume they can push Asians around.

    Just one question, Jenny. How do you react to assholes in the streets yelling “ni hao” and “konnichiwa”?

  • vvk97 April 23rd, 2013 8:22 PM

    I know that all these comments say how thankful they are for you posting this, but I just HAVE to add my gratitude to this! I’ve been struggling a lot lately with this subject, especially as I’ve gotten older, and this article was perfect.
    My ethnicity is Indian, but I was born in the US and have never lived in India. I don’t even speak the language that my parents know, which I hope to learn someday.
    Recently, a 6 YEAR OLD BOY in my sister’s class asked her if she was African. When she said no, he INSISTED that she was. She was pretty shaken after this incident, but not as much as I was.
    I had heard racist remarks and implications before, but I never thought my little sister would have to. I hope there are more people like you in the world that are willing to end this absurdity we call racism.