I am biracial, borne of a Taiwanese mother and American father. My features are decidedly not Caucasian, but hard to pin down to one specific category, a tiny frustration that gets at the heart of humans, because subconsciously, we all live to categorize. I deal with a host of questions pertaining to my background from “What you mixed with, girl?” to the timid “What … background are you?” I will entertain these questions, my response varying on the scale from begrudging to enthusiastic. It’s a conversation that I have a lot, and I’ve come to just suck it up and deal because people do not deal well with ambiguity. To categorize, to separate, to push things into clearly labeled boxes soothes the mind. It sets expectations, dictates how to behave, and prevents you from making statements like the ones I’m about to discuss.
These are some things that have happened to me. A roommate perpetually wrinkled her nose every time I cooked kimchi, finally asking me one day to not cook “that stuff” in the house, because it smelled like dirty socks. I have been asked in earnest if Chinese people really do cook cats and dogs, and if so, how could I possibly stomach eating household pets. Once, with quietly simmering rage, I endured a conversation with someone about how Asian people “freak him out”. I would love to say that I handled these incidents with grace, and presented an articulate treatise that served a cutting insult along with an education, but the truth is I’m horrible under pressure. Perspective is everything. Here are some ways I might handle a similar situation in the future.
1. Do Nothing, Say Nothing, Just Bounce: Don’t like what you’re hearing? Is someone saying something that makes you angry? Just grab your bag, give a little wave and get out, lest you break a bottle, flip a table, or throw a drink in someone’s face. Trust me, it will be much easier this way.
2. Play Dumb, Then Let ‘Em Have It: Did someone say something sideways to you, not knowing that you’re a person of color? Cool. Play dumb! Ask them to explain themselves, just let them firmly wedge both feet in their mouth before you clue them in on your background. Bask in the glory of that awkward silence, grow stronger with each second of it, and then sky’s the limit. Try hard to knock down every carefully placed sandbag of defense they’ve put up — and this won’t be difficult. Explaining precisely why you’re racist in the heat of the moment takes monstrous balls. See if they’re up to it — then shoot them down.
3. Go Full Out: This is kind of risky and could very well make you look insane, but hey, test the limits! Is there a foreign language associated with your people? I can count to 10 in Chinese, and say a smattering of very important words like “turtle,” “apple” and “barbecue pork bun.” Next time, I will let loose, babbling in Chinese while making angry hand gestures. I’ll have a friend stationed in the wings to play a gong on their phone for emphasis. Whatever you say here will sound convincing. Get loud. See who backs down first.
4. Attempt to Understand: Racism is rooted in many things, but I’d say that the fear of the unfamiliar is the driving force behind most casual racist ideologies. Perhaps this person didn’t grow up somewhere with a lot of diversity, or lived in a weird bubble where it was totally cool to say rude things about people of other races with reckless abandon in mixed company. Be the better person — attempt to understand how this could possibly be, attempt to understand where they’re coming from — but this should not affect your ire. Whether you are super angry, or just a little bit pissed, own that.
You cannot change the way people think in one sitting, but you can make sure they know that they’re wrong. Armed with these tricks, you should be able to handle any and every situation you encounter, from random street harassment to a persnickety coworker. Good luck!