Just Another Reminder That I Don’t Belong

Honestly, I should have seen it coming.

I was at a homeschooling seminar last night and had mentioned I was homeschooling Cookie Monster in Chinese. People were impressed and then afterwards, the super nice, informative, lovely speaker (who I really liked) said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

And before she even finished her sentence, I already knew what she was going to ask.

“… how come you don’t have an accent?”

“It’s because I was born here,” I reply politely.

She then proceeded to expound on how awesome it was that my kids are learning another language, blah blah blah. I tried to take my leave as quickly as possible and since then, the comment has gnawed at the back of my mind.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this woman was a bad person or had any malicious intentions. I don’t even think she is stupid. (Although her comment was.) So, let’s not pile abuse on this woman. I did like her and I’m sure if we were better acquainted, I would continue to like her.

That may be surprising to some of you since from my blog, I seem all ragey and like I’m spoiling for a fight. Don’t get me wrong. I can be. But most of the time, I really just want to go through life as pleasantly as possible. I want to like people and have them like me and we’re all happy and laughing and then get back to our lives.

But it bothers me. And I’m a little mad about it. And not for the reason you may think.

Well, a LOT for the reason you think – but that’s not the only reason.

Of course, it’s just one more comment in a long line of comments that pointedly remind me that people (especially white people) don’t think I belong in America even if I was born and raised here and am likely more “American” (whatever that means) than they are. After all, it isn’t the actual comment itself. It’s the piling up of 37 years of these types of comments. It’s the constant reminder that no matter how nice or kind or well-meaning, people really aren’t that safe. That really, I should stick to my own “kind.”

I mean, FFS, people. I live in the Bay Area, in an area that is flooded with Asians. It’s not like we’re somewhere that I’m a tiny minority and I’m some type of unicorn.

So, what does it say about this woman that she has so little exposure to Asians that she thinks everyone is foreign born? And doesn’t see anything wrong with that assumption?

Here’s a thought: maybe the reason I don’t have an accent when I speak English IS BECAUSE I WAS BORN HERE.

Then I thought, maybe it was the fact that I was homeschooling my kid in Chinese that threw her off.

But then I thought, being fluent in another language doesn’t preclude speaking English without an accent. I mean, come on people. That’s just sloppy reasoning.

So here’s the part that really makes me mad: why do people have to ruin being otherwise nice and lovely people by lazy thinking?

I mean, what was I supposed to do? Be mean? Come back with what I wish I could say in these situations with, “How come your  English is so good?” and then act super surprised that she was born in the US?

Instead, of course, I just swallow all of the snark because if I didn’t, I’d be immediately shunted into “angry minority” status and who wants to be that? Who wants to always be so angry? Or have people be worried that they have to “watch what they say” around me?

But seriously. WHY CAN’T PEOPLE WATCH WHAT THEY SAY AROUND ME?

I mean, I watch what I say around white people all the time (unless I know that they are a safe space or ally). In fact, many minorities do this type of code-switching all the time. But think about it, it’s not just minorities. It’s everyone. You change your language and adapt your behaviors depending on what group you are with.

So why is it so hard to think a little more carefully about what you have to say?

I realize this post is all over the place. Mostly, because I am all over the place about it. I’m annoyed at this person, and then annoyed at myself for being annoyed.

I’m annoyed at society for being conducive to this type of racist stupidity – and for general stupidity. (Talk about being mad at the ocean for being wet or salty or huge.)

And I’m annoyed because I know I am guilty of this same lazy thinking all the time. We can’t help it. It’s ingrained.

And yet, I would like to think that when confronted, I attempt to change.

So though you are not that lady, please consider this a polite reminder to really think about the stuff you say. Whether it is some glib comment about body types, or values, or poor people, or black people, or Republicans, or whatever.

Really think.

And not just because of some possible threat to your personal safety or personal concept of who you are as a person.

Think things through because faulty reasoning is bad for everybody. And what does it hurt us to change our way of speaking if it spares someone pain and harm?

Alright. As usual, I’m having difficulty ending this piece. So, I’ll just leave it at this: Have a lovely Monday.

The Slow Crazy-Making Of Microaggressions

Have you ever thought you smelled gas or a burning smell but couldn’t find the source no matter how much you tore apart your home to find it? And because it’s something that could be life threatening, you keep smelling it – long after you’re mostly certain that you were imagining it? Only to later find out that there really was something wrong?

Last year, I was visiting a friend’s new home and I kept smelling gas in their kitchen and occasionally, outside their house. It got so bad that I finally mentioned something to them. I felt a little embarrassed, but hey, it’s gas. You don’t want there to be some type of explosion and you could’ve done something about it. I prefaced with the caveat that I could totally be making things up, but since it’s free to ask the gas company to come and check it out, no harm, no foul.

Turns out, there WAS a gas leak in their kitchen. I wasn’t crazy.

Or a few weeks ago, I kept smelling something burning in the house and after checking my stove and oven, and walking around my house sniffing, I couldn’t figure it out. A few hours later, my mother came by and called me downstairs. She said, “Your fireplace is on.”

Now, for those of you who haven’t been to my house, that seems super obvious – why didn’t I notice before? Well, the simple answer is this: I have a giant plastic kitchen that takes up the entire front of the fireplace. (I mean, when would I need to use the fireplace in CA? Also, easy baby-proofing!) It’s a gas-lit fireplace with a light-switch on/off and I have it taped down to “OFF.”

It turns out, Gamera had been randomly hitting light switches that morning and she had hit that switch so hard, it broke the tape and the fireplace was turned on, slowly melting my plastic kitchen. Hence, the burning smell.

TERRIFYING. And also, more importantly, I wasn’t crazy.

Or, have you ever forgotten your phone and although no one ever calls you, now that your phone isn’t in your possession, all of a sudden, every ringing phone is yours. Or worse than that, you constantly hear a phantom ringing phone?

Now, imagine this happens every day of your life. Randomly. Sometimes, it’s the smell of gas. Or you think you have tinnitus. Or you hear a constant drip of water. Or random whistling. Whatever drives you nuts because you can’t find the source and do anything about it.

And now, you think you’re crazy because you even hear or smell or see signs of the smell or leak or phone everywhere – even when there is legitimately nothing to worry about.

That, my friends, is a tiny example of what it is like for minorities (be it women, race, etc. – anything that is outside of the “norm”) as we experience microaggressions (unintentional discrimination). (A ridiculous term, but I get why there is a term. It just sounds so vapid.)

In many ways, I almost prefer blatant racism because that’s easy to point to. I mean, sure, I Hulk out, (confer that time I got “Ching Chang Chonged”), but ultimately, it’s almost comforting to experience something so tangible. Like, finally, I can point to something to illustrate what I’ve been feeling! (Although technically, people could categorize it as a microaggression as well. I didn’t find anything micro about it!)

But the problem with obvious racism is that it obscures the more mundane things that get to you. Plus, it allows people (including myself) to justify and feel better about themselves. After all, “I’m not burning crosses or calling people the N word! I can’t be racist!”

The problem with microaggressions is that they are hard to prove. The comments seem innocuous and are usually meant that way. But over time, they build up and pretty soon, it’s not just the comment itself that sets off a negative reaction. It’s ALL the comments you’ve ever received.

Like smelling the gas everywhere, after a time, you begin to imagine offenses and become overly sensitive. (Which is a horrible way to live because who wants to be offended all the time? Or to be known as an easily offended person?)

And then when some real shit happens, people think you’re overreacting again.

Trust me. No one wants to be the boy who cried wolf.

And the super annoying thing is that really, the microaggressions come out at random. There is no preparing for it.

Like you could be talking to someone totally fine and seems super cool and then, they come out with, “Where are you from? No, I mean, originally. No, before that. No, I mean, where are your parents from? No, before that.” And you’re like, “Do I fucking know you? Am I renting a house from you? Am I applying for a job and this is an interview that I was unaware of? WHY THE FUCK DO YOU NEED MY CREDIT HISTORY OR WHATEVER?”

Or perhaps you’re riding your bike on a trail and a woman coming from the opposite direction takes up the whole trail by herself and her dog and she doesn’t move out of your way even despite multiple warnings and when it causes you to brake suddenly or run over her fucking stupid dog and causes your bike chain to fall off and you to fall off your bike, she yells, “Go back to where you came from!”

What, Jersey? (True story that happened to my friend.)

After my post last week came out, I had my usual Mandarin playgroup at my house and pretty much every single woman there had a similar story. If you go to any gathering where there are minorities and someone brings this topic up, you will be overwhelmed with stories.

We are not imagining it. This shit happens. All. The. Time.

Here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure we all think or inadvertently say or do racist/sexist/whatever-ist things. That’s the danger of being human and living in a world that requires us to make snap judgments and sweeping generalizations on a daily basis. I get that. It doesn’t make us bad people.

However, how we choose to respond when other people who have been hurt by our comments or behavior inform us (sometimes, un-gently) that they have indeed been hurt or offended might.

Of course, we feel defensive and embarrassed and terribly gauche and misrepresented, but in the end, it doesn’t matter because it’s not about us. It is about the person we have hurt.

And what do we do when we hurt someone? We apologize sincerely for our actions. (Note: We do NOT apologize for them being offended. That is a non-apology and possibly even more infuriating than the original offense.)

I have more to say on this matter, but I’ll save it for another post. Suffice to say, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for awhile (on Reality and how stating Reality is not a judgment on anyone but just a statement of facts) and I just haven’t had the time yet to give form to my inchoate thoughts.

May all your aggressions today be macro instead of micro. Oh wait, that was NOT the point of this post. At all.