Open Scene: Community Picnic, Fall 2017
“Mama, mama, mama, mom, mom, mom…”
“Can I have more rice?”
“My hot chocolate is too hot. I burned my tongue, see?”
“Okay, sh…. Please, just eat some of your food because it’s going to get cold and you won’t want to eat it.”
*Spoons toddler son a mouthful of rice in a second of silence*
“Hey Ching chong Chinamen…”
WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCKING HELL.
“Excuse me, what?! Get a life!!”
“Oh shit….” *Scamper* *Scamper*
“Mom, what did they say?”
“Mom, you said we were supposed to be nice to people. That wasn’t nice.”
“Mom, what did they say? Why did they say ching chong?”
Scene Fades Out.
I have recently had multiple conversations with people in which the forefront of them has a veiled excuse (or screaming microagression, it just depends on which side of the looking glass you are) that the racist things said and done to me and others, should be looked at on a case by case basis and that I should give people more of a benefit of a doubt because I live in North Dakota. Because maybe people haven’t traveled or people don’t know anyone of color outside of their movies and television screens.
I will not excuse you from saying something or doing anything that is racist and allow you to say “I’m not a racist because I have a [insert token friend/family member/coworker/teacher/I-don’t give a shit].” Or “I’m not a racist, can’t you take a joke?” Or “I’m not a racist, you’re just too politically correct and need to get over ‘it.’”
Because…do you even know what ‘IT’ is?!
I have taken up my cross to bear in this conversation, in this acrimonious section of American life to, for the most part, educate. But to be honest, it’s mostly because I don’t have a choice. Because the day I was conceived my DNA dictated my browner skin, my dark hair, and my almond eyes. I cannot scrub the brown off, I won’t wear my sunglasses at night, and I can’t change that I’m not white anymore than you can change your genetics. And I’ve taken it on because I don’t want this for my kids. I don’t want this for your kids or any other adult.
And I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, the victim should not have the onus of proof placed upon them in any situation. The victim should be able to call a spade a spade and then the burden of proof should be placed on the perpetrator—including obtaining the education to simply just be a better person. Damn, strive to be a better person by learning and educating yourself to live in community. We all live in communities and they are increasingly growing in a global way, and yes, even in North Dakota.
Because I can remember the first time kids pulled their eyes back with their fingers and with each passing year how the kids may have changed but the subject of their ridicule never did. I can remember the first time someone asked me if I liked “flied lice” and the triumphant look of someone who had just thought up the funniest joke they’d ever heard. And their face afterwards when I didn’t laugh. How offended, how angry they were at me for not being able to “take a joke.” I can remember the first time I was called a chink by a boy that I didn’t want to date. I remember the nicknames alluding to my sexuality, which is obviously ferocious and dragon-like. I remember my substitute teacher making all of the kids who weren’t white stand up to prove a point about immigration—and waiting until myself and the lone bi-racial girl in our class were forced to stand as exhibit A and B. I remember being mistaken for my father’s mail-order wife. I remember the first time someone told me my “English was so good” and I “spoke so well” in a loud, exaggerated voice—to make sure that I could understand
And even still, do you know the worst thing about all of these examples? The worst thing is that I can’t remember the number of all the other times that these exact and barely varying scenarios played out. Scenarios that included myself being subjected to someone else’s ignorance and expected to forgive and forget or “educate because they don’t know better.” I can’t remember because they happen so damn often. Regardless of where I live or where I visit or where I go. Of who I am. It doesn’t matter how much slack I give in conversation, how “understanding” I am in response to racist jokes and spoken stereotypes. It doesn’t matter how often I give a benefit of doubt when it’s never returned based on the color of my skin.
Because I don’t look like someone’s “American,” I am not.
I couldn’t be.
I cannot be.
I am not.
I’m always still the Ching Chong Chinaman.