Dealing With Racism

Originally published: Thu, 08 Feb 2007 17:44:49 -05:00

Like many people of color raised in the United States, I have had my share of racial name calling and attacks. Born and bred in the American heartland, memories of being teased in the playground and being physically attacked during school recess for being the only Asian is apart of my childhood memories. The scars of such childhood attacks run deep and often brings out emotional and irrational responses when racially discriminatory incidents arise in one’s presence. When someone calls me “chink” or uses “ching chong” sounds to address me, the blood would start to flow and a pounding would begin to rise in my head. At that point, rational thought would fade and angry emotional outbursts would take over. This was common throughout my young adult life. Some friends would tell me that I was a magnet for racist comments and would say “only when I hang out with you, do I ever get that kind of stuff” (they don’t hang out with me anymore… 🙂 )

Just 5 years ago, when first coming to Baltimore to go swimming in the local pool with my wife and sister, a few kids in the pool would call me chink. The flashes of that childhood hurt would come back and embarrassingly, I found myself acting like that hurt child and I started hurling insults back. My wife looked at me in amusement and said “they are only kids, you are an adult, why do you react like that?”

“ouch.” I thought about that for a while.

This past Friday evening, while riding the Baltimore metro, two young black high school aged kids walked by me at the metro stop. As they passed, they gave me the “ching chong” sounds and tried to bump into me. Again, the angry emotions were there on the surface of my mind. My tai-chi training was visible as they tried to bump me where they felt the force they exchanged with me sent right back at them. They walked on and went to another place to wait for the train. At that point I decided it was time for me to grow up. I decided to confront the issue as an adult rather than as a child. As I approached them, the kid that bumped me jumped in panic fearing that he would be attacked.

I started the conversation, calmly and matter of factly told him “you know, when you make that ching chong noise at me, it is the same as when white people say those kinds of things about you.” His friend, in a childlike egging on voice said “ohhhhh he just called you a nigger!!” But the young man I confronted said, “shut up, no he didn’t!” He then apologetically said to me “you know, I was just playin….” I said “I know, but I just wanted you to know that” Then I wished him “blessings” as I offered my hand. He shook my hand, and I walked away. As they walked by, the young man I confronted smiled at me and said “see you later!”

Right before the train arrived, an elderly black man who witnessed the whole encounter gave me affirmation in saying “you did the right thing” and well, after 30 years, I hope those childhood scars have finally healed.


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