The other day, i was at the airport checking in for my flight. There was a Chinese family ahead of me in line, clearly struggling with a lot of luggage, and speaking loudly in Chinese. I could hear the white woman behind me getting increasingly disturbed by their mere presence, and when one of their family members slid past me to join his family, she loudly muttered, with so much hatred in her voice, “You could just say excuse me! It’s not that hard!” I turned to look at her, and she expectantly looked at me as if i were going to gang up with her to bully the noticeable foreigner. Instead I gave her my dirtiest look and said, “Good for you, white lady”. She looked shocked for a moment, and when I turned back around, I heard her whisper under her breath “racist.”
On a similar occasion, I was at a restaurant in Chinatown, Manhattan, celebrating with fellow activists for pulling off an inspiring vigil to commemorate the death of Vincent Chin. I was tired from the night but feeling happy and proud of what we had accomplished. When I went to use the restroom, a white woman waiting for the stall was visibly enraged by how long the person in the stall was taking. When a small Chinese woman, clearly one of the cooks, emerged from the stall, the white woman accosted her with insults, and turned to me as if i would sign on to her abuse, saying “Can you believe that? So rude!” I looked at her with the look i reserve for stupid white people, and said, “No you’re the one being rude. Calm the hell down.” Her eyes narrowed and I could see her fumbling to find the most hateful thing she could respond with, something that would remind me of my place. Sneering, she abruptly demanded, “Where are you from??” As if my answer to that question would be my weakness. As if even though we were standing in a Chinese restaurant in chinatown, and she was a tourist, she could still belittle me as a foreigner. I said, “None of your fucking business, white trash.” I regret the classist aspect of that statement, since she really embodied that stereotype, but otherwise, trash would be a very fitting metaphor for this particular woman.
I feel like i often encounter situations like this, where white people find any excuse to abuse people of color allegedly because of some displeasing way they have behaved, some way they have not followed proper white manners. The white person believes they have the moral high ground in the situation because the person of color has failed to be worthy of respect, when really, the only thing they did to offend the white person was to exist. This often happens to more unassimilated Asian immigrants, who can’t use their perfect English and white manners as shields to deflect all possible attacks. Aside from pure hatred, their attacks stem from their failure to see that their existence is not universal, and what they consider proper is completely relative. At the same time, they fail to follow values that are actually pretty universal, such as showing others kindness and empathy and respect. Blatantly attacking someone because they did not follow what you believe to be manners, which you are clearly so proud to be more versed in than them, is not only universally rude and terrible, but incredibly pathetic.
Also notice that in both situations, the White person expected me to help them attack the more vulnerable person. Racism gets us to believe that we are being attacked for something we actually did, and that racist abuse is deserved. That if we could just speak english better or learn better manners, we would be treated as equal. But that is never the case, because the problem lies in the sickness of the person who attacks, who wants to define themselves via white supremacy and gets a thrill from being able to overpower someone they view as less powerful in a given society.
As someone who is educated and speaks English perfectly and knows how to offend white people only when I mean to, I am in a position to avoid most of these situations, or when they rear their head anyway, to fight back and refuse to be disempowered. But because of the way racism works, my body extends out into the bodies of everyone in the world who looks like me. Every asian body is a chance for some random racist to attack and denigrate my identity, and protecting myself is never enough. When I saw those two ladies so eagerly attacking people who were clearly not in a position to fight back, I thought of the times I saw people treat my mom in the same way, or the ways people treated me when I was just a helpless Asian kid who did not know why white adults were so displeased with my behavior. An attack against any person of color is an attack against me. That’s why I make it my business to confront people doing that shit, and use every weapon I have forged to act as a mirror to reflect their ugliness back at them, and refuse to let them use me and my people as fodder to make them feel better about their trashy selves. And when I do so, I believe it’s necessary to point out their whiteness, because white people believe they can be raceless when it comes to facing the repercussions of their assholery, meanwhile depending on and emboldening their sense of white supremacy when attacking people of color.