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Race That Four-Letter Word

Here it is: my post about race and how that affects me as an Asian parent. Please bear with me as I bang it out, very unpoetically.

Julie Pippert from The Ravin' Picture Maven wrote the following quote; one that was written in regards to a topic regarding race and blogs post-BlogHer '07, but one that is germane to all matters of race, in my opinion:

"...while I don't think another person's race ought to matter to me, in my assessment of them, it can matter to them in how they feel a part of the world and therefore I ought to respect that, especially if they ask me to consider it as part of my understanding of them as an individual. I ask the same. My racial experiences are a part of me, too, and have affected how I view race, racial issues, and culture."

I have many experienced many racial incidents that have shaped my views. There are two, however, to which I always return.

* * *

My parents, who came to America from Korea in their 20s, owned a jewelry store. As a kid, I spent much of my time there helping out. One day, two teenage girls were browsing the display cases. They wasted my time asking to look at this and that, and I obliged because that was my job. At one point one of the girls fiddled with her bracelet and accidentally dropped it in the crack between two display cases. I told her to hold on, and asked my Dad if he had something long with which to it fish it out. He walked back over to the girls to take a look, and then asked them something I did not hear as I searched for a rescue tool.

One of them answered, "Ching chong chong chong?" They looked at each other and laughed hysterically.

This — I heard. I walked over, angry, and pulled my Dad away. Then turned to them and said, "Get your &^%* bracelet out yourself."

They looked at us with surprise. My Dad shook his head and in Korean, said something to the effect of, "Screw them. Let me just get it for them so they can leave."

He helped the girls retrieve their bracelet, and without even a thank you, they turned and left.

* * *

Perhaps you can see (or perhaps you can't) why I, personally, am offended by that ridiculous phrase; those cursed words directed at Asians by people who have no wit to stand by so rely on a schoolyard taunt probably originated by six-year-olds. As an adult, maybe I should be able to get over it, as I have been told so many times. However, that one phrase immediately calls to mind the above memory. It is one that causes me to clench my fists as I think about chasing after two ignorant girls. It is one that makes me want to stand up for my parents and go to the mattresses. I respect that my parents were not willing to make a scene, and I knew, deep down, that those two girls were not worth the trouble. But it is part of my experience and short of those girls finding me and apologizing, I suspect it is not one that I will completely get over.

Growing up, I tried to ignore such racially charged, derogatory comments, but on occasion I realized some people were just a product of their environment. And sometimes, I would get to know these people and eventually, befriend them. It wasn't that I necessarily wanted them as friends. It was more selfish; I needed to know that people weren't inherently cruel and callous and that they could change their attitude. I needed people to know that racist comments were unacceptable, and I needed them to know that I was more than just a race. However, I've also felt bitter and wondered why I've had to even prove anything; bitter that I even had to make this kind of effort.

* * *

As an adult working in Boston, I got off at Back Bay Station one day and headed towards the exit. Two young boys walked in as I walked out and we nearly collided into each other. I stepped aside and said, "Oh, sorry. Go ahead."

The two boys waltzed by, and I heard one of them say to the other, "Ching chong ching chong." They both laughed hysterically.

I was stunned — not so much because, obviously, I've never heard those words, but because I was polite to them, and they still felt the need to be rude for no apparent reason. And they had an attitude about it — as if they had every right to react that way. I took two steps out the door, then stopped and turned around. I pictured myself grabbing that kids' jacket and asking for his phone number so I could call his mother and tell her what her child said. And then I realized that there was a chance he learned this type of behavior at home. I was frozen at the prospect of dealing not only with an ignorant child, but perhaps an ignorant parent as well.

I turned around and headed home. And I understood, with a very heavy heart, the thick, infiltrative nature of ignorance. I understood the influence a parent could have on their child just by the environment he/she provides. I realized how tired I was of trying to alter the perception of even one person. And I understood, most of all, how my parents must have felt that one day.

* * *

After thinking about this more, I find it interesting that both of these incidents involve parents: the first, my own; and the second — in my mind anyway — the young boy's. I remember vividly how my parents reacted and how I was expected to react. I was very protective of my parents, and I still am. As for the boy's parents — perhaps they would have been shocked and disappointed in their son. Perhaps they would have repeated the ignorance. At the time, I didn't have the energy to find out.

Now that I have kids, I have wondered what my racial stamp will be. I realize that I, as a parent, have the ability to instill in my children the difference between right and wrong; between acceptance and racism. I also realize that I have a job not only as a parent, but also as a minority — that job that so tired me previously. I need to provide my kids with another attitude. One that is forgiving, yes, but not weak. One that is open to the possibility of ignorance, but not open to excusing it. One that is friendly, but not desperate for acceptance. One that is forceful and strong, but not violent. One that is confident. One that can change other negative attitudes. One that will (hopefully) help change and shape the future.

Those are just two experiences that have shaped my racial views. To paraphrase Julie: this is what matters to me. Go ahead Internet — it's your turn.

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