By Rissa San Miguel, Staff Writer
It’s virtually a given that each one of us has experienced some form of racial stereotyping, whether at work or play, and yet many of us are unsure how to respond to them. More often than you care to admit, you simply let it slide.
Common racial epithets and stereotypes aside, the point of this article is to not just empower you to address society when people make these ignorant remarks, but to do so in a straightforward and civil way that, ideally, will also enlighten them to their hurtful, and often unintentional, insults.
“She’s sexy, I’d like to kung-pao that chicken all night!”
“You got a D on your Chem exam!? Aren’t you supposed to be, like, a brainiac?”
“I heard [insert race] women make good wives because they’re beautiful, exotic, excellent cooks and don’t argue back!”
True stories, whether from personal experience or shared.
Long story short, as Asian-Americans, we’ve lived on U.S. soil almost as long as our tormentors have, and yet we are still largely invisible. What is portrayed of us in media is often demeaning – though we’ve made dramatic strides as a whole, there are gaps in places such as the South and the Midwest that do not yet have a large, visible Asian population, so these stereotypes seen on screen become persona personified.
The question is, how have you responded? Have you meekly walked by, pretending you didn’t hear it, or hurled insults right back? The former will bolster the commenter’s confidence, the latter could get you a drink in the face (also true story. Not mine, happily.) Either way, nothing gets accomplished.
Choosing to ignore them only prevents their realization of harm inflicted, or becomes an assumption that it’s a typical reaction from you or someone like you, and ignorant remarks continue to happen. On the other hand, antagonizing them only serves to put them in a defensive position, refusing to listen and categorizing you and others like you as bitchy, or worse.
We are walking paradoxes, trying to assert our individualism, yet still (and perhaps forever) responsible for our ethnic image as a whole. Like our sorority, we have a central image to uphold. We have nicknames and numbers to distinguish us, but when we wear our letters, we caution our neos to do so with dignity. Why? Because it reflects back on us, our sorority, even our ethnic identity. Likewise, your reply will reflect back on who you are, and who you may also represent.
So consider that parallel the next time you come across a similar circumstance that makes you think: hit (metaphorically) or run? Be who you are when you respond: quiet, timid, ballsy, nerdy, sassy – tell them if it offended you, acknowledge their failed but well-intentioned compliment, and let them know that defining an entire race based on one ill-conceived notion is not only unfair, but ignorant. But be direct, be polite and be kind. They’ll listen. Because you give them no ground to fight back or feel stupid when you’re all sugar … with a grain of salt.