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Koji's Column

What Would You Do?

I am a coward. It’s easy to fight racism when it’s in the abstract, but it’s so much harder to do it when it smacks you in the face. I was smacked and didn’t do anything. Actually, I just ran away.

Okay, let me explain. I recently had a phone meeting with a person who wanted to represent my writing. It was the opportunity that I had been waiting for for a long time. It was going to be my big break!

At first, everything was going so well. He seemed like one of those fun older guys who had a sharp tongue. I was trying to play it cool to get him to like me and therefore represent me.

And then it happened. He said something about Chinese people, and he accompanied the statement with a series of racist and annoyingly stereotypical ching chongs. I was horrified. I was caught off guard. I would like to think that I am the kind of guy that would tell him to “f**k off,” that I didn’t need him. Instead, I pretended I didn’t hear it and finished the phone call. I acted civil, said goodbye, and promised to send him some of my writing.

After the call, I felt horrible. I thought about what he said. I thought about my reaction. I thought about all the things that I should have said. I thought about all the things I didn’t say. The more I thought, the more I felt like a coward.

Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has said something racist around me... but this is the first time it came from someone that I thought I needed something from. It was the first time I had something to actually lose if I said the first thing that came to mind.

I decided I needed to do something. Anything. So my protest was to just not send him my writing, not to return his emails or his phone calls—even after he had left me countless messages, in each one, getting angrier and angrier with me for not returning his calls.

I know this is chicken sh*t. I know that I should call him and tell him that what he said was offensive and ignorant. I know I should tell him that I wouldn’t want a racist like him to represent me even if it meant that I would never find representation for the rest of my career, but that’s just not me. I’d rather just forget that it happened and try to find someone else.

My question for all of you is this: What would you have done?

© 2009 Koji Steven Sakai

identity racial stereotypes

About this series

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.