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Warning: Japanese lady say not-so-nice things about racists!

I was in my early twenties, at a dinner party. The host, a friend of mine, used the “N-word” in a conversation and after a couple of nervous giggles, everyone went on eating their pasta puttanesca like nothing had happened. I tried to, but couldn’t and I made a feeble attempt at approaching the subject, saying something like, “About that word—it was offensive but you know that, right?” my voice shaking the entire time. I remember there were no nervous giggles after that, only a dead silence that seemed to go on forever until my friend simply responded, “I was joking,” in a tone that implied I had ruined her dinner party. I still think she ruined her own party with her foul mouth and overdone penne, but I know I was in the minority.

I was in my teens, at a McDonald’s with four other friends who were Asian. There we were, trying to enjoy our forty-cent Big Macs, when from the next table we heard the words “chink” and “Jap” in the louder-than-necessary conversation from four Caucasian girls at the next table as they glanced our way. Then, the unmistakable sounds of, “Ching chong ching chong,” which as all Asians know, is code for, “I mock the language of your people because I am a turd.” We sat there, our cheeks burning, getting angrier by the minute but saying nothing. After they left we noticed they went to sit on a bus bench. We all locked eyes over our McNuggets and knew we had the same idea. We bought four large sodas and headed to our car, two of us in the passenger-side seats armed with two drinks each. We drove by slowly, and at the perfect moment rolled down our windows, doused them in a fountain of Coke and yelled out, “CHIIIING CHONGGGGGG.”

I know, I probably handled the first situation better than the second.

But what they have in common is that I feel like I did something. Anything. Fought back. Raised my voice (even if it was shaking and more of a whimper.) Went against my Asian nature and wasted FOUR WHOLE SOFT DRINKS (sorry, mom.) Did I change anything? Maybe. Probably not. But I didn’t just ignore it.

I’m not sure what to make of all of the anti-Asian racism that’s been stirred up by the disaster in Japan. D-list “actors”, talk-show hosts, bloated gasbags, bimbos in push-up bras—they’ve all declared open season on Asians, and particularly on the people of Japan suffering through an unimaginable tragedy. What is it about the fact that tens of thousands of people have lost their lives that’s making it okay to make racist comments and insensitive jokes? Because jokes about the Tsunami are so funny, and so are jokes about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki! I laugh so hard I fall out of my rickshaw!

And make no mistake—those of you who try and defend a racist? Are just as guilty as they are.

(The Los Angeles Times even notices that there’s a level of inappropriateness not seen after other recent disasters and credits it to a “reservoir of prejudice” against the Japanese people and says the disaster may be “bringing up culturally accepted prejudice against [them.]” Well, that is just great.)

Many well meaning friends (and I know they mean well) have told me to ignore it, but I’ve come to firmly believe that’s not the solution. As an Asian friend and I discussed, ignoring it would definitely be the “Asian” thing to do—turn the other cheek, don’t give it credence. But in the end, we decided that not only do we have a right to feel outraged, but an obligation to talk about it, to complain about it, to post it ad nauseam on our Facebook walls so other people get angry, too. I’m grateful to whoever it was that was pissed off enough about that idot’s Twitter comments to bring it to the attention of AFLAC so that they fired him.

(Oh wait…I have my own joke! Gilbert Gottfried used to be the voice of a duck but now he’s a horse’s ass! See…no racism in that and it’s still hi-larious!)

More importantly, what kind of lesson am I setting for my girls if I refuse to speak up and make some noise in the face of racism, or any kind of injustice for that matter? (I’m proud of Kira for calling a classmate on an anti-gay remark he made, and then refusing to speak to him for a week. Even though she thought he was kind of cute.) I don’t want them to ignore the kid making the “slanty eyes” gesture at them, or calling them “chop suey.” (Yes, those are true stories.) It was a different world when I was a teen, so maybe I wouldn’t recommend the Coke-dousing approach, but I certainly don’t want them to sit back and say nothing. Perhaps an app to give a virtual drink-in-the-face to respond to racist remarks? Quick, find me an Asian who is good with the technology.

Last night I was talking to my cousin, and we were both saying how the tragedy in Japan has brought out a new-found pride in being Japanese. I’m feeling their pain acutely, but I’m also feeling pride in how they’re handling the crisis, and the stories of their grace in the face of such extreme hardship is showing the world a whole new level of dignity. Which makes the recent ugliness directed towards them that much more painful.

And for that reason, I will speak up. I will feel hurt. I will get angry. I will fight back at the haters who try to demean me or those I love. Even if it means ruining someone’s dinner party.

This was originally published on the blog “Sweatpantsmom” on March 18, 2011

© 2011 Marsha Takeda-Morrison

anti-asian identity JPquake2011 racism