The Chinese Don't Eat Babies: A Story of Casual Racism
A fertility clinic and a Chinese restaurant stood side by side in the plaza across from a bus stop. As I was waiting for my bus there were two white girls standing in the shelter with me. I was already annoyed with them because I’d just gotten off another bus with them and they had been loud and obnoxious. My patience for bad manners is next to none.
You can imagine then, how pissed I was about what happened next. One of the girls turned to the other, pointing out the clinic and restaurant and said with a snicker, "You know what that means." I got it immediately. Her friend was slower to catch on, but when she finally got the "joke" she went, "Oh! Chinese people eat babies?!" The first girl let off a giggle that ground my gears.
The second one glanced at me, willing me to laugh, or pretend I didn't hear, whichever one would make things less awkward. But I'm not in the business of pandering to racism. So I met here eye instead. I was staring dead into her baby blues with the driest expression I could manage. For those of you who know me personally, you know my stink face is deadly. Imagine it turned up a few notches. Then I very deliberately rolled my eyes. The kind of eye roll that says, “Are you serious?”
The two girls fell quiet. One began to sing "Bubble Butt" to cover the awkward silence. As if that weren’t annoying enough, she was off key and her dance moves lacked anything resembling rhythm. The discomfort they were feeling was really obvious and I refused to ease it by averting my eyes. In that moment, I imagined they were the type to excuse their racism with statements like, "I'm not racist! I have black friends. I like black music." That set my eyes rolling again. When the bus came, they picked seats as far away from me as they could manage. I probably still looked angry and they probably still felt bad.
As I sat at the back of the bus, I thought about how sometimes racism is as casual as a tasteless joke that implies an entire cultural group is inhuman enough to cook, serve and dine on fetuses. Sometimes racism looks like the eyes of someone who's said something awful about a race of people searching for validation from someone of another race. It made me wonder why they thought they could get me to laugh along with their awful comment.
I mean, what did they expect? Did they honestly think that they could turn to the black girl to co-sign their casual racism? The irony of the fact that they tried to use hip hop to cover the awkwardness when the black girl wouldn’t play nice does not escape me. I had to question for a moment how many times they’d had someone of one race join in while they were making racist comments about others. I thought of all the times I ever turned away or acted like I hadn’t heard when someone else was being victimized. I’m really not proud of those moments.
I think all of us, no matter our race, have a responsibility to call out and address racism, even if we’re not the targeted group. Far too often, we duck our heads or avert our eyes if we’re not the butt of the joke. And a lot of people from oppressed groups are quick to buy into the prejudices and snap judgments made about other oppressed people as if we don’t deal with the same things on a regular basis.That's got to stop. I know this is a tough ask particularly for black people who have to deal with anti-blackness from virtually everywhere, but it doesn’t do anyone any favours for us to ignore racism or participate in prejudice.
I’m not asking anyone to start a movement or make a picket sign, but don’t let anyone use you to justify their racism. Stop averting your eyes and pretending not to hear. Roll your eyes instead. Shake your head. Give a pointed stare. I don't know if those two young girls will stop making racist jokes, but for the moment that my eyes burned into theirs, they knew that what they said wasn't right. It might be naive to hope that moment made a difference. But at worst, it made no difference at all. At best, they’ll check themselves next time. I'll take those odds.