No Offense, But Be Offended

We’re having an Irish inspired dinner tonight (which I am very excited about!) and in preparation, I popped the corned beef in the crockpot last night, woke up at 4am smelling the sweet savory goodness, thinking I was dreaming (because I forgot I put it in the crockpot…isn’t that the glorious thing about them?) so I was kind of disappointed but hoped that my dream would let me taste whatever was smelling so good, and then realized that I wasn’t dreaming and that tonight, I would be able to dig in! (How’s that for a rambling run-on sentence!)

One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell is actually about my sister. My sister and I are both Asian and my parents are white. I think they had been living in the South but were back up North when my dad and my sister were walking through the mall. Apparently, she was talking with a Southern accent and as they were passing a guy sitting on a bench, he gave them the most confused look. Which I completely understand! I mean an Asian with a Southern accent? So my dad, being quick-witted, turned to explain, “She’s from South Korea.” The man had a short-lived understanding look but then looked more confused than before. There have been many similar stories that my sister and I could tell you. For us, it can be very amusing and at other times, it’s kind of annoying. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain that I’m adopted from South Korea. It doesn’t seem like I should need to clarify the South part. Another example would be that people seem baffled by the fact I can’t speak Korean. I would understand that if I had told them that I was adopted as a child or teenager, but I was here in the U.S. by the time I was three months old. English is the only language I have known (Well, besides Spanish. Does saying that help my case?). I had someone ask me with the most confused look as to why I couldn’t speak Korean because I have an Asian brain so I should be able to……………………………..yeah, I still don’t really know how to reply to that one. Anyway, the point of all of this is that with all the hype about racism, I thought I’d throw my thoughts out there.

We live in a world where we have to keep expanding the definitions of things in order to satisfy everyone. Do we live in such fear of lawsuits and charges that people can’t be offended? Do people really need to be that sensitive? Do they really need to be ready to pounce on what could be twisted into a racist comment? I had a student come up to me and ask me if I could see as well as they could given that I have squinty eyes. How racist! How dare they point out that my eyes are different from theirs! No, not really. This is a kid who genuinely wants to know the difference. But do you see what I mean? We are so full of ourselves, of how we feel, of our right to something that we jump on anything that could be twisted into something that would offend someone. Don’t get me wrong, though! There are times that people are rude. When I was in middle school, I was on a volleyball team so we had pictures done for the yearbook. I was standing there in my uniform holding my volleyball, smiling with pride that I would be recognized as being on the team when the photographer peeks out from behind his camera and says to me, “Um, you have to open your eyes!” I laugh about it now but I mean, really? Sorry that when I smile my eyes get so squinty that it looks like they’re closed? Only plastic surgery can fix that, dude. And actually, my eyes are open wider in the picture and let me tell you, I look like a maniac/crazed/all around scary Asian. One could take serious offense at his comment and I kinda was offended, but at the same time, it helped me to not be so sensitive about being Asian and learn how to respond to people who make comments like that.

I probably get more annoyed about racist comments and awareness because inside this Asian body is a white girl who loves her cheeseburgers and fries (my husband can attest to that). Besides the way I look, there’s nothing Asian about me. Since I was adopted, I don’t have an accent, I don’t speak Korean, I don’t even know about Korean traditions. But that shouldn’t matter. I’m an American. America is comprised of different people with different heritages. Some people hold onto their heritage and celebrate it which is so great! I love learning those kinds of things and think it’s great how people pass down traditions. But if those things are going to be celebrated, they should be started by those ethnic communities rather than everyone else pointing out that they’re different and suggesting we point out/show those differences. I’ve never really understood phrases like Asian-American, African-American, Irish-American, because we are united by the fact that we are Americans, plain and simple. So by pointing to an Asian and saying they are Asian-American, you are, in a way, being racist. They are Americans. I get pointed out as being different when honestly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. If it weren’t for other people pointing out how different I am from them, I wouldn’t really think about it.

So, point being this: Let’s let racist mean that a person believes their race is superior to another instead of meaning that any comment about how you’re different is racist. The student that asked me about my eyes wasn’t being racist, they just wanted to know and understand something different from their own. Sure the photographer’s comment could be taken as racist and truly offensive but would that really help anything? Would throwing a tantrum and getting all uptight help him understand that I really couldn’t do anything about my eyes? Would it have helped me learn how to respond to other people who make comments like that? Learn to be offended. It could actually help you. Stop trying to fix the problem by focusing on the problem. By focusing on racism, you are giving it more attention than it deserves.

All of that to say, I’m going to be an American – an Asian looking girl wearing green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.



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