“We’re going! If you can’t handle being around people, you shouldn’t be around people. So, we’re going!”
And that little piece of conversation is how I could have gotten arrested tonight.
Context: After a long day at an amusement park, I headed out to one of the local fish markets with my partner and our seven-year-old daughter to pick up dinner. (And to add to the context, I should mention that my daughter is Caucasian and looks nothing like me.) What with her being on the slightly exhausted side, her level of intensity was … let us say, elevated. That is how she has dealt with fatigue for as long as I can remember—she takes her intense default self and jolts it through the roof. Thus, after nine hours of amusement park extravaganza with one of her best friends, she decided to turn the fish market into a basketball court when asked to throw something in the trash. She also made sure to interrupt any and every conversation that did not have the decency to situate her at the center. Her many antics got in the way for a handful of our fellow customers, and she was repeatedly going in and out of the doors. And with her zooming here and there, it was probably easier to keep track of Donald Trump’s ever-changing Cabinet.
So, my partner and I very pedagogically explained to her that the fish market was not at a playground and that the entrance door was not a play structure for her to climb. In addition, we said we were at an eatery where people would probably appreciate a meal without necessarily having to engage with
her very noticeable presence. We made this point clear not once, not twice, but five or six times. When she, for the umpteenth time, decided that it was a much better idea to give in to her impulses than listening to our reasoning, I lost patience and declared that if she could not handle being around people, she should not be around people. I said she and I would head back home while my partner stayed to pick up our food.
As I declared this, we walked past a customer who turned to me and said I was being abusive and that I should address the little girl with respect. For two seconds, a thought struck me that had it been my (very white) partner and not me, this woman would have said “your daughter” instead of “the little girl”. Though, tired as I was, I was not about to start a civil philosophical discussion with her about her racial bias. Instead, I settled for feeling attacked and violated, having no interest in enlightening her about race and language. Sure, my tone towards my daughter was not the most pleasant. Her erratic behavior was not really working wonders with my mood. Also, it was getting to that time of day where she obviously could no longer be in a crowded space. After nine hours of crazy that only an amusement park can conjure, along with her repeatedly ignoring any reasoning to calm down, I could simply not find a patient tone —if I had one in the first place. So, yes, I probably came across as a little harsh with my daughter when I scolded her. Not livid. Not furious. But definitely harsh.
Since I did not want to engage in philosophical discussions of any kind with the woman, I firmly asked her to stay out of my business, and told her that she did not know the background behind the tone I was using, harsh or not, and that she should probably refrain from passing judgment derived from three sentences she heard out of context.
To make things worse, a second customer suddenly came out of nowhere and demanded that I get out of the fish market. He said that he was trying to enjoy his dinner and felt interrupted. The fact that the woman was just as loud, if not louder, did not seem to bother him as much—or to be frank, the slightest. In any case, he did not tell her to leave, and when asked why, he replied that he had not heard nor seen her. Gotta admire selective perception.
As luck would have it, the partner of the woman—an off-duty cop—also approached us and whipped out his badge. He had only picked up bits and pieces when he intervened, but it did not stop him from giving me the rundown anyway. In addition to lecturing me about Oregon state laws, he threatened to have me arrested. Knowing the racial disparities in American police violence, the rational part of me made sure to choose my words and tread gently. The less rational part of me, though, would not have the injustice of racial disparities and, thus, made sure to consistently ignore any attempts made by the off-duty cop to get my attention. And just out of spite, I deliberately extended my conversation with the woman by relaying to her the context as to why I was irritated with my daughter in the first place. I thanked her for her concern and exclaimed that I did understand how my actions may have appeared harsher than they were intended.
Not accepting to have been put on hold, the police officer started to incessantly hit my hand with his badge and declared again that he was an important representative of law enforcement. The woman, however, had been softened by my explanation and shared a story of having a teenage daughter with ADHD, an experience that had taught her how important it is to talk to girls in a respectful tone, she explained. I wanted to dive into a profound philosophical discussion on gender equality and the empowerment of men through feminism, but by that point, my energy level was just enough to get me out of there and home.
So, I decided to stay out of further verbal entanglement and to rest the race card that I did not want to play—simply because I do not enjoy playing the race card. But race card or not, the whole situation could be summed up with the following: I am Asian. My daughter is Caucasian. So was the woman. The angry guy who could not finish his dinner was Caucasian. So was the off-duty cop. In the whole series of events, there was one antagonist—me. I am the perfect stereotypical angry Asian, talking disrespectfully to a little Caucasian girl, no less. As far back as my days as a student in elementary school, I have learned that me mistreating a Caucasian classmate has vastly different consequences than a Caucasian classmate mistreating me. Thus, I do not even have to imagine why no one reacted to a Caucasian mother whacking a Hispanic boy over his head a few months ago at Walmart (which I, to be honest, did not witness, but have only secondary sources about).
More so, back to my current incident, upon witnessing a verbal disagreement, the angry guy saw and heard me, but not the Caucasian woman with whom I was arguing. The sad thing is, I actually believe that he genuinely did not see or hear her—yet, not as sad as the Caucasian police officer threatening to arrest me four times without even taking into account all the circumstances of the situation. He already had his own narrative made up. At one point, the woman even had to inform him that I did not physically abuse my child, just verbally. I wanted to counter that having an angry and unpleasant tone does not equate to verbal abuse. Verbally belittling someone is abuse. Verbally degrading someone is also abuse. But losing your patience and using a harsh tone is not. Though at that point, I could tell from my daughter’s facial expression that she would rather not prolong the unpleasant experience. I agreed. Besides, the black hole of racial bias that I was sucked into was not really in my favor.
All of the above happened in under ten minutes, during which an Asian man, I, was ganged up on by three Caucasians on overall questionable grounds—an experience that constitutes the perfect microcosm of a much bigger problem that most People of Color face. Some facts: In 2015, racial minorities made up 37.4 percent of the general population in the U.S., but no less than 62.7 percent of the unarmed victims killed by police. In 2012, the African-American population accounted for 31 percent of the victims killed by police, even though African-Americans comprised just 13 percent of the U.S. population. African-Americans are more likely to be arrested for drugs, even though they are not more likely to use or sell them. African-American inmates are dis-proportionally represented in prison. And even though I am not black, being Asian and gay in a straight Caucasian society, I am not only the minority, but I am minoritized.
I understand the point-of-view of the woman who first interfered. With a child with ADHD, she could not avoid being sensitized to certain things. In hindsight, on some level, I am glad that there are people who will interfere when they believe that they see something wrong. However, after being a member of two minority groups for four decades, I have days when I get tired of understanding, taking in, and relativizing. I have days when I am drained from having to deal with assumptions and bias. Some days, all I can muster is to roll my eyes at people who do not even realize that they are biased. Though it is not very constructive to dwell, as a member of the non-majority, I have to be twice as constructive to earn half the understanding for mere scraps of societal acceptance. The same kind of acceptance that the straight male Caucasian cop takes for granted. My humiliation was not his repeated threats to arrest me. Rather, it was to not be able to fully speak my mind, knowing what people like him can do to people like me. My humiliation was also that the woman turned directly to my daughter and told her to go home and make sure that I treated her with respect—as if she had any idea about how I treat my daughter—effectively stripping my agency as an adult. That is what white people do to People of Color in this country. That is what white people have done to People of Color in this country for the past five centuries. That is why racial minorities make up the majority of police killings. That is why African-Americans are dis-proportionally represented in prison. Without agency, we do not have a voice. Without a voice, I will continue to be the stereotypical angry Asian they need me to be.
Spoke Wintersparv likes words. Writing them, stretching them, translating them, lining them up to form tiny pieces of life. In song lyrics. In children’s books. A novel. An Arthur Miller play. Short stories. Published. Self-published. Unpublished. He is currently doing his PhD in Educational Research, exploring the ways teachers teach literature. And while work is in Sweden, home is in Oregon, where he lives with his husband and their daughter. He enjoys a good conversation about things that matter. Find him on Twitter (@wintersparv) and join the discussion!