Monday, October 23, 2006

Two wrongs don't make a right but...what would YOU do?

To make a long story short...this morning, I got into an argument with a woman in my apartment building. I won't go into all the details but let's just say that it started out being fairly inconsequential but then ended up getting pretty heated.

Now, I'm generally a pretty calm and level-headed guy but certain things push a button in me that can cause me to totally lose my temper. One of those things is being taunted racially.

As I said, the aforementioned woman and I were arguing vehemently. Yes, we were yelling at each other. But, in a way, it was just the sort of normal argumentative discourse that you head every day on the streets of New York.

However, at one point, she just looks at me, spits on the floor, and yells, "Fucking Chinese motherfucker!"...and I fucking lost it.

Instead of being the better man, I retailated right back at her on her own level. I'm not proud of myself but I called her a "f*cking Russian whore" and told her I was going to call INS and "ship her ugly ass back to Siberia."

I don't take racist shit from anybody and to hear it in my own building infuriated the hell out of me. Seriously, I was so angry that it ruined my entire day. I detest the stereotype of the mild-mannered Asian and, in my rage and fury, I fully unleashed on this woman.

Was I wrong to stoop to her level? Absolutely.

Having a child has taught me to be a better man and to set an example that my family can be proud of. But where are the limits of setting that example? I know I was wrong to retaliate with ethnic insults but is that worse than listening to this woman tauntingly insult my race and doing nothing? Hell, at one point, I was proud of myself for not putting her face through a wall.

And would I have acted differently if my daughter was present? Sure, most likely. The need to set a "better" example would have overridden my anger.

But again...when confronted with ignorance and racism, where is the fine line that we need to balance between "being the better person" and "defending one's race and sense of pride?" I don't want to teach my child to react violently when confronted with racism. But, at the same time, I don't want her to ever back down from it.

What would YOU have done in a similar situation? And where do YOU draw the line?


superha said...

In light of what she said, you were probably right in getting as angry as you did. I think perhaps substituting "Russian" for "racist" would have called her out. Thanks for standing up for us.

honglien123 said...

I agree with Superha, I would have called her a racist bitch. I think being labeled a racist is probably the worst thing you could possibly be in a diverse city and society in general has taught people in the last few decades (dude, it's only been 50 or so years since the Civil Right's movement) that the term racist is the equivalent of Nazi.

Puka said...

You're a man after my own heart. Great comeback. I might have cut even lower. I posted something on my blog a few days ago about this. We live in the Florida panhandle, which is essentially the South. I have had my share of problematic people since we moved here a little over a year ago. Yeah, I stoop low, like you did with this bitch, quite frequently. And I ask myself, should I really have said what I said? Maybe I should have been a better person. But what exactly does ignoring the person and moving on accomplish? I don't see where it accomplishes much. It lets jackasses be comfortable in their role of jackasses. But I know I have to walk a fine line, whenever I find it, because my daughter will be two next month and I do need to be a better example.

keomeri said...

You did correct in calling her out, but I agree with Superha that you should have substituted
"Russian" for "racist". I had a similar encounter almost 10 years ago when I was living in Boston. This caucasian lady in her 50s living in the same bldg would always bark orders at me as one would in a restaurant to busboys about how i should do this or that in the bldg that SHE lives in. After taking it a few times, I snapped back and she retorted "I don't WHERE you're from and don't know how people in YOUR country act but in this country, WE treat etc.etc." I'm ethnically Korean and didn't like the racist implication of her retort so I went apeshit. Since that encounter, she never ever made eye contact with me or called me out again for the next two years until i moved out. For some reason, racists always assume asians are passive until they see the non-passive side and then, they think twice before making racist statements....

Sugarbread said...

I'm glad you brought this up because it's a quandary I'm always struggling with. I've had to contend with A LOT of racial taunts growing up, which is why I might have thought I was going to be a Korean American Black Panther when I grew up, but alas, that's another story. I was always aashamed when I couldn't think of anything to say, or was too afraid to say anything back. And the thing I hated the most was when the perfect, cleverest comeback struck me hours after I was humiliated.

But I still don't know what to say.

kathy said...

In situations like the one you describe, I also find it hard to balance standing up for oneself and being the better person--though these two really do mean the same thing. I think you were right to stand up for yourself and I agree that using "racist" would've been good to call her out, but I'm not so sure she would've gotten the point. In an ideal world, we should all be able stand up for ourselves, be the better person, and make others better too. But alas, our world is not ideal...

I had a similar experience a few years ago in NJ. A friend and I were in the ladies room discussing my work (reproductive health and international development) and recent travels to India. Now, this friend of mine did not have a clear understanding of what I did and kept talking about how I worked in "planned parenthood," which is a more loaded phrase. Well, this lady comes out of one the stalls and basically accuses me of killing fetuses! WTF? An argument insued in which she mentioned her 6 children and God, and I mentioned that God didn't tell her to have 6 children... After she left I was still fuming when her friend tried to smooth things over by saying" I'm not sure where you come from, but around here abortion is a serious topic." To which I angrily replied, "I come from Boston and regardless of how I feel about abortion, it is not the same as reproductive health."

Sorry for the long story... Just an example of how I can make both irrational and rational comments in the same argument.

Ka_Jun said...

You should've taken the high road. Whoo. Okay, now that I've spouted the party line *guffaw* "deported to Siberia"...hoo, dang, you must've had an Excedrin headache after that one. My guess is that she didn't think you had a fierce furious command of the English language and she surely didn't expect you to wield it like a club to do battle.

In a similar situation, it really depends on what my id or the voices in my head tell me at the time. Most times, I'm so shocked that someone would straight out hit me with overt racism that by the time I get over my shock, the moment to act has passed. Sometimes I just go thermonuclear and the yelling is on, really depends on how much patience I have on that specific day. The day I was referred to as a "Chinese nigger" was one of those days where I detonated on some poor dumb bastard.

weigook saram said...

Ugh. I'm sorry that happened to you. I remember the first time I witnessed someone saying something racist to my husband, just feeling sort of ill for a long time afterward. We flipped them off and walked away. I think you do have to stand up and say something, but I agree that just calling her a racist probably would have been better.

Skang said...

It's hard to say what any of us would've done given the circumstances, since I'm sure we've all said things in the heat of passion that we might not have said, or said differently afterwards.

But while I'm all for standing up for yourself, using a dis based on the threat of INS deportation feels a little...icky. Especially when one considers how often that line has been used against people of APA descent, many of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

thisislarry said...

wait a minute, did I come back to the wrong frickin country?

MD, dude, yellow card, and you called yourself on it so good on you.

I cant believe almost everyone else is supporting MD for using Russians!?!

Is it really OK to say to ANYONE else: "I'm going to call the INS on you!" !?!?

What would I have done? Well, probably the same thing.

but what I REALLY want to know is: what would Henri have done?


Angela said...

I've been there, in high school during one year on a regular basis, a group of boys called me almost every filthy racist Asian name you can think of when I would walk by...I would retaliate by yelling back that they were stupid, ignorant and white trash. I haven't encountered overt racism like that since those days, if I did I would probably let them know exactly what I thought of them.

Anonymous said...

Been there, done that. We are all human and fight back when pushed (verbal knockdowns). Don't worry about it, she started it. I think if we don't fight back in some situations, its like school yard bullying , just gets worse.
Take care, Lin

Dr. Lo Siento said...

Oh man,
Tough situation, but glad that you did say something. I think sometimes people think that they can say whatever they want to Asians since we are stereotyped as being passive. I wonder if she would have talked to you like that if you were Caucasian or a big buff African American guy. My friends and I wonder about that sometimes when we get comments like that, and think that person might not have said or done that to us if we were some other ethnicity. I could just be paranoid...

daddy in a strange land said...

To follow up on Larry's "WWHD?", isn't the real question "WWNDD?" (What would Ninja-Dad do?) ;)

Deirdre said...

From a strictly having-a-ready-comeback -at-the-right-time standpoint, I'd give you an A- for Siberia.

In the future, should the need arise, I will add "racist" to the verbal mix.

Mama Nabi said...

Ha - I was 8 and 1/2 months pregnant when I got into a fight with a couple of Indians (from India), in front of a Babies'R Us no less. Long story short, they were being inconsiderate in their brand new BMW so we had an earlier altercation in our vehicles (lots of honking on my part - try being patient with a little being bouncing on your bladder 24/7).
As PN and I were crossing the parking lot, they drove up to us, as if to run us over, and gestured. I flipped them off and a couple of guys (in their polo shirts, plaid shorts and flip flips - if you grew up in India, you'd also recognize them as a couple of rich Bollywood-wannabe playboys) jumped out and asked me if I thought I was still in China, that this is America, things are not done the way it's done in China, and whether I thought I could be "uncivilized" like they are in China.
All in a thick Indian accent.
And I highly doubted that they'd ever been to China. I also know about the ethnic prejudice that exists in India toward ethnically 'mongoloid' looking people - my friends from Nagaland (province in India) were often teased. I suppose I could have said I was going to call Homeland Security on them - was tempted to... but I saw a white couple behind us and I could tell that he's thinking the same thing, ready to come to our defense - so I merely called them ignorant bastards and that perhaps they should consider taking their geography class over again. To which one of them said, "Shut up, bitch. Go back to China."
Funny thing is, I was more upset about the whole China this, Chinese that - and PN and the bystander guy were both bristling at the 'bitch' comment.
To answer your question, Metrodad, what I did say was: "Idiots, I'm not even Chinese. I grew up in India so I know what India is like, so get off your high horses. If you're going to get all racist on other Asians, at least work on your accent!" Of course, it was more colorfully decorated with my usual penchant for profanity.
If I weren't so hormonally driven, and were sane, I wish I would have been calmer and asked them how they feel when Americans make fun of their accents or their Bollywood style... but these things are never done in a calm or sane manner, are they? We, as humans, can really be a bunch of assholes.

R2Dad said...

If I was as smart and funny as MD, surely there could be a more humorous, learning and rewarding way to go about this, since (in retrospect) your response ruined your day.

Would I have done what you did? Of course, but then I wouldn't feel good about it afterwards. Plus,don't you worry the wench may have evil plans in the future? When the Peanut IS around? Maybe it's just a NYC thing and it's all forgotten in 20 minutes--but maybe not.

Now I have kids, and have to 1) not get caught losing it in front of them, and 2) lead by example. I was very proud that I DIDN'T lose it when I took R2 to the beach. Right in front of us, some woman with a dog took R2's beach ball and shredded it. No apology, not a word. So, within earshot of this bitch and lots of others nearby, I calmly explained that there are lots of bad dog owners, like this woman, who don't obey leash laws, don't control their dogs, and are irresponsible. Not as gratifying, but in retrospect, more, I don't know...responsible.

Ten Feet of Steel said...

A few years back, I was on line at a Duane Reade in midtown waiting patiently for my turn at the register, when this middle aged white woman cuts line right in front of me.

Me: Excuse me, Ma'am. I was next in line.

Lady: [completely ignores me, despite the fact that I spoke clearly enough for the cashier to hear me and shrug helplessly.]

Me: [even louder] Excuse me! People are waiting in line here, and I was next.

Lady: [still ignoring me]


Lady: [turns around, looks me over] I think in your country maybe they don't teach you how to be polite.

It turns out she has a Russian accent that's about as thick as it can get.

Me: [smoke starts coming out of my ears] In MY country? THIS is my country. In MY country, we're taught to wait our turn on line, not cut in front of other people like some Slavic barbarian.

Lady: [tries to ignore me again]

Me: [still ranting] People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at those who have American passports, bitch. When did YOU get here with that thick-ass Russian accent of yours? You think just because you're white you get to be more American than me?

Lady: [tries a theatrical eye roll at the cashiers, like "oh, she pulled the race card", then realizes that they are all South Asian and not sympathetic to her]

Me: [still ranting] How long have YOU lived in this city? Not long enough to learn the local customs, apparently. Are you even legal?

Lady: ...I think I don't want talk to you no more.

Me: Why? Because you so obviously learned English yesterday and can't keep up with a native speaker?

Lady: [finishes her transaction] I go. I don't want to talk to you no more.

Me: That's right. You go. You take your racist babushka ass back to Russia. 'Cause in MY country, in MY city, we don't let people get away with that shit.

All the cashiers beamed at me, except for the one that let the lady cut in front in the first place. Mostly because I told her that she should have refused to serve the woman, since she clearly saw that she had cut the line.

I've noticed that in situations involving waiting on line, if someone is going to cut, they disproportionately decide to cut in front of me. I think those are stereotypes about passive Asians at work. Which is why a little un-PC anger is OK by me in the face of outright racism. It's highly unlikely that one can teach a racist to see us differently in their own minds, but it is entirely possible to teach racists the benefits of treating us fairly to our faces and in front of other people.

thisislarry said...

10ft: great story! I can see this as a mastercard commercial:

Box of crackers at Duane Reade: $4.50

telling off that racist bitch: priceless.

OTOH interstesting thread: isnt it strange when other immigrants or minorities find it so easy to be racist? I remember being a kid and having some other minority kids call me racist slurs, it was kind of odd.

nina said...

I'm with thisislarry.

Since I probably would have been tongue-tied because I never know how to retort to those things in the moment (although later on I can always think of a thousand things to say), I really admire your ability to actually say anything strong.

But yeah, racist would have been a better choice.

But yeah...drawing the line...I think you draw it wear you feel someone has disrespected you. I wish I was more...I don't know...on my feet about things like this. Able to think of a sharp thing to say. I think that, in the past, I've just tried to pretend not to hear them. Which is so shameful. Really.

Will work on that. Or actually...hopefully, won't have the opportunity. But probably will.

Ten Feet of Steel said...


I'm not at all surprised when other immigrants or minorities are racist. First off, every immigrant group brings its own prejudices and chauvinisms from its native culture (every culture has them). Then, when you think about it, the whole world sees the US through the lens of majority-controlled mass media, which doesn't exactly give a fair and balanced view of what American society is--or of what it should be.

Steve said...

Interesting. I have used what many would consider racist name calling simply to piss off the person with whom I was fighting. It's like upping the ante...start with F'ing a'hole and proceed from there.

I've been called a stupid, drunken mick...would I consider that racist? Dunno. Never gave it much thought. Guess it would depend on the source.

What you said, however, was a perfect comeback. I mean, if someone called me a "racist" I would laugh in their faces. That would be like saying "'re so mean". Same with being called a "Nazi".

KC said...

Woo that was interesting.

In the heat of the moment (and I'm white), I think I'd have done about what you did. I think the word 'Chinese' wasn't really the point, though; she was just trying to win the verbal war by brute force, not with any skill.

Henri said...

I would have called that bitch Ukrainian...or the more Racist term, a Ukulele.

NinjaDad said...

I would have quietly walked away and later written her a postcard that said sorry I upset you and by the way I am not Chinese but rather of Japanese heritage and then I would have hand delivered said letter to her occipital lobe.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is an old post but...
this is what happened w/ the nyc actress lady, who was in the news recently when she was murdered by a maintenance worker a floor below. a stupid fight escalated wtih attitudes on both sides, and then the guy hit her, thinking he knocked her out. at this point, he panicked and thought her already to be dead, but the point is...

you never know what's going to happen, and its more important you keep your cool. for your own sake.

nbtd1 said...

My philosophy is transcend when it's appropriate and make sure you win in street battles. In other words, I don't start fights but I make sure I win the ones that come to me if I can. Being more literal minded I probably would have said something along the lines of, "Don't project your cultural practices onto me, you a--h---. Incest is illegal in America."

If she had been an American I would have called her racist but I doubt if the term carries the same baggage with immigtants.