In a previous post, I wrote about how I have often been mistaken for Asian, specifically Japanese. This doesn’t offend me (why would it?), but it has been the root of some odd, even repulsive interactions with strangers.
For example, the sole time I have ever been to a country club (it was for a work function), an elderly man tapped me on the shoulder. He personified old white privilege, and he positively beamed as he said, “You know, young man, the club is now accepting more Asians.”
I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he expected – probably enthusiasm, gratitude, or at least a request for an application. But all I could offer him was a curt “I’m very happy for them,” which provoked the old man to scowl and walk away.
But that country-club gentleman, despite his obliviousness and condescension, was at least not openly hostile. The same could not be said of the previous time that my Hispanic nature was mistaken for Asian subterfuge.
I was an undergrad, walking down the street in my uber-liberal college town one night. Approaching me were three or four highly inebriated frat boys, baseball caps backwards and Greek-letter sweatshirts prominently displayed. They exchanged exuberant, random high-fives and called each other “Fag!” in an affectionate, yet unmistakably homophobic way that called into question if at least one of them was secretly gay (but I’ll refrain from further analysis).
I had seen guys like them before, and I always wondered how they wound up at a lefty campus where hippies were still a cultural force and the term “PC” was not an insult. But here they were, and I was about to pass them on the street.
I walked by, and one of the frat boys (it was impossible to distinguish among them) whipped his head around and shouted, “Go back to Japan!”
It took me a second to realize that he was talking to me. They kept hooting and hollering down the street while I thought, “Japan? I’ve never been to Japan.”
Then I realized that I had been officially slurred. I looked back at the frat boys, but they were down the block and looking for a woman to grope or a black guy to punch or a homeless person to set on fire or something, and so they were long gone. I decided against pursuing them to clear up their confusion, and I walked on, wondering if I should be pissed off or not.
I came to the conclusion, and for this you may call me old-fashioned, that if you racially slur someone, you should at least get his or her ethnicity correct.
It’s only common courtesy.