March 19, 2015

Building From Bullying – A #1000Speak Post


When you're one of the only nonwhite kids in school, you stand out and often get harassed for how you look. It doesn't matter that you were born here, speak perfect English, and have half European ancestry, all the others see are your Asian eyes, darker skin, and ebony hair. I was teased, I got angry, I learned, and now I try to teach my children how to deal with differences in a kind way as well as how to deal with bullies.

I grew up hearing every chink joke in the book and my initial reaction was to insult them back. Always quick with words, I could make anyone cry if I tried, but I didn't want that. I just wanted to let my tormentors know how ridiculous they were. Once I learned racial slurs for white people, my retort to “Chinky chinky Chinaman” was something random like “Cracker!”, “Wop!”, or “Kraut!” The best was when I would shout “I am half Japanese, not Chinese. Can't you tell?! If you're gonna make fun of me, get it right!” This usually made them laugh hysterically and then we could return to playing. My classmates knew deep down that what they were doing was somewhat wrong, but they couldn't stop themselves. As I got a bit older, instead of joking back, I just ignored the jokes until one day, the teasing abated.

When we moved to a farm in Junior High School, I went through a phase where I was quite angry and felt the need to assert my identity as Canadian; not Japanese, English, Irish, Scottish, or Swiss. Being told “You speak really good English” used to infuriate me. I was equally irritated when asked how long I've lived in Canada. Really? And does it really matter? What I didn't know at first, was that my new schoolmates were curious, not trying to offend. I soon discovered that seething behind clenched teeth was counterproductive; I needed to try something different. The next time I was asked about my heritage, I swallowed my pride, answered politely, then returned the question to surprised faces. After having these “Where does your family come from?” discussions with new friends, we not only got to know each other better, but gained some insight into Canada's mosaic.

Much later, I started accepting (many of) the jokes in good humor. I excused my poor driving with, “Look out, Asian driver!” and laughed along with my non-Asian friends about how loud the Chinese people were in the library. On the flip side, I made fun of whites too – how they pack on the pounds after highschool, how hairy they are - using the excuse, “I can say it 'cause I'm half.” It wasn't right and it wasn't healthy, but I wanted to fit in and was struggling with my mixed identity.

Along the way, we grew up, and society changed too. It was no longer politically correct to make racist jokes outside a comedy club or private residence. Well, I thought we had all grown up, but racism reared its ugly head at a friend's house of all places. When my friend's husband saw a news clip on TV about gay marriage (it was not legal yet), he suddenly blurted out “They don't deserve the same rights as us!” I asked him what he meant and he cried, “They should be locked up like the Japanese were during the war!” He knew my background, so I know the remark was meant to hurt. I had never experienced such vehement hate and was horrified. All the years of school ground teasing combined was nothing compared to what I felt at my friend's house, a place I had once felt safe. I wish I could have been brave enough to debate him, but he was a big, ignorant guy that had been drinking. Sometimes you just have to walk away. I feel I showed compassion by not pointing out what a redneck he was! His wife and other guests, friends of mine for almost 20 years, also did nothing. As a result, they lost a friend that day.

In the case of racist bullies, I have learned you can ignore, avoid, or educate them. Educating is easier said than done and best done at a young age. For this reason, I try to teach my kids tolerance and respect. We won't always agree with everyone's religion, culture, or beliefs, but if we give each other a chance, we just might learn something to make us appreciate each other more.

Have you ever experience bullying or racism? How did you deal with it?

To read more #1000Speak posts, please click here.

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