By Jae-Ha Kim
March 9, 2015
I received an unexpected email today from a friend. She apologized for asking too much of me a while ago and said she felt badly about it. I got the impression she thought she took advantage of me. I assured her that she did no such thing and that an apology was unnecessary.
The other day, I apologized to a different friend after I commented on a Facebook post of hers. She had made a few puzzling statements about me, which I challenged. Her feelings got hurt and so I apologized. And she extended an olive branch as well.
I had so many things I wanted to say to her, but I knew that, “I’m sorry,” was the only thing she needed to hear. When you hurt a friend, you want them to feel better. And I wanted her to feel better, even if it made me feel worse.
The thing she said that still rings in my ears is, “I don’t know if you care. But words do hurt.”
Yes, they do. I understand the power of words.
As a writer, it’s how I earn a living. And, as an immigrant whose skin color made it difficult to blend in as a “real” American, I grew up learning about the power of words.
• At 4, I wondered what a chink bitch was.
• At 5, I came home from kindergarten singing, “Chink-a-chink-a Chinaman, sitting on a fence.”
• At 6, I watched in horror as a blond boy screamed at my father, calling him a motherfucking gook and told him to go back to Japan.
• At 7, I was walking down our block when a carload of grown-ass men slowed down to make sucky sucky noises at me and called me a China Doll.
• At 8, I was hit in the head with a rock. The boy who threw it laughed and made ching chong noises as blood dripped down from my forehead.
• At 12, I arrived home covered in dirt and gravel and hurried to clean up before my parents returned home from work. Two older, much bigger boys had been walking slowly in front of me, talking about chinks. When I tried to pass them, they shoved me into the road and said, “Who does this chink cunt think she is?” They were hall monitors at my new school.
• At 16, I looked around the cafeteria of my new suburban high school for a place to sit. A boy threw a cup of ice at my head and laughed. And, of course, he and his friends made the accompanying ching chong sound just for extra fun.
• When I was in graduate school, one of the editors teaching the journalism class wanted to know when I came to America, because I apparently didn’t have command of the English language, she said. (I would later be employed at the newspaper that let her go.)
• Last year, when my own son was 5, a group of Boy Scouts ching chonged us on a beautiful summer day.
• A year before that, a group of boys at our local park called us chinks and laughed.
• A year before that, children pulled the sides of their eyes up and laughed hysterically after making nonsensical “Asian” sounds.
• A year before that, while I was pushing my beautiful baby around in his stroller, a young boy shouted at us to go back to China.
The microaggressions that occurred in between these incidents run together… Being told I got into my school because I was Asian. Being told I got my job because I was Asian. Being called Kung Fu Woman every. single. day. at my first job after university. Being accused of being secretive and sneaky, because I stood up to management. Being asked if I could speak English, when I was literally speaking English. Being asked to do friends’ laundry. Being laughed at by friends when I used the phrase person of color. Being told that race doesn’t matter, by people who’ve never faced racism. Being told that calling a white person a cracker is racist, by people who don’t understand the difference between institutional racism and prejudice. (And, by the way, I never called anyone a cracker.) Being asked if my then-toothless child ate dog meat. Being asked if our cat was missing because I ate it. (My cat died of old age, motherfuckers. Don’t make jokes about him. R.I.P, old boy.)
And having to state that no, this didn’t happen every day. And, yes, I love America. And, no, I’m not exaggerating.
I understand the power of words.
I also understand the power of passive aggressive gossip. And I won’t have it. Pass it on.
©JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved
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