Sorry, Sorry

Super Junior Sorry Sorry

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
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

Comments (75)

  1. Aliza says:

    I love this post and literally shuddered reading about all those incidents with racism and prejudice because they happened to me, too. People always told me to lighten up or not make such a big deal of it and said that it could’ve been worse. Mind you, these were all white people who admittedly had never had anything like that happen to them. I also love that you included the Super Junior song because it added a little joy to a depressing subject. 🙂 Thank you for sharing and for all that you do. Your friend doesn’t know how lucky she is to have you in her life.

  2. Ellesabelle says:

    You are an elegant writer and a beautiful person. I know your son is going to grow up to be a great man.

  3. Lauren Miller says:

    HUGS. 🙁

  4. Dawn says:

    You are too good for those who judge you.

  5. jji-gae says:

    omg. wow. someone telling you that words can hurt people….imagine if white people went through what we’ve had to go through. even just a tiny bit of it! in high school someone called me lo mein. people are so terrible. i’m so sorry your beautiful son had to go through something like that as well. i’m shaking my head right now

  6. Edwin Ramos says:

    All of this. I think you’re a little older than I am, but all this shit still happens. Whenever I hear someone start sentence with, “I’m not racist but,” I say, “YES YOU ARE!” I don’t even need to hear the rest.

  7. Steven Norano says:

    OK I’ll say it. Your friend sounds like a drama queen. What kind of “friend” asks another friend who’s a reporter if she understands that words can hurt? Is she 10 years old? Otherwise, a great piece as usual, Ms. Kim. It’s clear you’ve risen to the top in so many aspects of your life. My guess is those assholes who were such shining specimens of humanity way back when haven’t changed much. I hope they all got what they deserved. Have a good evening.

  8. Kevin says:

    I hope every single one of those pieces of shit that said and did those things to you and your family gets theirs one day, if they haven’t already. Fuck the apologists. There are some people who aren’t worthy of this world.

  9. Kim Jaehwa says:

    Brilliant. This made me tear up, thinking about what you went through as a little girl. 🙁

  10. harpersmum says:

    This made me so sad. You are stronger than i’ll ever be. I hope my son grows up to be as strong & as successful as you. Lets pray he doesn’t face the same racism.

  11. jji-gae says:

    this breaks my heart

  12. Denise Adams says:

    So sorry you went through these situations. I remember this song from when I lived in korea

  13. Paula says:

    Bit of a barbed comment in response to your apology. I remember once being accused by one of my team of bullying after I asked them to do a task they didn’t like (but was part of their work). I remember real bullying; the girls who beat me up on the way home because I was shy and studious; the comments behind my back to turn friends against me. I decided then that I would never do that to anyone else and later as a manager try and protect colleagues from that behaviour. You had an awful time and I admire your determination to get through.

  14. Arthur says:

    You’re too nice. I wouldn’t be friends with any of these people. Who needs friends like that? That was nice of you to apologize to your friend. I get the feeling she didn’t deserve it.

  15. Junnie Cross says:

    Jae-Ha, when I read your blog sometimes I feel like you’re writing parts of my life story. I’m half Korean but my family and I endured these same types of racist incidents in rural Delaware where I grew up. Thank you for your writing and sharing your experiences with the world. You make positive changes with every word you write.

    • Kim Jaehwa says:

      I did, too, Junnie. I don’t think people can even imagine it if it didn’t happen to them.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Oh my goodness. Your words made me tear up. I’m so sorry that you went through this, too. It’s something I kept inside for a long time, because I felt a lot of internal shame for what these people did.

    • Mike says:

      Kim’s right: “I don’t think people can even imagine it if it didn’t happen to them.” In 55 years I’ve only been picked on twice for being a white male and both times I pulled out a crowbar so they were very brief exchanges in my favor.

  16. Tyler says:

    I call bullshit. None of this happens today and I doubt it happened to you in the past. Nice use of the race card thoughb bye

    • Carley says:

      “Being told that race doesn’t matter, by people who’ve never faced racism.”

      “Bullshit.”

      What a bizarre worldview to believe only things you understand and experience exist? Are you a quantum physicist? A rock star? A tightrope walker? I sure as hell don’t know how that stuff works.

      Notice how you’re outnumbered by people who DO understand what Jae-Ha is talking about? When you’re a novice, you’re supposed to learn – not whine.

      • Whitney says:

        It’s frustrating when people try to tell you that your own life experiences never happened, rather than look in the mirror and accept that crappy things happen and that we aren’t in a post-racial world… not by a longshot.

        I was talking with someone close to me, who was trying to tell me I was wrong for talking about how some people treat me as an Other. Even in the subtle ways by saying I’m so well spoken (compared to what?). Or that I was right to stop at having two kids. “Some of THEM don’t know when to stop…”

        They were trying to say that in pointing it out, I’m only further dividing people… and I just wanted to bang my head against the wall. I’m not going to pretend that people haven’t treated me the way they have. That they haven’t treated other people worse, just to make someone feel better about their lives. Ugh.

        Jae, sorry for the long ass comment – but I LOVE your posts like this. They’re honest, and sadly, I think something we can all relate to.

        • Jae-Ha Kim says:

          Oh, Whitney! Thank you for this! I think when people see you, they see a cute writer and mom and wife and don’t think you would ever face any discrimination. You’re awesome. I love how you challenge people to think!

  17. Randall says:

    Never happened

  18. Carley says:

    As a mama bear I hope you yell at the asshole kids now! I will if you want…

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I pity the fool that does anything like this in front of you, Ms. Carley! And, yes, I do reprimand the children when they do this. The nasty little Boy Scouts laughed in my face. Nice leadership there, right?

  19. I enjoyed reading that you take no shit from people dissing your cat.

  20. It's me (you'll know from my email address, Jae) says:

    I’ll go there. You have some spineless real-life friends, Jae. I used to be one of them and am one of them still in many ways because I don’t want to put my name out there for everyone to talk about. For that, I apologize. I’m weak. I have watched as you attempted to share your life experiences with people about being an “other” in this society and bit my tongue when they poo-pooed your experiences. I have listened as one dumbass after other tried to compare their “otherness” with yours or said they didn’t want to talk about it because they didn’t want to upset their other friends. Yeah, sorry, but being a white woman from New York City who moves to Chicago isn’t the same otherness as being an Asian woman from Korea who moves to Chicago. You have some great friends who are sources of support. And then you have others who are backstabbers. I think you know who they are, because they can’t keep their fucking mouths shut and tell you about the others to try to win over your approval. I am very sorry for not being more vocal and speaking up when you spoke. I will change that not just for you but for my other friends who often stand alone. Call me when you get a chance. Lunch will be on me. xxoo

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      🙂 Hi! Thanks for commenting and being my friend. I will point out that most of my friends are awesome and wonderfully supportive, but I know which people you’re referring to and I don’t associate with them anymore. Cheers!

  21. J says:

    (With permission from a friend who sent this privately)

    I’m so sorry about your experiences, especially with your son. We have been fortunate to not have run into that yet but my heart hurts at the thought of it and wonder when it will happen because it’s just a matter of time. Seattle is very liberal but it is also very white. It’s just a matter of time. Being called ‘chink’ hurts a lot… it’s different than when people try to hurt you other ways.

  22. Kimberly says:

    It broke my heart reading this. Sad that it happened back then to you and sad that your Son has endured in this day and age, what is beyond pure ignorance and flat out bullying. Just unacceptable in my mind and in my heart.

    As a Genealogist, when I read stories like this or see stories like the one on TV lately where the Fraternity SAE from Oklahoma is singing what I consider a shocking and appalling racist song…I often wonder…how can they even think of being prejudice? I was mortified!

    Do any of these idiots even really know their own true ethnicity? Aren’t we beyond all that by now? My God, we all have a heart that beats, we all have sorrow, pain, and hopefully love and laughter too.

    Shouldn’t this be common thread enough to appreciate our differences? So don’t celebrate them! I don’t care. Just be respectful.

    At the very least, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And just leave people alone!

    So very sorry to you and your beatiful son Kyle.

  23. momfroggy says:

    I loved your blog post, even if it did bring tears to my eyes. On a lighter note, this is one of my son’s first “dance” songs. SuJu makes our whole family smile… My N still sometimes wants to be Eunhyuk, Suju’s dancing machine. 🙂

  24. Tina says:

    Your words mean a lot to me. My daughter is half Japanese half Swedish. My own father called her half breed. She gets told by Asian students she doesn’t belong, that she is not Asian enough. White students tell her she doesn’t belong because she is not truly white. I do my best to tell her these are closed minded people.. it’s hard when she feels no one accepts her but her mom. Racism is out there, even in the race your born into. I have been told I am not blonde enough by my fellow Swedes, I have black friends who were told by their own families they are too dark, too fair, act too black, act too white.. Does it ever stop?

  25. lara says:

    Powerful post Jae ♥

  26. Hannah says:

    I’ve had similar experience growing up in the South and surprised that I’m dealing with similar comments here in Southern California, especially in the recent months. Been trying to respond with words that impact but not pull me in to be doing the same thing. It does make me so angry especially when my kids are targeted.

  27. exceptional_korean says:

    Read the post… Relating in so many ways.

  28. thislittlehouse_ says:

    I just read, and oh my does this make me sad. I feel I often have my eyes closed to this and still can’t believe in this day and age racism still exists. I admire your strength, Jae, and although I hate what you’ve endured, what an absolute outstanding person you’ve grown into, and that to me is the biggest two fingers up to all these closed off minds. You rock, lady ❤️ and good for you being the bigger person and apologising to your friend. Draw a line under it, don’t let it linger making you feel bad

  29. Kelli says:

    As an adoptive parent and adoptee, this just PISSED ME OFF. I was shaking inside I was so angry for you, with you, and wanting to hug the little girl who went through this. I, in turn, posted a heated rant on my FB page about how white parents need to ACTIVELY teach their kids about other races. Just because you don’t say “chink” around the dinner table doesn’t mean your kid isn’t going to be one of those idiots who says these things! You have to actually TEACH KIDS about other races and model positive thoughts to them! Anyway, I’m so sorry this ever happened to you and I’m sad also because I suspect your experience is not uncommon at all. 🙁

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      You go, girl!!! (And I mean that unironically…) I am so proud of you. Sometimes people don’t know…until they’re told! So good on you for being brave enough to tell them! 🙂

  30. Thank you for this post and for your honesty. Each incident was like a punch in the gut to read – I can only imagine how it felt to live it. Thank you for opening my privileged eyes to the hateful words my son may well experience (oh my heart). I am sorry for the assholes in this world and your bravery in sharing this story will hopefully create fewer of them. Sigh.

  31. Sung says:

    Dear Jae,

    A great, impassioned post! I’ve been there myself, of course, so I know of what you write here. Racism unfortunately is deeply embedded in the fabric of every society, but it really seems to be rearing its ugly head lately close to home. I can’t believe there was yet another incident with the police and an African American man…so sad.

    Sung

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Thank you for stopping by, Sung. You know I’m a huge fan of yours! 🙂 Everything that you wrote is mind boggling to me, too. It’s the 21st century, and this is going on. The frat boys singing that awful song… I will say that the head of the University of Oklahoma dealt with that in a fantastic manner!

  32. Julie DK says:

    Anyone who says these things didn’t happen is ignorant. I personally witnessed one of these incidents. I wish people could understand the damage words cause. I was at the pool that day and had walked out just before you. Seeing how badly shaken you were by the boy scouts (who received no punishment even after the leaders were made aware of the situation) made me so sad. I only hope I can raise my girls to understand how powerful their words are. It was an opportunity I used to help teach my kids how badly they can hurt someone. Just know, you and your beautiful family (hopefully son in law someday!!!!) are loved very much by the people who truly know you.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Thank you for so eloquently saying that, Julie! If had just been me, it woiuld’ve been bad enough. But to have to explain to a 5-year-old child what’s going on broke my heart. And I have no doubt that you’re raising your girls right. No doubt at all!

  33. Siobhan says:

    Touche! Love it Jae. Growing up white in a white middle-class neighborhood did not give people in those neighborhoods much exposure to other cultures. Fortunately for us, we had awesome parents who took great strides to introduce us to many things and experiences. AND most of all, they taught us to respect the “person” no matter what the difference is. I’m most thankful for that…and so we have taught our children (who are now grown men) the same….Eventually, I hope the racist bastards will just die off.

  34. Owen says:

    It certainly resonated with me! Thank you for writing it.

  35. Maxine Samueals says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing this part of your past (and present). As an adoptee who wasn’t quite sure where I fit in, it was refreshing to hear from you and your readers that I wasn’t making too much out of nothing. People don’t realize how much words can hurt.

    I hope your friend is well and that your friendship hasn’t been harmed by any misunderstandings. Thank you again.

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter. 🙂

  36. accidentalajumma says:

    Holy crap……. I have no words. Arsehole(s)

  37. Teresa B says:

    A person who would think a friend intends to deliberately hurt her doesn’t understand friendship. Really good blog post.

  38. Dave says:

    Just out of curiosity, did this stem from the Marky Mark post?

  39. Amy says:

    LOVE this piece. Going to share with my students. We do not live in a colorblind, postracial society. Everyone needs to get their heads out of their asses and really THINK about people besides themselves.

  40. Penelope not Cruz says:

    Is your friend jealous of you? Sounds like it.

  41. Sandra Collins says:

    Interesting post here. I shared it with some friends who were intrigued by all this. There are so many different things going on here that it really made me think. Thank you for that.

    Just from my own experiences, I will say that social media friends can be the worst, especially on Facebook, where an innocent comment can trigger an all out war of words. That said, unless she (and you) are both under the age of 12, I find it odd that she would tell another grown woman that words can hurt people. Way to state the obvious. 😛

    As someone who hopes to be published (and paid for it!) one day, I really enjoyed the way you developed one personal arc (apologies) and used that to lead into the main part of the piece: the microaggressions you faced in the past.

    I’m going to guess that while this post is about you and your past, your friend will block you on Facebook, because she will see this as all about her. But, she will continue to read your posts to see if you say anything about her. Classic narcissistic behavior.

    Keep on doing what you do.

  42. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    Hey everyone, thank you for your comments, emails and messages. I haven’t had time to get back to everyone, so I’m sorry for that.

    I just wanted to ask all of you to be kind. My friend is a very nice, articulate woman who has never caused anyone any harm.

    Thank you!

  43. Janna says:

    From TIME magazine: “A new Pantene ad calls attention to how the apology is too often used as a crutch and a way to downplay female power.”

    http://time.com/2895799/im-sorry-pantene-shinestrong/

    😛

    And from Sir Elton John:
    “What have I got to do to make you love me
    What have I got to do to make you care
    What do I do when lightning strikes me
    And I wake to find that you’re not there
    What do I do to make you want me
    What have I got to do to be heard
    What do I say when it’s all over
    And sorry seems to be the hardest word”

    Good for you for being the bigger person and apologizing.

  44. jaeun2 says:

    This was a great post

  45. Ginger Rue says:

  46. Hyun E. Love says:

  47. Nancie S. Martin says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about this, Jae, but also pleased to read such fine angry writing. Pitch the concept to a big outlet, wouldja?

  48. Tara Vanderwoude says:

    I just found this Facebook page of yours! Yay!

    Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. As a fellow person who has been “ching-chonged” and asked about eating dog, I can relate. I’m hopeful that we are stronger because of these experiences, yet I also know that words are powerful and can haunt us for years to come.

    Keep speaking truth!

  49. Stephen says:

    I had to wipe away tears during most of this out of sadness for the resilient little girl who endured all this hate and for the little boy (myself) who wondered when this would stop.

    I agree with a previous poster who wondered about your friends. If this is something they said and then regretted, that’s promising. If this is something they continue, they’re not your friends.

    This is such a powerful post, Ms. Kim.

  50. Shannon says:

    I just saw this and wanted to say that this could be my life.

  51. Cindy Davis says:

    I would like to contradict your viewpoint. I agree that all people 👫 in N.America need to have a working English vocabulary. However, it’s been proven that for each Language you fluently know and speak, it increases your life for the better by five years per language.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Hi Cindy, I’m not sure which viewpoint you are contradicting. My viewpoint has always been that speaking more than one language is beneficial, so… ???

    • Yoon says:

      I’m confused by this statement, too. It seems like you, Jae-Ha Kim (Journalist) and Mr. Rhein are on the same page. As someone who speaks multiple languages, I’d like to believe your correlation between languages spoken to life expectancy, but I’ve never read anything like that. I’d be curious to read more about it though.

      From the FB post from Jae:

      “Author Walter Rhein wrote a thoughtful piece about how strangers berate his wife and young children when they speak Spanish — and how they are condescendingly told by teenagers and adults alike, “This is America, in America we speak English.”

      To all the mouth-breathers out there who believe that speaking only English actually is better than speaking two — or three or more additional — languages, good for you (I guess). But, there are countless Americans who have the ability to speak more than one language and for that, they should be celebrated, not mocked.
      Rhein points out that because of his white privilege — and the fact that he’s a tall man — no one dares mock him when he speaks Spanish. It’s only irritating and worthy of being pointed out when “brown” people, like his wife, speak in her native language. “The kind of people that berate women and children (for being bilingual) are cowards,” he says.

      I’ve said this before, but racists don’t hassle my son and me when we’re out with my husband, who they view (wrongly) as “one of them.” They are cowards who don’t want confrontation and prey on people who they believe will remain silent while they spew their hateful words. They would be wrong.”

    • Pat says:

      I must be missing something, too, because I think everyone is in agreement that being bilingual is a good thing and the original writer and his family are all bilingual (trilingual?), Jae is bilingual (trilingual?).

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