Konnichiwa and death threats


By Jae-Ha Kim
July 15, 2013

I feel almost silly blogging about this, especially considering that there are more serious issues, such as the verdict that declared that George Zimmerman wasn’t responsible for murdering Trayvon Martin.

But, here I go.

A while ago, I used to do segments on a local radio station. It was a popular show with a host who was vaguely shock jockish. We got along fine, and it was a good forum to promote the newspaper I worked for.

One day, they called me at work and put me on the air live to tell them about some of the music acts coming to town that weekend. They kept me on the line as they began another segment, in which they called a bunch of establishments that were operated by Asian Americans — dry cleaners, Chinese restaurants etc. I would soon find out that the sole purpose of these calls was to make fun of the people speaking accented English.

Never mind that aside from me, no one on that radio program could speak more than one language. They also didn’t consider that while their prank victims did indeed speak with accents, that meant that they were fluent in at least one other language as well.

Soon after, the sidekick began referring to Asians as “Chinamen.” At that point, I interjected and told them that wasn’t cool. He played dumb (maybe he wasn’t playing?) and wouldn’t stop. Realizing that I couldn’t reason with him, I hung up on them and went back to writing my next article.

Callers phoned the station — which aired the comments live — basically saying, “How dare that chink bitch hang up on you!”

Yes. How dare I.

Because I had dared to hang up on a popular white idiot who thought it was funny to make racist remarks, I began receiving death threats. All this over a word. Hard to believe, right?

When I first began dating my husband, I used to joke that he lived in Mayberry. Idyllic, beautiful and vibrant, it has since become my town, too. It’s a wonderful area with great schools, friendly neighbors and a thriving downtown area that’s just a few blocks from our home.

Even though my son and I make up a good chunk of the Asian population here, it is diverse in its own way. Our neighbors emigrated from England, Scotland, Germany and South Africa. My husband and I aren’t the only interracial couple here. And, in less than a two-block radius, there are no less than four adoptees, all hailing from different countries.

Mostly, life here is very good. Then there are days when you’re called a chink while strolling your baby around the neighborhood. Or when you’re leaving the pool and you’re harrassed by a group of kids simply for being Asian.

Oh wait, you heard this before, you say? No, that was last year, when I blogged about it. The sobering fact is, I’m sure it will happen again because, let’s face it — it’s FUN to make fun of the way Asians look and talk. Even though many of us have accents just like the idiots making fun of us.

As we were leaving today, there was a long line of people waiting to get into the pool. We passed a group of blond boys who giggled and made nonsensical sounds that they thought sounded Asian. I’m not giving them the benefit of the doubt. These boys are a bunch of ignorant morons who think all Asians speak one language. The only word they said that was remotely valid was konnichiwa.

I suppose the argument could be made that they were just trying to be nice and speak to me in what they thought was my language, but we all know that’s not true.

Like all privileged people who live in the majority and say such nonsense, their intent was to ridicule my beautiful little boy and me. My son was oblivious. He doesn’t know what racism is yet. But the little jerks got the job done with me. I was angry, sad and embarrassed. But, mostly, I am resigned to the fact that no matter how long I live in this country, there will always be a contingent of people who don’t see me as an American. And because of that, they will feel that it’s completely OK to make fun of me.

I worry for my son. I am scared that he will face a lifetime of dealing with little turds like these boys and that he will be be the one who’ll be expected to be the better person and turn the other cheek. And, that if he doesn’t, he’ll be accused of using the race card, regardless of any facts.

As I did last year when this same thing happened, I walked back and talked to the boys. They were still giggling in a line that was full of children and adults. Are any of you surprised that none of the adults who overheard them so much as uttered a peep? Never mind that these were children talking with such disrespect to an adult. No one seemed to think that what they were saying was all that bad.

When I left, I knew that nothing I said had sunk in. They saw nothing wrong. It was funny. Ha ha.

Later, a (white) friend told me that she walked out of that same pool with her daughter and some of her little girl’s friends. These same boys did the same thing to one of the girls, whose looks seemed to indicate an Asian heritage.

“Why are they saying that to me?” she asked my friend, who replied, “Because they are morons.”

Not long ago, my son and his friend were having lunch at our house. I jokingly asked the boy if he thought Kyle looked more like his daddy or me. Since Kyle and I are both Korean, I expected him to say, “You!”

But what he said was this: “Duh! Kyle looks like his dad. He’s a boy. Hello?!”

Children aren’t born racists. They’re taught to be that way.

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (36)

  1. sarahssaem says:

    🙁 What dicks. 🙁

  2. paradelle says:

    People are horrible. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.

  3. tofuforlunch says:

    as toni morrison says, “just know that you’re morally superior”

  4. tashaalice says:


  5. carnivor says:

    Wow… I’m surprised children would do this even to an adult. Really goes to show that their parents raised them to have absolutely no respect.

  6. sequinedstrawberries says:

    I hate that this kind of thing happens. Do you think if you moved somewhere else it would be better? Then again why should you have to move. Let’s just round them all up and ship them off to some frozen island like … greenland. yup.

  7. Emma Swenson says:

    I really enjoyed this piece. It was infuriating at parts though and I’m sorry that you have to put up with that kind of bullshit from asshole kids. I agree. Their parents raised them to be horrible little kids. I would’ve punched them. Not really, but I would’ve wnated to.

  8. paradelle says:

    I don’t think engaging a separate discussion on everyday anti-asian racism detracts from the tumblr focus on Travyon. Rather, it only reifies the persistence of white supremacy on a separate plane/axis/dimension of racism, and anti-asian microaggressions like this are absolutely owed its own space in tumblr’s race discourses.

    But how truly disgusting is it though, that a mother and her baby could step outside and be taunted with racist slurs by children who could barely spell “ching” and “chong” in the first place. To me, when white children shout pseudo-light-hearted racist hate, what they’re assuming is not necessarily that one is not American (or in my case, not Canadian), but that white skin and appearance is the definition of “being American” foremost of all, and Asians — despite some being white-passing — can never actually be American American. In other words, even if these white kids knew and understood such people as Asian Americans existed, they’ll go ahead and treat AsAms like an inferior foreign monkeys regardless.

    White supremacy doesn’t give a crap whether one is born and raised and is the descendent of however many generations of Americans. You are white (aka, “a REAL American”) based on so and so conditions, and all else is Other (aka, “_____-American”). And whiteness is this super exclusive category based on arbitrary cultural, genetic, social, economic definitions that excludes one group for no reason other than its own ignorance. (So exclusive that the Irish, for example, were once considered “not-white/not-American.”)

    Nowadays, to be white is stuff like having white skin, west-eurocentric facial features and to speak English. Folks of East Asian heritage — despite meeting two of those three requirements and generally being granted the privileges accorded to those — often cannot meet that visual appearance of “white.” (We just cannot physically “look” white.)

    In my humble opinion, what those kids to do is not learn, but unlearn what they already know, esp about “American”ness and non-white racial categories in general. A part also wants them to endure chronic amounts of pain, and maybe even die ironically (e.g., they drown in a pool as they mock their Asian lifeguard) later in their shitty racist lives.

    I’m so sorry this awful incident happened and I hope your son + you are safe.

    • Toni says:

      I for one would not shed one tear for a racist kid getting punched in the face if that means they shut their mouths and show some respect in the future.

      I’m also infuriated that there were adults in line with those kids who stood by without telling them to zip it. Regardless of whether their parents were there, an adult should be gotten involved.

      I’m so sorry that it had to be you to try to school these brats. But I’m glad that you stood up for yourself. These are real future heroes, aren’t they? They pick on women and children.

  9. Mike Kessler says:

    I’ve been around my Filipino wife and her family for 20 years (she’s the girl-next-door who I married 2 years ago) and I’ve never seen or heard anything derogatory about them. My wife says nobody will say anything anti-Asian with me around because I look like a crazy psycho who might beat them senseless.(?!)

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Here’s my theory on this: Racists don’t want to offend other white people. When I was little, a friend’s dad told their friends and neighbors NOT to use the word chink around me. That doesn’t mean they didn’t use the word. Just not around me.

      • Derek Plant says:

        This is a racist comment. Racist don’t want to offend OTHER white people?? Love ya Jae (-;

        • I’m not sure if you’re joking, Derek, but for real? It’s clear to me that she was addressing the racism she has faced and that this was a personal essay, not an essay about overall race issues in the United States. The kids she was talking about in her essay are white. I’m extrapolating, but it seems that the people Mike Kessler and Jae are talking about are white. (If I’m wrong, please correct me Jae and Mike.) She says right there that “here’s my theory on THIS.” Would you have felt better if she said, “THE RACISTS YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT don’t want to offend other white people?” Love ya Derek. 😉

        • Shannon says:

          what a condescending prick.

        • Anonymous says:

          What a twonk.

  10. Julie says:

    So sad that this happens.

  11. Junnie Cross says:

    Thank you for this blog, Jae-Ha! I grew up in a small town in Delaware and endured racist comments because I’m half Korean. I lived with my grandparents and my single parent Korean mom who all got the the worst of it – sometimes even with violence. This needs to be addressed. I’m so proud that you went up and spoke to those kids. They are still kids. Perhaps as they deal with negative life experiences for being different in the future, they will reflect on what you said to them and connect the dots.

  12. Amy says:

    Wow. Unfortunately kids are brought up to either RESPECT people or to be rude. Raising kids is hard work, if you teach them right from wrong, respect, teach them about God and stuff like that. Raising kids is hard work if you do it right and if you care. I care. I am proud to day my kids would not do that. Thank you God.

  13. Sung says:

    This was like maybe a year ago? I was hurrying to the post office to drop off a package. There were some teenagers hanging out by the Quick Chek, and when I walked past, one of them put her hands together and greeted me with, “Konnichiwa!” They all chuckled, of course, as teenagers are wont to do. A couple of things ran through my head:

    1) I guess China still has some work to do, because they did not say, “Ni hao!” So much for their upcoming (inevitable?) world domination.

    2) It had been so long — like maybe two decades? — since I’d been racially derided directly to my face that I’d completely forgotten what it feels like. You’re absolutely right, Jae — it’s that sense of separation, of not belonging, that stings the most. And powerlessness, too, since there isn’t anything we can do about the way we look. We came from a land far away, and no matter how well we speak or write or recite the pledge of allegiance, to some people, we’ll always be foreigners.

    It’s the price we pay for being in the minority, I’m afraid. As wonderful as this country of ours is, it is still a grand racial and cultural experiment, and there will always be struggles. Homogeneous countries have their own issues, of course, but racism isn’t one of them.

    – Sung

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Thank you for this, Sung.

      As an aside… For people who enjoy reading good books, check out his website (linked to Sung’s name above). His book “Everything Asian” is a wonderful novel that I highly recommend.

  14. Jimin says:

  15. Jessica Jensen says:

  16. Matthew Hashiguchi says:

    Well said.

  17. Col bill littlefield, USA, retired says:

    (Col. Littlefield gave me permission to print the email that he sent to me this morning.)

    Appreciated your comments on folks not having a clue. Our daughter, born in Seoul, grew up in Germany and had to hear that junk once she came to the US. She claims Heidelberg as her hometown. I recall strolling in a Germany park with her. A German boy with his father passed by. When the boy began a little sing-song, the father stopped him and corrected him. Too sad the US parents are clueless.

  18. Nan Perez says:

    Thanks for this, Jae-Ha. Your final line reminded me of a story from church. A young girl overheard her mother saying that the children from another family were adopted, and was absolutely furious that no one had ever told her. The kicker is that these children were African American, and their parents white. The obvious features to us as adults are inconsequential to children, and it makes me wonder how I can possibly prepare my son to be on guard, yet naive to differences. Something I’ll probably always struggle with.

  19. Kim Hansen says:

    Were the kids carrying Skittles and iced tea? If so, you should’ve used the stand your ground defense and beat them into submission. Not really, but I hate them for you and hate that this happened, especially while your little boy was with you.

  20. Steven says:

    I don’t advocate adults hitting children under any circumstances. But I think the parents of those little beasts should be slapped once or twice for raising little hoodlums.

  21. Shelly Howard says:

  22. Jane Yoo says:

  23. Amy B says:

    Awesome post, sobering story. Bums me out that that is your experience and Kyle’s. It’s so wrong. May the kids in our neighborhood grow up color blind, loving, respecting and defending each other!

  24. Anonymous says:

    White privilege is white children being racist to a POC and her child, who know that all the other white people seeing them do it won’t do a goddamned thing about it. Good on you for confronting those little shitheads. I’m sorry that happened to you and your son and hope that it doesn’t happen again. But I’m sure it will.

  25. JK says:

    Excellent dissection of the idiocy of such people. I understand a Chinese teen once replied after being taunted for her race that she was sorry the other kid didn’t have parents who loved her enough to teach her good manners. Ouch. But it seemed to fit the crime.

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