currently: I try to let things like this be forgotten. But I've been thinking over this for two days and I'm still quite angry about the following story...
On Saturday my friends and I took a stop to Mission Bay to enjoy the good summer-like weather and some cold drinks. We walked into a relatively busy Starbucks, and I go up first to place my order.
Behind me, a cyclist walks into the store. "Wow, there are a lot of Chinese and Japanese people here," he declares to the 30 people inside of Mission Bay's Starbucks.
I pretend I didn't hear him, but I glance at the predominately Asian staff at Starbucks - they definitely heard him.
He walks up to the wait counter, standing between me and an older Korean woman, and asks the staff if he could get his water bottle filled up. Then he says again loudly, to no one in particular; "Hahaha, have you seen how many Chinese and Japanese are here!"
I turn to face at him, my anger burning under the surface. Here's an European man, maybe about his 40s, in full cycling gear and sports sunglasses, with this massive smile on his face. He's now telling the quiet Korean lady next to him how he can't believe how many Chinese and Japanese are in this one particular location.
I couldn't take it.
"Why?" I forcefully (and loudly) interrupt him. "Is there a problem with that?"
He turns in my direction and laughs.
"No, not at all!" He laughs again and pats my arm jokingly. My eyes are narrowing.
He looks at me, as all the staff members avoid looking at the scene.
"Are you Japanese?"
He gets closer (as I try to turn away to control myself) and he asks another question.
"Is there a way to see the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese?"
Why? So you can be more accurate with your stereotyped generalisations? I take a breath.
"Every race has different characteristics or accents," I point out. "No different than comparing British people with..."
"Yeah," he cuts me off. "But the Chinese and Japanese people don't get along right? Because of wars they had," he leans in more as if we're close buddies.
I catch my eye on the Korean lady behind him, and she looks ready to disappear the minute her green tea smoothie makes it onto the counter.
"I'm sure the relationship between the countries are better but yes there have been historical differences between them," I try to say as bluntly as possible.
The Starbucks employee calls out an order in front of us, and I take the opportunity to move back to my friend as he once again tries to talk with the very polite and tolerant Korean lady next to him.
My friend could sense why I was quietly fuming. I flicked an eye around the room and pretended that I was more bothered with the heat than I was with him. No one was looking in our direction - or if they did, they were just hoping he'd go away quietly.
If there's one thing I absolutely hate in this world - it's racism. It causes my blood to boil and my sense to snap. And while that man tried to brush his statements as jokes - it doesn't lessen the fact that his comments were casual, blatant racism.
If you're unsure why I became so offended - understand things from my point of view.
1) This man's statement was a sweeping generalisation - classifying everyone in the room as 'Chinese and/or Japanese'. Like I said, the woman next to him was Korean. The people behind the counter, maybe from a South-East Asian background. He assumed I was Japanese. To classify all Asian races as Chinese or Japanese is like classing European Australians and European Kiwis as Irish and Scottish people. You know it's not the same. I know it's not the same. And all Asians are not the same.
2) He made his statement at least twice. It was less an observation of 'wow there are a lot of people in this room' to a 'Wow, Chinese and Japanese are everywhere'. And he wanted people to notice that again. And again.
3) The way he talked about Chinese and Japanese felt like he was treating my background and other Asian backgrounds as a minority - as if we overcrowded a space he was entitled to. Are Chinese and Japanese people not allowed to enjoy Starbucks too? You don't see me going into a sushi shop or a Chinese restaurant and say 'Wow there are so many white people here!'
4) He assumed that because of the shape of my eyes - I knew everything about the Chinese and Japanese civil wars. It's like me asking him 'Oh you're European. Please tell me why Britain couldn't maintain its monarch standing over the now American states. Also can you explain the political relationship between the two countries? Do they get along? They had wars and stuff.'
By the way, his comments didn't stop once I turned around.
"Oh I get where they're all coming from. The bus must have dropped all the Chinese people here!" He said this in a way like he had just realised he left his keys in his other pair of jeans.
Yes, let's ignore the fact that Auckland is the most culturally diverse city in all of New Zealand, with a growing percentage of those who are born in New Zealand, or call New Zealand home, originating from Asian backgrounds. Like myself.
The Korean woman was lucky she got to escape first from the cafe. The jerk in the cycling helmet tapped me again on the arm and said "You won't believe what that buddy said to me. 'Bye!'" He laughed to himself again.
I have to give that woman some credit for maintaining a polite farewell with him. As soon as my order came, I didn't give a second glance to that man. I sat on the grass with my friends at Mission Bay with a sour taste in my mouth - and it wasn't just from the sickly $7 syrup taste of the Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino Grande.
We passed by that same Starbucks again yesterday. In passing, my friend pointed out "good thing that weirdo isn't in that Starbucks anymore."
He may not be there, but he may be dishing out his casual racist remarks at some other poor Starbucks in Auckland. And that still makes my blood boil.
[Note; I don't have any ill feelings towards the majority of Mission Bay, or any Starbucks branch. Just the one particular racist cyclist.]
photo source: pixabay