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Home / Politics  /
The Racism Revolution

Merely pointing out the obvious can brand you as a racist

The world was larger when I was growing up.  Or it seemed that way.  Long distance phone service was costly.  Airfares weren't deregulated, so people didn't travel as much or as far.  For those of us who didn't live in the big cities, it was rare to meet people who looked or talked differently than oneself.

My family was taking a road trip later when I was about six, and at a stoplight, our car pulled over at an intersection next to a car driven by middle-aged black man.  I rolled down the window and chatted amicably with the first black man I'd ever met face to face.  As the light turned green, and he pulled away past the light, I shouted after him, "Bye bye, Chocolate Face!"

Did this make me a six-year old racist? 

Racism is defined as a hatred or intolerance of other races – apart from your own, of course.  Upon reflection, I suppose you could hate your own race , which would make you a self-hating racist.  Or just utterly ridiculous if you're a white man trying to act like a black rapper.  

My parents overheard me calling this black man a chocolate face and reprimanded me mildly.  "You don't call black people chocolate faces," my mother explained. 

My sister agreed.  "Yeah, you wouldn't want to be called a vanilla face, would you?"

Being called a vanilla face wouldn't bother me.  Why should being called a chocolate face bother him? I was in first grade.  This person looked different.  I didn't have any idea how you properly referred to blacks or Asians, Latinos, and Indians.  I hadn't really met any.  So I created my own label. 

Anyone reading this will likely give my six-year old self the benefit of the doubt.   And I'm sure the man himself, if he heard me shouting "Chocolate Face" as he pulled away, wouldn't have considered me a racist.  Little kids get cut a lot of slack for describing the world as we see it.  Only after we become adults do we get punished for not adhering to the quickly dated politically correct terminology .

What if this same incident took place today between a white six-year old and a forty-year old black man?  This time pretend the black man has a son or a daughter in the back seat filming the entire conversation on a cell phone.  The smiling six-year old shouting "Bye bye, Chocolate Face" is now captured in pristine high-definition video. 

Is the six-year old now a racist? 

That depends entirely upon the video going viral.  You see, six year olds just aren't considered as innocent as they used to be.  We hear about ten year old girls having babies.  It's not an everyday occurrence, and that's why it makes headlines.   These facts remain in the back of our brains, and we consider that if a ten-year old can be giving birth, surely a six-year old would know that a black man is not to be called a chocolate face.  Once enough people see the uploaded video, the six-year old, possibly just as innocent or clueless as any young tyke from the 1970's Midwest, is issued a guilty verdict by the court of public opinion.   The simplest way to rationalize the six-year old's behavior is to categorize him as a racist.   Furthermore, in today's attention-seeking climate, the video has more chance of going viral if it's entitled "Six Year Old Racist Lashes Out At Black Man" over "Cute Six Year Old Chatting With African American." 

Think I'm being farfetched here, then think again with the following three examples from January and February of this year.  I could come up with countless more if I wanted to waste more of my time. 

Incident #1 -- Los Angeles Burger King:  A Korean-American customer receives a receipt from a Los Angeles Burger King, on which he was described as a chinito. 

Incident #2 - Boston Market: A New York Asian assemblywoman claims a Boston Market employee kept referring to her as La China. 

Incident #3 - Georgian Starbucks:  A Starbucks barista in Alpharetta, Georgia draws slanted eyes on the coffee cups of two Korean customers.     

Are any of these incidents genuine examples of racism?

I came across Georgian Starbucks when I was skimming over the popular overrated blog of a long term American resident in Korea.  Trying to do more research on this Starbucks incident, I discovered the Los Angeles Burger King and Boston Market incidents.  I could find no initial coverage of any of these events from any respected news source or news web site.   What I came up with were the web sites of bloggers who then reported on the incidents secondhand with a racism bias.   The Los Angeles Burger King incident was discussed by the Race Relations guide, herself a black, in Fast Food With A Side Of Racism.  The word chinito, she says, is "a Spanish term largely considered a racial slur for Asian Americans." 

Is it?  Writes a Latino commenting on this very article: "[Chinito] is an almost friendly way to identify an Asian customer among others.  It's like quickly describing a white-haired older lady as 'granny.'" defines chinito as "[a term] commonly used towards Asians and other non-Asian races and cultures who may have characteristics that are typically considered Asiatic.  When Chinito is used as a slang term the meaning can be a term of endearment or just general hyperbolic description."  I looked further and found a restaurant in Washington, DC called Chinito's Burritos.  Were chinito such a pejorative term, would anyone dare name their restaurant with it?  Have you ever seen a restaurant by the name of Nigger's Chicken Wings or Spick's Enchiladas?  

The Boston Market incident deals with New York State assemblywoman Grace Meng.  I understand why Meng was offended.  Her family is from capitalist Taiwan, not Communist mainland China.  Okay, I'm being sarcastic.  I did a web search for La China and came up with the names of Chinese restaurants in San Diego and El Cajon.  'La China' simply means 'the Chinese.'   A female Asian being called 'la China' is like a male American being called 'el americano' or 'gringo,' neither a slur or negative racial term.

The Starbucks incident attracted the most blogger press, particularly in Korea and in the Korean blogosphere. A Korean Times reporter wrote an article called "Starbucks Serves Up More Racism," and according to her, the Starbucks barista had drawn "a caricature with slanted eyes to identify two Korean customers."  A caricature is, by definition,  "an exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of characteristics of a person, place, or thing."  What the barista drew were just two slanted eyes; and if you didn't know what they were, you'd think they were two marks on a cup.  The so-called victims complained and were offered gift cards. At the exorbitant prices Starbucks charges, the gift cards would've been good enough for me.  I guess they weren't good enough for everyone else.   One blogger on OC Weekly commented, "Yes, gift cards.  Because free Frapuccinos can take of everything from messed-up orders to blatant racism."  Others called for a boycott of Starbucks outlets --- yeah, like that would work. 

My local coffee shop – ironically, a Korean franchise -- hands customers an electronic disk which flashes once your order is ready. Baristas at Starbucks write names on coffee cups.  What does Starbucks' rulebook have to say when a barista cannot spell out a foreign name? Probably nothing.  Common sense would suggest that any characteristic a barista could observe to link a customer with his order should serve just as well, and if two slanted eyes drawn on a cup do the trick, then so be it.  Had the barista been privy to the customers' penis or beast sizes, those dimension numbers written on the cups would have done the same trick, though the backlash could have been much worse if the penis or breast sizes were embarrassing. 

As the racist accusations poured in from one and all, Starbucks stated that "This experience is unacceptable.  The partner who was involved in this incident is no longer employed by Starbucks."  The partner losing his job was probably a win-win.   Starbucks was getting a lot of negative press over the issue, and barista 'partners' at Starbucks, no matter how long they've been there, never wind up with a cushy corner office. 

In Asia, the locals have their own terms to describe (white) foreigners.  In Japan, it's gaijin.  In Korea, waygookin.  In China, laowai.  In Indonesia, orang putih.  Here in Thailand, I've heard Thais talking about me, and they refer to me as a farang.  You know, it's conceivable that at the Starbucks here, the Thai baristas write that very word or have drawn a pair of round eyes on my cup!  I haven't noticed.  None of these terms are considered racist or used in such a way by locals.  

Back when I was a kid, racism meant not being accepted for membership to an elite WASP countryclub because you were Jewish, losing a job to a lesser qualified candidate because you were Asian, not permitted to sip at the water fountain or sit on the front of the bus because you were black.  People were discriminated against for racial differences that shouldn't have mattered.

See Asia Like Asians DoThat is hardly the same as pointing out a clearly observable difference.  A Ukranian advertising agency recently ran an ad campaign with the slogan "See Asia Like Asians Do" that has everyone in the West in an uproar over how racist it is.  The ad features a series of photographs of locals pulling back their eye lids to simulate an Oriental look.  

If the eyes were pulled back to the extreme to make the models and, by extension, Asians look like buffoons, I could see some logic behind the racist accusations.  To me, the ad is trying to pictorially represent the verb "to see."  There's a certain amount of stereotyping going on in the ad, which is nothing new in advertising.  Not all Asians have slanted eyes, for one.  But to be fair, in many countries, the term Asian connotes the Sinosphere, in which slanted eyes are the norm. 

If people are going to scream the ad is racist, the ad must portray Asians in an unfavorable way.  Noting that Asians in general are known for their slanted eyes is neither good nor bad. It's just a fact, like pointing out someone is tall, brown-haired, or fat.

People have this idiotic notion in their heads in this politically correct era that because everyone is supposed to be equal, we cannot acknowledge differences for risk of a potential insult that will only highlight how much inequality still  exists.  Racist ranters see racism everywhere.   James Bond movies are racist because Bond is always portrayed as a debonair white, American TV because people of color occupy only minor roles.  A casting agent hires a white James Bond because that's what most people worldwide will accept as James Bond.  American TV shows cast mainly white leads because this is what most Americans of all races and colors identify with. 

Did you know in Asia, employers of native English teachers prefer to hire white people?  A Korean- American, born in America, English his native language, would be glossed over for a teaching gig for a white American speaking English to the same or even lesser standard.  This is not racism.  It's pragmatism.  The Asian employer is not just selling English language services to his Asian customers; he's selling Western culture, and a Western-looking individual personifies that best to a language institute's customers.    The customers prefer a white teacher.

People really are different.  Sorry to be the one to remind you.  They can look different, act different, talk different, smell different.  We'll do a lot more to eradicate racism when noting such differences publicly is no longer a cardinal sin.      

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 The Complete Article Index