What Does Internalised Racism Look Like? (When a Chinese Kid Stands Next to You in Spain and You Wish He Would Go Away)
On Fridays I go pick up the older kid of the two brothers I tutor outside of their school. During the week I meet him and his younger brother inside of the school in the courtyard. So today being Friday I waited at my usual spot. By the lamp post. By the bus stop.
The teenagers finish early on Fridays and they’re of course excited for the weekend. Most times I read a book and glance up occasionally to see if I spot M. He’s usually with a friend and I just tag along behind them as we walk to his house.
There was a short period of time when some of the younger kids in the courtyard would pepper me with “Chino” and “ni hao.” I got pretty annoyed. And of course the more annoyed I got the more joy they derived from it and the bigger the group grew. I have been meaning to write about it for awhile now and a lot of other things happened and there was a time when I would feel a slight sense of panic whenever I passed the school that just happens to be between my lady’s place and her parking garage. But this ain’t that piece.
One Friday I was outside and there was a Chinese dad waiting for his kid. I wondered if it was the dad of a Chinese kid who knows the older brother I tutor. I met him. He still used his Chinese name. Most Asians I’ve met here, even those who are here only for a few months, adopt a Spanish name to use. “It’s easier for them,” is the reason they usually give when I ask why. When I saw that dad I didn’t say anything. Later I wished I would have given him a nod at least. But Asians don’t really give each other “The Nod” like a lot of Black folks do with each other.
So today I’m outside. And I notice a Chinese kid come stand next to me. I’ve gotten used to most of the world not thinking about personal space like most Americans. And not having people say “excuse me” for every little incidental brush of bodies. I stopped saying it myself. I noticed him. And the first thing I thought was, why did you choose to stand right next to me my guy? He wasn’t old enough to be a parent. Maybe he’s waiting for a brother or sister or another family member I thought.
We both waited. I noticed a few Spanish teens make curious faces when they looked up to see two Asians males in glasses waiting outside of their school. Maybe they thought we were together. I looked over to the guy. Noticed his earrings. Noticed his hipster haircut. And his tight denim jacket. I wondered how we looked like to the others.
But then I felt bad. Then mad. That I thought these things. That I was annoyed at someone who maybe could be mistaken for me was standing next to me. Doing the same thing I was doing. He had every right to be there. As did I. Why didn’t I look at him as a friend instead of an enemy? Or why do we have to be friends or enemies? Why can’t we just be?
Because of past trauma of course. All those incidents from our past when either I or my family or us or friends who looked like us were mocked and treated disrespectfully. I didn’t want him standing next to me because I didn’t want people to be drawn to the fact that two Asians were close by. One is OK. Two is hmm. And three is definitely receiving a comment.
After I got over myself and my self importance and the moment, I looked over at him and gave him a nod. He gave one back. The younger Chinese kid at the school came out and noticed the other guy. We’ve said hi to each other in the past. But he didn’t notice me.
As I still waited for M the person he was waiting for arrived. And she wasn’t a member of his family. It was a Spanish girl. And they looked like they liked each other. Like like each other. And I noticed the other Spanish boys looking. And I braced myself for one of them to say something stupid. But no one did. Maybe they wouldn’t have noticed. They were intensely into each other. I was jealous of his fluent Spanish. I left a voice note for my Spanish girl. I told her the story. And I joked that maybe we can double date.
But that would be weird because they’re just kids.
My bad kid. Hope to see you again. Maybe we’ll even get to talk next time.