How to Deal with Racist Comments?

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Essentially my mood right now. There’s a heating pad under the fluffy blanket, and Zuri spends basically all her time lying there in the winter.

Hello world! I’ve had my head down with work for the past month or so, but am back now. An incident recently happened to me that I’m trying to untangle in my mind, so I figured writing about it would be as good a way as any to digest. For context, I’m a visible minority (East Asian) who has been living in a western country since the age of 2.

There’s a grocery store near my house where I pretty regularly stop off. A few months ago, I was zoning out somewhere near the fried chicken section, minding my own business, when a teenage boy with his arm around a girl walked past me, and quietly said a racial slur. The girl said to the boy, “oh my goooosh” in a you’re-so-daring-and-cool kind of tone, and they walked away.

Then last week, after a particularly long day at work, I again stopped by the grocery store and was staring at the frozen pizzas wondering what flavor to take home for dinner (don’t judge!), when two men came up behind me, quietly made a racial comment, and walked away, saying to each other “psych!”.

What are you supposed to do in these kinds of situations? In both cases, I couldn’t believe my ears at first, and wasn’t sure if I had heard them correctly. I followed them, caught up with them, and said “what did you say to me?”. Shifty eyes and awkward looks ensued. In the first case, the teenage boy said “oh I didn’t mean you” and in the second case, one of the men said “it was a mistake”. COME ON PEOPLE.

I was so angry after both incidents, especially after the second time. I know these people are not worth my time, but why do they feel the need to say such things? I guess they like to pick on small, harmless-looking Asian women who presumably don’t speak English and won’t talk back.

Maybe I’ve just been sheltered so far? I’ve lived in a bunch of places in the US (New York City, New Jersey) and around the world (Canada, Hong Kong), and I’ve been lucky enough never to have out-of-the-blue comments made by strangers like this. (Well, except cat-calling, but that’s a whole other post.) Most cases of comments I’ve encountered have been at a milder level, like “ewww your (ethnic food) lunch smells” (middle school), or “what restaurant do your parents own?” (huh?), or “wow, you speak really good English!” (academic conference in grad school), or the dreaded “where are you really from?” (all the time). While jarring, these were less offensive to me because they were made by, in my opinion, well-meaning people, or by children.

But now, living in this small/medium-sized city in California, is where I’ve found these random comments made explicitly. It’s strange, because California has tons of minorities (are Asians even the majority in this state? ha, not sure), so this is the last place I would’ve expected this. I don’t know if it’s the current political climate or what that emboldens these people.

So what is the appropriate response? I vented a bit on Facebook. I vented a bunch to my partner. What should I do next time? Because I’m convinced there will be a next time. Take a picture of them? Demand an apology? Call the store manager?

Oh yeah, and the absurd thing was that in the second case, the two men were also a(nother) visible minority. Is that not sad?