While driving my brother home this weekend we listened to the blasting music and went back and forth switching between hot air and cold air. Why do boys never get cold? It’s just not fair I tell you. The little red squiggly lines for hot air even look like bacon, aren’t they supposed to fall for that stuff like teenage girls fall for tough guys with soft and sensitive insides?
Amidst the silent temperature debate and my final window roll up, he sat back and stated a thoughtful “Hmmm”. The sort of hmmm he does when he’s learned something new and wants to share, but doesn’t have the knack of twisting conversations to his desired topic yet. I’m sure he’ll learn in good time.
So, to amuse him, and distract him from my subtle switch to warm air, I responded with my own inquisitive “Hmm?”
With a very matter-of-factly face and the best scholarly disposition his tiny pre-pubescent frame could muster, he stated “You know, racism still exists.”
It’s a good thing there were no other cars on the road, or I would have probably swerved into any and all oncoming traffic. Maybe I was being naive, or just too hopeful that my innocent baby brother, who has never even held a girl’s hand, would somehow avoid all contact with this part of the world and forever be a child to this uglier factor of society, that he’d avoid taking another step into cynical adulthood. Guess I should have known better, eh?
Diverting my focus back onto the road, I asked with my most nonchalant tone, “Oh? What makes you say that?”
“Some guy at school called me a chink.” He gave an equally nonchalant shrug, as if it he had just told me that the lunch ladies now wore blue aprons instead of white.
What was I supposed to say? A part of me wanted to tell him to go old school and mess that kid up. Another part of me wanted to be the politically correct good role model, and tell him to take aside the offending party and talk it through like civilized adults. Of course, neither of these would work because a) He would almost definitely lose that fight, and b) I’m not a very good politically correct role model.
My mind became distracted with different thoughts and scenarios. I wanted to go through the history of Asian-American civil rights. I wanted to discuss with him how society is still transitioning and growing and learning. That even though now it’s politically incorrect to call someone a n***** on public broadcasts, it’s still acceptable to go through the “ching chong ching” skit on the radio/TV and have few to no negative consequences. I wanted to explain the double edged sword of model minority status, to talk about the segmentation between minorities caused by differing stereotypes, the so-called preferential treatment Asians receive as middle ground below whites and above blacks. I wanted to lie and tell him that this sort of thing doesn’t happen often and will have no effect on his life, to shield him from the truth of discrimination. I wanted to tell him to not be ashamed of who he is, to not fall into the trap that so many minorities get pulled into that tells them to desire to be whiter, to be “better”.
But I didn’t. For all that I wanted to say, I had no idea how to say it without sounding like a lecture, or without lying through my teeth. Heart to heart talks are a rarity in my family, and for good reason. So instead, I settled with the generic; “I see. What did you do?”
He carelessly leaned forward and switched the air back to cold. “Nothing, I ignored him. He’s pretty stupid.”
Ignoring the urge to go into why it’s bad to judge people you don’t know, I couldn’t help but smile. All my concern for his emotional and psychological well-being faded back into the music and we drove in comfortable silence.
Well played, youngin. Well played.