Most of the time, I forget I’m Chinese. Or, to put it another way, being Chinese is not top of mind. Think about it: do you walk around focusing on the colour of your skin? If you’re anything like me, you’re more focused on not tripping over your own feet à la Ally McBeal.
So, yes, most of the time I don’t dwell on being Asian. Until someone says or does something that brings my ethnicity to the fore and WHAM! It hits me in the face. Here are five times it happened.
"You can’t wear yellow."
Getting into the elevator one morning, I noticed someone I knew. She was wearing a gorgeous yellow dress and looked lovely.
“I love your dress. You look beautiful,” I said.
“Thank you!” She replied. She looked me up and down. “You probably can’t wear yellow, huh?”
Have you ever watched Seinfeld? There’s an episode called The Comeback, where the neurotic George Costanza is in a work meeting scarfing down shrimp cocktails and one of his co-workers says, “Hey George, the ocean called; they're running out of shrimp.” George has no comeback as everyone in the meeting laughs at him. Later, he comes up with what he thinks is the perfect retort: “Yeah well, the Jerk Store called, and they're running out of you.” Unable to live with the fact that he didn’t say his comeback, he spends the rest of the episode trying to re-create the moment with his co-worker so that he can say his piece.
That’s what happened to me. I had no comeback. I had no words, period. I was truly shocked.
It was dead silent in the lift; other people were in there and they had obviously heard what was said too but I had no idea what their reactions were because I couldn’t look at anyone.
My face was hot. I laughed nervously (and a bit hysterically).
“Yeah, probably...” I said.
Uh huh, ladies and gentlemen, I agreed.
Of course, in hindsight, I should have said something. But life is not a TV show. I didn’t, and I didn’t get the chance again. If I could though, I would have said a simple: “What do you mean?” That’s it. Nothing clever. I would have asked her to explain it, just to see if she clocked the casual racism.