December 16, 2008

How kids taunt Asians (and Indians)

Here's a powerful essay that reveals how kids taunt other kids who are different. Although it's about an Asian girl, you can imagine how it applies to Indians. For the "ching chong" chants and "slanted eyes" mockery, substitute cries of "savage!" and "Pocahontas" and "whoo-whoo" war whoops.

Getting Past the Bears:  Racist Abuse in Middle School and the Formation of People of Color ConsciousnessLet me describe a typical day. It would begin as soon as I walked to the bus stop. The other kids would glare at me and sometimes try to steal my bookbag so they could throw it in the street. One girl claimed to want to make peace with me, so she offered me some candy, which I could tell immediately was chocolate laxative. When I refused to take it she got mad and cursed me out. I learned to try and get the seat right behind the bus driver; otherwise, the other kids would turn around in their seats and pull their eyes up at the corners. In the hallways, I had groups of kids walking behind me, breathing down my neck, yelling “CHINKY CHINKY CHING CHONG”. Class was relatively safe. Then between classes and on the bus ride back home I’d face more of the same. Perhaps my locker would have a drawing taped onto it, a stick figure caricature with slanty eyes.

The nadir of the day was Physical Education. We were supposed to change into gym clothes in the foggy hell of the girl’s locker room. Bursts of powdery aerosol deodorant drifted across the room, mixing with sickly sweet hairspray fumes, stale sweat and the stench of watermelon bubble gum. The first time I took off my shirt to change into gym clothes, I was surrounded by a circle of older, larger, shrieking white girls. “You should shave your legs, you look like a gorilla!” “Look, that bitch doesn’t have any tits!” “CHINESE JAPANESE DIRTY KNEES LOOK AT THESE! HAHAHAHA!” I cringed into a corner and wrapped my arms around my chest. I never changed my clothes again.
Adults were no help:There was one thing I’d never tried—the refuge of the hated “narc.” I went to the guidance counselor. As he closed the door to start our appointment, I was terrified, nervous and sweating. I’d broken a code because I was desperate, and worst of all, weak. But now that I was here, I was going to do my best. I was going to find the words. I stared at my shoes, and in a monotone, told him what was going on in the bus and what the kids were calling me.

He leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the desk and his hands behind his head. He probably thought it made him look more casual… more on a level with the kids. He said, “Let me teach you a little rhyme. It goes, sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. Can you say that?” I mumbled something and came close to crying. His sigh carried a strong note of impatience. “Do you have any other problems you want to talk about? No? Okay, just remember that rhyme. Bye!”
The taunting reaches a climax:Then one day, the three black girls cornered me during PE. I was at my usual post by the side of the field in the shade around the corner from the water fountain. They saw me and came over. I was sitting up against a wall with nowhere to go. They leaned over me. I covered my head with my arms to try to block out the sound, but they were very loud.

Ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong ching chong.

I’d seen this behavior before coming from packs of white kids. When they see a wounded animal, the pack instinct is to circle, to make probing attacks, to see exactly how weak the prey is. I knew I had to get up, I had to move, or they would keep closing in. But I was paralyzed. I could feel my blood pounding through my veins. I’d gone beyond the point of breaking down in tears; in a few more seconds, I was going to start hyperventilating or vomiting. I had to try something. I used my last coherent breath to choke out a sentence… “Calling me ching chong is the same as me calling you a nigger.”
Surprisingly, this approach worked--at least with those three girls. But the other kids continued to taunt her until she moved.

The results

Other than calling her experiences "abuse," the author doesn't say exactly how they affected her in later life. But we can imagine the effects because we've studied The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. For instance:I have seen firsthand how these images, along with poverty or low socioeconomic status, generational trauma and other issues of reservation life contribute to low self-esteem in Native students.

Denise K. Lajimodiere, VIEWPOINT: Racism at Protest Shames UND, Grand Forks Herald, 4/12/06
Certainly, there are other areas of life that need to be addressed and which may appear to be more urgent. Crime, substance abuse, incarceration and many other ills are relevant problems that require solutions. However, the root of many, if not most, of these is the lack of self-esteem our children experience. Over the past five centuries our religions, our languages, our ceremonies, the totality of our cultures, have been violently suppressed. Today, youth learn about Indians through distorted depictions in advertising, by watching television and movies, and through the symbols associated with athletic mascots. Not many years ago, some of our friends overheard reservation children, while watching a Hollywood western, voice the hope that someday they could meet a "real" Indian. This situation must change, because without a healthy self-image, our youth are condemned to lives of continuing social and emotional problems.

Jonathan B. Hook, Ph.D., president, American Indian Resource Center
Minority groups are regularly excluded and marginalized, and the dominant culture is reinforced as the norm. As a result, not only does the audience believe that minorities are bad people, minorities themselves feel excluded from their Canadian identity and believe that they are indeed inferior people. "Negative depictions of minorities teach minorities in Canada that they are threatening, deviant, and irrelevant to nation-building; they effectively serve to instill inferiority complexes among minorities; there are few positive role models," says Mahtani.

Chloe Tejada, Media Column: How the Media Silence Native Americans, 7/2/05
Girl Cries Over Stereotypes provides another good example of the harm. It's clear to me that this kind of abuse hurts people.

Below:  "Indians are like savage apes! Ha ha, just kidding!"


modest-goddess said...

Adoptive parents lose son because he is part Native American

the comments section is full of references to casinos where racist go to play

Anonymous said...

Am American Tradition

I know of many (too many) incidents where Indian people have been mistaken for Asians by non-Indians and subsequently treated worse than shit.

But, from my own life experiences I can assure anyone who reads this posting that Asians in America have also been treated horribly in society, especially in the public schools.

After my family relocated to Los Angeles in the early '60s, I witnessed the brutality of anti-Asian sentiment as, believe it or not, WWII animosities were still very much prevalent on the West Coast at that time.

Academic placement or the testing associated with grouping "high achievers" apart from students of average caliber, placed me (Lakota) with white and Asian "A" students in high school in the "brain classes." And it was in these classes where I saw how badly almost all of my Asian classmates were treated.

Since I was always mistaken for Chicano (and given the name "Marty Martinez" by the white kids), only on a very rare occasion did I ever encounter any race-based torment for being Indian (unless a teacher divulged that information in class). Then, I was torn apart for being Indian with the usual taunts.

With my Asian classmates, though, words like "gook"; "slope"; "dink"; fish head"; "buddha head"; "chink"; and "jap" were directed at them with such regularity that I just cringed whenever these words were used. To make matters worse, I had befriended many of the Asian students in my various classes and I was labeled a "gook lover."

Then, in my senior year in high school, I became involved in a "forbidden love affair" with a Japanese-American girl (Diane). She and I were summarily victimized by not only the whites, but by our parents (my father was in the Korean War and he hated Asians with a passion) and Diane's folks forbade her to have anything to do with anyone who was not Japanese.

At one point we even considered running away, but Diane had a brother who was confined to a wheelchair and she could not bear to leave him.

Such was life back in the day.

Rob said...

For what it's worth, Melvin, I went to school about five years after you did in the LA area. I didn't notice any prejudice against Asians or other minorities. Of course, I may have been oblivious to it. ;-)

For more on the adoption story, see Campbell Brown Slams Indians.

Anonymous said...

Yeah yeah, ching chong ching chong, get over it mate. It's part of getting ready to take life on. Everybody must be 100% safe. Jeez! How did we get so far as a species?

Rob said...

Get over my criticism, mate. If you don't like it, leave.