Forgot to wish everyone a happy Lunar New Year yesterday, so here it is! Happy year of the rat to all my Chinese people, gung hay fat choy, xin nian kuai le and all that.
I’m in rural Georgia right now for work and I’m probably the only flesh and blood Chinese guy folks out here have ever seen. One guy came up to me and said, “Hey Yao Ming, what’s happenin?” and I started bustin up laughing. I know some people might be offended by a comment like that, but I wasn’t. You have to put it in context, and the context in the rural south is a totally Black and White spectrum where folks rarely see real live Asians (although they are starting to see a lot of Latino migrant workers, and there’s a lot of Asians going to the urban areas of the South). I started talking to the guy and he turned out to be real friendly, I could tell there wasn’t any hatred behind his comment, just ignorance (and I don’t mean ignorance in a negative way, I mean serious I have never seen someone like you but I want to connect with you on some level so I’m going to relate you to a Chinese person that I know from the media in hopes that we can have a conversation type ignorance; confusing yes, but not hatred). I was kind of happy to think that for all the negative stereotypically wack Asian images out there, there are actually some positive ones in the popular consciousness, like Yao, one of the best pro basketball centers in the game today. Progress? Sure, although we still have far to go (and I definitely want to get back to the ATL where I can get some decent Chinese food and I don’t get stared at quite so often).
In NO WAY am I saying it is okay to walk up to people of color and randomly call them the name of some media character that is of their same ethnicity. All I’m doing is reflecting on an experience in the deep South, and putting in context. Its another world down here.