Michael Luo, an editor on the Race/Related team at The New York Times recently wrote an open letter to a woman who yelled at him to “Go back to China.”
His claim of discrimination was met with criticism by some people, including conservative writer Ann Coulter. But others were all too familiar with his story. Asian Americans began posting their own stories on Twitter, tagged with the phrase “this is 2016” as a reminder to society that even now, in the 21st century, we are subjected to such displays of racism.
How pleasant it must be to live in the Coulter camp, a world of white privilege where racism is a dirty word from a less enlightened time. But the sad truth is that racism is still a very real and present thing. Even worse, it frequently goes unnoticed by those who don’t experience it.
But noticing something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and many of us know this all too well.
Just like Mr. Luo, I have been told to go back to China. If I point out that I’m Filipino, many people will dismiss this. “It’s the same thing, right?” they say.
If I had known that people would meet claims of racism with such skepticism, I would have kept a running tally of my experiences over the years.
Age 6: My kindergarten teacher laughs at me in front of my class after I can’t think of the English word for “sala.”
Age 7: Children ask why my eyes are so small. “Are you Chinese or something?”
Age 8: “Hey you! Shelby Woo/Mulan/Ching Chong.”
The insults became more blatant as I grew older. “Go back to China/You don’t belong here/You’re not a real American.”
Men I have dated have been asked if they have a “thing” for Asian women, as if being with us is some sort of exotic adventure. They’ve been asked if their families are accepting of them being in an interracial relationship. Once, when I was out of earshot at a party, a woman asked the man I was with, “Are you okay being with…that?”
In the past week I have been told to go live in Manila because I clearly don’t appreciate being an American. I have been told that I should be “grateful” that the Americans “saved” America during WWII while the Filipinos “did nothing.” I have been told that Filipinos are “basically Mexican,” asked if Tagalog is “named after the Girl Scout cookie,” and told that the Philippines is a place no one would want to live, especially since it’s “way deep in the jungle where no one ever goes.”
But despite stories like these, there are people who will claim that racism doesn’t exist.
Why? Because this is 2016.