I'm so pissed off right now, and the worst part of it all is that I don't even have a target for my anger, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. I now am even more familiar with the term "helpless rage" than I was before. Here's the deal. I was just at dinner with my supervisor and one of our vendors. Well, we were doing the polite small talk thing, and somehow the conversation ended up focusing on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Well, I'm assuming people know about the riots, but if you don't, then the lowdown on them was:
- They basically started over the beating of Rodney King and anger over the sentence given to a Korean liquor store owner who shot and killed an African American girl. When the officers who beat Rodney were acquitted there was a lot of protest over it, and mob mentality took over.
- There was looting of retail stores, fires set, and Asians and people who looked white were attacked on the streets, such as Reginald Denny and Fidel Lopez, the two most extreme cases.
- Most of the violence was in and around South Central Los Angeles, and spreading to Koreatown.
Anyway, it lasted almost a week and of course was covered as nauseum by the media and got national attention by being condemned by the President, and the Justice Department intending on investigating Rodney King's case.
So, back to the dinner tonight. They started talking about the riots, and both my supervisor and the vendor are white females in their mid-thirties or so. The vendor at the time lived in Tarzana, part of the San Fernando Valley, and I believe my supervisor lived in Burbank or Eagle Rock.
[Now for the record, Tarzana is approximately 25 miles, give or take, from Inglewood, probably the northernmost city in what's considered "South Central". Burbank/Eagle Rock are probably about the same distance away. Now in LA traffic, that's at LEAST 30 mins away with NO traffic, and as the trusty Google maps tells me, up to an hour and a half in traffic. Also note that both areas are in middle class to upper middle class suburbs, the 'hood nowhere in sight.]
In the course of conversation, of course the violence and horror of the riots were deplored and condemned, etc, etc etc. But then, a couple of bombs were dropped, comments were made that got me SO HOT that I thought I might spontaneously combust on the spot. First, that although both people at the table were at LEAST 30 mins away from the riots, they talked about how SCARED they were. Bomb #1: I paraphrase here, but..."Even just driving around in the San Fernando Valley was scary after the riots, for goodness sake!"
Say what? You live in middle class suburbia...and you're afraid of driving around there? What the fuck do you think is going to happen to you?
Bomb #2: ..."I can't believe it, I mean, what THOSE PEOPLE were doing, it was so awful..." Uh, "those people"? Who exactly are THOSE people? What the fuck do you have to be afraid of when you live in the suburbs over 20 miles away? When you've probably had limited to no experience with minorities? Is it, "Uh oh, the natives are restless and they're rising up against white people HO NOES!"
Both of them talked about how scared they were and how awful it all was, and oh, how terrible it was what happened to Reginald Denny just because he was white, etc etc etc. No mention of any of the other people who were beaten brutally. No mention of the people who were murdered. All they knew was that "OMG THE NATIVES ARE RESTLESS~!" I sat there and said nothing. I said nothing about how the riots weren't solely about blacks vs. whites. I said nothing of the fact that I myself am Korean, and have relatives living in Koreatown, who lived there at the time the riots were happening. I said nothing of the fact that people don't seem to remember, but just like everyone and their mother racially profiled Muslims and Middle Easterners after 9/11, other people of color looked at me and my slanted eyes sideways for YEARS after the riots. I said nothing about the fact that during the riots, I lived in a group home with only Latinas and black girls. I said nothing about the whispered warnings from one of the Latina girls who took pity on me, the one Asian girl in the home and warned me not to sleep at night because the black girls were planning to jump me when I went to bed. I said nothing about the anger and fear and uncertainty of those weeks I spent there.
The worst part about this whole situation is that both of these women are very nice, very good and caring people. I don't think they even realize that calling minorities "those people" and talking about how scared they were of the minorities possibly traveling 25 miles to loot their homes, set fire to them, and kill their families, is racist. As a matter of fact, I know my supervisor would vehemently protest any such accusations of being racist...after all, she has minority friends, what am *I* if not a minority, right? So I can't even be upset at the people involved, because if I got angry at the table, it would have been dismissed as an outburst from an uppity minority female, trying to think she's as good as everyone else. I couldn't try and reason with them later on, because they would agree that such comments were awful and racist, while never realizing that it is they themselves that are racist. These are the same people who are shocked when I say that I'm not good at math and say, "But...you're Asian!" But no, that's not racist, its just a surprise that I don't...fit the stereotype. So what can I do? What DO I do?
The answer to that is, simply, there IS nothing I can do. I'm so angry, not at them, but at the environment that's made people this way. At society in general. At the media. I have to sit there and bite my tongue every single time something like this happens, and it does happen often, because after all, I'm only Asian. People feel justified in making racist jokes and comments in my presence because they figure "Hell, she's Asian, what does she care about black people/Latinos/Middle Easterners/etc". I'm the "model minority". They don't realize that I DO take offense, because I try to be an exception to the rule, and I know there must be plenty of people like me out there. For that matter, I know a lot of them. So how can I make blanket statements about people, when I try so hard to break paradigms? I can't, so I don't. I like to judge individuals. I don't think my race is better than others, quite the opposite. Of course I logically understand that stereotypes are formed for a reason, and millions of people every day, the non-thinking sheep out there, fulfill those stereotypes unthinking. But not EVERYONE fits a stereotype. Not everyone is part of THOSE people. I wonder if the people I was at dinner with even know that it was a black man that took Reginald Denny, a WHITE man, to the hospital so he could be treated? Probably not.
God, I can't wait to graduate and get my master's, and get paid to help put an end to this type of madness.