Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hard to say

..."Oh, it's Japanese food? Someone told me it was Chinese!" I heard at work yesterday, from the other side of the division in the room I was in. Based on a flier Eric got by mistake yesterday, they were talking about a seminar on retiree investments held at a local Japanese restaurant.

"Oh, Jap food and Chinese food are all the same," said the new guy.

"Did he just say 'Jap'?" I asked my coworker, T, on this side of the division, a little louder than I would have normally. The new guy was going on in the same vein: oh those Orientals, all the same.

I got up to go talk to him, and heard J, on the other side of the division, say, "You shouldn't say things like that. A client could be coming through."

The new guy laughed at her, and joked, and went on. I got up and sat down twice, wanting to go say something and horribly fearful at the same time. Finally the new guy made another similar remark and J, defeated because no one around them was helping and the new guy wasn't listening, said quietly, "I can't agree with you, sir. I don't want to hear this."

And I got up and rounded the corner and said, "I agree. 'Jap' is a very pejorative term. Please don't use it again." I looked the new guy in the eye, and he sobered, and said, "All right."

I went back to my chair. T had gone in the meantime and I leaned over the desk and realized I was actually trembling. Not long after, the new guy came over and said, "I want to apologize. I didn't know Jap was an offensive word. I was using it as an abbreviation." I'm not sure I believe this, though he is fairly young, or whether it excuses it. But I smiled and accepted his apology. I don't know whether J got a similar one, or if he thought he'd personally offended me but not her, or if my relatively superior position made him worry. I was waiting for him to say "I didn't mean to insult your ancestors," or something similar, but he didn't. Not that it matters. I'm not Japanese, but here I am with my flat face and epicanthic fold to tell you that racist terms are not cool.

But I also hate how agitated I got over confronting him, and how close I was to saying nothing. I'm hardly a confrontational person, but I should still be able to stand up for what's right. I'm ashamed that it was so hard for me. I guess I haven't had enough practice.

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