I said yesterday that I was tired of sharing facts, memes, and empathetic stories because I felt like they weren’t working. I still feel like they aren’t working, and I know it’s hypocritical to share one now. But I realized that there was one story I hadn’t yet shared: my own.
My husband and I, newlyweds, are looking for an apartment. I had responded to a few posts the day before via email and was waiting for them to call me back. Early one morning, I got a call back from a woman. Her tone was very strange and she was choosing her words very carefully. She said that my number wasn’t local and asked me where I was from. I told her we had moved here from out of town a few years ago. She then said that the two other people in the building (it was a triplex) were a “certain type of person” and she wanted to make sure that I fit in there. She said the other tenants were friends with each other, that they were quiet neighbors. She didn’t want anyone disruptive.
It suddenly dawned on me that all she knew about me was my last name, “Choi”. Was I, a white girl, being racially profiled?
I had never personally been a victim of racial discrimination from a white person before. I wasn’t sure, definitively, what this woman’s motivations were. And that, in a way, was the kicker. She was careful and didn’t call me out outright. It was more a matter of tone, the nuance of what she was saying and how she asked her questions. There was nothing that I could call out and be like, “That’s racist.” And yet, I knew in my gut that I had never been talked to that way before.
I realized the impact it might have. Sure, the people at the local Korean restaurant always bring me the cheap silverware instead of the sets they reserve for Koreans. That’s annoying. Sometimes we get slower service in Asian restaurants or Asian groceries. That’s annoying too. Sometimes I’ve read terrible things said about “all white people” online that I personally don’t relate to. That’s frustrating. But this type of racial profiling, from a person who held some power over me, directly impacted the options of where I could live. Because even after I dropped a few names and she warmed up to me, and offered to show me the place, I felt sick to my stomach thinking about possibly living there.
This is not to tell some sob story about the time that privileged white girl joined “the other side.” I only say this because I imagine what would happen if this situation were magnified. If EVERY landlord treated me with this amount of caution. If EVERY store feared that I might be “disruptive.” If EVERY potential employer was looking for “a certain kind of person.” Or, at least, a large percentage of them. How would I have the motivation to keep applying, to keep smiling, to keep trying to impress when I knew exactly what they were thinking?
As Jonathan and I talked about, we feel oddly out of place in this discussion. Asians have been treated much better, at least, than black people in this country. Their struggle is not the same. Asian-white relationships are generally accepted. If anything, we confuse people. The person at the movie ticket counter might ask for my ticket separately before realizing we handed her both. The person in the phone store might single me out to ask if I need help when I walk into the store in the dead center of his entire family. Those stories, generally, are amusing, and credit, at most, an eye roll. Sure, there’s the occasional ignorant comment. The girl telling me he was cute “for an Asian.” The coworker who found out he was Christian and said, “Well good for him!” People asking me close personal questions about our relationship that I know they wouldn’t ask a white couple.
Still, we, as a couple, have never been called names. We’ve never had to be fearful. And yet, what is happening does affect us, especially him. As Jonathan said, “I’m on the fence between ‘I’ve never been treated that way before’ and ‘But I’m not white.'” I dread the day when I will have to explain racism to my own children, when I may have to tell them why they are being treated differently. I’m hoping I won’t have to, but I know that’s naive.
It’s hard for me to think in terms of “privilege.” I feel like people equate that word with “easy.” My life has, in no way shape or form, been easy. Still, there is a certain kind of privilege in being able to find a place to live without worrying about the color of your skin. Yes, I would say that is a certain kind of privilege.