The other night, I was browsing for clothes I don’t need at Target when I heard a peculiar voice in the distance.
“Ching chong, blah blah, ching chong…”
Was I hearing this correctly? The voice grew louder and it was accompanied by obnoxious giggles. A crescendo of casual racism was walking my way.
I was stunned. It had been a few years since I overheard an ignorant “comedian” using ching-chongs to entertain their ignorant friends. It sucks to be the cultural butt of a joke, but I consider myself lucky that it’s a rare occurrence. Most people have the decency to look both ways before spewing oral excrement.
During the last incident, I was at a college bar with my older brother, my then roommate, and my then roommate’s sister. In the next table over, a guy was mocking Filipinos and referring to South Park’s “City Wok” character, complete with mediocre impressions. They were loud, obnoxious, and having a lot of fun at the expense of other cultures.
We were shocked. Not only were we all of Asian descent, my brother and I are specifically Filipino. The worst part was that the jokes didn’t even mock Filipino culture properly. At the very least, could have substituted “F” sounds for hard “P” sounds to seem slightly less ignorant.
We all exchanged wide-eyed glances at each other. We couldn’t believe our ears. My blood quickly reached the boiling point. “EXCUSE ME?!” I yelled. The offensive table fell silent and did not glance our way. They knew. We continued our meal and ordered another round of drinks. We didn’t let it ruin our day.
This incident flashed through my brain when I heard the voice at Target. I also thought about Rosie O’Donnell’s ching-chong incident from 2006. Then I thought about the UCLA girl that ching-chonged about Asians in the school library and the brilliant response by Youtuber Jimmy Wong (embedded below).
These incidents share a common theme: a person thinks that casual racism is relatable and hilarious. They also share the backlash of Asian-Americans everywhere, although it keeps happening. I don’t expect it to ever go away, but I’m still shocked and disgusted when I hear about it—even more so when I witness it in person.
All these thoughts went through my head as the voice approached. Who could be so bold and so unaware of their surroundings that they’re comfortable with racial humor in public, especially in a college town with a large Asian population? I held my breath and braced myself for what I was about to see.
It was a gaggle of high school girls.
The ringleader “comedian” loudly and proudly recited her ching-chongs. The girls giggled in unison as they marched by. There were at least six of them, no older than 15 and blissfully unaware that other people exist in the universe.
Up until I heard them, I was a great mood and I wasn’t prepared to get worked up that evening. I thought about giving them a loud and pointed “Excuse me?!” like I had done in the past, but I held my tongue and let it go. They’re young and naive and I was sure they would learn their lesson eventually. At least, I can only hope.
I patted myself on the back for thinking and acting rationally through the entire scene. It would have been easy for me to yell and chastise them, but I chose to not let their words affect me. To do so would have empowered those slurs and perpetuated their use. “Sticks and Stones” should end with “words will never hurt me if I don’t let them.”
As I admired my own self control, I saw a couple women walking out of the aisle across from me. They were Asian and I couldn’t tell if they heard the teeny-boppers’ commotion. When I saw them, I realized why I should have said something to those girls. I should have demonstrated that it’s not okay to mock someone’s culture or ethnicity. Even if a slur doesn’t bother me personally, it could still hurt someone which is never okay. At least, that’s what the social superhero in my head thinks.
In the end, I can only stand by my own actions. I let those girls walk away with their casual racism scot-free in the hopes that they’ll learn their lesson eventually. By ignoring them, did I help enable their crude jokes? Did I ignore some sort of civic duty? I’ll never know, but it will be in the back of my mind for a little while.
I continued my shopping and almost bought a pair of pants. Almost.