I randomly encountered an interesting anecdote involving “racism” my Weixin (aka WeChat) feed this afternoon, posted by someone I had likewise randomly exchanged contacts after a random meeting through a mutual friend. This guy was introduced to me as something of a “Chinese internet celebrity” on Weibo or Weixin or something, but I’ve never actually looked into it so I’m assuming he’s at least a minor online personality. Long story short, the fact that we once exchanged contacts and I haven’t yet deleted him means I get to see all of his “Moments” (WeChat’s name for people’s status updates on the social network) in my feed. The guy is currently vacationing in Canada, and below is one of his first posts into his trip:
飞机快降落时，同排的亚裔男子接听电话，满口日本话。前排的白人男子脱口就是“Stupid Chinese，Fxxx”。我立马拍了那白人，指着自己“Chinese”，然后指着电话男，“Japanese”，“We r different , u know?”结果，白人男子和日本鬼子同时道歉，因为飞机颠簸过于剧烈，我被迫勉强接受。
As the plane was about to land, an Asian guy in my row picked up a phone call, and a bunch of Japanese came out of his mouth. The white guy in the row in front of us then blurts out, “Stupid Chinese, fuck”. I immediately tapped that white guy on the shoulder, pointed at myself and said “Chinese”, then pointed at the guy on the phone and said “Japanese. We are different, you know?” The white guy and the Japanese devil simultaneously apologize, and because the plane was jolting excessively, I was forced to reluctantly accept the apology [without continuing/pressing the matter].
There are at least three aspects of this anecdote that people may find noteworthy, and which of them one notices or notices first probably says a bit about oneself. I’ll list what jumped out at me, in the order it did:
- What the white guy blurted out loud, potentially to himself or a companion, perhaps thinking the target of his ire wouldn’t likely understand or not.
- The guy posting this anecdote being irked by the white guy’s “racist” generalization only to turn around and use a racial slur for the Japanese guy.
- The Japanese guy having his cell phone on and actually answering a call while still in the air, against well-known commercial flight regulations.
Japanese Dude Using His Phone In-Flight
I’m somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t even think much of the Japanese guy openly answering a call in-flight before being annoyed by the the white guy’s comment. Maybe my mind had already registered the English words and I had started reading the Chinese words with an intent to figure out the context leading to it so the detail about the Japanese guy using his phone before landing just fell into the background.
That said, how often do we hear about Chinese plane passengers disregarding regulations and flight attendant admonishments when it comes to turning off or keeping off their cell phones? Or about unbuckling and standing up before the plane has come to a complete stop? Misbehaving to outright unruly Chinese plane passengers are a fairly common stereotype, regardless of the causes, whether it be general ignorance/inexperience, some notion of the rules not applying to them, or that their infraction is ultimately “no big deal”.
In this context where Chinese passengers are regularly negatively stereotyped and often compared unfavorably against “Japanese people”, who are often simultaneously stereotyped as something akin to “model” Asians (in the eyes of many “Westerners”), polite and civilized next to the uncouth Chinese “peasantry”, it’s impossible to not see a misbehaving Japanese passenger as some sort of “balancing of the scales”.
The feeling here isn’t that the “Westerners” who regularly criticize the Chinese think all Japanese people are perfect; the feeling is more that some Westerners too often take their stereotyping and generalizations too far. Examples that run contrary to these exaggerated stereotypes and generalizations therefore force such Westerners to backpedal just a bit when they get a little too obnoxiously and unjustifiably judgmental. The feeling is a sort of vindication, against the feeling that one is painting one side too black and another side too white.
So yeah, “Hah! Japanese guy breaking the rules! It’s not just Chinese people!”
Of course, it’s hardly just Westerners who have a negative impression of Chinese passengers, and stereotypes often have some basis in truth. The defensiveness comes from how far some critics take them, along with their tones of condescension and self-righteousness. There’s criticism and then there is bashing, and that line gets crossed quite often.
White Dude’s “Stupid Chinese, Fuck!”
The racial slur for Chinese people is “chink”. For Japanese, “nip”. Koreans? “Gook”. There’s something for everyone. While “cracker” might be one for white people in an American context, an interesting though perhaps recent proposition is that the racial slur for white people has become: “racist”.
Is this white guy’s comment of annoyance “racist”? What if he said “Stupid Mexicans, fuck!”? Or how about “Stupid Arabs, fuck!”? Maybe “Stupid blacks, fuck!”?
Let’s be clear: there’s no difficulty in understanding the root and context of his annoyance. There’s this obviously Asian looking guy behind him, on a flight that may have started off in mainland China, who is seemingly shamelessly answering and then carrying on a phone conversation right before finally landing in Canada, when everyone has been clearly told that such telecommunications equipment could interfere with aircraft systems. The damn fucker is jeopardizing everyone’s lives, yo! Stupid fuck, fuck! How many times has he been told on how many previous flights he’s been on? Someone get a stewardess over to bitchslap this fucker upside the head with a shaming “what the fuck is wrong with you?” glare, right?
If the white guy had said “Idiot, fuck” or “Dumbass, fuck”, we probably wouldn’t have this anecdote. Calling a jackass a “jackass” is one thing, but invoking a racial or ethnic identity makes it another.
We know the white guy can’t distinguish between the Chinese and Japanese language. We can assume he has cause for thinking “Chinese” people are liable to disregard the rules and answer a call mid-flight. He’s probably even had lots of misleadingly vivid experiences with Chinese people not being good little plane passengers. No point denying that many haven’t been, aren’t, and that many people have encountered them with dismay.
But does it justify or excuse his reaction?
And if that’s how he reacts, by zeroing in on racial or ethnic identity, what does it say about his thought processes?
Chinese Dude’s “Japanese Devil”
Likewise, how almost funny it would be that this Chinese guy took issue with the white guy’s comment only to then refer to the Japanese guy as a “Japanese devil” if it weren’t so glaringly hypocritical? How can one avoid thinking, “oh, so it’d be okay if he said ‘stupid Japanese'”?
Racism, accidental or intentional, casual or otherwise, in speech, thought, or action can be really obnoxious. Introspectively, I even wonder if it is just those of us who grew up in the United States who are so sensitive about race-relations. Many Europeans I’ve come across seem to think Americans are more hung-up about it than others. I can grant that, though I think it’s a sociological issue worth being hung-up on, given how it subtly–even nefariously–shapes people’s worldviews and self-perceptions. We’re social creatures, so if we don’t shape society, society shapes us, for better or worse.
Hypocrisy is often even more obnoxious. This isn’t to say we aren’t all guilty of some measure of hypocrisy in our lives, because we all are. But there’s something doubly irksome about double-standards, about a Chinese guy being indignant about being conflated with a “Japanese devil” by a white guy. Was he more annoyed by the white guy’s racism or at being mixed-up with a “Japanese devil”? What was he objecting to?
What does that say about him?
We know the white guy apologized, though it’s uncertain if it was for his racism or for his misidentification of the target’s ethnicity. We know the Japanese guy apologized, probably for doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing, and we can only hope he’s contrite about that. However, I’m waiting to see if the Chinese guy who shared this anecdote will respond to my comment asking him for the difference between what the white guy said and his “Japanese devil.”
To be fair to the Chinese guy here, judging by an earlier comment he posted (likely in response to someone else’s comment I can’t see because I’m not linked to that person), I’m not the only person who made a point about his own racial slur. That’s probably a credit to the other Chinese WeChat users he’s connected with.
And life goes on…