Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of NextShark.
An internet friend jokingly called me “ching chong” on the social audio app Clubhouse last night.
Everyone in the room, including myself, called it out, and we moved the person down to the audience, but moments later let them back up on the speaking stage. The commenter later messaged me and wrote they were genuinely sorry. They even said as much aloud on the app. We continued the room for another couple of hours, chatting the night away.
I know this person well enough to know they didn’t mean harm and are not a hateful person, but it still caused harm. The thing about casual racism is, well, it’s still racism. It is just much harder to call out.
As the news curator and a writer here at NextShark, my day-to-day consists of staying abreast of hate incidents throughout the Asian community. I know how frequent they can be, I know how severe or triggering it can be to see. Many of those incidents are clear-cut for us to call out and report on; it is usually some report or footage of a non-Asian saying something hateful or assaulting an Asian person.
When racism is “casual,” the evidence can be fuzzy. When the racism comes from a trusted friend group and from a fellow Asian, even more so. According to a recent national survey, nearly 3 million AAPIs experienced a hate incident since 2021. What the survey does not reveal is if any of those hate incidents came from within the Asian community. So many of us in the AAPI space right now are just trying to survive or stand in solidarity with one another that it can be difficult to press on any issues that may divide us.
Only days ago I felt a swell of emotions seeing the solidarity of the AAPI community across the country to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. I even spoke on a panel during a livestream of the commemoration event about finding and using your voice. That is precisely why I write this.
The recent incident with my own friend comes as a reminder to me that racism can occur and happen to anyone. I’m someone dedicated to community-building within AAPI spaces. I’ve played a role in running a few large AAPI communities, totaling over 2 million members, and also am a writer at NextShark – all of these influential AAPI communities that I’ve helped build are a refuge to me. Embedded in all these communities, I thought I was better protected against anti-Asian racism incidents, that these spaces could shelter me from a blatantly othering world, but they didn’t.
A part of me debated not writing about the incident at all. I feel no ill-will toward the person who called me “ching chong,” but if I also didn’t call it out, I would be hypocritical of the very advice I tried to speak about during my panel: the importance of finding and using your voice to speak about things you know in your heart aren’t right.
So many Asians are taught to keep their heads down, to not speak up about their experiences because it would be better to save face. Moreover, when we do that, we teach ourselves it’s OK to be treated the way we are and that our stories don’t matter, that even if we did use our voice, would anyone really listen or care? It’s in these moments that casual racism can seep into our everyday lives. It may not seem like much, like something just to be swept under the rug, but just as water seeps into the soil, you may not think anything of it at first, but someday that seed will grow and fester. The racism that seeps can be just as dangerous to us as any loud bigoted stranger accosting us.
The choice to call out racism, even from within your community, even from a friend, starts with having the courage to do so and the recognition that your experience is valid. It ends with follow-through for yourself, no longer asking permission to speak up about the harmful things that happen to you. You owe that to yourself because you matter, and any casual racism, no matter whom or where it comes from, is never just casual.
Feature Image via Jason Leung