Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I know it’s unrealistic to think that racism will one day go away.  I try not to worry about it too much.  I don’t try to make it a battle that I fight everyday, like others do. (which is a very commendable thing.)  I just try to rise above it and I think I succeed in that regard, most of the time.  As a kid, I used to get into fights over it, and I’m not much of a fighter.  I thought those days were over, but in actuality those days are just less common.  I didn’t realize this until I was 30, when I threw my glass of wine in the face of a guy who had made a unflattering remark about asian people (he thought it was okay since he was part asian) and then proceeded to throw a punch at him that missed him completely.  No one was hurt, but my friend’s girlfriend got splashed with a healthy amount of wine from the crossfire of my walk-by-dousing.  In my head, I was trying to be a hero, but in reality, I was being quite an asshole.  Racism 1, Ryan 0.

That was probably the last dramatic flare up since I was a kid back in Minnesota.  I did have to have to have a little chat with a co-worker at a store I was working at when I was in my mid-20s because he told me “all you asians look the same”, but that conversation was instigated by a store manager who overheard that remark and not because I complained about it.  Even though I had nothing to feel bad about, that conversation was unbelievably uncomfortable.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was just a bad joke.” was all he could say and whenever I would tell him “It’s not just a bad joke, it’s a racist joke.”, he would get defensive, and he’d tell me he wasn’t a bad person, and we’d just go on and on, endlessly.  After school specials made this sort of thing seem so much more simple.  Honestly, our little chat did not make me feel much better about things at all.  Racism 2, Ryan 0, co-worker reconciliation: Incomplete.

The only time that I ever confronted racism head on, and felt victorious about it was when my friend Marco jokingly asked me whether I had ever eaten dog before.  He knew I hadn’t, but he just wanted to get a reaction out of me.  I knew that out of my options, being upset or annoyed by the question was going to be poorest possible response, so I hatched a plan:  I was going to fight fire with fire.  His question was meant to be ridiculous so my answer to him was going to be the same.  I just needed to play it the right way, so delicately, because I was only going to have one chance in the lifespan of our friendship to get away with this.

“I haven’t had dog, but the dogs that Koreans eat aren’t like the dogs that we would recognize here in America.” I calmly stated.  “Well what kind of dogs do they eat?” he asked impatiently, probably surprised that I bothered to dignify his question with a respons.  “They eat a breed of dog called the updog.”  I held my breath, and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  “What the hell is updog?” he responded.

“Not much.  What’s up with you?”  I quickly muttered.  Checkmate.

Marco ran after me for a while and when we were both out of breath, he conceded.  “You got me, you got me clean, too.”  I did and I couldn’t believe it.  Racism 2, Ryan 1.

It was a small victory, but it was a victory against racism (I’m not claiming Marco is a racist, he in fact, is very much the opposite).  It’s how I should be dealing with these instances, rather than trying to be a hero and throwing down some fisticuffs, or trying to teach some 18 year old kid some life lessons.  I’m better off using humor, harmless humor to be exact, rather than trying to combat racist jokes with racist jokes.

Since I’ve only gone 1 for 3 in adult situations with this, I have to find a way to master this newfound method.  Unfortunately, I’m not exactly into trying to find situations to try to this new method out, with fear that I’ll revert to earlier, less pleasant tactics.  (also, pure laziness)  I rather spare random bystanders the threat of getting hit by wine, or for parties to be ruined by my pathetic attempts at fisticuffs for every missed attempt at a joke to diffuse a situation.

What is more likely to happen is that I won’t do anything even though it could be more than being beneficial, or even profitable, to hone this craft.  I could even be considered a hero, but alas, that will never happen, not just because it’s unrealistic, but mostly because I’m unwilling.  Fighting this fight has never been for me, for better or worse, and while someone else will probably eventually come up with some great way to diffuse these little racist confrontations, we’ll have to wait for that someone else to come around and for that method to be invented.  Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting around, thinking of that one awesome time that I tricked Marco with the up dog joke.

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