response to a racist

This is an amazing, powerful piece by Jeannie Choi on the Sojourners blog, about a brief but shocking, racist encounter she recently had with a stranger on the street: Letter to the Man Who Yelled at Me. I just think it's really well-written, so I'm reprinting it here:
Letter to the Man Who Yelled at Me
by Jeannie Choi

Dear Sir,

I am writing you this letter after much internal debate to inform you of the many realizations that erupted within me after our very brief encounter yesterday. I am writing you this letter because there is a lot I have to say to you. I am writing you this letter because after a great deal of thought, I've decided that you might like to know what you did, what I should have done, and what I hope can happen between you and me in the future.

First, what you did. Yesterday, as I was walking down Columbia Road, you saw me from a distance. I did not see you, because I was on the phone. But you certainly saw me. You saw me in my summer dress, walking quickly because I was late for dinner with my cousins, chattering away on my cell phone, laughing at something my friend said. You saw me. You saw my black hair, my sloped forehead, brown eyes, and undoubtedly in your mind you thought something along the lines of chink, gook, oriental, Chinese chick who doesn't speak English. And for some reason, for a reason that I can't understand, you proceeded to get right in my face and yell at me. And if you can't remember what it is you yelled—Well, I do and I probably will forever:"Ching chong ching chong f***ing CHINK!"

Maybe I should introduce myself. I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1982. I have since lived in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, and now Washington DC, where you also live. I studied English literature and professional writing in college. I have a graduate degree in church history. I am an editor at a magazine. I am not a good drinker and have been known to pass out after one midori sour. I like to play racquet sports. I have a younger sister. My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when I was a freshman in college. My dad and I cried on the phone together for the first time when he told me granddad was gone, and I cry every time I think of him to this day, seven years later. I like to listen to Talib Kweli, Bon Iver, and Ella Fitzgerald. I love love love steak. I am miserable at mental math. I'm a dog person, though I live with seven cats. I believe there's nothing more comforting than nestling a steaming cup of hazelnut dark roast between your clasped hands.

All of these things, I wish you knew. I wish you knew me. I wish we were friends. I wish I had turned around, instead of walking away, walking faster, tears of fury streaming down my face. I wish I had run and caught up with you so I could have introduced myself in person and told you my story, and heard your own. I wish we could have apologized to each other. For one, I am sorry that my people have cordoned ourselves off into a cushy upper-middle class existence. I am sorry not enough of us, my Asian brothers and sisters and me, care to interact with people from other backgrounds. I'm sorry that we stay in our safe, Asian American Christian fellowship groups on campuses. I'm sorry that we carry generations of racism in our bones. I'm sorry that once we enter professional life, we ignore the travails of those minorities not as fortunate as ourselves. I'm sorry that sometimes I forget that I am a minority. I'm sorry that our people have never really met or fellowshipped together. It's a damn shame too, because I'm sure we could get along if we just stopped to say hello.

I'm sorry that in the year 2008, you still haven't met me, and by me, I mean, the archetypal me. You have never met me, an Asian American who speaks English as her first language. As a result, you felt as though you could mock me and get away with it. And to a certain extent you did. But the truth is, I realized that it's partly my fault that you had never met me because I kept myself in a safe bubble and stayed comfortable in my element. I am sorry for that. I'm so sorry.

Finally, I write to make you a pledge. I pledge to introduce myself to you. I pledge to immerse myself in my community … in this neighborhood of Columbia Heights, where blacks, latinos, whites, and Asians run into one another on the streets, at the grocery store, in restaurants. What you did yesterday made me realize that the only way for you to know better is for you to know me. So I hope we meet. I hope we become friends. I look forward to it.

Sincerely yours,

I think she speaks for a lot of us who have been through similar situations—"Ching chong ching chong f***ing CHINK!"—and have had it haunt us, without ever having the chance to confront the haters. I can count off a number of racist encounters in my life when I've felt helpless, and wished I could go back and tell off and/or inflict violence on the perpetrators. But what Jeannie has written here is done with such grace and eloquence, it's truly inspiring.

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