Casual Racism Isn’t So Casual

By Claire Campbell

For the most part people don’t think that they’re being racist, or they don’t try to be at least. So when they are casually racist, it’s really uncomfortable to confront.

Sometimes people make off-handed comments that they believe to be a compliment. When my boyfriend and I were at a shooting range, the instructor complimented my race.

While we were waiting for our turn, I organized my bullets in the bag they came in. I sorted them into rows. When it was our turn to step up to the table, I handed my bag full of 15 rounds to the instructor so he could demonstrate how to load the magazine. He looked at the organized bullets and said, “This is what I love about Asians.”

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It was meant to be taken as a compliment, but there was no way to respond to it so, I didn’t.

People have assumed many things about me because I’m Asian. Most commonly people assume I speak an Asian language and don’t speak English.

When people learn that I’m Chinese, sometimes they try to say something in Chinese to me. I sort this into the “casually racist” category because they are trying to be nice, but I have been speaking to them in English and haven’t said anything about speaking another language.

I have to explain that I don’t speak Chinese. Then I feel like I have to tell a stranger that I’m adopted so I can justify why I don’t fit into their stereotype. It’s an uncomfortable situation because I don’t usually mention that I’m adopted until I feel that I have to.

Some people assume that I don’t speak English at all, just by looking at me.

One time my mother and I were on vacation and went to a palm reader for fun. My mother was talking to the psychic and I was looking at my phone. There was a lull in the conversation where the woman looked and me and asked my mom, “Does she speak English?”

At that point my mom thanked her for her time and we left before having our palms read. Walking on the street outside my mom said, “Some psychic, huh?”

A lot of times people ask me when I moved to America or how I like it here. This question always throws me off guard because I don’t have even a hint of a foreign accent. I grew up in New Jersey.

Casual racism is different from ordinary racism because it usually comes from a place of trying to understand and trying to connect. But it’s still uncomfortable. I would prefer if people waited for me to talk about it or at least wait to get to know me better.

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