Here I am sitting at my desk in my office, the sun begins shining, my coworkers are busy typing away and an older man comes in (50-60 years old) and he stands there, so I say “Hi! I can help you,” offering him my services to help him plan a trip (I’m a travel agent).
He sees me, walks over, looks at me and says “Can you speak English?”
My coworkers (who are all diverse, queer or PoCs) faces show their disgust at such an ignorant comment.
He sits down and I think of giving him a polite piece of my mind but I don’t, because I choose to offer him assistance, however restrained and direct, I am still nice. I enunciate my words clearly and perfectly. I give a thin lipped smile, and I help him in a passive-aggressive Canadian way, all the while feeling this pressure behind my eyes at such a micro-aggression, at feeling this jab somewhere between my mind and heart, somewhere that always tells me, yes, this is a white world, this is a man’s world. This is a world where I can feel a numbness from experiencing this over and over again and yet the effect it has on me still surmounts to a hurt, to a twisting feeling that people can still be so ignorant.
This is a world where a person of colour can be pointed out, again and again, that they don’t belong and they still have to continue to make space for someone who makes them feel this way. They still have to smile, be polite, and allow this whiteness to overcome their feeling of belonging, to cast a shadow over their day that was going just fine.
And, I know there will be people pointing out that I should “get over it”, or that it’s not that bad, or that he is old (which is just an excuse to let old people continue to be bigots) but this is one of many, small pinpricks in the fabric of my life that leave holes with ragged edges that allow the shadows of internalized racism, that allow the memories of a lifetime of racist experiences (small and big) and the feeling of being an “Other” to permeate in.
The funny thing is that he wasn’t even from Canada, he’s from New Zealand, so really, it should have been me making some sort of comment about where he was from, considering I was the one who was born here. But, because I am of Southeast Asian-Vietnamese descent, I am the one who doesn’t belong here.