For the past year and a half, I have been a waitress in a small, family owned Asian restaurant. The owner is a first generation immigrant to America from Thailand. Many of my coworkers are also from Thailand. I am a white woman, and as a white woman, I have never had to deal with racism directed at me. I can “forget” that I’m white because my race is considered “normal” in my area. But during my time working there, I have seen something a little nasty in our (white–and yes, it really is only white people) customers; a little racism.
I don’t think that these people realize that they’re being racist. I think that they are just people trying to live their lives in kindness and peace like we all are. I think that they don’t realize that their comments are inappropriate. So, I thought this could be a teachable situation. Here are some things that, if you are doing them in any “ethnic food” restaurant, you should *please* stop doing:
1.) Asking your server his/her race and/or remarking on their race. Those things are personal, and some people may not wish to discuss it. Comments/questions like “What are you?” and “You’re not Asian!” are pretty rude. Someone’s race is not always physically apparent, so please don’t tell them what they are or aren’t–that could be very hurtful. And I don’t owe you my personal information.
2.) Asking what race the cook is. Again, that is personal information. I don’t feel comfortable giving out personal details about my coworkers, and they have a right to privacy. I don’t need to parade them around in front of you to prove that “the wrong brown people” aren’t making your food. You like the meal or you don’t. You are buying food, NOT the cook. Leave him/her alone.
3.) Be disrespectful of religious articles. This is more culturally insensitive than racist, but at my work, the owner had set up Buddhist shrines near the cash register of her business, out of the way, to bless her business. I have seen many other Thai businesses practice the same thing. There was even a sign asking customers not to touch them. It was pretty much the only “please do not” sign in the entire restaurant. So it was puzzling to me to see so many *adult* people picking things up off of them and waving them around. I even had one guy tossing things around like a football and laughing about the Buddhist “gods or whatever”. Just–ew. Just don’t. There. Is. Only. One. Rule. When you enter a restaurant, you are entering someone’s work place. You don’t *have* to be in there. No one is asking you to convert–just to be respectful.
4.) Demand to only speak to the white waitress because you’re afraid the not-white waitress “doesn’t speak English”. On multiple occasions, I have been called specifically to take an order from a white family, because they said that the other waitress “didn’t speak English.” Joke’s on you, she has a masters degree in English and she’s just here helping out. She speaks better English than you do. So I don’t believe you.
5.) Talk to the Asian waitress in “made up Asian-talk”. What. Is. Wrong. With. You. Admittedly, sometimes you actually *do* end up saying a real word and it’s something vaguely obscene and the staff will snicker at you behind your back the whole time you’re there, but really? It’s usually not funny. You are making fun of a person and their culture, and you don’t even know them. Stahp it.
6.) Insist that two coworkers “could be related” because they’re both Asian, even though I’ve told you multiple times that they aren’t. Yes, you’ve made it really clear that you think that all Asians look the same, but those people are a different ethnicity from each other. I know them personally. Be quiet and eat your Pad Thai. Also (I shouldn’t have to even say this) “Oriental” is NOT an okay thing to call someone. No, it isn’t.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are just a few things that I heard on a weekly basis. Again despite my tone of annoyance, I don’t think that these people were trying to be mean or hurtful, I think that they were just poorly informed. I *am* white, so I’m not really the most qualified person to talk about race, but I’d like to think that if we were a little bit more mindful in the way we treat each other, it could really make the difference between a good day at work and a bad day at work. And I know that I, for one, would hate to be responsible for hurting someone with my words when it could have easily been avoided. Maybe I’ll get called the “PC Police,” but I really don’t care–it’s not that difficult to live a life in mutual respect and love for our fellow humans. It’s isn’t bad to try to be mindful and courteous to those around you. So, send out good vibes and enjoy your meal!