While I was writing at a Starbucks in San Francisco, two men to my right greeted each other.
The first man asked the other if he had any dirty jokes he could teach his children. The other man guffawed and said, “I don’t want you labeled as a familial pedophile at your next family meeting.”
The first man was unfazed. “I don’t fuck my children,” he replied, before looking at me.
Not once did I look at him. Nevertheless, I could feel eyes on my shoulder, my chest and my face.
“There’s a woman here,” he commented.
I kept silent and typed my last sentence, having decided I should leave and eat leftovers to concentrate better.
From my silence or my Asian appearance, the first man came to a conclusion. I heard the words “she doesn’t speak English.”
I zipped my backpack and stood. “I do,” I said dryly, still avoiding his face. I didn’t want any trace of him in my mind or else I’d remember what he looked like.
He laughed. “You’re leaving just in time,” he exclaimed with the tone of a backwards house party host.
As I walked, he whistled and took my seat. “It’s just a coincidence,” I said without turning back.
When I pushed Starbucks’s door open, I heard someone else speak up on my behalf: “You know, it’s pretty racist of you to assume she doesn’t speak English.”
I never heard anything else from the kind stranger. Any thanks given would have been empty, emptier than I felt, and that emptiness quickly gave way to inner rage.
I wondered, how am I still encountering people who look at me like I’m less than a person because I’m a woman? Because they think I’m a nonresident instead of the Chinese American citizen I’ve been since birth?
I wondered, what if I had spoken any of my racing comebacks aloud?
“I speak English. You’re cesspool sediment.”
“You’re in dire need of an off button.”
“Don’t look at me. I’m asexual and I’m not interested in people who sound like motherfuckers.”
“You could bring laughter to your children by leaving the room.”
“Usually people live and learn, but based on everything you said, you just live.”
I was disgusted. I was furious like the world didn’t have enough middle fingers, and I haven’t flipped anyone off—yet.
My mind contains more venom than cretins would ever know. For every person who’s insulting without realizing, there’s a person capable of insults that burn slow.
Stay ignorant. Racism isn’t dead, and I’m the book you never read.