Today was my first day training at a part time gig in an SF gallery/boutique. Myself and another girl are both new and were engaging in casual conversation about what we do and how she likes her grad program at Academy of Art.
I told her it must be super exciting to be part of a program in a new city, and figured lots of people come to the school from out of town. “Yeah, like there are a lot of Chinese girls. Which I don’t mind, but they’re constantly talking in Chinese, right? And like you’re in America so I don’t get why you have to do it..it’s like annoying.”
I froze in my speech and quickly directed my attention to the girl training us and said “Damn it’s really cold.” In that moment, I felt extreme discomfort with the casual racism that just happened. Like you know, it’s not offensive, but like it’s just annoying, this is America c’mon, is reverberating in my head.
As my day has started to wind down, I’ve realized how not cool with that moment I am. I could have said something to her, or perhaps educated her in some way, but I chose to be silent. 1. For fear of it being my first day on a new job and not wanting to make a bad impression, and 2. I chose this gig because it is outside of my comfortable world of safe spaces and tolerance for diversity of culture and freakdom— I wanted to put myself out there in a new artistic context and was met with really awkward feelings. The conversation continued to ask us new girls about “guys,” and that is not a simple conversation.
It’s becoming clear to me why it’s so important to have safe spaces. Some things are more complex to explain than people are willing to hear or accept. Being surrounded by others who just “get it” makes it so much easier to be ourselves. I wonder how many times people think something ill of another culture/race and only feel comfortable saying it out loud to someone they think is totally disconnected from any race/culture than their own? I wonder what would have happened if I casually said something? What kind of spaces do I want to inhabit safely while maintaining the challenge of being amidst new networks of people?