Staying “Calm”, Educating and Choosing Your Battles When it Comes to Race

Jen Xu
6 min readMay 19, 2018

I finally got into watching the show Whitney because Chris D’Elia is in it and he’s my favorite comedian. I’m really glad I decided to watch it because there’s some really thought-provoking moments about friends and relationships.

This recent episode I’m watching is about a moment of racism that Neal encounters. He’s an Indian man from Ohio, and when he’s telling a coworker that he’s visiting his parents next week, the guy asks, “Where in India are they?” Neal patiently but somewhat annoyed, replies, “They’re in Akron…Ohio”. And then they move on. And a second later his coworker gets mad that some kind of math equation (they work in stocks) isn’t working out. So Neal takes a look and says some kind of mumbo-jumbo about what’s wrong (I know nothing about this topic). And the guy says “Wow. You people really are geniuses at math”. And adds “Come on computer, be more Indian!”

So that’s just a little background on the initial problem, and I noticed that Neal was at a loss for words. Later in the show he says he was caught off guard, which is why he didn’t say anything. Which I completely understand. Later on, he talks to his friend Mark about it. Mark doesn’t really understand the issue and is confused on why it was offensive. He claims “Yeah, but saying you’re smart’s a compliment. That cancels out the racism. It’s like it’s like putting a smiley face at the end of a mean text”. (Much later in this episode, Neal himself makes a racist mistake and gets called out for it — I’ll talk about this in a bit).

Now of course, I know that tv shows are exaggerated and they purposely made it seem as if Mark was over the top in misunderstanding the racist comment. However, I’ve encountered a lot of people who actually are like this in real life. Sometimes even my friends who are not in the same position as me — namely, not Asian ones (this has always been a bit of a struggle of mine, especially with mostly non-Asian male friends).

I think a lot of people have this view — I mean, why is calling Asians smart such a bad thing? Why is saying that we’re good at math hurtful? Why is it a bad thing to say a good thing? It’s like when a guy compliments a girl, and then when she isn’t grateful for it because it was “negging” or something similar, the guy gets upset and says “why can’t you just take a compliment?” (The Wikipedia definition of “negging”: act of emotional manipulation whereby a person makes a…

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Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.