Sunday, September 9, 2012

Unexpected learning experience

I have an unfortunate tendency to giggle when I'm uncomfortable. It gets me into trouble. Laughing at the most inconvenient times- when someone gets hurt, when there's tension between people in a room, when I've embarrassed myself- is rude at best and extremely hurtful at worst.

Now that I've shared a humiliating personal flaw with everyone on the internet, take a moment to imagine my dismay when I felt giggles bubbling up into my chest when I witnessed a disgusting act of discrimination today, committed against my coworker. We were trying to enter a restroom, my coworker was in front of me. Several people had entered before us when the restroom attendant suddenly appeared and denied access to my coworker while welcoming me into the restroom. It happened so fast, I really didn't know what to do. It's one of those things that I was completely blindsided by and in hindsight, I had a thousand responses for the transgressor, but in that moment, I could only stand with my mouth slightly gaping, trying really hard not to giggle.

Never have I felt more useless. I should have defended my coworker, I should have fought for her rights, at the very least, I should have had a strongly worded response for the offender. All I could do was stare at the restroom attendant and ask "why?" when she refused my coworker entry and encouraged me to come on in. I don't think of my coworker any differently than I do myself. In fact, I probably think more highly of her than I do myself. So I was completely baffled when someone else looked at the two of us standing next to each other and determined that I was acceptable and she was not. I wasn't about to enter the restroom when my coworker wasn't allowed. That action confused the restroom attendant, who went back inside and locked both of us out. 

My lovely friend, whom I learn from and laugh with, the lady I called when I found a lizard in my hairbrush tonight, the child of God who was made in His image as surely as I was, the warrior who campaigns for the rights of domestic helpers, was denied access to a restroom simply because she looks different than I do.

I'm not naive enough to think racism doesn't exist. I know it's alive and well in all parts of the world. I know the fact that I'm a white American shields me from much exposure to it. Hong Kong bills itself as a "world class city." As long as behaviors like the one I witnessed today happen with any sort of regularity or acceptance, I think there's still a lot of progress to be made before that's an accurate title.


  1. I often smile when I feel really bad about something I've done - definitely tends to aggravate the situation. Human bodies are so weird!

    Thanks for giving voice to a challenging topic. Though you did not speak up in the moment, you are speaking up now - and that is important as well. These moments shape us for our actions in the future and prepare our voices, if we let them.

    Love you friend, Em

  2. Wow, what a horrible experience! It reminds me of stories of what happened in the states in the '60s. Thanks for sharing what happened with us. You may not have said much, but your actions said plenty. Way to stick up for her, Grace! I hope it doesn't happen again.

  3. What a thoughtful, thought provoking, and well written essay on your experience. Thank you for sharing so eloquently.