Coffee with Uncle Reggie Stories: Do you have an interesting discrimination story?
你有过有趣的歧视故事吗?Grace Liu 翻译

Reggiegram : Did you know coffee actually affects discrimination?


Try it… or tea or cocoa… 


Part A. Are we making assumptions? 


Do you assume I’ve been discriminated against? When people in America talk to me about discrimination they often assume that I might have felt it at some point, and therefore have a personal opinion on this issue. Indeed, in my maternal grandfather’s days in America a century ago, I have been told there was clear discrimination against my family and other Asians, for housing and jobs, so I’m pretty sure it’s been a big issue.                                       


However, in my own situation, I become embarrassed when pressed about this topic, because frankly I have not felt discriminated against, even though actually I looked for it! When writing this story, I felt oddly encouraged recently to hear a YouTube Asian Australian Pastor declare that he had not felt any discrimination either, even though he lived for 10 years in the USA. So I wasn’t alone!


Isn’t my color a problem? Which is really “strange”, because I am clearly Asian. I’m small, I don’t look white or have “American muscles”, and I have straight black hair and brown eyes. I’m lightly brown, even dark brown in sunny climes like Malaysia or India after a few days, when I can be mistaken for a native. I speak American English probably with a tinge of British and Hong Kong accents, though maybe only picked up by musical ears. 

我的肤色不是一个问题吗?这真是“奇怪”,因为我很明显是亚裔. 个子不高,看起来不像白人,也没有“美国人的肌肉”,我有黑色直发,棕色眼睛。我是浅棕色,甚至后来当我在马来西亚和印的时候在阳光下是深棕色,像马来西亚人或印度人,那时人们误认为我是本地人。我说的美式英语可能有一些香港或英式英语口音,尽管可能学音乐的耳朵才能感觉到。

Does it matter where I’m born? 

Confusingly, most people can barely believe me when I reveal that, even though I was born in Asia, I was legally American from birth. Because my Asian-American mother born in Seattle, registered me at birth with the US Consulate. Or that our family has been in the country for six generations! Regardless, to Asian or non-Asian Americans, I am still Asian. Born and raised in Asia, so I’m Asian, correct?



I’m always amused however that a white kid, like Ruth Graham, wife of world famous Billy Graham, born in China of missionary parents, and who grew up in Asia, would not be called “Asian”. Born and raised in Asia, but not Asian. It’s a melanin thing I guess, and not logic. I wouldn’t call that discrimination myself but you could see how complicated things are from different perspectives. 

然而我总觉得很好玩的是一个白人孩子,比如Ruth Graham,世界有名的 Billy Graham的妻子,是父母在中国宣教时出生,在亚洲长大,不会被称为“亚洲人”。 在亚洲出生和长大,但不是亚洲人。我想这是一个肤色的事情,而不是逻辑。 我自己不会把它认为是歧视,因为你可以看到从不同的角度看,事情会是多么的复杂。

Was I discriminated in the “less progressive” Midwest? Since our arrival in the USA in 1966, I have been on the alert to find evidence of discrimination. Especially since we first lived in Chicago in a pretty black and rough area on 29th Street (“South Side Chicago”) where I was doing my pediatric residency training. Race relationships were tense in the years we lived there, 1966 to 1969, which included terrible race riots. So I was ready for any discrimination. 


After Chicago, we moved to Cincinnati, where we lived on the western side of town. The academic types living on the eastern side tended to paint the western side as “bigoted Catholic conservative” and urged us not to move there.


At the time, the hospital itself was essentially a white doctors hospital with only two Chinese ancestry faculty. When the other one left, I was the only one. So I would have thought that some discrimination should have surfaced and was on the alert for it. 


But I failed miserably to find any obvious discrimination towards my wife or me, in Chicago or Cincinnati, in the hospital or on the streets, for 50 years. The black–white issue just rolled over us, and the west side Catholics were great. Maybe I’m really just not that sensitive, but that’s fine by me! In any case, I gave up seriously looking for evidence of negative discrimination towards us! 


Is Asia less discriminatory? Growing up in Hong Kong however, I saw plenty of truly negative discrimination, so I wasn’t naïve about it. As a child, I saw Hong Kong well to do types clearly discriminate against the so-called “servant class” from China villages, serving the upper and rising middle class. Or towards Filipinas who were nannies for children of rich Chinese. 


We saw a lot of looking down on so-called “Northerners, bak fong lo”, a pejorative term for Chinese who didn’t speak Cantonese, Northern meaning anything north of the adjoining southern province of Guangdong. Just like city folk in mainland China looking down on villagers who migrated to newly developing cities as manual laborers. 


Part B. Can we try to understand discrimination better? 

第二部分: 我们可以尝试更好的理解歧视吗?

Can I do some research? Trying to understand discrimination a bit better in the USA, I did a mini experiment. I did this in different “white” church lobbies, when I visited for the first time. I tried to see how long it would take for someone to recognize I was an ethnically different stranger, to come  to talk to me spontaneously. That would clearly show any discrimination of Asians I thought! For often 20 minutes nobody would do that, even though I was clearly different and standing alone. 


Initially I thought, “Aha that confirms it, they’re racists!” But on further thought, that sounded simplistic, and I suspected there might be more to this experiment. Furthermore, when I tried this ploy at a “Chinese” church I was newly visiting, there was, surprise, sometimes a similar response. Maybe people just feel uncomfortable when I’m standing there strangely alone, and they’re not sure what I’m doing! Maybe they might even think my posture was threatening? This was getting too complicated. What was going on? 


Could it be coffee?! I then stumbled onto another thought. When our Seattle multicultural church started to actively serve coffee in the lobby, I realized another dynamic might be in play. If I went to get a cup of coffee, or even when carrying an empty coffee cup, something seemed to change. The church is really quite a warm church, but people seemed even friendlier when I had the coffee cup in my hand! The posture or picture of a person with a coffee cup in hand, I guess in Western culture seems somehow reassuring and comforting. 

会不会是咖啡?! 后来我偶然发现了另一个想法。 当我们西雅图的多元文化教会开始在大堂积极供应咖啡时,我意识到可能有另一种动态在流动。 如果我去喝杯咖啡,甚至拿着一个空咖啡杯,事情似乎发生了变化。 教堂真的是一个很温馨的教堂,但是当我手里拿着咖啡杯时,人们似乎更友好了! 一个人手里拿着咖啡杯的姿势或样子,我想在西方文化中似乎有点让人放心和安慰。

Photo 1: Coffee first, hugs behind 图1: 先喝咖啡后拥抱

To milk its full “friendliness” potential, instead of waiting for someone coming up to me, I just simply walked up to anybody in the lobby, now with a coffee cup in hand, and said (smilingly) “Hi I’m Reggie, how are you?” It was amazing how the atmosphere instantly changed, like some light switch came on, and we just started chatting. Of course, in previous iterations of this experiment, doing that without the coffee could still work, though a bit less “relaxed ”and “natural”!

为了充分发挥其“友好”潜力,我没有等待有人来找我,而是直接走到大厅里的任何人面前,现在手里拿着一个咖啡杯,然后(微笑地)说:“嗨,我是瑞吉Reggie, 你好吗?” 令人惊讶的是,气氛瞬间发生了变化,就像电灯开关打开了一样,我们就开始聊天。 当然,在这个实验的前几次中,没有咖啡的情况下这样做仍然可以,尽管不那么“放松”和“自然”!

Photo 2: Lobby with space and coffee sets the right tone 图2:宽敞的大堂和咖啡奠定了好的基调

What does a coffee cup imply? I surmised that, simply carrying a non-threatening coffee cup suddenly made me non-threatening, more likely open to chats, and “human”. 

一杯咖啡意味着什么? 我推测,仅仅拿着一个没有威胁性的咖啡杯突然让我变得没有威胁性,更容易聊天,并且“接地气”。

However, there were a few occasions where this didn’t  work, with new Asian (!) visitors when I approached them. Maybe I seemed too assertive/friendly? Or was it just their shyness? Or, an Asian with a coffee cup is not that reassuring to some Asians, and maybe they hadn’t seen that image often? I really should do more “tests” among Asians! It’s complicated!    

然而,有几次这并不起作用,当有新的亚裔(!)访客时。 也许我看起来太自信/友好? 或者只是他们的害羞? 或者,一个拿着咖啡杯的亚洲人对一些亚洲人来说并不那么令人放心,也许他们没有经常看到那个形象? 我真的应该在亚洲人中做更多的“测试”! 这很复杂!

Maybe I’m making it awkward somehow? The moral of the story thus far is that people have complicated perceptions of others, especially strangers, particularly from another culture. And any conversation can be awkward. Americans are worried about “saying something wrong”. And may feel unable to continue conversations too long. Similar to  Asians in Asia meeting a non-Asian newcomer I suppose. 

也许我不知为何让它变得尴尬? 到目前为止,这个故事的寓意是人们对他人,尤其是陌生人,尤其是来自另一种文化的人有着复杂的看法。 任何谈话都可能很尴尬。 美国人也担心“说错话”。 并且可能觉得无法继续聊太久。 我想类似于亚洲的亚洲人遇到非亚洲新人。

For example, when working in Cincinnati, a well-meaning white nurse said to me, “Oh, Hong Kong, I know, that’s in Japan, the capital or something like that.” At least she knew it was in Asia.

例如,在辛辛那提工作时,一位好心的白人护士对我说:“哦,香港,我知道,那是在日本,首都或类似的地方。” 至少她知道那是在亚洲。

Or an American saying to a new Malaysian friend, “Oh yes, Malaysia, the place where people live in trees.” Which really bothers people from Malaysia since they live in glittering cities nowadays and have airports more modern than any in USA. Actually the truth is a bit more nuanced since in reality remote parts of Malaysia used to be pretty wild.  

或者一个美国人对一位马来西亚新朋友说:“哦,是的,马来西亚,人们住在树上的地方。” 这真的让马来西亚人感到困扰,因为他们现在生活在耀眼的城市,拥有比美国任何机场都更现代化的机场。 事实上,真相有点微妙,因为实际上马来西亚的偏远地区曾经非常荒野。

Similar to the Malaysia story, I met someone from Colombia, South America, recently, and I started to chat about Colombian drug cartels. Not a good opening with strangers, but it could happen when we try to say something, even with good intentions. Obviously I was “too smart” and the awkward moment taught me a lesson. 

与马来西亚的故事类似,我最近遇到了一个来自南美洲哥伦比亚的人,我开始谈论哥伦比亚的贩毒集团。 对陌生人来说不是一个好的开场白,但是当我们试图说些什么时它可能会发生,即使是出于好意。 显然我“太聪明了”,尴尬的时刻给了我一个教训。

Can we learn humility? We all learn from our faux pas. Actually we shouldn’t really have to know the geography, history and culture for every country, just a good heart I think makes a big difference. And humble questions about another culture are great openers for chats. Of course I no longer comment on drug cartels! 

我们可以学会谦卑吗? 我们都从我们的失礼中学习。 其实我们不会真的了解每个国家的地理、历史和文化,我觉得只要有一颗善良的心就会有很大的不同。 关于另一种文化的谦虚问题是聊天的绝佳开场白。 我当然不再评论贩毒集团了!

Photo 3: Bit young for coffee but you get the idea… we don’t need age discrimination either (we can even cross 70 year gaps)

One of the best steps to defeat discrimination I think is for each of us to take small steps to cross cultures. Imagine if everyone did that. I’m sure the world would be a better one. While “Hi I’m Reggie” helps break the ice at first encounter, not everybody is actually named Reggie, and you likely have a better name! And a unique smile. And your opening posture might be more creative than a coffee cup, just make sure it’s not intimidating! We can all try a little first step. A first of many to break discrimination, anywhere. 

我认为战胜歧视的最佳步骤之一是让我们每个人都采取小步骤来跨文化。 想象一下,如果每个人都这样做。 我相信世界会变得更美好。 虽然“嗨,我是瑞吉”有助于在第一次见面时打破僵局,但实际上并不是每个人都叫瑞吉,而且您可能有更好的名字! 还有独特的笑容。 而且你的打开姿势可能比咖啡杯更有创意,只要确保它不会令人生畏! 我们都可以尝试小小的第一步。 在任何地方打破歧视的其中一个。