Public Harassment: I was in a downtown in a post office…
I was in a downtown in a post office trying to mail gifts in mid-December. After the self-served kiosk failed to work multiple times, I got into line to mail my packages. Due to COVID-19, there were slight changes in norms that required individuals to write the address on the boxes (but this information wasn’t readily available prior to approaching the window). When it was my turn to talk to a postal worker, he made me aware of this change, told me to hop out of line so he could help another individual while I wrote my information, and then to come back to him once the person was done. Multiple other people had made the same error ahead of me, which I had seen, but none of the postal workers made an announcement that could’ve informed people earlier in line.
Upon the postal worker calling me back to the window, a womxn who was one person back in line began getting very agitated, and started loudly cursing at me, accusing me of skipping lines. The postal worker assured me that I was doing as I was supposed to, so I just went about with setting up my packages for mailing. After a minute of intermittent yelling, she began yelling racial slurs at me, including calling me a “Chinese b*tch.” At this, I turned to her and told her that that wasn’t necessary or okay. This made her angrier and she continued to yell at me, including telling me to apologize to everyone for being “such a stupid ch*nk.” After her first slur, I had already started shaking (out of fear and anger, this was the second Anti-Asian sentiment toward me already that week). I couldn’t believe that the post office was full of individuals, customers, and workers, from a multitude of identities, and no one said a thing.
When she told me to apologize, I managed to say back “Fine.” And I turned to everyone in line saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry you have to witness this” through tears. Again, no one said a thing, but I think it made her pause, and I quickly tried my best to finish up with mailing my packages and get out as quickly as possible.
I tried my best over the next few days to justify what happened, and why no one said a thing. I’ve had many racist remarks/incidents in my life — I’m a small, darker-skinned hapa (half Japanese and half mixed European-American descent) who has often been mistaken for (and treated as) other racial/ethnic identities than my own — but this one felt different. Since the pandemic began and anti-Asian attacks were more publicized than previously, I’ve had increased incidents of racist events, but ones that I could more easily brush off. I hadn’t lived in this city for that long and had never felt welcome or a part of the community here. I couldn’t imagine being silent in that situation if I was witnessing that happen to someone else. I told myself that people were likely more on edge, in terms of physical safety, because of COVID-19 and how aggressive the womxn was who was yelling at me (and could’ve potentially turned physically violent). I tried to tell myself that she was just having a bad day and found it easy to unleash her frustrations on a tiny womxn. But I found myself constantly feeling fragile, broken, and unsafe. I still often do.
I won’t step foot in that post office again (and have avoided post offices since), and often think back to that moment, and that it was another womxn from a minority background who attacked me. It breaks my heart to hear and feel that harassment from someone who I might’ve thought could be an ally in a shared while unique minority experience.
I want people to know that the Hollaback! bystander intervention trainings are out there (I had taken one before this experience), and that they can help you feel more ready to move from being a bystander if/when the situations inevitably arise. I know it would’ve meant a lot to me if someone had said something or checked in and made sure I was okay. It might’ve reassured me that I was not alone or so vulnerable, feelings which I still carry with me.