Things have been made in China for a long time. Years, and years, and years. We get it. China’s supply chain is growing more and more “sophisticated.” The United States’ manufacturing industry cannot compete with their vast and cheap labor force. Who cares about their questionable human rights violations, or child labor abuses? American consumers can buy a TON of cheap shit (Hello Forever 21, Target, Wal-Mart, etc!).
Americans LOVE pretending to care whether or not products are made in China. But, do their hearts ever tremble for the billions of Chinese workers that are forced to live in dormitories and work long hours with no breaks? No, fuck ‘em. THEY TOOK ALL OF OUR JOBS. And if there is one thing Americans LOVE pretending to care about, it’s ‘them damn foreigners takin’ up all our jobs!’ (Hello Mexico!)
I could spend all day writing, talking, and complaining about American consumerism (but I’d probably get fired). Which brings me to the Fall of 2011. I was working in retail and being the best foster-er of capitalism I could possibly be. I complimented the purse, the hair, the goddamn kids…
Unbeknownst to me, my co-worker was having a lengthy conversation with an older than middle-aged man about our confounded products made in China. This man was not making any kind of political or social argument, just complaining. It was jobs related I suppose, but, and I’m only assuming, his demographic lacks the depth to understand, “If people are complaining about whether or not products are made in the USA they should be out Occupying Wall Street.” (My other co-worker said this after he heard this story. Again, it was the Fall of 2011, when this quote would have been relevant.)
I was behind the register. My co-worker left the aforementioned conversation to go do anything else. I was alone abandoned. The man made his way to the register and stared at me with a half-smile. I smiled back, because I didn’t know he was a racist, yet.
He looked at me, and then at my watch, and laughed while saying, “That’s an awfully big watch, for a girl!” I hate when people say “for a girl.” (Flashback to various events of my life when that pathetic statement has been uttered: ‘You hit pretty hard, for a girl.’ ‘You know a lot about comics, for a girl.’ ‘You parallel park well, for an Asian, GIRL.’) I already did not appreciate his adherence to societal constructions on gender specific fashion. I was already annoyed, but I kept smiling, because in customer service you have no opinions, or those kinds at least, and you always smile, be it through clenched teeth or not.
So he didn’t have progressive beliefs when it came to gender. Nothing could have prepared me for, “Are you made in China?” I played dumb. Half because I had no idea he had been complaining about Chinese products to my co-worker, and half because that is one of the dumbest things you could say to a stranger. I played dumb and said, “What my watch?”
“What my watch?” I repeated. “I don’t know if it’s made in China, but I can check.”
He spoke slower and looked into the depths of my shrinking soul as he most definitely enunciated, “NO. ARE YOU MADE IN CHINA?” There was no denying it; he IS racist. I froze. I nervously laughed and said, “No, Korea,” and walked into the back room to collect my thoughts.
I have been made to endure, on countless occasions, the rallying of a room full of people to Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 national anthem “Born in the USA.” As isolating as never being able to accurately partake in this luxury is, it is MOUNTAINS better than being one-on-one with an older man pestering me repeatedly with, “Are you made in China?”
Is it correct to say that to a fellow human? How could he not know he sounded like a complete and utter dumb ass? Of course, given his age and lack of human decency, he probably used the term ‘Orientals,’ when referring to Asians, or worse, Celestials…
It is okay to call a particular style of rug Oriental. It is okay to ask whether or not a particular garment is made in China. It is not okay to apply either of those statements to a person. I imagined putting on my grownup pants, conjuring up a chalkboard, and giving this man my best lecture on race and personal boundaries: Words you can string along that will make you sound like a dumb ass, words that won’t. We would discuss the world economy and why major corporations have moved manufacturing oversees. We would laugh at the end, and he would shake my hand enthusiastically bow with gracious sincerity, thanking me, while apologizing for his unrefined intellect. I would give the most heartfelt eulogy at his funeral, recalling how we met, and how we overcame his racism, together.
None of this would ever happen, because as I stepped out of the backroom, and back into his sight, he let out, “Soooo… You drive a Kia?!” I chose to smile back at him, through clenched teeth.