When I was a kid, I used to be very combative when it came to fighting racism. Part of the reason had to do with attending international schools in Asia until I was 14.
Kids from all over the world can get pretty nasty towards each other along racial lines, even though you’d think the opposite might happen in a diverse group.
I took up martial arts and learned ways to cripple my opponents in a fight if necessary. It’s just in my personality to stick up for myself and others, even if it means going to the hospital or jail.
It’s easy to dismiss racism as no big deal if you’re not a minority. You don’t experience the same slights, perceived or otherwise, that frequently come your way. It happens at work, or in the grocery store, or on an airplane, or when you’re standing in line anywhere minding your own business.
Over time you become inured to the insults, but the sting never goes away. It just gets buried. You move on.
Now that I’m an adult who has gone through the system to finally have enough to live life on my own terms, people have stopped pissing me off as much.
I don’t have to kiss someone’s ass to get ahead, nor do I have to sacrifice any shred of dignity to make more money. I’ve really got nothing to complain about, so I don’t.
But when I see bullshit incidences like when a white woman called the cops on a black man after he simply asked her to leash her dog in Central Park or when a white police officer murders a black man by placing his knee on his neck for over five minutes after he cries out multiple times for help, I am outraged!
These types of situations keep happening over and over again. We need to make our voices heard. We need to share our experiences. We need to make people accountable for their actions.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man living in America, but I do want to share some perspective on what life is like as an Asian minority living in America. Racism was a big reason why I decided to save so much and aggressively work on my passive income streams.
The desire to have absolute choice and be beholden to no one was and still is a huge motivating factor.
I hope by sharing my experiences with racism others will share their own experiences as well. Ultimately, I hope to encourage those with racist tendencies to realize how much their actions hurt others so they can finally stop.
Every single hateful encounter I experience offline or online is from someone who has something difficult going on with their financial or personal lives. I believe that if more people at least can get their financial lives in order, some of their hate for others will slowly melt away.
Example Of Racism That Provided Me Max Motivation
My first experience with racism started in the 4th grade at Taipei American School. We aways had an “Americans” vs. “Chinese” soccer game during recess.
The issue was I was American, but of Asian ethnicity. “Americans” was really a code word for white, which included my white European classmates. So weird to cultivate a divide so early on.
Even though we were in Taiwan, Asians were called derogatory names on the pitch by non-Asians at Taipei American School all the time. There was a fight every single week.
One time I was tripped by a white German kid who proceeded to then stand over me and taunt me with racial slurs. I swept his legs from underneath him, stomped my heel into his solarplex and he laughed no longer. We both had to face the wall during the next recess.
Another time in the 7th grade at the International School Of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I was minding my own business shooting hoops during recess when a white kid proceeded to pick up my ball, punt it across the outdoor court for no reason and yell a slur.
I furiously told him to get the ball, and when he refused I punched his eardrum with an open hand. He went to the nurse’s office because he said he lost his haring. He later apologized as did I.
I was able to fight back as a kid because all of us were more or less the same size. Starting in high school, it got much harder to fight back because I stopped growing but the bullies kept getting larger and larger. Some even brought knives to school.
But even with a size differential, I still fought back and got suspended for a couple days after getting into a fight with this one fella three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. He had pushed me over while tying my shoe before class started. A cheap shot for sure, so I punched him in the face, crushing his glasses into his eyes in the process.
The head of security, who also happened to be my varsity tennis coach was called over to escort us to the principal’s office. We were both suspended for a couple days.
When I was working my first craptastic job in high school at McDonald’s, my Latino colleagues and I were constantly berated by a white manager for speaking Spanish.
I was in my fourth year of taking Spanish and would practice all I could with native speakers while I made those quarter pounders. “Shut up all of you! Stop speaking Spanish and making the customers feel uncomfortable. This is America!” he’d yell at us. Such verbal abuse for $4 an hour just wasn’t worth it.
During college in the south, I was having a midnight snack with my girlfriend at Denny’s, of all places, when four white offensive linemen came in mid-meal and sat in the booth next to us.
They told us to “Get the fuck out of here you chinks” or else they’d beat me and my girlfriend up. My girlfriend was half white, half Asian and absolutely beautiful.
She grew up in Abingdon, Virginia and told me she experienced racial hate as well. The KKK would occasionally send her family white supremacist propaganda. Given there were four massive dudes threatening us at Denny’s, all we could do was leave. But believe me, I would have gladly taken one on in a fair fight to defend our honor.
In another incident, I pulled over to a gas station while driving home from college in Virginia. I was waiting in line to use the bathroom when some white guy said, “Hey! Can’t you read English? The door is open you dummy!”
I turned around and told him calmly, “There’s someone in there you idiot. The lock is broken.” He backed off, but then started grumbling your usual racist terms under his breadth when I walked inside.
At work one time, I remember several of my white colleagues make fun of a female managing director’s voice after a conference call because she was of Indian decent. They kept ripping on her accent and bobbing their heads side to side, laughing.
None of them had ever been to India before and none of them were as senior in title as me. It was extremely frustrating to witness such disrespect to a colleague, especially since they acted all cordial towards her in person when she came to visit.
But what was I supposed to do? Raise a fuss on a Wall Street trading floor and get targeted every time I’d walk into the office? I told one of the mockers to take his next trip to Asia to gain some perspective. He didn’t like that.
My grandfather and father told me about the racism they endured while serving in the US military in World War II, Vietnam, and the US foreign service. What kind of crock of shit is that to get disrespected while serving your country due to race?
I’m sure it would have hurt them to hear how I got made fun of or bullied due to our race growing up. So instead, I fought back and kept quiet.
Experiencing racial discrimination is extremely annoying because our ethnicity is what we are born with. It can get exhausting to have to deal with this constant judgement based on your race.
I am proud of my heritage, but when somebody is pointing a gun to your face it’s best to back down and live to fight another day. Please pick and choose who you do battle with. If you’re not ready, be patient. Your time will come.
Keep Working For Your Freedom
I remember one high school teacher tell me that racism is just the way things are. He said, “Get used to it. Work twice as hard to get half as much, and you’ll be fine.”
I carried this spirit with me all throughout college and to this day, despite having enough. Every day, I still get up at 5 am to do some writing by 8:30 am for three hours before spending the next 8-12 hours taking care of my children. I made a promise in July 2009 when I started Financial Samurai to write three times a week for 10 years and I did.
Several years ago, I decided to give over 500 rides for Uber to understand the platform, get to know people’s stories, and make sure I don’t take anything I have for granted. When you got out there and servicing other people for close to minimum wage, it is very humbling. The more you can learn about other people’s backgrounds, the better.
After living in a minority majority city like San Francisco since 2001, I sometimes believe that everybody now lives in racial harmony. But then something terrible happens, and I’m remind that we’ve got a long way to go to stamp out racism.
The main way I knew how to compete was through academics. There was no Americans vs. Chinese in academics like on the pitch in elementary school. There was no physical competition either, except for the ability to make your brain focus for extended periods of time.
Academics was a level playing field where I strongly believed that if I tried my best, there would be a positive reward in the end. Academics was the main way towards eventual freedom.
Every time I felt like not studying, I’d remind myself about all the racial putdowns in order to keep on going. I was keenly aware of the lack of Asian role models in the media, in politics, in sports, or in leadership positions at large corporations.
Asians have to blaze our own trail because we couldn’t rely on anybody like us to hook us up. Things are slowly becoming more diverse, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Immigrants come to America for more opportunities. I firmly believe the reason why there are so many immigrant success stories is because they have a better appreciation of this country. They also have more perspective.
Immigrants have seen great poverty, extreme nepotism, and dilapidated infrastructures that rob them of progress. I hope more people can travel internationally and learn to speak more languages.
Even though it might sound unfair that one must “work twice as hard to get half as much,” it’s a much better alternative than complaining or having no opportunities at all.
Heck, let me work 4X as much to get an equal amount as others so that my kids can have a better chance.
Even today, I get hounded every so often by the Internet Retirement Police or random internet trolls who try and dictate the way I should live my life. Instead of kneeling on my neck, they just like to constantly harass me and others.
The IRP remind me of the same type of people I encountered growing up trying to put me in my place due to my race. And they remind me of the privileged Amy Coopers of the world who take things too far because they lack the self-esteem and the security to love themselves first.
There Is No Safety Net In America
There is a continuous level of anxiety in various Asian cultures in America that we must amass wealth because we can’t count on anybody to take care of us — not the government, nor our employers. Only our family will be there to help us through the tough times.
The savings rate in China, India, and Japan are over 25% compared to the average savings rate in America of ~6%. Such savings rates carry over to Asian American immigrants as well because money is our safety net. I personally saved over 50% of my after-tax income for 13 years after college partly because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to last in my finance job for the rest of my life.
I was a minority working for a minority product in a satellite office. My career was capped. Was it sad to think that being a Director (one level above VP and one level below MD) was as high as I could go? Sort of. But I got over it, like I get over so many realities in life.
I could have tried to relocate to Hong Kong, New York, or London to battle for ascension, but I decided I had enough. Entrepreneurship is a better way to test your mettle. In the end, I felt like I had beat the system because I was able to negotiate a severance that paid for over five years of living expenses.
If you’ve ever been discriminated against based on your race, sex, age, religion or the way you look, just know that you’re not alone. Plenty of people get slapped around every day.
You can either take the insults lying down, or you can get up and get motivated to work harder and smarter than you’ve ever worked before. And when you have the right opportunity, fight back.
Whatever race you are, aggressively save a good portion of your income every year. Continuously learn about retirement strategies. Build as many sources of passive income as possible. Tell yourself that nobody is going to save you when you can no longer work. If you do these things, sooner or later, you will achieve financial freedom.
I may sound crazy for constantly fighting back against racists and injustices, but that’s just my personality. If you mess with me, I will make you pay. I’ve learned over the years that if you don’t fight back against bullies and racists, they will keep coming after you over and over again.
As your financial means grow, you will find more security. And if you develop a platform online, you will gain an even bigger weapon to fight back if anybody messes with you.
Racism is endemic in American society. We must make it stop.
Some follow up things to think about:
- When you assume everyone can happily relocate to a lower cost area of the country, that is an incorrect assumption because not everybody can comfortably fit in.
- When you assume that everyone has an equal opportunity to get good grades and high college test scores, that is an incorrect assumption because not everybody has the financial means to pay for tutors or has two loving parents.
- When you assume that everyone has the equal opportunity to get ahead in the workplace when there are very few senior people who look like you, that is an incorrect assumption. People who are already in power tend to take care of people who look, talk, act, and have the same background as them.
- When you assume someone has special talents, intelligence, or skills based on their race, that is a lazy assumption. Everybody is unique.
- When all your friends look the same, talk the same, support the same people and believe in the same thing, it’s really hard to grow. Learn a new language. Travel. Make different types of friends.
- When you paint an entire group of people based on the actions of a few, you are being ignorant. This is how dangerous stereotypes form.
Fight on and never surrender!
Photo Credit: Colleen Kong Savage