I know.

According to the date stamp on the file, I wrote this in 2003.  I forgot all about it.  I found it while I was looking for something else.  I wasn’t even sure it was mine until I read one particular part.

My brain allows me to forget.  Otherwise I might get no sleep.

Trigger warning.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.

Ching-chong-chinaman is a child’s nursery and jump rope rhyme.  Ching-chong-chinaman is burned into our brains.  Ching-chong-chinaman is a funny joke.  Ching-chong-chinaman is a catchy little ditty with several verses extolling Ching-chong-chinaman’s stupidity.  Ching-chong-chinaman sings it as a child.  Ching-chong-chinaman.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.

Ching-chong-chinaman has buck teeth.  Ching-chong-chinaman has dirty knees.  Ching-chong-chinaman has slanty eyes.  Ching-chong-chinaman is an Oriental.  Ching-chong-chinaman is ugly.  Ching-chong-chinaman cannot be trusted.  Ching-chong-chinaman is inscrutable.  Ching-chong-chinaman doesn’t speak velly good Engrish.  Ching-chong-chinaman makes funny noises:  Ching chong!  Ching chong!  Ching chong!  Ching-chong-chinaman is a foreigner.  Ching-chong-chinaman ought to go back to Ching-chong-china.  Ching-chong-chinaman has no place here.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.

Ching-chong-chinaman gets spit on in the playground as a child.  Ching-chong-chinaman gets spit on as an adult.  Ching-chong-chinaman gets punched by a stranger just for the heck of it.  Ching-chong-chinaman is verbally assaulted.  Ching-chong-chinaman is refused service in stores.  Ching-chong-chinaman gets told “No tickee, no washee.”  Ching-chong-chinaman gets insulted by a child as his parents look on.  Ching-chong-chinaman is chased by teenagers with bats and sticks.  Ching-chong-chinaman is physically assaulted by someone a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.

Ching-chong-chinaman is subhuman.  Ching-chong-chinaman deserves abuse.  You can kill Ching-chong-chinaman and never serve jail time.  Ching-chong-chinaman’s life is worth just $3700.  Ching-chong-chinaman has no rights.  Ching-chong-chinaman is increasingly the target of hate crimes.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.

Ching-chong-chinaman is Joseph Ileto.  Ching-chong-chinaman is Vincent Chin.  Ching-chong-chinaman is Thung Phetakoune.  Ching-chong-chinaman is Kenneth Chiu.  Ching-chong-chinaman is Anil Thakur.

I know Ching-chong-chinaman.  I know Gook and Chink and Jap and Slope and Slanteye and Charlie.    I know what spit feels like.  I know what it is like to fear for my life.  I know what it is like to hear that a friend was murdered for being a Ching-chong-chinaman.  I know what it is like to burn with anger and with tears simultaneously.

I know nobody ever meant any harm by Ching-chong-chinaman.  Ching-chong-chinaman knows it’s all in good fun.

19 thoughts on “I know.

  1. this was a great entry, but reading this was upsetting because I really hate the sound of those words together



    I hate those fucking words so much.

  2. I know the phrase “ching-chong-chinaman”; I heard it many times growing up. I didn’t realise it was a skipping song or nursery song though (it’s just as racist, with or without the skipping) :(
    It’s things like this that reinforces the “other”, the “different”. It’s so fucking pervasive, too!

    Thank you for writing this post.

  3. This is beautiful. I hate the sound of those words too, with a visceral hatred, but you morph them into a beautifully cathartic piece. My eyes are stinging.

  4. Wow. Just wow. Excellent job. This is very intense and strong. It’s got a definite rhythm to it that keeps me thinking about it, which is good. This is the kind of stuff that needs to get published. It’s very memorable. It’s the kind of thing that could get people to stand up and stop the racism they see going on.

  5. …You know, I’ve never heard of the “Ching-chong-chinaman” nursery rhyme. I don’t think we have it here (which is something of a relief, just from the name…)
    Racism isn’t as rampant here as in other places, but sometimes I would overhear my stepfather making fun of the Chinese accent when he thought we (my brother and I) couldn’t hear. Made me want to punch him, but then, so did a lot of things he did.

    Getting off track here. This would probably be more powerful if I were familiar with the rhyme to begin with, but, it’s definately thought-provoking. And a little depressing, really.

    And I hate those words together, as well. Actually, I hate anything that, you know- treats the culture, or the language, or the people, with disrespect. Or any language/culture/people, but it hits home harder with the Chinese language/culture/people.

    I’d hate to be mixed-race in America. Sounds a hundred different flavours of unpleasant. But I still think about it a lot, because it was pure luck that had me born where I was, in a (relatively) accepting country. Even here I go by my “English” name, instead of my “Chinese” name, because it’s easier.

    I’m rambling. Sorry ’bout that.

  6. Are you guys all American/Canadian (by which I mean so you live there)?

    I live in the UK and I’ve never heard of this nursery rhyme and thankfully there isn’t much racism in the professional world and it seems confined solely to some corners of childrens’ playgrounds and a few skinhead gangs.

    Is there this much prejudice against Asians in the US? I would hope America’s changed somewhat since the 18th century.

    I dread to think how my life (as the child of a white English mother and Indian Caribbean father) would have been different had I been born in the US.

    Very good pastiche anyway – powerful in its blunt honesty and, I fear, all too true.

  7. Hmm. Here is a link to an article about an article that created a little fire-storm of protest. I can’t find the original. The writer, a biographer of Nelson Mandela, wrote about the racism encountered by non-White residents (including his partner and their children) in the small English town of Lewes. Racism in the UK is alive and well, thank you. I feel it when I visit, and in the 80’s, you could not have PAID me to live ther.


  8. And I will add that I’ve made my (white, English) partner stop referring to every Asian person as “Chinese,” stop imitating “Chinese” accents “for fun,” and stop adding people’s (non-White) race to descriptions about their rudeness or stupidity. And he had to talk his mother into taking a little black “gollywog” doll off the purse she carried around when she visited the US. It took him almost half an hour to do that. So I don’t buy the non-racist UK story, although of course I’m happy for Alex that he hasn’t experienced it.

  9. My stupid accounting teacher in HS made that Ching-Chong joke after pronouncing my name. My white friends were stunned at the sheer ignorance. That incident alone made me think twice about working for white people.

  10. Thanks for the link matata.
    I’ve only truly experienced a small portion of English life and made that conclusion based solely upon my assumption that the levels of racism that crop up in tales from the time of Enoch Powell or when my father moved from Guyana to Britain no longer had a place in greater British society…

    Personally I think the higher levels of social inequality in the USA allows racism to have a higher impact than it does in th UK, i.e. it allows for the massively disproportionate numbers of black people incarcerated in American prisons etc.

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