I’m white and my wife is ethnically Korean. We live in Edina, MN, the most affluent suburb in the state. It is 94.28% white. Today my wife experienced the sad reality of being Korean in a predominantly white city.
A couple months ago she received a speeding ticket. She was coasting down a hill near our house and her speed drifted well above the limit. She wanted to protest the ticket in court—not because she felt she didn’t deserve the ticket, but because she wanted to plead for mercy in the form of having the ticket remain absent from her record.
Today was her court appointment. She took both of our kids with her. For those of you who have never been to court, here’s how it works. You arrive for your scheduled appointment with a large group of other perpetrators. They have a list and they rattle through the list in order. The judge quickly hears your case particulars, passes a judgment, and moves along.
Mary arrived with our two kids and waited for her turn. While she waited, the bailiff became frustrated with the noise our kids were making and said, “You are going to have to leave the courtroom. You cannot have those kids in here. They are too loud.” Mary expressed concern that she would be skipped over since she wouldn’t be able to hear her name called from outside the courtroom. He assured her that he would get her when it was her turn.
As Mary waited holding our kids in the hallway outside the courtroom for almost hour, the bailiff finally came out and approached Mary. However instead of calling her into the courtroom for her case, he had come out to chastise her for having children that were making too much noise. “Quiet your kids! I can hear them inside the courtroom. If you don’t, you’ll have to leave or you’ll be fined for contempt!” Mary was taken aback. She was shocked. She started to tremble as tears streamed down her face. Our kids looked at their mom with confusion and concern. People walked by and wondered what had just happened. My wife stood humiliated in the hallway awaiting her turn with deep sadness and embarrassment.
Finally a sympathetic bystander, who could identify with Mary’s experience because she too was not white, asked, “Can I help in some way?” Mary said, “Would you be willing find out for me when I am next in line?” The bystander returned and told Mary that her name had already been called. They had passed over her. The bailiff failed to tell her when her name was called.
Why had this man treated Mary this way? Were my kids really acting in a way that was worthy of being charged with contempt of court? Why did he single out Mary, when there was another woman there with a child who incurred none of his wrath? She was white. Was that why he overlooked her child? Was Mary subject to this harassment because she is Asian?
This is the question that I never have to ask. I never have to wonder if I’m being treated differently because of the color of my skin. If someone is having a bad day and they take it out on me, I don’t wonder if it’s because of my race. If I make a mistake and receive criticism, I don’t have to wonder if it was warranted or if I’m the recipient of prejudice. I never have to ask this question, because I rarely find myself an ethnic minority in any setting.
For whatever reasons, the bailiff singled Mary out and unleashed hostility on her. The sympathetic bystander who had helped Mary suggested a reason for his behavior. She said, “I hate Edina! I always get pulled over in Edina and nowhere else around here. I think the police racially profile.” She was convinced Mary was being treated differently because she is an Asian American.
This is the suburb in which I grew up. I never thought people here were racist, but now I have a different perspective. Now that I have become one flesh with an ethnic-outsider, I see things differently. I’m so sad for what Mary had to experience today. It’s easy for me to see how uncomfortable it can be to live in a place with so few people who look like you. Experiences like today remind me how difficult it is to be anything but white in Edina.