Monday, July 29, 2013

scar tissue.

Yesterday A. told me about an incident at a recently opened restaurant where she took a young friend to lunch, some weeks back. I won’t mention the name of the restaurant because I don’t know the whole story, yet. What I do know is this: with the check came a postcard of that iconic Eddie Adams photo of a Vietcong prisoner being shot in the head on a Saigon street. Printed on the postcard were the words “LET’S SHOOT SOME GOOKS." I stood there on the street corner blinking in the bright sunlight, looking at A., wondering, did I really just hear her say that? I wanted to throw up. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age someone would think that this postcard would be an appropriate thing to give to anyone. Ever.

A few days after that lunch A. got an apology from the restaurant, and I do believe it was sincerely meant. I do believe that this was honestly an act of ignorance and not malice, or at least I want to believe it, but I am reminded that racism isn’t always about violence, not all the time. It’s more subtle than that. More often than not it is about ignorance. I had to explain to a friend who is a few years younger than me what the word “gook" meant. I can’t even remember how old I was when I learned it. What I want to know is what went through the mind of the person who handed this postcard to my friend, and I want to know what goes on in the minds of people who produce these postcards. What the fuck is so funny about a public execution? About war? About calling people “gooks"? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

I woke up angry this morning and stayed angry all day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the plays I’ve seen this year that touch on the Vietnam War - for some reason there have been several of them - and of the viscerally emotional reactions of audience members around me who are old enough to remember that time. There are still scars and ghosts not laid to rest. There is still a latent, simmering anger, and the understanding that we never learn from our past mistakes. That someone would make a joke or a profit from an entire country’s scar tissue is beyond contemptible. The Eddie Adams photograph of a Vietcong execution is an indelible part of our visual history, our collective memory, our understanding of what atrocities were being committed halfway around the world, more than forty years before social media allowed us to experience a revolution in realtime. To turn it into a joke is a sacrilege. And I keep wanting to ask, for what? Why? I’m waiting for an answer.