By Wayne Chan
Sometimes your perspective on things changes when you see things from another person’s eyes. That’s what I discovered playing tennis during the last 15 months of social distancing.
I belong to a golf and tennis club near my home. Many of my neighbors belong to the same club. It’s a place to socialize and exercise and basically escape from the stresses of everyday life.
It’s also a club (and neighborhood) that is predominantly White. Not exclusively so, but predominantly so.
When COVID hit, the club shut down for a few weeks out of basic health precautions. When the science began to figure out the nature of the disease, it was determined that when people showed up to the club, everyone was required to wear masks, and could only take them off once they were on the tennis court.
Being on the more conservative side, I stayed away from the club for a number of months. But after taking all the necessary precautions, I decided to start playing tennis again.
I went to the club, with my sports bag and racquet in hand, and I walked to the tennis courts. There were others wandering around, and then it started.
“Hey Wayne!” one shouted. Another walked past, held up his hand and said, “Wayne, welcome back!” Another person shouted my name and welcomed me. Then another, and another.
This was nothing new to me. As a kid, my parents lived in neighborhoods where I was nearly the only non-white in the school. College changed all that, but until then, I was used to standing out among my peers.
What was new to me was realizing that with everyone in the club wearing a mask, while they all knew my name, I couldn’t recognize hardly anyone who was walking around. They’re all White. They’re all wearing masks. There wasn’t enough for me distinguish one from another. While each of them called out “Hey Wayne!”, the only thing I could do was respond by saying, “Hey you!” Talk about turning a stereotype on its head!
One last anecdote about tennis and being Asian, and this one actually warms my heart. I was recently invited to play tennis at another club, about ten miles away from our own club. This is in a neighborhood that is about 80% Asian. The club also reflects the same diversity. I played my match and got to know some of the other players there. They were all very welcoming, and I told them I’d love to come back and play again.
A few days later, I went back to my own club and one of my friends there, who is White, asked me how my match went at the other club. I told him it was a good match, that the guys there are great, but I also said that I was surprised that most of the members there were Asian.
My friend replied that he had played there too, and that the guys there were very nice, even though he said he hadn’t ever played at a club where he felt like the odd man out.
As a joke, I said, “I haven’t played at a club where everyone else was Asian either!”
He then said, “Now you know how I felt!”
Some might view his words in another light. But I know my friend, and I know what he meant. He was talking to his friend, and while he certainly knows I’m Asian, he doesn’t see me that way. He knows it, but he doesn’t see it.
I’ll be the first person he asks if he needs a recommendation for a good Chinese restaurant. But in this instance, our friendship transcends race. It’s always there, but for him, it really doesn’t matter.
It seems like such a minor thing. Just six spoken words. But with all that is going on in the world right now, it’s something to aspire to.
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