It was a hot 90 degree North Carolinian summer day, late in the school year, when I was first asked this glorious little question. Actually, I’m quite sure it had happened several times well before that, but this was always the most vivid, memorable incident that stuck with me. 

“So, do you eat dogs?” 

I had the misfortune of being stuck doing a task with a small group of white kids with dirty blonde hair from our third-grade class, heading back to the main building through the wasp-infested breezeway. And despite the considerable amount of diversity at my elementary school and how much they prided themselves on being an IB magnet school, the kids there, just like at any other school, were still capable of being violently ignorant and creating beautiful little memories that are a part of my formative experience at American public schools. Therefore, it was to no one’s surprise but my young self when these kids proceeded to belt out a list of, well, pretty much every animal their two brain cells could conjure, and asking me if I had gotten my undeveloped chompers on them. 







(they weren’t the most creative budding fourth-graders) 

“Guinea pigs?” 

The only thing that I have actually eaten on this lengthy list made up of  (mostly) herbivores and household pets is a snake, in a soup that my uncle involuntarily ordered for me at my 11th birthday party, which happened to coincide with my grandmother’s funeral. But to the bright, intellectual young people in my third-grade class, it was completely possible that my family and I had either plucked a stray dog off the clearly stray-ridden streets of Morrisville, North Carolina, bought a hunk of dog meat from the Asian supermarket, or gone through the trouble of adopting a cute little puppy, giving it a name, a green collar with a tag on it telling any strangers who might come across them to call us, and then dismantling it limb from limb for the sake of a hearty dinner stew the second we felt like it. 

That was always bothersome to me about the dog-eating joke, as this wasn’t the first time or the last time that it would be said to me. It wasn’t just the sheer racism, as people in China and anywhere in the world only begin eating their family pets to avoid starving to death. It was the implication that in comparison to others, I lack compassion because of my culture. That I lack the emotional connection that others have to their family pets; that I can only see animals as potential food sources and nothing more. Essentially, that I am a savage. And being a third-grader trying to prove your humanity to your classmates, who clearly would not have known what that was for themselves, hurts. 

There are ways that us Asian students try to divert this hurt, the majority of which I’ve at least somewhat dabbled in through all my years at school. It almost occurs in stages. First, in elementary school, the slight hurt and confusion, not knowing how to respond. Then, what I consider to be the most popular one: humiliate yourself before others can do it for you. This one’s the go-to for middle schoolers. Yes, tell your white friends the lunch your mother packed for you is chock full of dog entrails. Make yourself the entertainment. Surely, they’re laughing with you, not at you, right?

Early in eighth-grade, I had a few classes with this guy. He was Japanese, but people just looked at us and thought, “same difference!” so he suffered from all the same jokes that I did. I saw him take that path, gradually gaining the camaraderie of the sporty white boys in our Language Arts class by making dog-eating joke after dog-eating joke after slant-eyed joke about himself. It wasn’t surprising anymore, no, I think every Asian in an environment like that eventually grew numb to the onslaught of racist jokes that never felt like enough to warrant calling out. And that numbness made us dangerously complacent, to the point where our white friends felt comfortable enough to make our own jokes back at us. 

 Although I am not at all exempt from making those jokes towards myself in middle school, I looked at him with heavy disdain, due in part to the self-guilt that I had once been like that. But now, I’d moved past that, and I was frustrated that he could not. It sucked to be the second Asian in the class as the other one made himself into a laughingstock for the amusement of his white friends. Through him, I finally saw how utterly useless the idea of taking the opportunity to make the joke before someone else was. It’s disgraceful. To any self-respecting member of your race, you are the weak link. Among the dogs, you make yourself the runt of the litter.