I live in Berkeley, California, which has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most liberal cities in America. I like living here for all the reasons you’d imagine — it’s super-diverse, there’s a great we’re-all-in-this-together ethos, and the food scene is fantastic — but given the city’s reputation, I’ve been surprised by a few of the interactions I’ve had at the Starbucks downtown, a few blocks from my home.
I was once sitting at a communal table, typing away on my laptop, when a middle-aged white man sat down across from me. He was disheveled and slightly unhygienic, and he was reading the New York Times and carrying a thick stack of papers. He could have been a homeless person or a professor; in complete seriousness, it’s often hard to tell in this town.
As he sat down, I briefly made eye contact, smiled politely, and returned to my work.
For a few minutes, he alternated between looking at me and reading his paper. Finally, he set it down and asked, “Are you Chinese?”