So for our last installment, back to me, your resident Clever Chick, to sum everything up. I’ve been trying to focus on humorous, unintentionally ignorant race situations. (See parts one, two, three, and four)
I personally am a white American, but I have dark hair, eyes, and skin. I’m constantly asked “What are you?” by random strangers. I don’t know why it matters. I know that people are just trying to fit me into a category, to try and understand more about who I am by fitting me into whatever backstory they assume comes with whatever race I happen to be. I’ve been mistaken for Indian, black, hispanic, Native American, Romani (aka gypsy), and Jewish.
People are always surprised when I say “White”. Some people just won’t let it rest at that answer.
Nosy Stranger: “Really? Are you sure? You don’t have any black in you at all?”
Me: “Well technically all humans evolved in Africa and migrated throughout the world from there, so we all have a little”
NS: *eye roll* “No, I mean like, in your family”
I also have random people come up to me and just start speaking Spanish. I speak a little, but usually they talk so fast I have no hope. When I tell them I don’t speak Spanish, I get this disbelieving, disgusted look, as though I have betrayed my culture.
But I don’t have any “culture”. I can’t speak for all white Americans, but in general, we don’t have any “cool” cultural traditions. We don’t have bindis, egg rolls, or people dressed as dragons. We have the Americanized version of things: oriental rugs, fortune cookies, and Tex Mex. White people will bond over both being 1/8th German or Irish, and it’s ok to ask about and discuss. Our ties to any family roots are tenuous, but that has both positives and negatives.
I’m not trying to excuse anyone, and we can all definitely stand to be more sensitive and culturally aware. I appreciate the fact that I can have these in-depth discussions with my friends about all the different aspects of race and background in our society.
To sum up:
1) If you want to know someone’s race or ethnic background, think twice before you ask. Why do you want to know?
2) If you want to bond with someone, don’t assume you know anything about what they’re like just based on their ancestry.
3) If someone is well-meaning, but ignorant, try to gently point out their behavior. Hopefully, they’ll realize what they’re doing.
Part 4 comes to us from my friend Iris. She’s ethnically Korean, and was born and raised here in the US. I swear, she must deal with these situations once a week, and they are always hilarious to me. (See parts one, two, and three of our ongoing discussion of race faux pas)
I went on a date and the guy was from a small town in Texas I think and also an insufferable date in general, but this really took the cake. We had talked about where we were from, where we grew up, where we went to college, etc.
The conversation went:
Dude: What’s your background?
Me: I’m korean.
Dude: Wow, but your English is so good!
Me: You know that doesn’t have anything to do with my ethnicity, right? I was born here
Dude: Oh. okay (clearly didn’t get the point but wanted to move onto some other topic about himself)
Another time here in Vegas, I was grocery shopping at a store called Smiths, which is just like Kroger in TX, and an older white gentleman ran up to me and goes, “Excuse me, Excuse me!”
Man: Would you mind trying the sushi over there? *points to sushi sample stand in the bakery/deli section*
Me: Um..what? Why?
Man: I just want to know if it’s good. If YOU (big emphasis on YOU) say it’s good, I’ll know it’s good.
Me: But I don’t like sushi.
Man: YOU DON’T?????
I was so caught off-guard that I ended up just trying it and saying it was good for the sake of the poor sushi demonstration guy.
And yeah, the Asian food story-
At my job when I had just started, this guy noticed me and came over to start a conversation. The typical where are you from, when did you start, what dept are you in, etc. Then he goes, “Do you go to Chinatown often?”
Me: No, I haven’t been there yet
Him: Oh, you should! The food is so good there. I love Asian food. I was just there with my Asian friend, John. We had ramen.
Him: Yeah, actually I love Asia. I was just traveling in China before I started working here.
Me: Oh, I see.
Him: Asian culture is so cool, I just love how nice the people are, I want to go to Japan next.
I think that guy has an indian girlfriend now if that is relevant.
It’s always interesting when people try to ask what my ethnic background is. Sometimes I’m a dick about it.
What’s your race? Human
What are you? A person
Where are you from? NY. No, i mean where are you FROM? Rockland County, NY
It was awesome when I met my ex’s mother. She is from a small town in Florida and was trying to be very careful.
“So Iris, are your parents from the old country?”
I felt bad, so I just said yes, they immigrated from Korea in the 70s. I can always spot well-intentioned ignorance from far away, so i try to help them out.
The most awkward thing for me is that I hardly consider myself Asian, but obviously I am ethnically Asian. I think oftentimes strangers approach me with some kind of motivation of goal or connection or conversation topic related to Asia/being Asian and it takes me a long time to realize that, since I don’t assume that’s the primary reason that people talk to me. It happens a lot, though, especially in dating. LOVE when guys come up to me and tell me how much they like anime or sushi and assume that’s an “in” to talking to me.
My dear friend Phuong of Mibellarosa is Vietnamese, and I asked her for some anecdotes of race faux pas she’d experienced for our (apparently) ongoing discussion of race and misunderstandings. She is a treasure trove:
I guess you’ve hit the jackpot with me but I’ll only give you a few stories since I may write a memoir one day and try to sell it as a sitcom to white people who are curious with how it is to be Asian…and by Asian I mean Chinese.
Here we have part 2 in our 5 part series about race. We’re focusing on those incidence that stem from naivete and ignorance, rather than malice. This installment comes to us from my friend Tripp, of the now infamous incident that started this whole series. Enjoy!
If you haven’t read That Clever Chick’s not-too-serious post about race, please check it out. Aside from the fact that it really happened (and it’s too funny not to), it’ll serve as a good primer for my forthcoming quasi-rant. My thoughts pretty much mirror TCC’s on what my wife and I now affectionately refer to as – “The White Mom incident”. Technically, there was nothing ‘wrong’ with what transpired. We all agreed, after a round of confused and uncomfortable silence, her intentions were good, if not misplaced. In fact, I somewhat admire the brass it took to come over and say something like that out of the blue. I have two white aunts and I have yet to work the fact into a conversation with a white person I barely know.
Still, I don’t want to beleaguer the point. What’s done is done. Instead, I’d like to turn my focus to prevention. Talking about race does not have to be painful, in fact, with a little understanding, compassion and common sense, you might be surprised how eye-opening and enjoyable a discussion about race can be. But before you sojourn off on a quest for understanding and tolerance, please check out my list below to avoid any…mishaps. It’s a short list and taking a few minutes to read this could save you heartache and hospital bills later on down the road. So without further ado:
Do not tell a black person they speak well.
This is a backhanded compliment that is way more backhand than compliment. Let’s examine this dubious affirmation for a moment. To say someone “speaks well” infers that you initially presumed otherwise. Frankly, this is something that is far more appropriate to say to someone recovering from a head injury than to a black person. Yes, there are plenty of black people who speak “ebonics”, reasons why vary greatly from person to person and fall outside the scope of this rant. Regardless, if you plan on making nice with a black person, try not to draw attention to the fact that you can understand them without a translator. Seriously, it won’t earn you any friendship points. Language is an ever-changing institution. And while its origins may be traced down to a particular group or ethnicity, no one “owns” it per se. Disagree? Take a trip to the suburbs and find any non-black teenager with their hat turned backwards and pants sagging and get an ear-full of what they say and how they say it.
Having a black friend does not give you privilege to say stupid crap.
White Person talking to black person – “Black people love fried chicken. I can say that because I’m friends with (insert relational status to black person here). I’m not psychic, but I can tell you without a doubt, this conversation will end badly; especially if the person you are speaking to has no idea who you are. It might come as a shock, but black people do not operate in a hive-mind. Just because you know one black person doesn’t mean the rest of us got the update. Black people do not use Twitter. I can say that because I’m black. *cough*
Assume nothing. And for the love of all that is good, do not work into the conversation that you know a black person because it’s tacky and a little sad. If you’re cool, we’ll sense it. Your discretion will pay dividends in the end, trust me.
Never, ever, ever use the N word.
Most white people get the memo on this one early on. For the slow adopters, take heed. In no situation ever, EVER is it cool to say this word. I don’t care if Jesse Jackson and Tavis Smiley both give you an annual subscription to Ebony magazine, a signed affidavit and thumbs up – don’t do it.
Do not claim to be more ‘black’ than your black friend.
You like 50 Cent? Good for you. You frequent an African restaurant and know how to pronounce the name correctly? Sweet. Oh, you can dance? My hat’s off to you sir.
None of those things qualifies you to say you are more “black” than your “black” friend.
Even in jest, this one carries too much baggage. Being “black” has too many connotations (stereotypical, social, political) to too many people and your assumptions will more than likely differ from the person to whom you are speaking. Besides, it’s just kind of a crap thing to say and I have no sympathy for anyone that gets the taste slapped out of their mouth for saying it. I get it, you want to prove you’re “down”. It’s just a joke, what’s the big deal? The big deal is you have no idea where the other person stands on the issue. Race can be a very sensitive topic and it would be best to tread carefully on this front. Instead of trying to “out-black” your friend (wtf does that even mean anyway), tell them what you enjoy but don’t bias it towards what you think they want to hear. Hey, if you like country music, good! Tell them. You might be surprised, maybe you’ll get an invitation to roll with them to Garth Brooks’ next concert, or maybe you’ll just get an eye roll. Either way, being honest about what you like/dislike will open you up to a more authentic relationship based on mutual interests rather than the perception thereof.
There are plenty more that I could add, but in an effort to keep this from becoming a book, I’ll stop here. In short, if you want to make black friends, look to make a friend first. If they happen to be black, all the better. Oh, and give them fried chicken. Black people love fried chicken.
Don’t sweat it, I can say that because I’m black.
Hubby and I took a trip to Dallas not too long ago to visit family and friends. While we were there, we went to the Dallas World Aquarium. This place is absolutely amazing! As you walk up the path to buy tickets, you pass cages with tropical birds, and a tree-kangaroo! This place is way more than just an aquarium. There are monkeys, snakes, sloths, spiders, a giant otter, a manatee, and all kinds of things. You start in the top, which is the rain forest canopy, and work your way down to the aquariums. They give you a guidebook at the beginning with the daily schedule, which includes talks and animal feedings. We got to see the giant otter and the sharks get fed. The sound system for the talks was not great, however. The background noise of an entire rain forest kind of drowned out the guides. The whole place is clean, and informative, and the animals are healthy and well-cared for.
Now for the practical details:
1) It’s a bit pricey, but I think it’s absolutely worth it. You can spend the ENTIRE day there, there’s so much to see. Keep and eye out for a Groupon or other discount.
2) Pay for parking, (it was either $7 or $5, can’t recall), but the parking is right across the street, and plentiful.
3) We went on a weekend and it was moderately busy. Not so crammed you couldn’t see anything, but enough people that you sometimes got caught in a clump.
4) Very stroller and kid friendly. The changing areas were clean and in working order. I didn’t check if they have changing tables in the men’s rooms or not.
5) There is food you can buy there, both snacks and in a cafe. We had our own snacks with us, and stuck to those. No one checked our bags or told us not to bring in outside food.
6) It’s all nice and cool! It’s not like, air conditioned, but it was kept pretty cool, and everything is shady and breezy.
7) BRING A CAMERA. I neglected to do so, which is why I only have terrible cell phone pictures for you.
8) You don’t need to get there at the crack of dawn, but I would give yourself at LEAST 3 hours to look around. We had about that much time before closing, and felt rushed toward the end.
9) Read the schedule they’ll give you. It has animal feeding times and guide talks listed, and those are worth seeing.
10) You don’t have to have kids to enjoy this place. Hubby and I loved the whole place, and my sis, Beans is a huge fan also. Baby Nacho wasn’t too interested in the monkeys and leopard, but the fish, and especially the octopus were enthralling.
A few weeks ago, Hubby, baby Nacho, and I were spending the weekend with our friends Tripp and Trina (who are black, which becomes relevant). We all went to an event at their daughter’s school one evening, and we were chilling outside on the lawn, listening to a local band and reading books. It was great, then a white mom came over to chat. This is a mom they had spoken to once or twice, but didn’t know well. Hubby and I weren’t really paying attention, then we heard this gem:
WhiteMom: “We did one of those National Geographic ancestry tests, and found out I’m 5% African! From the area of Mali (significant look as though they should know where this is). So anyway, I just thought you’d like to know!”
Hubby and I were internally cringing so hard I feared busting a blood vessel. Trina covered well by making the appropriate remarks, and we all waited silently for WhiteMom to leave. We were all so shocked we couldn’t do anything but laugh.
Later I started thinking; why was this such a bad thing to say? She was trying to be friendly, so what precisely was wrong about this interaction? What made it so painfully awkward?
Basically, even though she had good intentions, she was still reducing my friends to their skin color. She didn’t try to bond with them about their daughters, the school, the band, the city they live in, the cupcakes surrounding us, or any other factors they had in common. She assumed their race would be their main interest, even though she probably considers herself to be open-minded and enlightened.
Either that, or she was hoping they had an NAACP welcome packet just waiting for her.
If you’re searching for common ground to connect with someone, try and pay attention to what their interests are. Maybe they love Game of Thrones, or Batman. (Let’s be honest, if they don’t, they’re probably not worth being friends with). You wouldn’t try to bond about their hair color, or shoe size, so don’t try to use ethnicity.
I was going to make this just one post, but like most of my posts, it’s getting much longer and more involved than I planned. I asked Tripp to write about his perception of the same event, and I also asked several of my other friends for similar experiences. I think you’ll find all of this as entertaining as I did. Stay tuned for parts 2 through 5!
This post got a little unwieldy, so I broke it into two parts. See part one for advice on registries and baby clothes.
4) No stuffed animals – kids get millions of them, and according to the American Association of Pediatrics, they shouldn’t sleep with them until a year old. Stuffed animals can be cute, but they just take up space until the kid is old enough. If you want to buy a toy, check out Lucie’s List for some helpful suggestions (but always check the registry first).
5) Don’t buy any baby shampoo, lotion, or baby powder. Doctors recommend avoiding baby powder altogether now. For the other two items, my son has eczema which is very common in babies. Our doctor recommended avoiding anything that was not unscented and hypoallergenic. Plus, lots of people will buy these items for new parents, so avoid overkill.
6) You still have no idea what to do? CASH – It may sound crass, but cash is the best thing ever. The new parents can buy diapers, books, Chinese delivery, pay for housecleaning or yard services they don’t have time to take care of for themselves, or get that baby monitor they registered for, but no one bought.
Cash is far superior to gift cards because of the versatility. This is especially great if your friend lives far away (cheap shipping!), is registered at some specialty boutique you can’t get to for whatever reason, or only registered for items that are out of your price range.
If you don’t want to look lazy and cheap by sending cash, buy one of those cardboard baby books and tuck the cash inside. Cash WILL get used, I promise, and you don’t have to worry about duplicates!
7) Strapped for cash – make a card and offer to bring them food after the baby comes. A week or two after they get home from the hospital, send a text or email (something unobtrusive that won’t wake a sleeping newborn) and say “I’m free on (list a few dates). Would any of these work for me to drop off some food for you?” For people that may not have gotten to the store in awhile, produce that doesn’t spoil quickly, like apples and oranges, would probably be welcome as well.
a) You can even make and freeze food and give it to them before the baby comes. If you’re traveling to see them or are a terrible cook, even a frozen lasagna is helpful. Just check in advance for dietary restrictions and freezer space.
b) Really can’t cook? As I’ve said before, paper towels and toilet paper are extremely helpful. You can also offer specific help, such as “I can come over and watch the baby while you nap or shower”, or “I can run some laundry and dishes for you” or vacuum, or walk the dogs, whatever. Try to think of the things that get out of control when you get sick for several days. Again, give a few specific dates when you’re available so the frazzled new mom has to think as little as possible.
8) Use your skills – if you have something you’re good at, consider how to use that for the new arrival. We are so fortunate to have talented friends, and we received a crocheted narwhal, a tiny pirate outfit, pirate quilts, a beautiful scrapbook, and a pirate cross stitch, all handmade just for my baby Nacho. (There seems to be a theme emerging…)
This got incredibly wordy, but I promise, it’s simple. Anything you can do will be appreciated, and hopefully these guidelines will keep you from feeling too lost.