“You live in America, SPEAK ENGLISH!”

I just found this little tale of “Guess the ethnicity!” on Microaggressions:

While in a hotel restroom at a teacher conference, a middle aged lady came up to me and said “HI” in Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean, then asked, “Did I get any of those right? Are you one of those?”

When I responded that there are many other Asian countries out there with different languages, she proceeded to gush that “It’s so nice to see one of you people not working in a nail salon and speak good English.” I told her I spoke English well, and it’s a damn shame the future generation has to learn from people like her.

Teacher-lady knows how to say “Hi” in three different Asian languages, but doesn’t know well enough not to be an asshole to a random stranger in the ladies’ room.

Look, folks, just…don’t do that. You don’t need to guess a total stranger’s ethnicity. You don’t need to be clever whenever you see a person who might be from somewhere else. Heck, how do you know I’m not from somewhere else? If you haven’t heard me speak yet, how do you know I’m not German or Swedish? Some people of Asian ethnicity are native-born U.S. citizens, and of those, many don’t even speak any languages outside of English. But it’s only people of color who are assumed, sight unseen, to be newcomers to this country, and who are treated like rare exotic animals for having a solid command of the English language. No one (in this country) comes up to someone who looks like me and says “Hi” in three different Northern European languages, followed by the question of “Are you one of those?” White people can rest assured that our place in American society won’t be challenged.

I see there’s at least one reblogger on Tumblr who calls the original poster a “bitch” and insists that the teacher is “just trying to be friendly.”

How does anyone get the idea in her head that the way to be “friendly” to a total stranger whose path she crosses in the restroom is to spray a bunch of foreign languages at her and then demand to know if she’s “one of those”? How does anyone think this is welcome behavior? Based on her comments about “you people” and “working in a nail salon,” I assume teacher-lady isn’t well-acquainted with any Asian people, but if this is her idea of friendliness, she’s not going to make many new friends outside of her racial group.

Intent is not magic, and even if teacher-lady thought she was “just” being “friendly” to the random Asian woman in the restroom, that doesn’t mean her approach was acceptable. It doesn’t mean the original poster on Microaggressions is obligated to act like this doesn’t bother her. The message behind this type of communication is to tell the possibly-foreign person: “You are a stranger in this land. You don’t belong here. Don’t forget.” I’ve been on that side of the foreign/native line myself. During my Peace Corps assignment, the games of “Guess the Ethnicity!” and “HOLY SHIT I SEE A FOREIGNER” dominated my life basically every time I left the house. I know what it’s like to be treated as the “exotic” one, and let me tell you: it sucks so incredibly hard. It is obnoxious and exhausting as fuck. I, at least, had the advantage of actually being a foreigner, and knowing I was only there for 27 months before I would go home and be treated like a normal human again. This kind of attention in Western countries is regularly directed at people who’ve lived here all their lives, or close enough to it, and have no plans of moving anywhere else. The OP is not a “bitch” for trying to enforce her boundaries. She does not need to “take the stick out of her ass.” She’s not in the wrong.

If you must be friendly to a total stranger in the ladies’ room (and I don’t see what’s so difficult about peeing, washing your hands and getting out of the way), why not just say: “Hi. Are you here with the conference? Where/what do you teach? Oh, what a cute purse!”?

 

Curiosity is no excuse to behave like an asshole.

I would like to show you this piece by Andromeda Turre: ‘”What are you?” Is Not an Icebreaker’

The ridiculous shit that’s followed her around all her life as a mixed-race person (I just learned a new word: Blendiva!) is now especially thick in the air in her online dating life. And it’s still not cool. Look at this!

I have gotten this question all my life. At school. At the park. At parties. On the subway, a woman once tapped me on the shoulder and had me take out my headphones, interrupting my favorite Mariah Carey song, to ask me, “What are you?” She wasn’t ready for the answer she got that day, because it was just a whole lot of side eye.

“What are you?”

“I’m…going to put my headphones back in, pretend you didn’t just say that, and I will bite your hand off if you touch me again!”

For me, my identity has caused a lot of arguments and pain in my life. So I might not want to answer “What are you?” because I might be apprehensive as to how you, a total stranger, are going to judge me and possibly react to the choice of identity that took me years to accept and understand.

She’s gotten all the layers of horribleness from her peers due to their inability to fit her into their boxes. The white kids objectified her, Latinas marginalized her, and blacks took exception to her identifying as something else.

And then I have to explain why I “talk white.” And that my hair is real. And that my mom was not my babysitter, but in fact my mom. And that my dad did not adopt me. And it all becomes so tedious and exhausting I almost want to walk around covered in blue paint because it might actually be easier. Everyone loves Blue Man Group. No?

That shit is exhausting as fuck. It attaches a ton of complication to the demand to know, very first thing, “what” she is. It’s not a good way to put someone at ease when you’re possibly interested in getting a date with her. Folks, don’t do that.

There’s another interesting point she brings up, early in her article: this shit doesn’t happen to white people, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Most white Americans are not descended from people of only one country! Most of us are a hybrid of several different European ethnicities. Some have some Central Asian ancestors. Most white Southerners have a little African-American ancestry, too! We don’t have to deal with people asking us, before we’ve even exchanged “Hello” and “What’s your name?” whether we’re English/German/Italian/Irish/French/Swedish/Czech/Polish/Spanish/Greek, and in what combinations and percentages. No, that kind of categorization is only imposed on people who appear to be descended from at least two continents. It’s overwhelmingly on people whose complexions are much darker than mine.

(I had to deal with plenty of people demanding to know whether I was English/German/Swedish/Dutch/whatevs during my Peace Corps assignment, so I’ve gotten enough of that kind of attention to know it’s obnoxious as fuck, but here in the USA we palefaces are just…white. No explanation needed.)

Here’s the thing: it’s not wrong to have this curiosity about someone as you get to know her. Ms. Turre isn’t saying you can’t ever know her racial make-up. It’s okay to ask this sort of question later. Maybe, get acquainted with someone, give her a chance to get comfortable with you, and wait for the issue of heritage to come up in the conversation? Even then, there are much better ways to phrase the question than “What are you?” What is the pronoun we give to an object. Ask about heritage, ask about racial background, ask about ethnicity. We’re supposed to be adults around here, folks. Let’s use our words.

But, seriously, do not pull that shit on the totally unknown person you’ve spotted on the subway. Mind your damn business.

Rep. Kevin Cramer wants Native women to be as unsafe as possible.

RawStory pointed me to this article regarding Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N. Dakota), and now I want to crawl out of my skin.

While at the most recent state coalition membership meeting held on March 26, 2013, two of North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s staff and North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer were on the agenda.  They were brought in to listen to the Directors of programs throughout North Dakota.  We were instructed to voice our concerns, needs, and other issues that are affecting our programs.  We had a lot to discuss. The recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), including Tribal provisions giving limited jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators, was a long, hard-fought battle that many are grateful for.  The sequester was looming over all of the Directors’ heads.  Senator Heitkamp’s staff were great.  They listened, took notes, and asked questions.  We all expressed our thanks for Senator Heitkamp’s support.  Immediately following Heitkamp’s staff was North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer.  A couple of Program Directors spoke, then I followed.  Knowing that Cramer spoke out openly against the constitutionality of the Tribal Provisions in VAWA, I thanked him for his support and proceeded with my concerns including how the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program (TSASP) was taken out of the CTAS grant solicitation that went out to Tribes.  I said that our state, because of the oil boom, has been impacted negatively.  I mentioned that the program in Fort Berthold, for example, has seen drastic changes.

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