Monday, February 27, 2006

Contrary To Popular Belief, I Am NOT Siamese If You Please

(Update, 2.28, Bloggers Remorse: I struggled with whether or not to leave this post up. I don’t hate this woman, and I don’t think her comment was made out of hatred or malice. I do however dislike what she said, and the cavalier manner in which it was thrown out. My concern is that she is someone I have to see and interact with on a daily basis. I don’t know whether or not she reads my blog, but if she does I am certain she would not like what she reads here or in the comments. Do I care? Only in regards to the negative impact it may have on our children, as the relationship between this woman and I is one based on our involvement with our children’s school. So, if I delete the post, does that make me a coward, or should I say, ‘yellow?’)

At the girls' school this morning there was a workshop put on by the second grade teachers on how to help your child prepare for testing that is coming up in the next few weeks. I sat next to another mom, one that I know pretty well because our daughters have been friends since kindergarten. She has always struck me as someone fairly conservative politically but reasonably open-minded, which is why it surprised me when we had the following conversation.

We were discussing the fact that neither of our kids was very proficient in math, and I made a joke about how, because of the assumption that all Asians are math geniuses, it always came as a shock to my teachers growing up when I could barely calculate the cost of my lunch. She started to tell me about a conversation she had with her teenaged daughter:

Her: Oh, it was the funniest thing! She was confused about what an Asian was! She had this notion that it just meant another kind of Caucasian!

Me: Hahahahaha!

Her: I tried to explain to her that Asians were different! You know, they have dark skin and slanted eyes!

I calmly put down my chopsticks and contemplated which Kung-Fu moves I was going to bust her up with once I got done asking for advice from Buddha. Unfortunately my mind doesn't work too well in the mornings before I've had my ginseng so I just answered her back with, "Well, you know that's not an accurate description." She got a little flustered and just waved it off by saying, "Oh, I know! You know what I mean!"

Well, now, I'm not exactly sure I know what you mean! Does it mean that you are just as woefully uninformed as your daughter and are passing on racial stereotypes to her? Have you culled all your knowledge of Asian culture from Charlie Chan movies and commercials for Top Ramen? Do you actually believe that David Carradine is a wizened Asian martial-arts master? And hey, look over there! It's my sister, she of the light skin and round eyes, in other words, Not An Asian! (And whatta ya know - we invented computers!)

Fortunately for her I didn't think a second grade classroom, in the presence of my child's teacher was the appropriate place to get into a discussion about racial definitions. But it did make me look at her in a different way through these slanted eyes of mine, one that definitely highlighted our differences and made me think of how, even living in a cosmopolitan city in the 21st century, racial stereotypes are alive and well and being perpetuated by educated, well-meaning parents.

I grew up with racial taunts and I've already seen how my two bi-racial daughters have been subjected to this. The comments about being 'good at karate' and the ever-popular pulling-up-of-the-corners-of-the-eyes have already been reported back to me. We've carefully explained to them the importance of taking pride in their Japanese culture (as well as their English teabag, Irish beer-drinking, Scottish bagpipe-blowing...oh, you know what I mean!) and cautioning them about the racial intolerance that they may encounter in their lives. But when one realizes that so much of the racist attitudes and misinformation comes directly from the people that should be positively influencing our children, the parents, it gets well, too much for this geisha to handle.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have attempted to enlighten this woman with some basic facts on Asian culture and, using a map of Asia, pointed out the geographical attributes of the various countries. I could have stressed the need for the elimination of racial clichés and how an educated perspective on race is vital, especially for our children, to existing in a multi-cultural society. And then I should have run her over with my rickshaw.

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  1. Wow, talk about that mom being a VERY bad explainer on the differences between the races.

    I'm sure there will come a time when you can address her stereotyping away from your kid's teacher, although now she's probably terrified to say anything to you except "How's the weather?" What amazes me is that she has a TEENAGED daughter who didn't understand what an Asian person was. WTF? How do you live that long, in a cosmopolitan city, with that level of ignorance? Oy.

  2. Okay I almost blew my sandwich out my nose.

    Bless her heart. I can only pray this doesn't cloud her little CAUCasian head during her golf game tomorrow morning with the ladies' group at the country club.

    A less ignorant, 6ft, scottish, round eye
    Favorite come-on line: " I betch-ya make great football babies."

  3. As long as you offer her a manicure first, put on your kimono, offered her husband a "happy ending" massage and giggled with your hand over your mouth while bowing, I think you would have been just fine.

    In all seriousness, I do know how you feel and I am sorry.

  4. I wouldn't call her a racist, Bigot, YES! As an AMERICAN Asian woman, I do admit I too am surprised on occasion, that people are so clueless. BUT, you have lived a life of priviledge. You have had the opportunity of co-existing in a world that not many people dare to explore. A world that includes various skin tones and dialects, hair textures and eye shapes. The mere fact that you have married that English tea bag of a husband is proof that your world is a broader place. I am surprised that YOU are surprised to come across someone with so little understanding, even in L.A. More people that you care to admit are walking around with the same mentality. Now, go back and educate that "mom", so she can have a personal hands-on approach to "asians" and then she can laugh at your "chopstick", "geisha", and "rickshaw" references.
    Cause, right now she thinks you're serious.

  5. The mind, literally, BOGGLES at the absolute...WTF-ness of some people.

  6. Because it's not obvious to the undiscerning eye, my entire life I have been asked by even the most unlikely people to state what clan I am a card-carrying member of. Hispanic? Indian? Native American? Are you part Chinese? Indonesian? Filipino? I've even been asked if I was Black Irish (whatever that is) I know I've come across someone worth keeping around when they aren't squirming in their seat trying to figure out a polite way to ask the question that will box me.

    I guess this was just my long-winded way of saying, I empathize with the constant struggle to tolerate poopyheads that have chosen not sign up for "How To Hide My Bigotry 101."

  7. scary, isn't???

  8. My nephew is also bi-racial. His mother was Vietnamese (she passed away recently) and his father is what you might technically refer to as a big old white boy.

    I suppose because he's my family, I never gave a thought to how he looked (besides being one the best looking kids you ever met.) as far as race. I never realized he did either until one day at a restaurant, when I was giving him a bit of trouble (picking at him about a girl, I think), he says 'I hate white people'.

    He was making a joke and I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair, but it was the first time I ever realized that he didn't think of himself as a white person.

    Whether that's a credit to me or it makes me a rascist in ways I'll never understand, I just don't know, but it makes me think about it.

    That's a good first step, anyway.

  9. This kills me everyday.
    You know one of the men in my office didn't hire a (hispanic) girl to be his assistant because she spoke with a spanish "accent". Let me tell you that girl spoke with no accent, but I totally look at him differently now.
    And I won't even mention how an ignorant FUCKTARD called me "a spanish" on the phone one day.

  10. Seriously, I'm sorry people are so dense, but the way you told the story had me shooting coffee out of my nose. 'Atta girl.

  11. Oh my god...what a creep that woman is! But I have to say that you told this story in a very entertaining (if cringe-inducing) manner.

  12. My god. what an idiot. and I'll say it for the millionth time: people can be so ignorant. even the ones who "seem" to know what day and age we live in and seem to really be with the times can say the stupidest things and not have a clue whatsoever. i've dealth with people like that. i know how you feel!

  13. I posted this at 'The Real Kato' but I suppose it applies just as well here:

    I was adopted. My parents, sadly now both deceased, consisted of a Caucasian man and an Asian woman. Because I didn't look Asian, people would never guess in a million years that I had a Korean mother. That said, it amazed me how many stereotypes people subscribed to and how they never once saw any of their "...I was just kidding" remarks as inappropriate.

    People had no idea how much they hurt me when they'd say insensitive, bigoted things because to me, they were talking about MY MOM. Idiots...

  14. I am so happy (sometimes) that my kids are all grown up and I don't have to mix with the moronic parents I had to hang with through Cub Scouts and Brownies and PTA, etc. ACK...

    Courage, m'dear because you just know she won't be the last idiot parent you meet along the way.

  15. I'm suffering from COMMENTER'S remorse (as should that woman, btw). While I wasn't there and can't really judge the situation coherently, her conveyed ignorance and/or lack of sensitivity strikes a nerve with a lot of people obviously. But even in this day and age, many of us tend to make allowances for those who (advertently or otherwise)offend us, if nothing else we do it for the sake of getting on with the business of life.

    You needed to vent and rightfully so. But if the cost is undue stress, I say trash the post. It's not worth it. Speaking from experience, blogger's remorse isn't fun. There. I'm done now.

  16. Does it mean that you are just as woefully uninformed as your daughter and are passing on racial stereotypes to her?
    Short answer: Yes.I wonder if she also knows that Indians are Asian. Afghanis. Pakistanis. And those crazy Kazakhstanis.

    Actually, on second thought probably not. You're all just Orientals.

    (Awesome post by the way...and sorry there are idiots sharing this world with us.)

  17. Most people in this world, "the common man" suck....sorry to break it to most of you.

    - Jon
    - Daddy Detective

  18. I think she needs to be educated on another view. Perhaps you could tell her you were thinking about the conversation and provide her with alternatives to give her children. I suppose she has younger ones who she is misinforming as well.

  19. I say keep it the blog up since I need it to forward to an ex once we are speaking again after a huge argument where he made some sweeping generalizations about the Japanese after living in Japan a few months. My protest about his insensitive comments was met with "you have a chip on your shoulder." I think not.

  20. had a rant all ready to go yesterday, but never sent it, so i can appreciate you considering taking your post off. so difficult to decide whether to lash out at someone's ignorance, thus adding fuel to the preconceived fire, or bite your tongue & try to educate and inform. it's hard trying to be convincing when you're just as american as they are (if not even more entrenched in american culture -- i'm 3rd gen chinese-american), but they perceive you to have just gotten off the boat. such a case-by-case scenario. if you think her attempt to communicate with you was a cry for help to open a dialogue & she's just underinformed, and doesn't know how to google, there's hope. if she's lazy & willing to accept and pass on simplistic stereotypes to her kids, recommend breakfast @ tiffany's to her and let her enjoy the caricature. it's her loss in not being able to appreciate the zillions of different cultures out there. you know, the type you see on vacation overseas lamenting about how they just can't find a good steak or hamburger...

    best of luck in future dealings with that family!
    -al's norcal friend kb

  21. If you are blessed to be bi-racial, you have been born into a life and lifestyle that unknowingly embrace difference. And even though my bi-racial 5 year old daughter couldn't articulate the OBVIOUS color difference between my American Black
    husband and my American Japanese self, The answer she gave to an interviewer was simply, Daddy is tall and Mommy is small. Not to say we raised them to see "no color", they just saw us. They lived with us and had a relationship with us, and skin tone or the shape of our eyes was not what she saw. This is the key to people understanding other cultures. It's not merely learning to know what and how to be politically correct. It's actually having relationships outiside your own world.

    I say keep the blog. You have obviously touched alot
    of people with this post.

  22. We are trying so hard to raise our kids to not see people as members of a certain race or nationality but to see them as people. It's hard though. Last year my then-kindergartener described a little girl in his class as "that brown girl" and when I told him it didn't matter that her skin was brown he said "but Mom, she IS brown. That's not bad, is it?" I don't want him to identify people by their racial characteristics but I also don't want him to think it is bad to be a different race than us. Like I said, hard.

  23. I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments here. I am touched right down to my little bound feet.

    Heather: I was just kidding about the bagpipes. You know what I mean!

    Dawn: Girl, you just described a typical night here in my house.

    Catherine: On the school information cards we are required to fill out every year for our daughters, they INSIST you only check one box under ‘race or nationality.’ I say screw em – I always check TWO.

    Contrary: I can relate to your nephew, and how people may assume that he considers himself white – I get that too. Because I don’t speak with an accent or have some of the mannerisms of someone from Japan I think that people sometimes forget that I’m not a Caucasian American. As you mentioned, I guess that’s good in some ways, and then...not in others.

    Izzy: “I was just kidding.” Don’t you love THAT excuse?

    mom101: Kazakhstanis – what shape are their eyes, exactly?

    kb: You’re CHINESE? My sister-in-law never let on that she was mixin’ it up with some other slanted-eye folk. I thought I was special.

    Elizabeth: I think that all we can do is keep emphasizing sensitivity with our ‘words’ and hope that it sinks in. That way, once they’re adults they won’t feel the need to label others only by the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.

    Anonymous2: I like that your daughter found some other way to articulate the difference between you and your husband. We could all take a lesson from that.

  24. I am so late chiming in here, but yeah keep it. I wrote something recently and was on the fence of how long I might keep it up, but you know what? your feelings, you're entitled. You obviously got a good discussion going on a pretty improtant topic (and done so I think with a pretty humorous slant).
    Also, they way I read it, I didn't think you painted her as this truly awful, malicious person, just someone who clearly REALLY flippant about something that should be handled/taught with a lot more care, consideration and sensitivity. I do find the fact that this is how she communicates w/ her young, impressionable daughter on something like race baffling - and the fact that this is in an area with a fairly high Asian population --Man, if her kid were to ever repeat that, well, I don't think it'd win her any friends.

    I have many Asian friends while it would be stupid to say I don't see them, at least when I met them initially, as X-race of Asia, I kinda of don't after awhile (until they get on the phone w/ their parents then I'm all, "I can't eaaaaavesdrop when you dooooo that.")

    I could go on (and on) but I guess my point is, it's good to talk about it. For ex., a long time ago I got schooled on dropping the term "oriental" by a dear friend. No harm, no foul. And now I gets it (what can I say, I'm a quick study) and I'm the better for it.

  25. We are all guilty in one way or another of stereotyping. It is a natural part of human existance to classify people.

    With that said, I would say "Leave the blog up." As a matter of fact, print it out and give it to her. If she doesn't know, she can't correct her errors.

    It seems to be up to you, the offended, to school her on how she should explain different ethnicities to her children. I would hate to think that, if nothing is said to her, her kids would pass her definitions on to other children.

  26. Anonymous: You are absolutely right - I think it would be an excellent idea to confront her with it so that she doesn't pass the misinformation on.

    Now if I could only get the balls to do it.

  27. Jen: I have to say, even my mom and some of her (Asian) friends still use 'Oriental.' Old habits die hard.

    I have gotten comments suggesting I confront the mom who made the offending remark, which I am considering. Or maybe I should just threaten to eat her dog.

  28. in terms of comments, has this blog shattered all previous records? i agree with all those who said it's a lightening rod & bet the mom who "unspired" this would truly be shocked she raised the cackles of so many people if she ever read it. one last thing -- do you still get the confused looks when you show up places and people have only heard your name over the phone? that still cracks me up & i've had this un-asian-sounding last name for 8 years now. kind of an inverted seinfeld "donna chang" deal.

    -al's norcal friend kb

  29. yeah, I know it's not totally a BFD in the grand scheme of things (and I used it b/c for some reason I couldn't remember the word asian and used the default 'oriental') but I knew there was a more appropirate word and my friend was all, "Jen, we're *Asian*."
    One "chinaman" friend of mine who I refer to as "Dan the asian Sensation" on my blog was like "that's supposed to be offensive? really?" then again, his computer wallpaper was a bowl of fried rice for awhile.

    Anyway, it sucks as you, the offended, to feel an unspoken obligation to make this "This week on a A Very Special Sweatpants Mom" Educatin' Rita. Like great, I get to be offended AND have the fun chore of an awkward conversation? Fabulous.

  30. Fanfuckingtastic post.

    My daughter is a living example of the Mendelian recessive gene trait. She is blonde, I am Filipina. Her Dad is a good old boy from South Dakota and the kiddo took all of that on, except for the Norwegian-esque Dakota accent.

    When the kiddo was a tow-head baby, ig'nit folks would approach us and tell me VERY LOUDLY THAT OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BABY YOU TAKE CARE OF. They said it slowly, too, thinking that I spoke a foreign tongue. Being a snarky sort, I would reply in A LOUD VOICE THAT THIS IS MY KID, DUDE, BACK OFF.

    Think I'm kidding? Think again.

    Anyway, we're all going to mix up in a lovely goo of multi-racial/culture folks, just like in Hawaii, but without the great weather.

    Thanks for writing this. YOU RULE (said loudly and slowly)

  31. being practically perfect in every way, i've never ever said anything stupid in my whole life, much less based the way i respond to the world from my own, often limited, perceptions.

    and i have certainlynever cringed in embarassment afterwards, wondering how in the heck i dare show my face after demonstrating my own woeful lack of awareness.

    do i think you shouldn't be angry? of course not. but i do think that there's a chance that most people would be horrified if they had an inkling of how offensive they are even when trying their best to be great and loving and kind.

  32. anonymous: I appreciate your sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek response. Hard to believe, but I have been accused of being a wee bit sarcastic myself.

    And while I do agree with the 'woeful lack of awareness' posessed by this woman, "trying (her) best to be great loving and kind" is just so not the case.

    Kissing puppies: Great! Loving! Kind! Yes!
    Blurting out racial stereotypes while being appalingly unaware of your audience. Uh, fucking NO.

  33. And while I do agree with the 'woeful lack of awareness' posessed by this woman, "trying (her) best to be great loving and kind" is just so not the case.

    fair enough, i wasn't there. thanks for hearing me out.

  34. i love charlie chan movies -- don't hate me.

    andy (of lila and shoshana fame)

    p.s. don't beat me with your nun-chuks!

  35. I'm a blonde-haired blue-eyed Jewish I've heard lots of stereotypes when people didn't even know they were talking about "my people." My favorite thing to do is to tell them I'm Jewish after they've stuck their foot in their mouth. In today's world someone can be black and white, asian and irish, jewish and buddhist (ok, I'm stretching here)...but you know what I mean. I say keep the post in your blog as is. It's a good reminder for all of us.

  36. I know I'm getting to this post WAY WAY WAY late but I'm just now getting to read your blog and it's great. This post in particular is just fantastic. You're a great writer and I can't wait to read more!

  37. OMG! I was so enthralled in reading this (and I'm so late for afterschool activity)!! All I can think of is, this is worse coming from an educated woman, not like my son's 1st grader friend. I will help you with the rickshaw!

    I'm surprised she didn't call you a communist too.

    I'm still speechless.


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