Sunday, November 12, 2006

Still Shaking My Head

Because I am incredibly particular about how I look in pictures, what I’m about to say may not have been all that apparent thus far. If I deem a picture good enough to put up here, then it can be verified. Please just take my word for it and trust that it is simply a preface for what I’m about to say afterward.

So, I’m Asian.

My grandparents all immigrated from China to New York City, where my parents were born. I can’t speak Chinese and I grew up in suburban, southeastern Connecticut. To any of my elementary school classmates out there, no, I still don’t know karate or Bruce Lee and I’m not related to that other Asian kid in our class.

There’s that. Now to the episode at hand.

I came across a woman this afternoon with whom I have spoken before, but not extensively. After inquiring after JG and expressing appropriate sympathy for his ailment, she suggested a fail-proof remedy:

She: Have you heard of the brat diet?
I: Sorry?
She: B-R-A-T. Bananas, rice, apple juice, and toast. It never fails. Been using it for kids and adults for years.
I: Okay, thanks. That sounds like a good idea.
She: Well, judging from your eyes, I’m sure you know a lot about rice.

Um, what?!

I bumbled around gathering my jaw up from the floor and thinking of a coherent response to this insane display of ignorance. I managed to choke out, “Oh, well, I’ve had a lot of rice in my time,” nervously chuckle, and walk away/flee. But I was actually fighting the urge to snap, “Yeah, I know a lot about rice… from when I worked in the freaking rice paddies.”

I drove home with that phrase echoing in my brain. “Judging from your eyes”?! It trumps the previous record-holder for Most Ignorant Thing I’ve Ever Heard Regarding Race (once proudly earned by the gem, “Do you speak English?”) by, oh, I don’t know – a whole darn lot. I don’t live in the most diverse of communities, but still, I was appalled. What if I had said to this overweight, middle-aged, white woman, “Judging from your build, I’m sure you know a lot about trans-fatty acids, white bread, and apple pie”? I would have felt like a total jerk, that’s what! And that feeling would have been totally deserved.

Upon relaying this exchange to JG, I asked if I had missed out on an opportunity to educate this woman amid my verbal clumsiness. He shook his head and asked, “What could you have said?” I can’t imagine that it would have been much more comfortable if I said, “I did have a lot of rice in my childhood, but what you said just now was pretty offensive to me.” Maybe it would have made a difference to the next person she encountered whose eyes indicated rice expertise. I don’t know.

Hours later, I am still dumbfounded.


MetroDad said...

Wow, RA. All I can is that I'm completely speechless too. That is really incredible. The weird thing is that the women doesn't seem to be overtly racist but rather completely ignorant! Regardless, I think that's one of the most awful race-related comments I've ever heard. What makes someone think that it's ok to make a comment like that to an Asian person? Would they also play up and mock physical stereotypes of African-Americans or Hispanics?

I don't know what I would say to that woman either. I'm rarely speechless but the depths of that woman's ignorance is astounding. (I do love your “Judging from your build, I’m sure you know a lot about trans-fatty acids, white bread, and apple pie”? comment though!)

Still dumbfounded.

Luisa said...

Oh, man. That's such an unpleasant experience. It's the kind of thing that plays itself over and over in your head. Grr...

Sijbrich said...

Yowzers. The older I get, the more I try to steer away from any stereotypes, no matter how good, bad, or neutral they may seem. I am a very abnormally tall girl and people ask me all the time if I play basketball. I usually tell them with a smile that just becuase I'm tall doesn't mean that I'm coordinated, saying it sort of as a joke, but sort of as a little thought-provoking statement. If I were you, I probably would have said something, like you said, to protect the next person they'll come in contact with. Oh, I could go on forever...