I’m always annoyed when white people ask me where I from immediately after they meet me. This doesn’t happen often thanks to where I live. When someone asks “What’s your background?” all of a sudden, my first instinct is to answer “English and Creative Writing.” Most of the time, they are from Europe. And I think maybe I should cut him (always a him) some slack because he didn’t grow up in a diverse a community. But he inevitably brings back bad memories of my summer abroad in Brighton, where anytime the topic of my race came up with strangers, it left a bad taste in my mouth. The locals always assumed I didn’t know English and was from Japan. Maybe I just don’t like the sound of “Oriental.”
The only time it doesn’t annoy me is when the question comes from a fellow Asian. It should, but it doesn’t. Especially since it happens almost every time I go dancing. Most of the time I don’t care to talk–it’s loud and I just want to dance and sustain the fantasy. But if ever we should cross the line to casual conversation, the question pops up. And I always ask where they think I’m from, or jut answer happily, taking it as a sign they want to find more common ground to bond.
But it’s kind of obvious that internalized racism and stereotyping between Asian cultures is just as rampant and troubling. For example, what should I think about the fact many non-Chinese Asians have guessed I am Vietnamese? Should I be pleased when I get “Korean,” the second-most popular guess? The ideal answer is obviously to ignore the wankers. But realistically you don’t forget these comments. And sometimes they help you attack the problem.
“Full Chinese? You’re real cute for a Chinese girl,” this guy said last Saturday, after we danced scandalously and took a few minutes to talk about our backgrounds.
But I’m not blameless. Earlier, he had said that people always thought he was Samoan (he’s not), and I said he wasn’t “big enough.” Not as a slam at all, but I see why he took it to be. While I’m not offended by his comment/neg–it’s almost a requirement to dumb things in that kind of context–it’s worth wondering whether people also think those things to themselves in times of sobriety and decorum.
This and a few other encounters recently have put my mind in an ugly feedback loop of body dissatisfaction, made all the more grating since I feel it’s why I don’t have a boyfriend. We can’t change our bloodlines or the way we look. I shouldn’t take being “cute” as a compliment any more than I should take being Chinese as a deficiency, or an advantage over my own people. But who can truly ignore physical looks? Even if my parents had not nurtured it in me, I would still value beauty as one of the top virtues. Maybe this is why I’m feeling so ugly. I have no answers.