Setting the stage for what was to be a wildly uncomfortable 9 minutes of unwanted bar conversation, he inserted himself into our circle with a single sarcastic utterance of the word. It rolled off his tongue with the same casual ignorance of a Gwen Stefani song. There we were – four girls – three of which look vaguely “ethnic,” body language completely closed off to passer-bys, and yet here he was – entitled to have his say, to be heard, to be validated. “Made in Asia?” he states pointing to a couple of us. I’m immediately bored. I know this conversation by heart. And so does anyone who doesn’t look like they could’ve come to the Mayflower’s reunion. “Where are you from?” – Insert X predominantly-white-albeit- cultural-mosaic/ melting-pot-country – “No, but where are you from?” “Carbon, you asshole. I’m mostly Carbon.” But instead… “Oh well my parents are from Y-acceptably-non-white-country-that explains-my-complexion-my-dark- features–and-confirms-the asker’s need for a “different” tickbox.” Then the conversation goes down one of two paths. The asker either smiles knowingly, pleased with their keen eye, or he/she spews a series of invariably misguided facts/ question about country Y. There’s also a third path which is generally much more pleasant and leads to a real conversation about place and identity and culture and leaves both parties feeling enriched, but that conversation doesn’t often start with “but where are you from.” The uninvited guest last night didn’t stop there however. He went on to comment on the beauty of eyes that go like this, pulling at the side of his face, before carrying out a lengthy inquisition about our choice to live in a country that’s not our own.
I’d been under the impression that passive aggressive, systemic, or otherwise discrete racism was the way to go in this day and age…
So why was this man so unbelievably inappropriate? And blatantly racist?
– Lack of exposure to multiculturalism? Maybe.
– One too many Vodka Cranberries? Possibly.
– A systemic, entrenched sense of entitlement to voice any and all opinions and to have them be deserving of acknowledgment? Definitely.
– The right to be loud and proud? Always.
At 7 years old, I learned that my ankles were too loud. I had been wearing white capris at the airport and my mother was chided by the security guard for raising a slut. I think he took the “never wear white after labour day” a little too heavily to heart. At 8, my hair became too loud and was tamed under a veil. At 9, we moved somewhere where my hair and ankles could sing, but my voice was only tolerated. I became quiet, polite, a model student. Eventually, because my parents are awesome, I found my voice again (albeit metaphorically given that I probably still need a microphone to be heard across the dinner table), but I’d been trained to use it carefully.
Nevermind the absurd racism, the “Konichiwa” greeter was imposing himself on us as a man and allowing himself to judge our looks, our lifestyles, our core. You would be hard-pressed to find a women who would make similar comments to a group of men regardless of lack of exposure to multiculturalism or too many vodka cranberries, whereas the reverse is so much more common. You could argue that it’s because men still feel they have to take on the role of pursuer, and that’s all he was doing. But no, it was so much more (read: less?) than that. It was aggressive, it was with a sense of ownership and entitlement, and it was entirely unresponsive to the reactions he was receiving.
We should all grow up believing that we are deserving of being loud and proud, but with a level of critical thought, kindness and reflection. Otherwise, the resulting cacophony from the chorus of imbeciles is enough to make the US congress sound like Chopin.