Tuesday, June 8, 2010

what are you?

are you asking yourself "what is that?" or perhaps are you thinking or saying aloud "it looks like kinda sorta like donut....but not like like the kind of donut i'm used to seeing.....so what kind of donut is it?"

now imagine that picture wasn't of a donut but of a human being instead....but the questions still remained along the same theme.

i get this question a lot.

you know, the variation of "what are you?".

this doesn't happen that often when i am with another person though, so i'm usually not mentally prepared for it. yet, at a recent party/gathering, i was there with someone and after we introduced ourselves to this woman we didn't know, she immediately turns to me and asks point blank "what are you?".

part of me wanted to say "i am an alien from the planet vulcan which has recently been destroyed by a rogue romulan from the future."

but i didn't.

after hearing her question, i could feel the eyebrows raising of the person i was with. as a white man, i bet he doesn't hear that question very often. nice to know that i am a catalyst for broadening someone's understanding of racial/ethnic politics and sub-culture.

fun times.

while i get the variation of this question quite a bit, i wasn't expecting it in this context (i.e., not being alone....and with a white guy no less....and so soon after an introduction). most people have a bit more finesse and wait, i don't know...maybe 5-10 minutes to work it into the conversation. if i had a penny for every time someone has asked me a variation of this question since i was a little kid, i wouldn't be surprised by how wealthy i would be right now. i would probably be able to retire.

at this point in my life, i try to find humor in it. it especially cracks me up when i take taxis....because i can usually feel the question coming when i see the cabbie checking me out with the back mirror about 4-6 times and i just know some question about my ethnicity is going to come out of his mouth. sigh. by the way, this question poised to me not just around the whole big U S of A but also around the world babe. it also doesn't matter if i am in rural iowa, hawaii, boston, philly, london, manchester, paris, hong kong, texas, mexico, or even the uber diverse san francisco.

it is rather amazing sometimes what people will ask me when i wander the world by myself.

people look at me and sometimes have difficulty figuring out what box to put me in.....whether it is my name, my age, my experience, or my ethnicity. from my perspective, this tells me a lot more about them and their expectations regarding their surroundings than it does about me. it tells me an awful lot about how they perceive their world and what assumptions they have about the world. when people look at me, they assume i am whatever they have had the most exposure to...ethnicity wise.

they all initially assume that i'm some kid fresh out of university before they hear me talk.

then they hear me talk, present, or observe how i carry myself (i know i don't carry myself like someone straight out of college) when we interact and i can almost hear their brain churning and calculating that "something doesn't quite fit" as they go down their mental checklist of what they think i should be or how i should act. again, it doesn't matter what country or city i am in in the world. it also doesn't matter if this is a social setting or a work setting. it also doesn't matter if the person is white, black, brown, yellow, beige, cappuccino, latte, pink, spotted, etc. etc.

this is consistent behavior and i am no angel.

i watch and observe. closely. my responses vary. i've had a lot of practice over the years.

if you treat me like some fluffy toy, then i immediately go for the jugular. i really don't care where you are in the hierarchy or social strata. you deserve what you get for being so oblivious or delusional. if you treat me with condescension because you think you are older than me, then i will deliberately drop randomly odd things into the conversation and side step so many of your probing question in order to confuse you more. because it is fun. if you are genuinely confused, then i'm usually pretty direct and can be quite joking and effervescent about it....but will allow you to keep your assumptions intact and your person unharmed. because, really, you don't really care about the truth but would like to have everything categorized nicely in your head....and what is the harm in letting you have that? if you are old, like in your late 70s, or are an immigrant in a white-centric neighborhood/work place i'm usually very gentle about it...because if you are old, you can get away with a lot with me....and if you are an immigrant, i am giving you the benefit of the doubt as many times you are often looking for a kinship or connection to feel less alone. i may not be an angel but i'm not that ruthless.

yet, if i decide that you are my friend, then i will tell you the truth, and you will know me.

No comments: