Dear resistance

From the Toronto Sun (“Dear Amy” is an annoying syndicated “advice” columnist):

DEAR AMY: I am always curious about people’s cultural and racial background. My 24-year-old daughter is mixed-race (black and Korean). I went to Seoul when she was 2-years-old to bring her home from the orphanage.

As a result of knowing her racial makeup, I’ve sorted out what various Asians look like and can distinguish differences between people from China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

I am outgoing, and when I hear an accent or see someone I think is a combo like my daughter, I usually ask. People are always curious about my daughter and I’m curious about other people too.

Am I being rude if I express curiosity about a person’s racial background? Some people like the interest, but others seem to resent it. A man in the supermarket yesterday was obviously annoyed. He was from Sudan. Should I just keep my mouth shut? It seems too politically correct to stay quiet. I think that other people should not be this sensitive. — J

DEAR J: You should feel free to express your abundant curiosity, but you should also accept a stranger’s right to keep his or her ethnic or racial story private and to tell you, politely, to please go away.

Charging up to a person at the supermarket and saying, “Hi – just curious. Are you a combo?” is obnoxious.

So is saying, “I bet I can guess your race! No, really — I’m very good at this!”

You need to accept that some people really aren’t going to care one way or the other about your motivations for intruding upon them. This has nothing to do with being politically correct. This has to do with you engaging strangers in a personal conversation they might not feel like having in that moment.

Dear J.:

I am pleased that you have sorted out what the various Asians look like. At one time I, too, harbored the delusion that I could tell. I seem to have lost this super power. Maybe you could give me some clues. Did you read the Life Magazine article?

In any event, when gleeful-looking white people come up to me to tell me that they know, they just know, what I am, I typically answer “yes.”  Regardless what they say.

But if they say “What are you?” I like to respond, “I am a toaster.”  Or “I am the walrus.”  Koo-koo-ka-choo.

I have already written tomes on clueless adoptive parents, so I won’t bother to reiterate here.  But I tend to think that you are clueless, callous, and willfully ignorant and that those other people actually have normal, rational sensibilities and sensitivity levels.

So yes, you should keep your mouth shut, unless you want to receive a large bundle of Shut the Fuck Up from me.

Dear Amy:

Allow me to satisfy my curiosity.  Is that your real brain or do you have an implant? Because when ignorant white people treat people of color like curiosities to satisfy their curiosity, we may not be so polite. We have the right to say any old damn thing we please without being told how we should respond. So here is a big old bundle of Shut the Fuck Up for you too.

Dear Kind Reader:

Resist racism will be starting our own advice column. Because Dr. Laura and Amy just don’t cut it. We will be stocking up on boxes of Shut the Fuck Up. I hope there is enough room in the office.


17 thoughts on “Dear resistance

  1. I think this awful white person is horribly annoying not to mention pretentious, and I feel incredibly sorry for her daughter for having such an obnoxious mom. But I don’t think that gives us (as the people being asked) the right to be rude.

    People have been coming up to me my entire life asking me “What” I am? These people include people of all nationalities. Does that mean it is OK to be rude to White people who ask me? What about people of Persian or Indian or African American descent? I never ask anyone their nationality because of my own “sick to death of it” lifetime experience, but some people of every race have asked me, and as annoying as I find it, I try to be polite because I don’t want to let their ignorance and rudeness turn me into a rude person- because that reflects negatively on me….

  2. You think she’s going up to white people and saying, “I know, you’re Irish and German!”?

    Yeah, me either.

  3. @Deena,
    Of course not! She appears to smugly think that she has some kind of corner on a unique hobby- identifying people of color. Very disturbing, indeed!

    I am just referring people of all nationalities approaching me with the question “What are you?”

    @bifemmefatale- thanks for the link !

  4. @bifemmefatale- Just read the article. Much Better! Too bad Amy and J haven’t read it…

    I never ceased to be amazed at how absolutely clueless some people can be while at the same time feeling that they are superior to everyone else.

  5. I kind of agree with MA, althought I personally don’t always find myself being polite in my responses all the time. People are generally so self deluded that if you snap at them for thier obnoxious, ignorant questions they will see you as some uppity angry person who needs to relax, be less snesitive, etc. (I also feel at certian times that I’m viewed as a representitave for my race to these people and a bad move on my part will reflect badly for everyone of my race in this persons eyes. Not that we should care, but it’s hard not to.) They have no idea their questions are far worse than your reactions. and to boot most other people around you will just take your reaction out of context and also think you’re being overly angry. It’s a frusterating experience to say the least.

  6. “Polite” to most white people on the receiving end would mean that you didn’t make them feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable. “Polite” to me means civil but not allowing them to continue thinking their racist pattern is acceptable. In any event, whether I want to be white-polite or real-polite or not-polite, white people don’t get to dictate my response. This is a tone argument.

  7. I believe it is goo-goo-g-joob. Koo-koo-ka-choo is for Mrs. Robinson. :-p

    When did “combo” become an acceptable term for “biracial?” I’ll take “mulatta,” “mixed,” hell, even “half-and-half” before that one. Or just call me cafe-au-lait. But I certainly don’t come with fries and a Coke for 15 cents less than if you got them all separately.

  8. I read quite a bit on race and ethnicity in Canada and I can’t say that I have heard “combo” used to refer to a mixed race person. But I do live in the Eastern part of Canada and it’s is pretty white here so I can’t be definite about it. I would agree with mclicious that it does suggest a fast food entree special…

  9. Oh Jesus, I had a friend who would do that. She thought it was cute. I thought it was annoying. She kept saying that I was too sensitive. I told her to look at people’s faces carefully when she asks that stupid question.

  10. @ Deena,

    Well, she did say “whenever I hear an accent,” so she might do it to white people too. My parents, who are immigrants from Hungary, get a lot of questions about where they’re from — that is, where their accents are from. If we’re visiting a city and people say, “Where are you from?” it’s obvious they don’t mean “Where do you live?” They mean, “Why do you talk all weird like that?” One obnoxious woman was sure my mother was German, and even after my mother told her she wasn’t, and, no, Hungarian is not the same as German, the woman said excitedly that she knew this delicious German chocolate cake my mother “would love.” People also like to guess Russian, and once a man called “Do svidanya” (goodbye in Russian) to my mother and me after he heard us speaking Hungarian. Anyone who is marked in some way “other” is open game to people who make games out of guessing people’s identities.
    I think you’re right the letter-writer probably doesn’t guess the “combo” of U.S. born and raised white people who have multiple European ethnicities in their heritage, as long as they speak “acceptable” American English.

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