Thursday, August 2, 2007

Purity

I'm leaving for Toronto today for a cousin's wedding, and I'm really looking forward to the trip. I haven't been to Toronto in over 8 years. And because I'm headed to Toronto, I'm reminded about an incident that happened to me at a conference.

I had been talking about my Chinese Jamaican family (most of whom live in Toronto) and this woman (an older, white woman) turns to me and says:

HER: "I don't mean to offend you, but I'm wondering if you can answer a question."

ME: (bracing myself) "OK"

HER: "I recently returned from Toronto and noticed a lot of Asians there. And it's not that I have anything against miscegenation. But many of them were mixed. And I was just wondering, why can't they keep pure? They have such a lovely culture--why aren't they proud of who they are? Sometimes the mixture looks fine but other times it's so awkward. Why can't they keep to their purity."

ME: (mouth slightly agape, completely at a loss of what to say and fully aware of how careful I have to be because the woman sitting next to me is actually the wife of a colleague. And yet I think, this is my moment to speak truth to power, but then I wonder, is this an educational moment, and then I just feel dumbfounded and what runs through my head is, "REALLY???!!! You're actually saying this to ME???!!! THIS IS SO RACIST, AND I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ARE SAYING THIS TO ME! PURITY??!! HITLER TALKED ABOUT PURITY???!!! What should I do? Tell you I'm going to get on this problem right away? That I'll be sure to issue a letter or proclamation to the Asian citizens of Toronto informing them that if they were attractive and could ensure attractive looking mixed-race progeny then it's OK to go ahead with their miscegenation project, but otherwise, stick to your race???!!! And miscegenation?! Who uses that word anymore?! That word has such a controversial connotation--rooted in a history of race baiting. Couldn't she at least have said *interracial*?")

ME: Uhhhh...Yeah....there are a lot of Asians in Toronto.

[the next speaker gets up to the podium to show a power point presentation, the lights go down, and I barely pay attention because I'm kicking myself the whole time about my lame response]

Anyway, maybe I'll look into that proclamation when I get to Canada. After all, we wouldn't want any awkward looking miscegenated Asian people running around Canada. After all, they're not pure.

5 comments:

forwe01 said...

Because I promised to post if I had something to add....

My own mother commented on how beautiful children were of a certain mixture -- and I was embarrassed for her.

So what is worse, to comment about beauty or lack of beauty?

jordynn said...

Speaking of Asians, Toronto and Canada in general, I found this game on the CBC website:

http://www.cbc.ca/kids/games/sushisamurai/

Um. I don't know what to say about this.

Nicola said...

Sounds like someone who would have loved the wedding :) I'm so glad you came.

I've found trying to educate an adult with an attitude like that requires more time and energy than it's worth for me. It's sad, but I guess I hope to lead by example and focus my energy on influencing those who are worth my personal investment.

Jennifer Ho said...

Yes, this woman would have *loved* your wedding Nicki--maybe actually, she would, because you and Taavi make a very attractive couple and will clearly not have any "awkward" looking children.

Jennifer Ho said...

I meant to leave a reply to "fore01" but forgot in the rush of my return from the wedding, but yes, I can see what you mean about the double-edged nature of compliments that still focus on racial difference, even if its meant to suggest a superiority.

I remember, vividly, my ex-father-in-law, who was trying to be well intentioned and trying to reach out to me, telling me that he thought Asians were the smartest people in the world -- smarter than whites, and that we should just dominate education and all other areas of business and there shouldn't be affirmative action because if Asians were naturally smarter than anyone else then that was OK.

It was early in my marriage and thus early in my relationship with him, and I didn't know what to say to him, so I don't think I said anything other than I didn't think that Asian superiority was the way to go (I *think* I said that, but to be honest, I'm not exactly sure because i was pretty shocked).

Anyway, it's hard to know what to say to people you are close to--who are trying hard to empathize with you but who ultimately miss the mark.