Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pigmentation (Over)designation

If you had to describe yourself, what words, adjectives, or phrases would you use? Your age? Profession? Hometown? Alma mater? Religious background? Marital status? Height? Size of your private parts? Food allergies? Race and/or ethnicity?

Early on in our relationship, Nicole and I noticed how I (the 1.5-generation, 'model minority immigrant') always used "Korean" or "Korean-American" when describing myself to someone else. Similarly, I would always throw in her race ("Black" or "African-American") when I found myself describing her to a friend, a colleague, a stranger, a homeless dude on the street.

Often, a person's race or ethnicity has been, continues to be, and will most likely remain the FIRST adjective or descriptor (if not 2nd or 3rd, albeit only in those rare occasions when some other characteristic is so damn unique) I use in describing or referring to someone.

"Remember my friend Manny? The Hispanic kid you met a few months back, the one who quit law school to join a start up?"

"Yo man... Chan-soo has some crazy ups for a Korean kid."

"I ran into Harold the other day... yeah, the midget with a shiny metal hook for his left hand? Yeah, the white one"

"Yes, I'm dating Nicole, the pretty black girl that graduated with me. She worked on the 4th floor clinic."

Unlike me, however, Nicole apparently rarely feels the need to describe herself (or me, or anyone else, for that matter) using race or ethnicity first. In fact, it almost seems as though other descriptors such as "a nice person," "has a great smile," or "passionate about saving stray puppies" is more important. And the amazing thing is that she's not even trying to avoid using race-related terms. It's like... she's a natural at it! She can walk into a restaurant full of white people and not be phased by the racial makeup -- simply amazing!

Sometimes, it can be refreshing to be able to describe, understand, and even connect deeply with friends, colleagues, and strangers without labeling them as a racial or ethnic identity. Indeed, Chan-soo deserves props for his jumping abilities regardless of his Asian pigmentation, and Harold has enough going on with his life without being described as necessarily a Caucasian pirate.

But I'll be the first to admit that doing so would be a tall order for me. To be able to live life without always thinking about race and ethnicity? Gees... I think I need to work on being selectively and strategically color-blind or color-neutral -- i.e. my first task is to learn how NOT to immediately notice the racial/ethnic makeup of a room, public park, cocktail party, or hospital waiting room the very moment I walk into it. Because, you know, that can sometimes lead to judgments and preconceived notions (Example: "Shoot, everyone is Black at this club... my dance moves ain't gonna pick up any ladies"). But that is fodder for another entry for another time...

No comments:

Post a Comment