While some of my friends pay attention to my blog (in much the same haphazard way that I may read theirs occasionally), I suspect that most people who read this have no idea who I am other than what little I may actually write about myself. So, before I go into details with this post, let it suffice to say that I consider myself an average guy who is just generic enough to fit in most places, depending upon how I look and carry myself at any given moment. And I've almost always been that way. I've been an outsider to most groups and yet just enough of an individual with knowledge and personality to be able to deal with people from almost any social/cultural/religious grouping. I've never been a close member of any of those groups but I have close friends who are from almost all of them. As a result, I like to think that I'm fairly diverse in my outlook, opinions and viewpoints.
Put another way, I don't necessarily look Chinese but I speak the language and have lived there. I don't necessarily look Hispanic but I grew up in a largely Hispanic area and was fluent in Spanish at that time (nowadays, if I start a sentence in Spanish I invariable end up in Chinese because I forget the words in Spanish). I don't necessarily look Middle Eastern but have done a great deal of research on some of the cultural and religious customs of that area so I'm not completely ignorant - especially since 2001. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that I've been mistaken for all three of the above at different times.) I don't necessarily look black (or African-American if you prefer, though oddly enough, most of my friends can't stand the term) yet, again because I grew up in largely minority-populated areas, I can fit in well enough with my friends. And perhaps it is because I do have such a diverse background and it is natural for me to talk with anyone regardless of their social/cultural/religious background that I have some of the experiences I do. It has only been in recent years that I have started to realize that most people grow up in a very mono-ethnic area and never leave that area and thus my experiences tend to make me unique (at least with the majority of people with whom I deal). I don't pretend to be an expert, mind you, I just have grown to realize that my background and knowledge is a little different from a lot of other people...
So, that being said, it sometimes amazes me what people will say to someone based solely on their looks. I've worked for a boss who had the temerity to tell me one day that Blacks and Hispanics (I started to leave that word with a lower case "b" but figured if I was going to capitalize the "h" in Hispanic - because I've only ever seen it that way - I should probably do the same for "Blacks" though I've typically seen it in lower case. Is that a form of latent or institutionalized racism?) were genetically inferior to Whites and Asians (ok, see my aside above about blacks and consider I was going to do the same for whites. Does that make it ok?). I've had Black friends (well, now I'm just going to capitalize it for the rest of this post to prevent acrimony) tell me that all Asians looked alike. I've had Asian friends tell me that they don't like Blacks because they're dirty and criminals. I've listened to White people tell me - who didn't know me at all - about how all Arabs are terrorists and we should just nuke all of them back to the stone age. I've listened to some of my Indian and Pakistani friends complain about the hypocrisy of Americans (typically Whites) and their faux-religious foreign policy that discriminates against them - even if they're just as Christian as the Whites who would otherwise bomb their home countries back to the Stone Ages.
Yes, one would think that after hearing all of these things many times in my lifetime, I might become somewhat inured to these comments. However, that is apparently not the case. Recently, in my office, one lady with whom I work started making asinine, racist comments about Asians and then using her fingers to slant her eyes as a way to discern Japanese and Chinese (Japanese eyes slant upward while Chinese eyes slant downward, according to her). I rarely take anything personally in my office but I have to admit that this lady got to me and I had to walk away before I said something that would be totally right but also grounds for termination. Then, after doing it again yesterday (she's done it a few times over the last several weeks) while asking if I wanted to order Chinese food with her team, I politely (ok, well, as politely as I could manage) declined stating that I preferred my wife's cooking. One of her co-workers must have said something to her because when I came back by her desk later, she stopped to ask me if my wife was Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and walked on (because I was worried I would say more if she said something else). She has worked to avoid me since then - as best I can determine because she's embarrassed realizing the things she's said were totally wrong and she would not have said them to any Chinese person and I'm probably the closest she will ever get to that ("y'know, 'cuz ya can't understand anything they say 'cuz they got those ter'ble accents!"). So, in short, she knows she was wrong because she made comments that would be publicly unacceptable but were ok to someone whose background she assumed based on their appearance - though I've made no attempt to hide my family. Yep, that's what I refer to as "not thinking". Or stupid - take your choice.
What gets me is that they will make all of these comments to others who they believe are like them but won't try to address these issues publicly and try to resolve some of the underlying issues. Thus, they continue to perpetuate and fester because no one will deal with them. But, saying that, maybe I will take up the opportunity to discuss this lady's comments with her in the near future and see if maybe I can help to get one person to understand some of these differences. As the saying goes, think globally but act locally. And every change starts with one person.