Saturday, October 27, 2007

Split-second identity

How long does it usually take to make an assumption about someone's ethnicity? Yesterday, I was on the bus and there were three people sitting next to me, one guy and two girls. The bus hadn't left yet and they were bored, so they passed the time by talking about the people they could see through the window. And they used race to describe the people. I overheard one of the girls say, "that White guy is cute." It took her literally less than one second to conclude it was a White male. She looked at him and, a split-second later, she made that comment. It surprised me how fast she made an assumption about a stranger's ethnicity. It's a little disturbing that people can jump to conclusions so quickly when it comes to race.

Many people have four "preset" racial boxes in their heads: White, Asian, Black, Latino. And they throw people into the box that fits best (based on the person's appearance). If they can't fit them into one of those boxes, they just avoid the topic of ethnicity altogether. And I have noticed this too; when people try to describe a person whose ethnicity is unclear, they just don't mention it. If that guy standing outside the bus window looked mixed-race instead of White, that girl would have just said, "that guy is cute."

I hate to admit it, but this is why I wish I looked more mixed-race. It seems like people who don't look like a specific ethnicity are less likely to be labeled racially, and if they can't be labeled racially, doesn't that mean they're less likely to suffer from prejudice? Of course I'm not saying they're "immune," as I wrote more than a year ago.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Ethnic diversity has no language

For some reason, whenever I'm in a foreign language class, I usually never think about race or ethnicity. I'm the kind of person who thinks about those things ALL the time (as you can tell by this blog!). But when I'm studying another language, I completely ignore it. I don't know why.

For the past few months, I've been taking French classes, and I just realized, whenever I'm in those classes, I don't pay attention to the ethnicities of my classmates. Usually when I'm in a class, what I always notice is the different races in the classroom. But for some reason, I don't pay attention to that when I'm in a French class. When I'm in a French class, the ideas of race and ethnicity just disappear, and everyone around me becomes the same thing: an English speaker learning French. Not an Asian, Black, or White English speaker; not a mixed-race English speaker; but...a human English speaker. Ancestry and heritage become meaningless, and I feel this strange hippie-Utopian bond with my classmates.

I don't know why I stop thinking about race when learning French. But I don't think it has anything to do with that language. It could be any language. My brother had a similar experience when he was in Japan learning Japanese. He told me that the people in his class came from all over the world, and they were from many ethnicities. Then he said something like, "we're all connected by the Japanese language." Actually, I just found the e-mail he sent me two years ago. Here's exactly what he said:

Somewhat interesting with my school is that they try to avoid a skewed representation of various backgrounds so that people come from different countries and would use Japanese as a common tongue. So there's a mix of Asian, European, American and even some black folks.

Now I'm starting to think there would be no racism if everyone on Earth spoke the same language. But what that language would be, I have no idea.