While serving a table a few nights ago, a couple asked me if it was okay for them to guess my background, well, it was more like, “My wife and I have been trying to guess where you are from…is it…?” As I stood there awkwardly holding their plates, unwillingly engaging in their Saturday night trivia, I simply nodded my head.
They both looked up at me and mind you, I was still awkwardly holding their dirty plates… “I am Filipino but I was born in Canada,” I said.
“Ah, that was our next guess.”
I smiled and walked away.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “what’s wrong with that? The nice white, middle-aged couple is just curious about your national heritage.”
It’s the fact that their prejudgment of oriental-people, constructed an assumption of my background solely based on my appearance and it became an amusing guessing game for them. I told another server what the couple had said to me and she shared a story of her friend that was asked that same question, however, they couldn’t believe she didn’t have a “real Asian” name. Regardless of the situation, people unconsciously or even consciously made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
The Western society we live in, has been, and continues to control our concept of “identity” – how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others. Think, the stereotypical popular white, blonde girl in all the 90s movies and don’t get me wrong, I love them all…From Clueless, Mean Girls, The Notebook … you get the point. Cher, Allie, Regina George … I wanted to be them … or did I? Now looking at the recently released Rom-Com, Crazy Rich Asians (August 15th, 2018), they switched the mainstream white-dominated narrative to basically an all Asian cast. While watching it with my mom, five minutes into the movie I felt empowered. I felt like I could finally relate to someone on screen. And although they weren’t Filipino, it was still nice to not always see the typical white protagonist.
Chrissy Teigen posted something similar:
Luna, aside from being blown away by the general movie-going experience (yep she’s 13 now, time flies) looked up at @constancewu’s mother and yelled “yāy!” (“Grandma” in thai) because she saw someone who looked like her yāy. Someone beautiful and aspirational…It made me happy to see this over the top story done from so many angles, some I could totally understand because of my own confusing Asian American upbringing… You never know how much you miss being represented on screen until you actually see what it’s like to be represented. And represented by all different types of characters with all different types of personalities, just like any other great movie.”
When we look at a complete stranger, the voice inside of our head automatically makes prejudgments about the person before we even get to know them based on the labels and categories our SOCIETY has created. We judge each other based on the “white-normalized” frame of reference – white, heterosexual, able-bodied… There is a symbolic weight on identities. The colour of my skin represents people understand me, before even getting to know me. If you are not white you are other.
- Social Economic Class Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Marital Status
- Faith/Religious beliefs
Society has a representation of what is considered “normal” reinforcing power identities. In order to practice moving past these identity society barriers, try learning a stranger’s name (this humanizes them rather than approaching them just on the surface), try seeing a world outside your own perspective by listening and sharing stories… everyone has their own “lived” experiences and their own narratives. Choose what you wish to share but remember, not everyone deserves your story. When you hear that voice in the back of your mind making prejudgements, think, why do I automatically assume this about this person. I guess in other words, that couple could of just asked.