This morning on the radio, Michelle Norris talked about her project entitled The Race Card. This project challenges people to discuss race in six words or less. In her segment, I listened to an African-American man with half-white children talk about a moment in which he realized that he couldn’t make assumptions about his son’s race.
“I was at the dentist filling out his profile and checked ‘African-American’ as my son’s race. After we left, my son said, ‘Dad, I normally don’t just fill in one box.'”
This really struck home for me because I’ve never been able to fill in just one box either. I always check both “Caucasian — Non-Hispanic” (an actual category here in Florida), and “Asian/Pacific Islander”. (I’m not sure why those two are in the same category because “racially” speaking there’s an enormous variation between the continent and the pacific islands, but ah well, race is a problematic concept anyway.)
I decided to send in my six words to the project:
“Half Asian means hearing Asian jokes.”
In the submission box I was encouraged to explain a little, and I wrote this: “Sometimes looking white misrepresents one’s cultural heritage.”
Yes, people have told me Asian jokes before, notably during a backpacking trip to Ireland. In a bar full of laughing Irish folk I felt tremendously embarrassed to speak up and say, “Hey, not that I don’t have a sense of humor, but I’m Asian, so lay off.” I did, because it was important, but the moment sure was awkward.
I often get this response when I tell people that I’m part Thai: “But you look so white! I couldn’t even tell.”
…And then it’s hard to know what to say to that, except that skin color is not a very good indicator of someone’s race, and becoming less reliable as more and more of us halfies are born.
I hope that in a few hundred years, people will stare at race checkboxes and feel sorry for a world that had to distinguish between races at all.