Excuse me are you listening? 6-23
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dear Readers,

There have been some disturbing incidents that have rocked the core of our nation and informs me that racism still exists. As we begin the holiday season, I would implore each and every one of you to think about the things that you say and how it may affect someone else.  Your subtle words may change someone's impression about you.
I recall having a conversation with my friend, who is Mexican and Nigerian, and during that conversation, I referred to an Asian woman as being "Oriental".  She was quiet for a moment and said, "You know that if you call an Asian person an Oriental that more often than not that is deemed as offensive."
I apologized to her and told her that I didn't know that; until this day I only use the word when it specific, such as while speaking about an "oriental rug".
It's preferable to use the specific nationality such as Japanese, Chinese or Korean, if you have that knowledge.  If not Asian or Asian-American is sufficient.
I of all people should have known that but I didn't.  I worked at the United Nations and sat on the floor and shared rice dishes with the Chinese unit.  They would ask me questions about being Black and about the state of Blacks living in New York's ghettos and public housing.  It never came up.  When it does it is up to all of you to teach ourselves and our children the correct way to deal with people.
I had an experience at a store with my youngest son, Amir.  We were in line waiting for our turn to check out and Amir shouted out," Mommy, look there is a China man and China woman over there!!!  Are they from China?"
I could feel the hairs prickle on the back of my neck and wasn't quite sure what to do next.  My oldest son, Gianni, when he was small was good at asking questions like, "What is wrong with his legs? or why is she blinking like that?"  But he didn't point out ethnic differences.  This was a new one for me.  I was visibly embarrassed and some of the other people on the line had the "Wow, I'm so glad my children are grown-up" look on their faces.
I had a choice to ignore it or use it as a teaching tool.  I chose the latter.  I explained to Amir that it wasn't nice to point at people and refer to all people with Asian features as "Chinese".  I also explained to him that there are all types of different groups within Asia that did not have the same features even though Asia is the largest continent in the world.  I was going to tell him about Russia but I just let that go.
Amir stared at me intently and repeated the word "Asia".  Since everyone on line was staring at us, I figured I had to continued to tell him that there were people from all over the world who looked the same but it would be best to ask if you don't know.
When the Asian family passed our cart again, I told them that my son wanted to know what country they were from.  The woman looked at me quizzically and paused.  I quickly explained the situation and she smiled and told Amir she was from Korea.
He was staring and said, "Oh."  I guess at five you really don't have much to say.
It was a learning moment for the people standing on line, me, Amir and the Korean woman who was asked the question.  I'm sure that she gets called a different nationality inside the Asian culture a lot.  From her pause, I understood that most who assume that she is Chinese never care to inquire about who she really is.
I feel that if it is important to you or if you feel uncomfortable ask before you speak. 


Rina Risper


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