Go Ahead, Ask Awkward Questions

I am a minority by any standard: Asian, female and international. When people asked me, “You are from China. Do you eat dog for lunch?” I was offended at the very beginning, but now I’d rather regard it as a question. In the past, I would be pissed and ignore the question, but now I just say, “I don’t” calmly, since all I do is simply to answer the question someone is curious about.

I don’t consider it a micro-aggression. I don’t think it necessary or helpful to terminate all kinds of discrimination, subtle insults and stereotypes by asking people to stop all types of questions that may offend me and my race, gender and culture.

You may ask me if I find it necessary to be in a college that is politically correct, and the best answer I can give you is that I personally don’t care. At Pomona College, we want people to stop asking questions involving demeaning insults regarding minorities, and we hope by doing that we can then have a society without the pressure of stereotypes, or micro-aggression, and then all minorities will feel at home. For me that’s much too idealist. I don’t think promoting such political correctness can surely solve the problem, because shutting people’s mouths doesn’t always mean changing their minds. No more “that’s so gay” doesn’t mean no more people will say it silently.

Having been at Pomona for nearly one and a half years, I’ve realized that so-called stereotypes, discrimination and offense are mostly the results of misunderstanding, lack of knowledge and inefficiency of mutual communication. Those are things that matter mostly before we get to know a person. Categorizing strangers into various groups is just human nature. Once you talk to a black girl, a Japanese guy or a Latino, your impression of that person rarely has something to do with his or her race, gender and sexual orientation. You like the person because he is funny, because she is smart, not because he is gay or she is white. 

You may feel pressure about the existing stereotypes (like I have to be a nerdy shy math genius to fit my Asian girl stereotype), but such stereotypes are never the end of the story. People have stereotypes because they don’t know who you are, and they may want to know who you are. My mission as a human being, however, is not to tell them if those stereotypes are right or not. I am just me. I don’t eat dogs (but I do eat hot dogs). I party often. I like math. But that’s who I am. I am not here to prove to you I am a nerdy Asian. Nor I am here to tell you your notion of Asian nerds is wrong. Because I don’t even care. All I care about is how you think of me as an individual.

Coincidentally, though I don’t care about stereotypes, I find the more open-minded I am, the more efficiently I help terminate those stereotypes. You may say you feel uncomfortable answering those questions, but you can hardly find any place as harmonious as Pomona when you graduate. If you still want to feel as good when you step into that “harsh” society, it will be helpful to know how to respond. 

That’s why I hope you can ask me more questions. “Is your mom Tiger Mom?” “Are you a Communist?” I may feel awkward sometimes, but I am not afraid of those questions. Because I know you just want to know more about me and you are not asking those questions just to offend me or irritate me intentionally. I don’t feel my value diminished because of what you ask. After all, we are who we are and we do what we do. Asian, female and international are just labels that I can peel off whenever I want. I hope to make it easier for everybody to know about me. If they double-check with themselves every single question they are about to ask, worrying about each and every subtle offense their question may lead to, and so they would rather just shut up, there is no way I can help them find the answer. That’s not what I want.

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