This past Friday I had a very uncomfortable experience at a restaurant here in Nashville. My sorority family and I were sitting in a booth and my grandbig (if people know what that is) struck up a conversation with the guys at the booth next to us about football. Later in the night one of the guys started talking to us again and mentioned his friend was part Asian. My sorority twin, who is half Chinese, asked what type of Asian, as in, what country and the guy replied with “There are multiple types?” Needless to say, none of us knew how to respond to such blatant ignorance. He laughs it off saying he was joking, but that became the end of the conversation. Especially after the reading this week, I realized that not as much has changed as I would have hoped.
America has a complex. If people come from another country, Americans tend to group them as Asian or African. While, for the most part, Europeans are described by country too many people do not think to describe or inquire if someone is Cambodian, or Nigerian, or Japanese. I have never heard someone say they were North American. Why do are some people’s identities more important than others? Part of it could have come about with the discrimination of different white Europeans, like the hatred for the Irish, and Americans were Anglo-Saxon so they felt like they needed to make that distinction. As we discussed in class, it was a hierarchy within a hierarchy. Everyone else, Africans, Asians, and Native Americans were automatically put below those who were of white European descent so there was no need for them to differentiate. And while this seems like something of the past, I still see few people caring to make the distinction in the present.
While I believe I am a fairly progressive person, I know that I myself am guilty of this as well. While I am not as ignorant as the man I met on Friday, I think I sometimes just assume someone is Asian and do not put in the effort to actually find out where in Asia they are from. I feel like I am a little more conscious with people of African descent because I have more of a connection to it. All of that being said, I do not believe we should be dividing people into groups just because of where they are from, but rather the opposite I believe where you are from is an important part of a person’s identity and we should respect the differences in cultures and not try to group people of different cultures in buckets by continent.