by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse
From the annoying “hey shorty” and vulgar comments about my pouty lips to the more polite “Good morning, beautiful,” catcalls are a nuisance. Much like stereotypes, even the so-called “positive” ones can be frustrating and equally as demeaning as they reduce one’s existence solely to the physical. In addition, they remind those on the receiving end of the comments or calls that they are there for the speaker’s visual—and in some extremes, physical— indulgence. Despite whatever clever or biting retort the receiver of the comments or calls may deliver, the person is still only reacting, not having delivered the initial blow that can have long term effects on one who is often subjected to engaging in such an unwarranted exchange of words.
Yet beyond catcalls and more public displays of adoration, there is the party approach. More intimate and certainly holding more potential, being approached at a party makes the stakes go up a bit. The possibility of seeing this person again or something real developing from a conversation, even if it just means a good friendship, is far more likely in this case than in an exchange with some stranger on the corner or someone ogling you on the train.
The negative side of this is that in the development that comes from this closer contact, there’s also more of a likelihood for things to get deeper in a way that is far less enjoyable. One of those uncomfortable topics for me is race.
I’ve written about this before— from being mistaken for other ethnic or racial groups to being mislabeled and forced to defend my own heritage both here and in other countries. In other words, it happens a lot. Questions like “What are you?” “Are you certain you’re not____?” and “Are you part______?” come up all the time, contingent on little phenotypic changes like my hair, my skin color, and facial features to even more superficial things like my makeup choices, my accessories, and my outfit. Going further, however, even things like my speech pattern, education level, and group of friends can contribute to the outside world’s determination of which ethnic/racial group(s) I belong for the day. As frustrating as this may be, it’s telling of something that extends far beyond a mistaken identity. It’s also a testament to the changing way we determine racial groupings in this country—particularly in ways we often attribute to other countries but rarely give thought to our having used in our own.
Read the Post Confusion in the Come-on: Racial Assumptions in Random Places