Tag Archives: communication

The “What Are You” Game: Rules and Regulations

By Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils

I’m mixed. Chinese mother, white father. I don’t particularly look like either of them (nor do I look definitively “Chinese” or “white”). Ethnically-ambiguous mixed kid. In a country (U.S.) that likes to think of “race” as an either/or thing (and usually just “black” and “white”). Hmmm.Now there are a lot of ways I could have handled this growing up. Being the smart-ass that I am, I chose to make a game of it. I now know that it is a game that many other mixed folks have played, as well (probably since the dawn of racial categorization), but here I’d like to introduce it to those who have yet to play: The “What are You?” Game.

This game has its origins in the common way in which people across this country try to figure the race of ethnically-ambiguous “others” such as myself: by asking the oh-so-polite question, “What are you?” (*1)

As a kid, when I was first asked this (probably long before my first conscious memories), it was up to me to figure out the true meaning behind it; because (most of the time) the asker was fully aware of my species and gender, and they had no interest in my religion, position on the football team, or any other possible answer to this question other than my racial background. But why did they ask it like that?

Okay. For those of you non-ethnically-ambiguous folks out there, just try to imagine, for a moment, how you might start to react to this question when asked regularly over the course of your life:

You’re a child and – over and over – people come to you (adults, children, teachers, whomever) and ask you what you are, with no context clues suggesting that you are playing “let’s pretend.” It’s not Halloween. You’re not wearing an elaborate costume. No, they are honestly questioning your identity in a way that so thoroughly strips you of pride, humanity, and belonging – and doing so as if it’s just a matter of course, and fully acceptable to do.

They are not asking about who you are – your interests, what you do, the important people in your life. They are simply asking you what you are, and in such a self-entitled manner that turning you into a thing like that comes with the expectation that you’ll give them the answer they want without any negative reactions.

Imagine what that does to a kid’s sense of identity, their self-esteem. Imagine the message it sends them about their place in the world. It’s no wonder that the majority of mixed folks I have known have – at some point – considered themselves isolated and without community. Continue reading

A Broken System Part III: Fighting Words

By Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils

I’ve talked about the obvious need for a big change (Part I) and given a (slightly) smaller-scale suggestion for changing the USA’s relationship to race (Part II).  Now, in Part III, I’ll cover what I believe to be the education system’s single biggest contribution to the injustice of our society: the creation of a culture of combative communication (i.e. turning everything into a “fight”).

So, among my many annoying habits, I have one which a certain ex of mine absolutely hated.  It goes like this: I like to talk like I know what I’m talking about.

A prime example?  This blog.  I write with conviction and little hesitation.  I seldom use words that convey doubt in the veracity of my own experiences and opinions.  I sit down at my keypad and “tell it like it is.”  I state my argument, then break it all down, piece by piece, to bolster the strength of my claims and words.  That’s how I do it.

And that’s how I wrote the last paragraph.  That’s precisely how most politically-angled blog-posts are written.  It’s how articles and essays are written.  How speeches are given and delivered.

In the U.S., it’s called “good writing.”

We’re taught to do this.  To be like this.  The U.S. educations system takes pride in emphasizing “critical thought.”  And, on the surface, that’s something that is truly laudable. (*1)

However, the problem is in the delivery – and the message that is hidden within that delivery.  When we are taught to write and speak publicly, we are taught to compete.  We are taught effective techniques to “win” our “argument.”  We are taught that hedging and displaying doubt is not an “effective” means of convincing somebody of our right-ness.  If we do acknowledge a weakness, it is only to downplay it or offer up how that can be “easily rectified.”

On the flip – when we “listen” to the other side express their own “arguments” and opinions, we are taught to look for holes.  Find their weaknesses and expose them.  Find their stronger arguments and figure out how to break them down and “defend” against them.  All effective tools when trying to “win” an argument or get a good grade on a paper.

But – outside of the classroom – we think the same rules apply.  To successfully solve a problem, we think one must “win” the “argument” to get people to go along with them.  Our government is structured around constant “debates” where differing sides try to “win” people over to their side, so they can get the majority necessary to put their plans into action.

But solving problems is not a fight. When we employ competitive, fighting tactics towards “solving problems,” we end up defeating ourselves and no true solution can be reached. We just get half-assed measures that barely touch on a symptom or two, ignoring underlying causes.
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