One of my many reasons for moving to Japan was to experience life as a racial majority. Hoping to get a glimpe of what it's like to be white in America, I actually got a glimpse of what it's like to be a mentally-challenged Japanese guy (due to my looks coupled with my difficulty with the language). But I've written enough about that. I'm still awaiting my Oscar.
For better or worse, race will always be an issue to me. A very prominent Asian-American scientist whose name doesn't come to mind (my point exactly) once said that America needs an Asian Al Sharpton. I agree. And I've gone through those soul-searching phases both long and short where I've wanted to be that person. I've taken the ASAM courses in college, written angry e-mails to NBC over Sarah Silverman's repeated usage of "chink" on national television, and boycotted Details for an extremely offensive article titled "Gay or Asian?" But regardless of how angry or not angry I get, I still have to live. I have to live every day.
Japan certainly helped. In that one year abroad, I learned more about my racial identity than I have the proper words to convey. I'm glad. And I will sheepishly admit that I had tears in my eyes during Obama's victory speech, but it later became a bittersweet moment. Would America ever elect an Asian-American president? Beyond that point, could I ever be considered a true American if that feat remains impossible?
I'm mentioning all this because of a conversation I had the other night at a bar. I often get upset with my father for a certain habit of his, a habit that I have sadly inherited. Basically, the scientist in him loves to analyze minute and pointless details way after the fact. He will also conjecture upon facts that can easily be found out with the click of a button. For instance, if he wanted to know all the movies that Jennifer Connelly starred in (this is doubly strange because it appears my father and I are both madly intrigued by the same actress), he wouldn't go to imdb. He would probably sit there and try to write all the movies down. That, or he'd ask me to name all the movies I'd seen with her in them and then try to recall if he'd also seen them. For the first problem, let's say he couldn't find a restaurant. When he actually got to the restaurant, he would ask the waiter why it was so hard to find the restaurant and offer suggestions as to how to avoid this situation in the future. Let's also throw in the detail that we are on a road trip. We will never come back to this restaurant, but he needs to know how to hypothetically find it in the future.
Now back to the bar and my point.
Because of this inherited trait coupled with my loose lip when drinking, I often find myself asking very straightforward and odd questions to people at bars. They aren't odd in the sense that no one wants to know, but they are odd in the sense that no one wants to ask. After "chatting up this bird" for a short while, I wanted to know if she was single. Instead of putting it that way, I said something along the lines of "You have a boyfriend, right? Because you're attractive. And if you were attractive and didn't have a boyfriend, that would be strange. Girls who are attractive tend to attract the affections of many gentleman suitors. Since you are attractive in my estimation, you more than likely routinely share the company of a person of my gender."
Her response? "This is funny because my boyfriend is Indian."
I paused to ponder her statement and then asked: "Why is that funny?"
The absolute worst part of this story is that I can't even remember her response. If I were writing this into a movie, I'd have to make something up. Or make the character playing me not drink so much. Did I just get up and walk away? Did my jaw drop and hit the table breaking my jaw so that I had to go to the hospital? Did her face melt? I have no idea.
Here's my father-inherited moot-point analysis:
1. It was funny to her because it meant another person with an ethnicity originating from the CONTINENT of Asia found her attractive.
2. It was funny to her because she found another person from the CONTINENT of Asia attractive.
3. How white is this Indian boyfriend of hers that she could even make a statement like that?
4. If a black guy talks to her, does she tell him it's funny because she has a Latino mailman?
The absolute best part of this story is that I wasn't even offended. I was interested. In fact, I mostly take her statement to mean #2 up there. So maybe I don't need an Al Sharpton. Maybe I just need to live and talk and share and exist. But I'd pay a lot to know what she said.