Cultural Sensitivity Part II

Posted: March 5, 2012 in Batteries Not Included
Tags: , ,

It was just five days after my last post on cultural sensitivity when this happened. One of the students in our fellowship invited two friends to church on Friday night; one of them was black (or is it African American? I never know what I’m allowed to call people of black heritage for fear of offending someone) and he had nice eyes and a pencil moustache that made him a dead-ringer for Eddy Murphy. So when we were introducing ourselves to him, A asked, “Anyone ever tell you that you look like Eddie Murphy?”

She didn’t hear it, but the other new friend that came that night took offense to this, and said, “Wait a minute, I didn’t come in here and say ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.” I was really taken aback by this, and was very bothered by it, but tried not to give it much thought… until later that night, another student commented, “Why’d you say he looked like Eddie Murphy? That’d be like if I said you all looked like Jackie Chan!”

So let me get this straight. Saying a person resembles someone else of the same ethnicity is now politically incorrect? I mean, I wouldn’t think anything of being compared to Jackie Chan, *if* I looked like Jackie Chan. I happen to think I look more like Chow Yun Fat (or maybe just Fat). At least the student in question actually did look like Eddie Murphy. I don’t think anyone in the fellowship looks anything like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That kind of comment would be like going to a black church and saying, “Hey look, it’s Boyz In The Hood!”

The student who’d made the Jackie Chan comment – I’d seen a picture of his dad once, maybe a year and a half ago, and I had commented, “Anyone ever say he looks like Denzel Washington?” Now I wish I hadn’t said it, because I probably offended him without knowing it.

How would you feel if people had to walk on egg shells when talking to you, simply because your skin was a certain color? Because they feel that you’re so sensitive that they’re afraid to offend you? Are we promoting a new kind of racism in our attempt to be politically correct?

  1. Jeiji says:

    Maybe that “student” with the “Jackie Chan” comment was looking out for himself, thinking he would be taken aback if that was one of the first few things he heard. A misguided and self-imposing notion, but only looking out for the new student. If a black person walked into a congregation of all Asians, and the first thing someone says to him is that he looks like a black celebrity, he might think it a compliment, but there’s also a chance that person might think they hadn’t seen many black people.

    I don’t disagree, I definitely feel it shouldn’t be so tense to make such comments, as they are completely innocent and based upon opinion. And it definitely wasn’t the case that that new person wasn’t entering a congregation of overwhelmingly uniform ethnicity, the only big contrast being that he was the only black person. But perhaps the statement could’ve been preserved for a time when the student was more well acquainted, and comfortable with that person/group.

    Being black (yeah, that’s totally fine to say that, lol) myself, I always felt out of place, and had even had to deal with racism in professional and public places before. As had my sister, mother and father. So we were told to look out, especially since we were shooting for higher quality education and careers, where there might not be so many black people, and really, graphic design and medicine aren’t devoid of black people, but definitely don’t have a strong representation. So we were always on our toes, ready to bat away any possibility of racism, ignorance or naivité, ready to set the record straight. Especially being Haitian, my family is very proud and specific of that fact, and we always correct when people say “African American”.

    So yeah. That student? Maybe far too cautious. But that comment? Maybe a little too optimistic. I personally would have had to take a step back and ponder, but not everyone’s the same. The new student who very well might have looked like Eddie Murphy, was probably okay with the whole thing. Just a perspective to consider.

  2. I saw it as a new friend walking into a congregation of Christians, not a black person walking into a congregation of Asians. But I suppose I should come back to reality and understand that color still exists (red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight). I mean, we’ve gotten comments that the group is too diverse, and also that it feels too Chinese. I guess we can’t please everyone.

    • Jeiji says:

      Hah, too diverse?! That’s interesting. But yeah, it’s lame that some people had to be raised like that, but it is what it is, isn’t it?

  3. Robert Birch says:

    Color exists, but that doesn’t mean it matters. Problem is… history also exists and there are a lot of deep scars. Don’t know where this brother is from, but you grew up in a pretty diverse place so you may not have felt it. If some day you find your self in the South though, you might hear some redneck say, “Hey, i knew another Chinese guy once. But you all look the same to us, anyway.”

    i’m with you in that ultra “political-correctness” can turn all of us into politicians and no one is real anymore. But in this case is not really PC — just understanding that people who happen to be in the minority (like a white guy at Piedmont Hills, for instance) have a pretty high probability to have been subjected to hurtful comments or behavior in the past, and until we know more of their story we really don’t know what kind of impact our casual comments or joking is going to have.

    Oh and on the subject of racism… Irvington High was in the news today because some girls started a “Love your Story” wall in the girls bathroom where students are writing down personal stories they are dealing with an posting them anonymously on the wall for everyone else to read. One of the girls they interviewed on the news said, “People come up to me and say, ‘How can you see with eyes like that? They look like Sharpie slits.'” Hard for me to believe that kind of thing still happens in the Bay area, but there it is. Suppose this high school girl had just heard that comment on Friday and then shows up at church and i say something like “Wow, your eyes look like Li Gong.” Totally innocent comment and i actually meant it as a compliment. But she would run away and cry.

    • “You all look the same to us” – that’s pretty offensive. In line with the Jackie Chan comment.

      The Li Gong scenario – point taken. Though I don’t know who Li Gong is.

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