It is entirely possible to have nice, respectful interactions with people on the street. I’ve actually had quite a few nice interactions with strangers- at least, up until they ask me, “no, where are you really from?”
I think the problem a lot of (usually white) people have with interacting with POC (people of colour i.e. non-white people) is that there are certain seemingly innocuous things lots of people ask that bug the hell outta us.
It gets much worse when these people try to flirt with us.
To make your life easier, and more importantly, to make the lives of the POC you will later interact with easier, here is a list of things to avoid when conversing with strangers of different races.*
1.) Don’t compare them to celebrities
Being compared to celebrities can sometimes be really flattering, but it’s really easy for people to tell when you only know about three non-white celebrities.
If you compare an Indian girl (or worse, a non-Indian South Asian girl) to “that chick from Slumdog millionaire,” even if you genuinely think she looks like Freida Pinto, her first thought is not going to be, “wow, they must think I’m really pretty”; it’s going to be, “wow, you don’t know many Indian people.”
On that note, try to also avoid Disney characters. As Roxi Grace said on our fb page:
2.) Don’t ask them to cook for you.
I won’t ask you to throw me a shrimp on the barbie or whatever, you don’t ask me to cook you chicken adobo.
And yeah, the cute Chinese girl you’re talking to probably does know where all the best Chinese restaurants are. So does the Internet. Ask them.
3.) “No, where are you really from?”
Our ethnicity is not a guessing game. If a person says they’re from Australia, this might mean they were born here. This might mean that they’ve lived most of their life here. What it always means is, “I am from Australia, please don’t ask further questions.” If they want you to know their whole ethnic background, they’ll tell you.
4.) If your compliment is specific to a race, stop using it.
“Spicy” and “fiery” describe dishes, not Latina women. “Exotic” describes tropical birds, not Asians. Yellow fever is a disease, and jungle fever should just not be used, period.
And I don’t care when you watched Full Metal Jacket, “me so horny, me love you long time,” is still such a tired reference. Stop.
5.) Unless we ask, we don’t want to know what you did during your gap year.
I think it’s great that you worked with a charity overseas, but when you talk about these people, please talk about them as people, not charity cases.
If a person tells you they’re Khmer, and you start spouting off about your time in Cambodia, and how “strong” and “persevering” they all were despite their poverty or whatever, that Khmer person is allowed to hit you.
6.) We’re not impressed that you’ve learned something about our culture.
I love it when people are excited about learning about other cultures. I like it less when you mention is just to look worldly and cultured. I like it a lot less when you try to simplify that culture to one specific aspect (see: every Korean person and Gangnam style).
And don’t try to teach me about my own culture.
7.) Just talk to us like you would anyone else.
That’s it. Doesn’t need explaining.
Of course, a lot of these points are guide lines. For instance, it makes sense for you to break point #2 if you’re both passionate about food and cooking. Just use your common sense, and be respectful. I know y’all can do it.
A lot of my experience comes from being an Asian woman. If you’ve think I’ve missed something, tell me in the comments, and I’ll add ’em in another blog post. 🙂
*And if you are a POC, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! I’ve heard black dudes say that all Asians look the same; I’ve heard Asians say that all black people look the same. None of us are exempt, y’all.