Picking up where I left off, I wanted not to leave you hanging in the importance of nurturing our cultural and racial differences. Covid-19 has made lonely hearts out of so many of us, and just as human connection is the backbone of good mental health, intention and dedication is the backbone of cultivating a budding romance and nourishing an established relationship.
Today, I’m sharing four more important ways you can be an ally to those around you:
1. Ask more questions
We live in a wonderfully diverse world, and the more you surround yourself with people that are different from you, the more you will open yourself up to a world of knowledge that you never knew existed. Research has shown that people who are in or have been in intercultural relationships have increased levels of creativity as they have been exposed to different ways of thinking and being.
2. Don’t make assumptions about what they may or may not be into based on your ideas of their culture.
Not all assumptions come from the wrong place. I will be the first to admit that I have asked ignorant questions. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, as I have made errors in my efforts to connect with people. The critical thing to remember is that assumption shouldn’t be the basis of your conversations, and we shouldn’t rely on them for our ability to connect with others.
Think of it this way; you would never ask a woman if she is pregnant. We even get secondhand embarrassment when we watch little ones point at a women’s belly and say “baby” when there is a baby to speak of.
Many of these assumptions are built around what we see in the media, which tends to draw out extreme character traits to create conflict and drive a story line, but they are mostly exaggerations. When people make assumptions, especially in dating, it stems from an effort to connect with people who we don’t share (or at least perceive to) everyday experiences. But the more we talk to each other, the more we learn about each other. This idea isn’t exclusive to getting to know POC folks, but everyone.
What makes dating great is the universal experience of getting to know someone and finding that connection can spark in some of the most unexpected places. You can ask questions, just don’t assume that a Black person can rap all the words to Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass or that all Asian people eat rice at every meal.
Here are some of my favourite conversation starters:
- What is your favourite traditional dish or something that you grew up eating that you still love?
- Is there a saying in your language that doesn’t translate to English but should? What are your favourite idioms in your language?
- Do you ever have cultural clashes with your family?
- How do you celebrate the holidays?
- How do you identify with your culture? What, if anything, do you reject? What is your favourite part about being _____?
3. Being an ally means standing up for people
Here is (yet) another story that I wish I didn’t have to tell. I honestly think one of my most blood boiling experiences I have ever personally had with being racially stereotyped, in an interview no less. Before I worked at Plenty of Fish, like most recent graduates, I hit the streets of downtown interviewing for jobs. It was winter and pouring rain, and I was trying desperately to keep my interview flats dry. It was my second of three interviews of the day, and this one was at a recruiting firm. Not only was my interviewer twenty-minutes late, but halfway through talking about how I spent five years in university, she interrupted me and asked where I was from because I look so “exotic”.
Forcing an inaudible exhale, I said well, my mother is from the Philippines, and my father is a boring white guy.
As if having to answer that question wasn’t bad enough, she replied “boring white guy? I have never heard of that, where is that from?”
Umm, my sense of humour? I imagined myself saying. It was a joke I replied, feeling defeated.
Despite the clear ethical and legal violation of such questioning, she enthusiastically said “you should work at a travel agency you are just the kind of person they would want.”
Needless to say, I decided not to continue working with this recruiting agency. I was disappointed that the career aspirations she had for me were not aligned with my education and work experience, but an assumption based on who she perceived me to be. Culture and exotic are not synonyms. Harambe, the silverback gorilla, is exotic, I am a person, not an object of fantasy and desire.
Honestly, I wish that was the worst part. I wish I could have told you when I tell that story, everyone finds it universally offensive. After spending way too long trying to explain why it was inappropriate for an interview, it was finally my mother-in-law that said in my defense “you don’t get it because you are white.” I cannot tell you what relief it was to have someone else articulate I was thinking, as I didn’t want to be perceived as “bringing race into it.” I was accused that I was calling them racist.
Just like there is power in conversation, there is power in ally-ship. The best way to be an ally is to stand beside someone and take on the burden of their experience and stand up for them.
4. Be OK with feeling like an outsider at family events.
I will be the first to admit there are so many cultural traditions that I haven’t learned about my heritage. I am bi-racial, and sadly, there is a lot about Filipino culture that I don’t know. Like many first-generation kids of immigrant families, I wasn’t taught my mother tongue. I remember being at a big family dinner, and an auntie was praying. She kept on saying what I thought sounded like holy holy apple juice, and I needed to do everything in my power not to burst out laughing during the blessing. What was actually being said was holy, holy Jesus.
That story, to me, is so endearing, but not everyone will see it that way. Brown and black and Asian bodies are often expected to assimilate themselves into the rest of society, especially those who are bilingual. I often worry if my husband will feel comfortable with participating in traditions and ways of being that are unfamiliar to him. But here is a secret, sometimes I feel uncomfortable and unknowing myself. We will all be in situations outside our comfort zone, and there is so much to be learned within that.
Cover Photo by Kate Kalvach @katekalvach