[featured graphic… unless you are epileptic, try staring at it and blinking repeatedly… it should “move”]
My friend J. Hoss – he is Polish and Irish by ancestral lineage, euro-American by ethnic identity, American by politcal nationality. We met on our first day in high school, and we did not like each other. But common friends and like minds drew us into the same circle of friends. Over time, we forged a friendship that we both now refer to as a brother-bond.
Our even mothers regard us as brothers and sons. Somewhere in the Midwest are huge family photos from the family reunions. Extended Irish and Polish family from all over, and one smiling Chinese guy. J. Hoss was welcomed into our house when he asked for a second helping of bittermelon… something my mom cooked just to fuck with him a little.
“Who’s that?” Someone will ask, looking at a reunion photo.
J. Hoss’ mom will answer, “that’s J. Hoss’ brother, my long lost son.”
“Why… is he Asian?” They continue.
“Because he is,” she says.
J. Hoss and I both date across traditional racial or ethnic lines. His last girlfriend was Chinese American, current one Polish. My last girlfriend was Hapa, Chinese and white, American. My partner now is European American. I have no opposition to interracial and interethnic sexual or marital pairing. White male and Asian female couples are not offensive, per se, but I am bothered by the larger social context in which it occurs. I don’t regard my having a white partner or any other partner as making a statement in particular.
The world is a more open place today. Politically, our own demographic borders are much less predictive of a person’s point of view (same sex marriage, civil rights, & al.), international exploration and travel (and not just tourism) is more common, less disapproved of. We are moving away from the awkward era of the worshipping one’s ego, from fighting isolation through blind group membership, and away from serving ourselves.
Some of us, myself included, are fascinated by other cultures. My interest is usually in the sheer variety of ways that we as individuals can relate to each other – holding unique and sometimes incompatible worldviews. Our art, expression, belief systems, affection, and language – they’re culturally and ethnically imbued.
But, embracing other cultures, dating across borders, has some traps for the unwary… especially if you’re white because of the increased focus on the potential for exploitation. So I’m going to share a few things, personal observations, that I think might be helpful.
A community’s common beliefs surrounding gender and gendered behaviors are nearly 100% influenced and informed culturally. E.g.,
- What makes a woman feminine, a man masculine?
- What is “womanly,” or “manly”?
- What is more masculine? …a desire to provide for children? …a muscular physique?
It is important to remember that cultures and ethnicities cannot be separated from the people who express it. This separation, this pure intellectualization, has the potential to offend/injure because culture and beliefs tell the intimate story of how we came to be (cosmology & religion), the story of our ancestors (art & cuisine), and where we care to take that story next (the self, style, and choice of expression). When a person hears comparisons, ratings, and judgments of culture, it translates into comparisons, ratings, and judgments of people.
Put simply, talking about the culture is talking about individual people, a lot of people but each of them an individual. So just be real, be nice, and don’t let haters discourage curiousity.
Edit: If you can’t figure out whether it is offensive, put people’s names in place of the cultural group. If it feels like it might be offensive at all then, I’d say keep it to yourself.