Thinking in Color

Last night I was jokingly bemoaning the fact that I never got to hold the title of “tallest guy in Theatre Rice”. (My first two semesters that position was held by Jacek, and my last two by Jon Gu.) It was too bad that I’d have to be “the white guy” instead.

My mom pointed out that both of those were pretty arbitrary things to be striving for or avoiding, but I insisted that it’d still be better to be “the tall guy” than “the white guy”. My mom then pointed out that I was being silly. “If someone was going to point you out from the audience, they’d be perfectly correct and accurate to say ‘the white guy’. It sounds like they couldn’t say ‘the tall guy’…”

And she’s right! I’ve sort of fallen into my own trap, confusing genetic/physical “ethnicity” with that horrible muddle of characteristics called “race”. (See past post “Cultural Spectra”, also on Facebook.) “White” does indeed describe my skin color and physical features, and is a perfectly good way to identify someone by those terms.

Being a white guy in Theatre Rice is pretty much never weird except when people ask me if it’s weird. A few weeks ago, however, I did run into a situation where things got weird. (I’m going to keep this anonymous; please try to keep the anonymity in the comments.)

I was out late with a couple of friends, who happened to all be Asian-American. While we were walking, we were accosted by two drunk idiots who had a bone to pick with one of my friends. After we had gotten away from them, another friend said, “You know…I feel a little bad saying this, but I’m glad they were white.” A third friend agreed almost immediately.

And I was stung. I tried to keep cool — this night didn’t need any more drama or bad feelings — but I did say a rather sardonic “Thanks”. The friend who had spoken already realized it was weird to say that with me there, and responded “We love you, Jordy!”

Which was nice, but not the point. I didn’t even register the ethnicity of the two outsiders. It’s not like this sort of thing never happened with other ethnicities either…it’s a college campus. But more than that, I just didn’t like the idea that these two guys’ behavior somehow reflected on all ethnic whites. If they had been Asian (which is as general as “white”), their behavior wouldn’t have been representative of all of the “Asian” students on campus. And same for any other ethnicity macrogrouping: Hispanic, Middle Eastern, black, whatever. (The fact that these “groups” lump unrelated people together is a separate problem.)

So, I was upset to find out that my friends thought this way at all. They’re still my friends. But as part of a group whose mission statement involves “combatting misrepresentation”, I just can’t respect this part of their thinking. To use the words of our former Artistic Director Joy Regullano, this is not “representation of all people equally.”