Monday, March 21, 2011

Family and Fromness

In the morning, Significant Other and I are going on the road to visit my parents for the first time. It has been several months since I've seen them and I'm looking forward to romping with my dogs and younger sister. I even baked some Irish Cream brownies for the occasion. This is Significant Other's first time meeting any members of my family, so I'm hoping it goes well. I'm fairly close with my rather sizable family, so it is important to me that he at least meet them. Plus, I meet his family when he graduates, so it's only fair right? :p.

When Significant Other and I first began dating, a family member picked up on his non-white sounding name, and immediately honed in on the question of 'fromness': Where is he from?

I said his family used to live in a town in the general area of our university, but now live elsewhere. No no no, that's not what my family member meant. What country is he from? While I was tempted to be snarky, I was not in the mood to fight and told them the country of his birth. The "Oh...ok," came with a tone of apprehension and perhaps even suspicion. This irritated me, as while I acknowledge that the family member was raised in a very different time and place (and thus, mentality) than myself and my generation, I find the inadvertent racism frustrating.

Chally over at Feministe has been doing a series titled Where Are You From? in which she examines fromness and how it relates specifically to non-whites (in the cultural as well as racial sense). I find it almost amusing that people will ask me where Significant Other is from when they can't place his accent. They tell me they don't feel comfortable asking him, so they ask me instead. Which is peculiar. As though asking me, because I'm 'White Like You' it somehow makes your discomfort with 'otherness' okay? Why do I have to be the go-between? Because I'm more like you and thus less threatening?

I receive similar reactions when I'm out on occasion with my maternal grandmother when she visits. She is German, and has a noticeable accent. When she wanders away to look at a sweater or blouse or a lamp or painting, whomever we were previously speaking with will sometimes lean in and whisper "Where is she from?" like it's some big secret or taboo thing. It only shows the person's discomfort with not being able to categorize the other person. If you are truly curious as to a person's origins, as them yourself. Do not try and find some sort of "translator" (which is what I feel like sometimes) that you can somehow relate to and use them as a proxy for identifying with the other person. Even my grandmother, white as I am, is viewed as being of not the same cultural whiteness as I, because her country of origin is so far removed from the U.S. while still maintaining an acceptable 'whiteness'.

If you are truly curious as to where someone hails from, just fucking ask. If it makes you uncomfortable to ask, perhaps there is reflecting you need to do. This country is too big and too much of a salad bowl (a term I prefer to 'mixing pot') for us to continue to be stuck in this uncomfortable rut of being timid when dealing with people different from ourselves.

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