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Pet Sins January 2007

'Seeking gangstas and small-footed concubines' - when people approach real life individuals hoping to experience movie stereotypes

A black acquaintance once told me about how white folk approached him hoping to experience the 'gangsta' attitude, but when they saw that he was not that kind of person and could not provide them with the experience they were expecting/seeking, they lost interest in getting to know him at all.

Being a Chinese woman, I have gone through something similar. Once a friend invited me to dinner with her neighbor, a white Latina woman. When she learnt I was Chinese, the woman immediately wanted to talk about foot-binding and the Chinese oppression of women. I pointed out that the foot-binding tradition was not as widespread as she might believe. My ethnic group - a subgroup of the Chinese - never practised foot-binding. And even the mainstream Chinese in southern regions of China like where my good friend's grandma came from did not have that tradition. But the white lady did not at all acknowledge this information which did not fit with what she wanted to hear. She went on to talk about how much she loved the movie The Joy Luck Club.

I pointed out that the experience of premodern Chinese women was very varied. There were many Chinese female military officers, some even reaching the rank of general, in ancient and medieval times. A minority, no doubt, but still quite a visible minority. And obviously, warrior women never bound their feet. Again, the white woman ignored this information and did not even acknowledge what I said.

Before the evening was over, she asked me, "Does your grandfather have two wives?" Now I don't know a single Chinese person of my generation whose grandfather had two wives, except a friend whose sailor grandfather had two families - one by a Chinese spouse in Hong Kong and one by a hapa spouse in Hawaii. But then that is a fairly common practice for sailors of all ethnicities, including European sailors, to have a woman in each port they visit regularly.

I don't blame people for being ignorant because they are not informed, but this white woman really doesn't get it or want to get it even when presented with new information contrary to what she wants to believe. She did not want to see a real person. She wanted to experience a movie stereotype. And when I could not give it to her, she rather obtusely still kept trying to get it out of me. I don't think she even realizes how offensive she is.