By Sean Schlosser
“Well you know, you just speak well. I mean where are you from?”
“No, but really. Where are you from?”
These types of conversations are, unfortunately, not new to me. It comes with the territory. I’m Korean, but to society I’m just Asian, and because I don’t “broken English” my way through conversations, this is something I have to address (actually if I did have trouble speaking, that’d be addressed by another form of microaggression that I’ll talk about later).
I take a deep breath, then that special thing happens, the one from the movies. You know, where a conversation happens and a thought bubble pops up with different alternatives for me to respond with. There are a few ways I could respond, and to me the first one would be the most justified, which includes but wouldn’t be limited to making a scene, yelling, “What the hell kind of voice were you expecting to come out of my mouth?!?!?” arms flailing. I would make them as uncomfortable as the question made me feel. It’d be right, right?
A second bubble would pop up with the scenario where I just calmly explain that I’ve always spoke well, because you know English is my primary language, and this is how it works. The third, well I’d just skirt the whole situation and move the conversation to another topic.
I’ve felt like I’ve always done an adequate job in addressing these odd, uncomfortable situations. It feels like the whole Asian community is riding on how I react to this one conversation. In reality, it all depends on what this person takes away from our conversation. If I overreact the person retorts with, “It was just a question, why are you so mad?” I’m more than mad. I live in a society that continuously questions my intelligence by how smooth the words come out of my mouth. I live in a society that hears, but doesn’t listen to how wrong backhanded remarks like, “You speak so well” are.
Interestingly enough comments like, “You should take it as a compliment” tend to follow. I have tough skin, but sometimes honesty is the best policy and sometimes you just need to let them have it.
I’m not being sensitive.
No, I’m not taking it the wrong way.
You asked, now I’m telling you, so listen.
What the hell kind of a question is that?
Do you even know why this is a problem?
I am understanding, but hell there are just some inappropriate questions out there. Let’s cut the shit. There are plenty of things we could be learning or sharing from each other, but this is what you want to talk about? What’s worse is how I see others treat people who don’t speak well.
There’s nothing better than being discouraged to speak when someone’s coming down on you with a condescending tone. That’s not okay. I feel like when I’ve addressed this type of scenario, especially in a retail setting, that most people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it. We have to be willing to have these uncomfortable conversations to prevent them. Think about how these questions are worded. How would you feel if someone spoke to you in that way, how would you react?