FREQUENTLY AWKWARD QUESTIONS (AND COMMENTS)
People (white and nonwhite) ask me a lot of awkward (read: offensive) questions. Here are the ones I felt like answering.
A = answer (for questions)
R = response (for comments and incidents)
All questions or comments below have been addressed to me in real life, from elementary school through the present.
Q: Where are you from? Where are your parents from?
A: I was born and raised in California. So was my dad. My mom moved to the US from Japan.
Q: What generation are you?
A: See above for mom’s side. Dad’s side is more complicated. My paternal grandfather came to the US from Japan. My paternal grandmother was born in the US, but her parents were born in Japan. Good luck.
Q: How do you pronounce your last name?
A: The Japanese way. Heh heh. There are Japanese pronunciation guides online if you really want to know.
Q: What’s your Japanese name? (Also has been asked as: Do you have a Japanese name?)
A: I don’t think you understand how Japanese works.
Q: Are you half-and-half?
A: 100% and proud.
Q: You don’t look Japanese
R: You don’t look like an asshole. Looks can be deceiving.
Q: You don’t seem very Japanese
R: You didn’t seeeeeem like an asshole, but I have been known to be wrong.
Q: You must feel tall when you go to Japan
R: I’m going to guess you’ve never been to Japan.
Q: Your [insert trait] is so Japanese. (Also has been said as: [Insert trait or action] is so Japanese of you)
R: Your [insert trait] is so [insert expletive]. WTF. Seriously.
Q: Did you have eye fold surgery?
A: No. Not all Asians look alike.
Q: Do you speak Japanese?
Q: Do you read and/or write Japanese?
Q: Will you teach me Japanese?
A: No. But if online learning is your thing, the blog Tofugu is a great place to start.
Q: Your English is really good!
R: Your racism is poorly executed.
Q: What are you? (Also has been asked as: What kind of Asian are you?)
A: Human. Japanese. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you the same question – I already know you’re an asshole.
Q: Have you been to Japan?
Q: I’ve been to Japan!
R: I didn’t ask.
Q: Do you have any family in Japan?
Q: You know karate, right? (Also has been asked with things like taekwondo and kung fu in place of “karate”…because ignorance)
Q: But you’re Asian! You should be good at math!
R: Strangers don’t get to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be good at. Also, Asian ≠ math skills.
Q: Are you a fan of [insert manga/anime here]?
A: I didn’t pick up my first manga until college and only then because it was required reading. I didn’t watch my first anime until after college. Being Japanese ≠ manga/anime fan. I am, however, a huge fan of Miyazaki Hayao. Totoro is one of the first films I remember watching.
Q: Have you read Haruki Murakami?
A: Yes. Can you name any other Japanese authors?
Q: I studied Japanese [insert number of years, location of school, etc]!
R: I didn’t ask.
Q: Konnichiwa! [as form of greeting by non-Japanese people in the US]
R: Walking away from you.
Q: Do you think it’s racist when [insert details here]?
A: Do you think it’s racist?
Q: Do you feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your race?
Q: Do you eat with chopsticks at home?
A: Also outside of home. REBEL. By the way, your question is offensive.
Q: Does this [insert thing] seem authentically Japanese to you?
A: The fee for my answer is $1,000,000,000.00. And I’ll probably lie.
Q: Would you consider [insert description of person] to be Japanese?
A: See answer to previous question.
Q: Did your parents pressure you to do well in school?
A: No. I pressured myself. And, for the millionth time, Asian parents ≠ academic pressure. Yes, I know some Asian parents who have pressured their kids to do well in school, but not every Asian parent is like this.
Q: Did you have any relatives in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped?
A: No, not as far as we know.
Q: I can tell you’re Japanese because you stand with your feet together
R: Ah, yes. Japanese people are OF COURSE the only people in the world who stand with their feet together. Every single one of them.
Q: You’re Asian, you’re never going to age!
R: Probably not as quickly as the joke you seem to think that remark is.
Q: Do you identify as American?
A: At some point, I’ll have a post about this.
Many of the above questions/comments have been addressed to me multiple times, sometimes by people I consider friends and/or loved ones. I chose to share my experiences for two audiences: people who have gone through the same things and people who have asked or are thinking of asking these types of questions.
For those who have been in the position of giving the A/Rs above, I’m sorry that happened to you and I hope you were able to move forward, even if you didn’t forget.
For those who ask any of these Qs, think CAREFULLY about why you need to know (do you really need to know?) and what assumptions underlie your questions. If you still absolutely need to ask your question, consider being candid with the person you are questioning. Let them know why you are asking the question and that you realize it may cause offense. And if it does offend, back off and don’t force them to answer. No one owes you an answer to these types of questions.
For additional (and more eloquent) thoughts in a similar vein, check out the Resources page.