Seattle Weekly columnist “The Uptight Seattleite” is all about helping you become the best citizen of this planet-you know, the one we borrow from our children, not inherit from our parents-that you can be. His new book, A Sensitive Liberal’s Guide to Life: How to Banter with Your Barista, Hug Mindfully, and Relate to Friends Who Choose Kids Over Dogs is out now. Here is a list of places you can buy it. And here is an excerpt from it. It may remind you of someone you know! Not yourself, obviously, you’re doing just fine. But definitely someone in your life.
Sometimes when I’m using chopsticks to eat bi bim bop at my local Korean restaurant, I notice other people using spoons to eat their own bi bim bop. I smile at them and their spoons. My smile says, “Hey, great for you! You’re branching out and trying something new, even if that’s a little uncomfortable for you. You might find that your experience of another culture is even more enriching if you try using chopsticks. Just a thought! Enjoy your meal!” That really sums up what we’re going to discuss here: how the buffet of diversity is best enjoyed with unfamiliar utensils.
Before we get into a discussion of how to relate to people of all sorts-be they differently hued or simply given to sneezing more than seems wholesome-I want to make one thing clear: I include myself here. I don’t hold myself up as someone who doesn’t need this kind of advice. But since we’re on the topic, I’ll just throw it out there that I’m pretty much color-blind. I can’t help it-I just see people, period. This one time, when I met a new co-worker? Someone asked me later what he looked like, and I didn’t remember. When pressed, I could dimly recall that he was a six-foot-five Filipino squinting into the sunset, with a blood-red kerchief tied neatly about his throat. Whatever, though, right? Because what difference did it make?
Should a Native American be allowed to kill a whale with a shotgun?
Honestly? I’m glad you asked. Native American history is something of a forte of mine. Indeed, you could bury my heart under the books I’ve read that deconstruct the manifest destiny of our tragically misguided cowboy-ism. This one time, at a Sherman Alexie book reading here in Seattle? I asked Sherm a question that I prefaced with my own personal spin on Native American history, as best I can glimpse it with a mind stumbling humbly toward a truly postcolonial perspective, a perspective that takes in with an easy grace the full landscape of ca-RAY-zy Native wisdom. The long, silent look he gave me was, I dare to believe, a tactful (so as not to exclude the rest of the audience) acknowledgment of my hard-earned Native cred.
I wouldn’t even bother to tell you all of this except that I’d like to admit to a few sneaking concerns about Indians and whales. And that was just a quick little flash of my blindingly shiny “don’t-mess-with-me-on-that-whole-racism-thing” badge so I can express these concerns freely.
Since Native Americans claim a right-whale hunting-that makes sensitive people squeamish, I don’t think it’s too much to ask them to claim it in a picturesque manner. For example, it seems to me that a hollowed-out canoe should be involved anytime a Native American kills a whale. Based on designs that go back through the generations and all that. Drums booming slowly in the background would also help, as would a chanting medicine person of some type to get the whole myth-invoking, pipe-toking deal on the road.
But when the Makah tribe won the (very valid!) right to hunt whales here in the Northwest, they used a shotgun in their whale hunts. There was a picture in the paper of a guy in the back of the canoe holding it across his legs. I have to ask, what next? If it’s efficiency over tradition they want, why not a huge conveyor belt that carts whale carcasses from the ocean to factories on the shore? Profitability doesn’t sound very authentic to me.
Again, I know there is danger in a Caucasian male seeming to pass judgment on a minority group, especially one with such an impressive history of oppression, and so I say all this merely as someone whom circumstances may have blessed with an odd insight or two.
Chinese people and their towns
I’ve noticed that people in other cities persist in using the term “Chinatown.” Here in Seattle we say “The International District.” People refer to this neighborhood when discussing where the best place to get dim sum is. They usually mention some place packed with tourists. I smile to encourage their continued pursuit of food prepared by foreigners, and silently hope they’ll discover a more authentic experience. Such as can be found at the small, out-of-the-way place I go for the real best dim sum in town.
Anyway, “Chinatown.” I know it seems like an innocuous term, a richly historical term, even. But if the neighborhood is “Chinatown,” why not call its residents “Chinamen”? That term has history, too. Maybe you want them to wear those little pajamas and do laundry? And perhaps lay a bit of railroad track? But of course you wouldn’t say “a Chinaman” any more than you’d say “a colored,” “a gay,” or “a Jew.” I’m actually not quite clear on the Jew thing. But it does sound harsh somehow, doesn’t it? “He’s a Jew, she’s a Jew, they’re all Jews.” But you know what? I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t even be talking about this, so never mind. Also, I apologize, if that’s called for.
I recently had my appendix out, by the way, and my surgeon was an Asian. And female. Not that that matters at all. I actually didn’t even notice. But an Asian woman wielding the scalpel of Western medicine on a Caucasian male does raise some fascinating issues. I’m talking male/female, dominant/submissive, penetrated/penetrator, knife/phallus. On my last visit with Dr. Yuen, I tried to explore this with her a little bit. Purely as a matter of professional interest. Maybe I overestimated her intellectual curiosity. At any rate, I thought calling security was a bit of an overreaction on her part.
We mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: The Uptight Seattleite’s A Sensitive Liberal’s Guide to Life: How to Banter with Your Barista, Hug Mindfully, and Relate to Friends Who Choose Kids Over Dogs is available now.