Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When locals get involved with interracial marriage

From NPR:
She and Sritharan are a striking couple — the contrast between his dark skin and her pale complexion is dramatic. The couple says the difference doesn't go unnoticed.

"I pick up on little, like, glances that linger a little longer than they should," Sritharan says. "Go to the grocery store — there's still a lot of weird looks and things like that. But, I guess ultimately, you just have to learn to roll with it, because you're not going to escape it."
One of the best terms to use to describe this kind of thing is racial transparency, as in being such that your race basically goes unnoticed, particularly because one is of the majority or what is considered (but usually in hushed tones) the "normal" group.

However, this comfortable (but unearned) circumstance can be stripped away, particularly when one does one of two things: (1) moves to a place where one's own phenotype does not enjoy racial transparency, or (2) stays in the same place but starts dating or marries someone who does not enjoy racial transparency. It is, indeed, the source of staring or even pointing, which many people in the majority (e.g., Whites in America or Canada, KoKos and JaJas in Korea or Japan, etc.) are ill-equipped to notice. Ask many, and they don't even know it exists in their own country. "We don't do that."


  1. Koreans stare at my Korean wife when we're out among them--but that's because she's tourette's-inducing gorgeous.

  2. I'm tremendously happy for you.

    So is it one of those things where they would look at her and then look long and hard you and wonder how the heck you ended up with her, regardless of your racial phenotype?

  3. Oh, and I know that the nature of this post was, to some degree, to bait responses (though the main point was that stuff about racial transparency), to which I was hoping to reply to someone that the difference between a White or Black person with an attractive Korean person being stared at in Korea is that can sometimes be perceived as negative (e.g., racist views or "bad" jealousy), whereas the same White or Black person with the same attractive Korean being stared at in North America can more easily be perceived as positive (e.g., "good" jealousy).

    Of course, these are perceptions — we cannot get into the head of everyone who looks at such a couple — and those can be colored by cognitive distortion (another favorite topic of mine when it comes to bigotry and racism in North American versus racism and bigotry in Korea): a good number of Whites in Korea (where they have been jolted out of the comfort of racial transparency) easily presume negative, racist intent even from innocuous actions and interactions, whereas the same people are less willing to jump to such presumptions when dealing with Whites and other North Americans back in the US or Canada. Essentially, a facile notion that racist KoKos are the norm while racist North Americans are the exception.

  4. Kushibo, that tendency to assume racial animus likely comes from American race fixation. Personally, I think it's due to the whole slavery/Civil War/Civil Rights dramas. As much as we purport to be blind in this realm, we see the world through a racial filter even when it isn't appropriate. I was pretty good at avoiding this mindset but I had my moments. On one occasion, I was trying to get on a bus in Uijongbu and the bus driver shut the door on me and started yelling "NO!". I got real agitated and immediately assumed he didn't want my whiteness polluting his bus. As he drove away, he pointed at his route sign and I realized he wouldn't let me on because I was trying to get on the wrong bus!

    Now, an America specific observation. I'm sure you could find loads of Americans who have problems with the Sritharan relationship. However, they would keep it to themselves. I can't say the same about my situation. I've had people make comments to my face belittling me for being some sort of cultural predator or for somehow being unable to handle a "real" woman. They've also made snotty comments about my wife being meek/subservient or a sex-charged, money grubbing dragon lady. The worst offenders tend to be self-styled open minded liberals! It appears to me racist ignorance in the white male/Asian female context is alive and well.

    One last thing. Most times I see Caucasian females in Asian traditional costumes, I cringe. It just feels wrong to me. But Mrs. Sritharan looks very nice in Sri Lankan garb!

  5. Complaints about staring are a bit overrated. It is natural for people to notice what is different. The problem here is one of manners. In some cultures, people teach their children not to stare, but that preferred behavior is not universal.

    There is also a general environmental diversity effect. My sister-in-law grew up in Ann Arbor. Her cousin from a small city called Fenton came to visit one summer and they checked out the annual art fair. While strolling around, the cousin turned to my sister-in-law and gasped, "Did you see that?" "See what?" "That man with a birdcage on his head!" My sister-in-law didn't notice because she was used to seeing people dressed in unusual ways and doing unusual things.

    We have a few kids with severe behavioral problems, and sometimes these kids carry out disturbances in the hallway. I talk to my kids about why it's not a good idea to linger or stare, and they're pretty good about walking at a normal pace and not rubbernecking too much.

    "Most times I see Caucasian females in Asian traditional costumes, I cringe." Same holds true for men although it's less common for them to adopt native garb. The exception is clothes that are similar enough to modern clothes so as not to look too ethnic. Chinese jackets, blouses, and dresses are very popular with foreigners. I had a silk jacket and a qipao (cheongsam) made, both with traditional Chinese patterns. The jacket works with ordinary skirts or trousers and the simple qipao is sexy with its leg slit. Southeast Asian kebaya blouses are also versatile and flattering enough to incorporate into a modern wardrobe. I think the biggest reason why the Chinese wear traditional clothes more frequently than Koreans, who wear them only on major holidays and at weddings if at all is that Chinese clothes are more form-fitting and thus more flattering and easily integrated into a modern wardrobe.

  6. Sonagi wrote:
    The jacket works with ordinary skirts or trousers and the simple qipao is sexy with its leg slit.

    Pics or it didn't happen!


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