People ask where I’m from, a lot. They mean all sorts of things when they ask that question. I can’t really be angry with their curiosity, but I do get fed up with it once in a while. I mean I don’t go around gawking at white people trying to figure out why the hell they speak English fluently and live in rural Ohio. I digress.
I get pretty annoyed by this question so sometimes I’ll make people guess. The most recent time was with my new boss. I’ve been working with him for about 4 months. He is a bit of an asshole, very knowledgeable, a great teacher and quite hard of hearing.
At any rate, a few days ago I was talking the electrician on the job about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and my boss takes an interest in our conversation. He seems to think that I might be talking about the conflict because I have a direct stake in it (as in he is wondering if I am Israeli or Palestinian), so he asks me, in his long drawn out voice and odd pronunciation of my name (he emphasizes the Ku part so its sounds like Koohmar),
“Kumar, where are you from?”
I look up from the floor where I am trying to pry a full 2 foot square porcelain tile off the floor. I’m tired and don’t really think he gives a shit so I make him guess.
“Where do you think I’m from?” I almost yell at him with a slight grin curling across my face.
He takes a look at me and then says, “India”.
“Good guess” I shoot back to him as I return to my painstaking attempt to remove these damn tiles.
That night as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep I had a bit of a realization. When I ask people to guess where I’m from I’m asking them to stereotype me. I’m saying, I bet you can figure it out. I bet given the information you have at hand that you can tell where I’m from. Which also means I’m subscribing myself to that stereotype as well. Meaning I am saying I am enough like a stereotypical Indian that you can figure that out by just knowing my name and seeing my face. I find it a little funny that I do this because I get really pissed when people assume things about me. But in this case I am assuming they can tell where I’m from, based solely on superficial information.
It’s just another example of how my behaviors and beliefs are not intrinsically connected, that connection must be intentionally constructed. Not an overwhelmingly surprising realization, just another reminder of how easy it is to be a hypocrite.