I am too tired even to reply to my roommate’s astonishment that I am awake at 7:30 in the morning. She had greeted me briefly after she came home from work yesterday, just before she asked me to put her laundry in the dryer and went out to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Actually, I didn’t expect her home this morning. I thought she would either be at work or at her boyfriend’s house.
As you can probably tell I’m a bit annoyed with her. I am writing this as a diversion so that I can avoid talking to her. Yesterday, in the few minutes of conversation we had, she managed to be both racist and insulting. I was describing the lovely wedding I attended last week and she asked about the food. I explained that it was very interesting and unusual because we were served Vietnamese food by the bride’s family.
My roommate was surprised that my English great-nephew would marry a woman of Vietnamese heritage and she asked how they met. I told her they met on Match.com, a fact which was celebrated by the happy couple. I added that the bride was a doctor, which caused a huge disruption to my roommate’s assumptions. To be honest, I quite liked being able to do that to her. Her perception of the Vietnamese is, I suspect, locked into an outdated image of poverty-stricken refugees and I wanted to shake her up a little.
She then asked what my great-nephew did for a living, and I explained that he worked in the diplomatic arm of the government, but I didn’t really know what he did. This inspired her to ask if he was a monarchist, for which I had no reply. Perhaps she was remembering my somewhat anti-monarchist views and thinking that they applied to all my family members.
In less that fifteen minutes she had assigned me the role of household servant, assumed that a British person of Vietnamese origins would have a menial job, and unilaterally applied my views on the royalty to a couple of generations of my family. Oh, and she also made a snide comment about the fact that I was having a glass of wine. It was something along the lines of suspecting that I wouldn’t remember to take her laundry out of the washing machine if I had too much to drink.
And now, this morning, she came into the apartment without saying “Good morning.” Instead, she said with a tone of surprise, “Oh, you are up!” I didn’t tell her that I am usually awake when she comes home in the morning from her boyfriend’s place; I just stay in my room until she leaves for work and she has just assumed I am sleeping.
She does not realize how far off her assumptions are and she does not consider herself either judgemental or racist. She will readily tell you that her best friend is black and she has friends of various ethnic origins. All of which is true. What she doesn’t realize, though, is that she often has inappropriate expectations based on race. Stereotyping is an insidious kind of racism because it isn’t immediately evident that it has a negative underbelly. It’s a kind of social shorthand that helps us get through the day without much thought, but which doesn’t help us form relationships with people who are different.
In the end it comes down to a lack of knowledge, which leads to a lack of understanding. I should be more patient with her, put on my teacher’s hat and provide her with more context upon which form her world view. In any case, she’s gone again already. A quick change of clothes and she was off to work, without even thanking me for putting her clothes in the dryer.
Jet lag is not a good foundation for tolerance, which is ironic when you realize that the purpose of travel is to experience other cultures. It’s as though all that bonhomie gets left in the seat pocket of the plane. My recipe for world peace and understanding isn’t more love; it’s more sleep. And, perhaps, more wine.