A friend recently told me a story of an acquaintance who had asked her for a restaurant recommendation for a lunch with her supervisor. (We’re all Asian women) My friend recommended a very good, popular Asian-fusion type place, and the acquaintance apparently responded, “But isn’t that TOO Asian?”
POC are constantly pressured to minimize their cultural identities for white people’s comfort when they are in white spaces, which includes most workplaces. For Asian people that means you can’t bring smelly lunches, or never speak your own language to assure white people you’re not making fun of them. A great number of Asian people even change their names to use generically white sounding ones so white people don’t have to deal with their ethnic name.
We have to erase so much that is central to who we are as individuals, just so everybody can pretend we’re not actually different from each other. Except, POC are still expected to pretend to be interested in the things their white coworkers are into. Biking. Bikram Yoga. Trying to save animals that are practically extinct anyway. But I wouldn’t dream of bringing up the Korean movies I like or try to discuss Chinese New Year. White coworkers aren’t interested, and they just don’t care.
It’s because don’t know how to take an interest in or even pretend to be interested in anything that’s not already in their own sphere, because they’ve never had to think outside their own frame of mind. It doesn’t even occur to them that I wouldn’t be interested in their likes–one of them recently asked me if I had joined other coworkers on a 50 mile bike ride. I’ve never, ever discussed biking at work, just smiled and nodded while others talked about it. And yet, they assume that means I’m into biking just as much as they are.
My small protest is writing passive aggressive messages to my coworkers in various Asian languages while stuck in boring meetings. But it’s really starting to take a toll on me, pretending to be someone I’m not. It’s very isolating.