re levity, phenotype (mine) and assumptions re race/ethnicity

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Tue, 1 Nov 1994 00:08:35 CST

I, too, feel the need to insert some levity, or at least some examples
of the absurdity ofthe assumptions some people make from observations of
phenotype re ethnic/racial origins (said observers often associate these w.
genotype), to balance the more disturbing notes in our Rushton postings.
I've been on the receiving end of these assumptions (mostly, luckily
for me, benign ones) mostly because, during 12 of the last 15 years,
I've lived in Chicago, a city where people often can't hold a
conversation with you if they can't figure out "what you are." My looks
are apparently ethnically very ambiguous --I have olive skin, dark hair,
a roundish face, and I'm short (4'11"). I've had encounters where
people made it clear they didn't know what to say to me until they
figured out what I was -- one time standing on the el a guy came up to
me an said, "What are you anyway? I can't figure it out." At various
times and places (including Hawaii and Micronesia as well as Chicago),
with varying degrees of previous sun-exposure or makeup, I've been asked
if I was (or spoken to assuming that I was): African-American,
Polynesian, part Micronesian (a "half-breed), Hawaiian-Japanese,
Indonesian, Kashmiri, Tamil, Greek, Mexican, and, as the example below
shows, Thai. [I guess that includes all 3 of Rushton's racial groups.]
One of the funniest encounters I had was about 11 years ago when I was
dancing with the Thai Classical Dance School of the Thai Buddhist Temple
of Chicago; we were performing in honor of the Queen of Thailand's
birthday at the Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. I was introduced as an
"American graduate student" by the announcer [this was apparently
ignored by the couple I quote below, or they thoughtI was Thai born
here, but I think it didn't quite compute]. With makeup and in costume,
I did look pretty much like everybody else [I got fourth place in a Thai
beauty contest once. But that's another story.] though I was the only
in the group who didn't have at least one Thai parent [and all but one
girl had 2 Thai parents]. Anyway, after the performance I was wandering
around the plaza, still in costume, and an elderly, white couple
beckoned to me. The following conversation ensued:
Couple: What language do you speak?
Me: You mean me, or them (referring to other dancers)?
Couple: Well, uh, them. Do they speak Filippino? [The performance was clearly
announced as Thai and representing Thai-ness, and we have both Tagalog and
Ilocano speakers in Chicago; but these people's categories didn't apparently
include these details]
Me: No, they speak Thai; it's a tonal language, like Chinese [trying to say
something they could process].
Couple:Well,don't you speak it?
Me: No.
Coup.:How come your parents didn't teach you? [remember, I was introduced as an
"American graduate student"]
Me: My parents are Russian Jewish. [Actually, my father prefers the label
"American," but in Chicago that term is usually reserved for people who tell yo
u that they don't have any ethnicity. As in, "gee, I'm envious of you guys. I
don't have any ethnicity" -- actual quote.]
Couple: [Looking very puzzled] Well, if your parents are Russian Jewish, how
come you're Thai?
Another frequent exchange I've had in Chicago: "Where are you from?"
Me: "Pittsburgh." [Puzzled look, and then maybe]:"No, I mean, where are you

Eve Pinsker [I'm sure I have some Mongolian in there somewhere. Those guys got
around. I.e.,call me a genetic mongrel, like everybody else . . . I, unlike
Rushton, am not, after all, likely to forget my kinship with all the human
population of the planet -- my own name symbolizes our common origins and
our common fate]