Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Cooking a Pug Taught Us

No, we didn't really cook a pug.  But what does this:

...have to do with our relationship? (that was about as far as I could get this terrified pug into a pot--oops)

I'm Korean American, Kevin is Ukrainian/Polish/Euromix Caucasian.  Whatever.  Point being that I'm a person of color (some people don't like that label, so insert whatever you please), and Kevin is not.  

Even in this day and age where one would hope that society is color-blind, that's wishful thinking--not that we haven't come a long way.  In addition--and this is obvious--there is something about having walked your whole life in *your* shoes that shapes your experiences partly because of how people treat you--overtly, subtly, consciously and unconsciously.  This contributes to who you are as a person, and no one can really understand that.

It's akin to the difference many people perceive regarding the gender divide.  While parts of our society have greatly advanced in breaking down gender barriers, any person will tell you that it's just different when you've walked around as a man/woman your whole life.

Anyway, where am I going with this.  Kevin and I had had the occasional race conversation here and there, but nothing too earth-shattering.  A few years ago, he unexpectedly learned a little of what walking in my shoes was like.

We were traveling on the subway to the airport for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I had my pug in a carrier on my lap, and she was poking her head out.  Kevin was sitting in a different part of the crowded subway car, across the aisle from me.

(okay, these are 2 pugs, and not on a subway, but imagine the one on the left being by herself in a carrier, on my lap, in the subway)

There were two men standing by the doors, closer to Kevin.  They looked at me and my pug and said something between themselves and chuckled.  I assumed they were amused, as many people are, by the sight of our pug.

When we got off the train, Kevin walked quickly to me to take my hand, with a look of concern on his face.  He said, "Honey, I think I know how you feel."  He explained that the two men, whose conversation Kevin could overhear, were saying something like:

Man #1:  Hey, look at that Asian lady with the dog.
Man #2:  Oh yeah, over there.
Man #1:  Uh oh, I hope that dog knows that it's going to be Thanksgiving dinner!
Man #2:  [Laughs]

I don't remember the exact words, but it was very clear to Kevin that they made the joke because I'm Asian, and the stereotype about Asian people eating dogs.  They snickered and laughed, while Kevin sat there, offended and hurt. By the way, not that this means one thing or another (it did to me), but the two men were police officers.

Those few lines really shook Kevin.  He felt he got a glimpse through a window at the stereotypes that some people make and direct my way. It helped him better understand my experience.

Granted, this doesn't mean that Kevin totally understands what it means to be a person of color, the same way I don't understand exactly what it means to be a White man.  Also granted, the subway exchange was a fairly overt act of racial/ethnic stereotyping, and not necessarily the nuanced treatment that occurs more frequently and can have a larger part in shaping who you are.

Nevertheless, in a way I'm glad it happened.  Anything that can help me and Kevin understand each other better is a good thing.

Any experience in your relationship allow you to walk in your partner's shoes and help you learn something?

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