Thursday, September 17, 2009

Race: it's a Riot!

Today during the fiancé(e) exercise, one of my students said that her mother didn't want her to marry a black man.

(That's not the point of this story. I didn't come to China to mock peoples' beliefs. I will say that I find that prejudice reprehensible but understandable, given longstanding Chinese views on race and lack of real-world exposure to black people. And there are a lot of mothers in White America who probably think the same thing.)

Anyway, the Point is that my student was embarrassed that she said "black man" in front of the class because, she said, she'd "heard that in America that's not a very polite thing to say."

"Well," I said, "it's a complicated issue, and different people prefer different terms."

"Like ebonies?"

"Excuse me?"

"Ebonies. Ebony people."

"No," I said. "Absolutely not."


Something else from the same class:

A boy was describing the worst possible fiancée, and he said he wouldn't want her to be like [Chinese name].

"Who's that?" I asked

"She's someone who seems like a girl, and actually looks like a girl in some ways, but underneath is a boy," he said.

"Is it just that they wear the clothes of girls?" I asked.

"No," he said. "It's more than that. She's unnatural."

Yes! A chance for me to make a difference! To give these students mature, sensitive language to discuss members of the queer community! And maybe just heal this country a little bit.

"Well," I said, "in America, we would say 'transgender'. And even though she might not be the ideal fiancée for you, she's not unnatural just because her body isn't like yours or like mine."

I was really proud of myself, until one of my students raised his hand and said, (literally, he said exactly these words) "I think there is a horrible mistake."

So, it turns out that what they were trying to describe was the word tomboy. My b!

Really, though, other than those two things, the class was very successful.

[My favorite descriptions of ideal fiancé(e)s from class this week, in no particular order: "chaste virgin", "no sexy but pretty", "be a recanteur", "must be literate".]