Monday, July 15, 2013

The White Man Cometh

Here's the thing abut being a privileged minority in a city full of people who realize your privilege and your minority status: you stick out like a sore thumb while simultaneously remaining damn near invisible. I was sitting on the front porch of Holiland, enjoying my raising bread, yogurt, and coffee, agonizing over how the myriad passersby would interpret my lunch. The fat American eating at Western-oriented establishment: was I their living stereotype? Was I eating too fast? Were crumbs gathering on the top of my too-big-for-China chest? Then I looked around. Of course I was their living stereotype. I was the only western-looking person there. So, they didn't care if I was patronizing a more Western establishment because they were, too. And further more, the relative anonymity of my pseudo-celebrity status made me more of an amorphous blob than anything else. Fat, thin, tall, short: these were all trivial details when compared to my white skin an the freckles that mark it with endless connect-the-dots.

I was sitting at my table during lunch time, semi-reclined, my feet resting, comfortably crosses, on the seat of the chair in front of me, just waiting for someone to confront me or sneer. Lazy entitled American drinking coffee and eating sweat breads at a Western café with her feet up on the furniture: Stop being such a cliché.

I was peering out from under my big sunglasses at the two people sitting at the table across from mine trying to assess if they were a couple -- he was leaning back in his chair and she was talking angrily to someone on the other end of the line. I was waiting for a stare, a point, a shared whisper in Mandarin, but I cared more about them than they cared about me. I was just the faceless white person, cloaked behind the sunglasses and the coffee. I was a spectacle. I am a spectacle. A walking, talking pale face who elicits reactions as dynamic as a shout of "Hello!" and the inevitable accompanying giggle to reactions as inane as seeing a black ant on the ground. Their ant hill, my mountain.

I was walking with four other westerners -- a group, a hoard -- down a city street at night carrying boxes from Pizza Hut. The power implicit when walking with others was undeniable, but maybe that power was more than just the camaraderie experienced when walking with people who have the shared experience of being white. Maybe that power came from somewhere deeper, somewhere more historically animalistic where my kind normally ends up on top. "We must be quite the spectacle," I said aloud. I didn't feel feared nor did I feel on display. But I did feel that, with our small mob, we were cohesive, strong, and authoritative.

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