Monday, April 12, 2010

A thousand words, none of which are "African-American"

During a free period today I showed all the pictures I have on my computer to a Bhutanese friend. This was both aggravating and hilarious. It was annoying because he wasn't really that interested, and I fully expected the pictorial evidence of my thrilling life to blow his mind. It was hilarious because of the following:

1. He was only interested in seeing pictures of women. ONLY. Even after I introduced some collections of photos I thought were really interesting--kayaking around Hawaii, driving across the U.S.--he requested that I go through the entire collection and pick out only those pictures that featured women. Not attractive women, not single women. Just women. Any of them.

2. When an attractive woman appeared, he would ask if she was married, and if not, whether I had her contact info. This happened several times.

3. When a picture of me at a formal dinner with a date, he asked whether she was my girlfriend, and I said yes. He asked why we were not currently dating, and I said I broke up with her. He grinned with consolatory pity and said, "ahhh, I think this is a great loss for you!"

4. I showed him pictures of my fall break trip to Suneil's house. I thought he would be stunned by the pictures of us hiking in a beautiful New England forest at the height of its vibrant fall colors. Instead, he was gleefully captivated by the fact that I had an Indian friend. Even though Suneil was clearly the same person in every photo, he kept saying, "Oh, he is Indian?"

As a capper, this album included some photos of John, who is black. With an expression definitely of surprise if not outright disapproval, my friend says, loudly, in the staff room where I work:

"Oh, is he a Negro?"

And, god forgive me, I had absolutely no idea what to say. I was actually rendered speechless. I started to to explain why we don't use this word, but there are so many hours and hours worth of cultural explanation before this concept can be comprehended on any level that it isn't even worth it. It definitely made me think that even though people here connect to each other on a very basic human level, there are parts of me that, just by virtue of being an American, they will never, ever, ever understand.

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