I was sitting around with some co-workers, when one of them began to talk about her child’s confirmation. Out of nowhere she turned to me and asked, “What do Jewish people call their confirmations again?” I knew she was referring to a b’nai mitzvah and I was about to tell her that Jews have a separate confirmation ceremony in addition to a bar or bat mitzvah, when another co-worker blurted, “You’re Jewish? That explains it.”
I was completely taken back. I gave the first co-worker a terse response (I said “a confirmation”) then quickly left the room. I was so confused by my second co-workers question and answer that I needed time to process what was said.[1 Unfortunately, I was left with more questions than answers. What exactly did being Jewish explain? Did the co-worker think I was cheap? Did it explain why I am an attorney since the stereotype of Jews as attorneys is prevalent enough to get its own Wikipedia page? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_lawyer_stereotype
Was she referring to physical characteristics, since I have dark hair and large eyebrows?? Was she referring to the fact that I had never discussed going to church before? Was she referring to my girlfriend being black, thus confirming a stereotype that Jews enjoy dating African-Americans? http://funkybrownchick.com/2009/05/20/im-black-woman-and-this-is-why-im-signing-up-for-jdatecom/ http://www.topix.com/forum/afam/T0T17CEEJ9FN8970N http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081006200827AAZnEt8
I was reminded of this interaction when NPR recently posed the question, “what odd or ridiculous or hilarious questions have you been asked, no matter your race or ethnic background?” http://www.boisestatepublicradio.org/post/questions-people-get-asked-about-their-race People have have responded enthusastically on twitter using the hashtag #theyasked. This was a reaction to an AskReddit query entitled, “What’s one question you’ve been dying to ask another race but never do because of the impending ‘THAT’S RACIST’ aftermath?” Because this is happening on the internet, some of the questions and comments related to the NPR and AskReddit discussions have been mildly offensive, but I think mostly healthy and informative. I am 100% in favor of NPR and AskReddit broaching these subjects. My story shows that it is far better to ask someone a question about their race or culture than it is to supply them with an answer.
Has anyone else ever had their own race or culture “explained to them” by someone of a different race or culture?
[1 Before you think I am a total schmuck, I would like to point out that I later explained the difference between a b’nai (plural to bar (boy) and bat (girl)) mitzvah and a confirmation to the first co-worker.