Sunday, September 12, 2010

Race in the workplace

Oh boy. I had a very interesting experience at my internship last week. It makes me wonder what is really going through other peoples’ minds when they first meet me. I won’t go into details about the setting for privacy’s sake, but I was confronted by a client twice regarding my race. The conversations went something like this:

“Well, you know how to make stir-fried rice, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ve never actually made it before.” (True story.)
“What? Oh girl, I KNOW you know how to make fried rice.”


“Hey, what’s your last name?”
“[insert my dad’s very English surname].”
“Get outta here. Really?”
“Yeah. You seem surprised.”
“Yeah, well, I was expecting something like Chaw, Chang, Ching or whatever.”

I wasn’t completely blindsided by what happened, but I wasn’t expecting it, either. The experience really made me think again about how others view me. Most of my life I essentially felt like a white girl trapped in an Asian girl’s body. To be frank, it’s kind of like wearing a really padded bra: false advertising. What you see is not what you get. The vast majority of people that I meet never question my name or any other characteristics about me that might not ‘add up’. However, their silence does not necessarily mean they’re not wondering. And I honestly don’t care if people wonder. Wonder away! I really don’t even care if people want to be direct and ask me about my background. I could say, “None of your business” to inquirers, but this is who I am and I feel no need to hide it. If you don't know that children have been and continue to be adopted by families of a different race than them, well, time to start learning!

The workplace is a different story. In my professional work, there is no reason for clients to know the details of me being transracially adopted. I will only share personal information if I judge it to be beneficial for the client. In this most recent encounter, there was no perceived benefit and, really, the client was just trying to get a rise out of me. I can’t say that it worked. I wasn’t upset or hurt at all, actually. More than anything, I was surprised. One thing that can be said about my profession (social work) is that I need to expect the unexpected. This will not be the last of my experiences like this at work or otherwise. As a transracial adoptee, I cannot take for granted what I bring into the room and how I present when I am with new people. I can talk, act, dress, live my life in any number of ways that I want, but through it all I will always have my Asian features and that is one of the first things if not the first thing people will notice about me. What they think from there is anyone’s guess.


  1. I can't believe how tactless some people can be...

  2. I have to ask ~ what city did this take place in?? Being in San Francisco, I feel so sheltered from these kind of things (White people here can use chopsticks better than some Asians I know). I can't believe someone assumed that you make FRIED RICE!! And the last name bit... that is really shocking! Actually, the most shocking part is that they actually voiced these questions to you.. it's just so obviously rude.

  3. I am a clinical social worker and get the most off the wall questions...clients will do anything to divert their therapy. and outside the office I get the most random, intrusive comments re: my son. Sigh...

  4. I'm out near Buffalo, so western New York region. I've been through one year of school in the area already, but this is the first time I've experienced a direct confrontation like that regarding my race. It definitely took me off-guard!

    Jackie, wonderful to hear from a fellow social worker! This is my first clinical experience in the field, so I guess I can only imagine the encounters to come. It truly is amazing what comes out of some peoples' mouths.

  5. I wonder if it would be all right to add your blog to my blogroll?

  6. Michelle, I'm glad you got in touch! Would love to be a part of your blogroll as you are now a part of mine. :)

  7. I loved this post. It support what I've heard from adult adoptees and what I've been telling parents for years. When your child leaves the protected umbrella of your family and the circles you routinely run in, they will be perceived a someone with Asian, African American, or Latino parents and a knowledge of the Asian, AA, or Latino culture. Most adoptees say this first really hits them when they go to college. Thank you for pointing this out again. I guess the real question for parents is--what can they do to help prepare their beloved children for this inevitability. Any suggestions?

    Also, after reading this post I realized that I need to create a section on my blogroll for adult adoptees. I'll definitely add your wonderful blog?

    Dawn Davenport
    Host of radio show “Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption and Infertility”

  8. Hi Dawn. Thank you so much for the comment! I really like the mission of your site and would love to be a part of your blogroll. As far as suggestions go, I'm at a slight loss, especially having never been a parent. In my view, I guess one of the best things a parent can do is create a safe environment for their kids in which they can openly talk about issues related to race. I think parents also need to reach out to their families and communities, setting a tone of acceptance and encouraging others to embrace their children for who they are. Sounds pretty idealistic, but I think that family and community support can contribute greatly to youth resilience which will help them in turn when they have those uncomfortable experiences in the future.

  9. I hate getting into situations like these. They never get easier to handle... *Hug*