Three million views in a week. Not only does this quick comedy clip: “What kind of Asian are you?” do a gutsy play on the classic scenario that people of colour are inevitably bound to have experienced but the video serves as more than just a gag. Ken Tanaka showcases the seemingly innocent question: “Where are you really from?” or as put more boldly by the jogger of British ethnicity whose attempt at impressing an American woman of Korean descent is nothing more than a severely obnoxious pick-up line: “No, no. Where are your people from?”
Imagine for a moment that this question, phrased in that way, was directed at you. I may not have had the guts to tell him off but my thought process would may be something along the lines of: Are you interested as to what culture shaped my experiences, values, personality, and outlook? Or rather why I look the way I do?
This is exactly the scenario that Schema’s But Where Are you Really From? series tackles.
What may seem like a good conversation start often unravels into a way to put an ethnic label on a face, giving way to automatic assumptions. Yes, all nations have their traditional practices, belief systems, and cultural symbols. The problem? Much of the time traditions are converted into universal stereotypes. Different ethnicities exist everywhere and anywhere, even within the boundaries of borders. And personal identity is not always shaped by ethnicity. As Tanaka points out, America is a prime example of this.
I think it’s time to be more sensitive when phrasing our cultural inquiries and be aware of the impact it has on the receiver of this question. On a less serious note – watch the video for tips on how to flip the script in these kinds of uncomfortable situations.