Reacting to Requests about Race

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Letters to my younger self’.


Dear 28-year-old me,

During the training course you’ll be conducting tomorrow, one of the participants, a gruffy-looking factory employee, will ask “Miss, what are you?”

You’ll reply “What am I?”

You’re not Chinese, right? Not Malay?”

“No, I’m not Chinese. Not Malay.” You’ll smile and try to change the subject.

He’ll look confused and you’ll see that he’ll still try to figure out what you are exactly. After several minutes, you’ll decide to give him a break or else the rest of the training session will be lost to him. “I’m Iban.”

Unfortunately, confusion will still be all over his face and you’ll add “I’m born in Sarawak.”

Comprehension will flood his eyes and he’ll walk away as if he has just successfully solved a Rubik’s cube.

Dear me, this will be a typical conversation for you as you start to meet clients. Somehow, the puzzle of what you are exactly will be more important at first, than discussing the work proposals. There’ll be times, depending how the question is asked, when it’ll be fine to answer directly. There’ll be other times when the question will be asked in such a manner as to be defined rude, this is when you may reply to the question of “What are you?” with the answer “Human. And you?” 🙂


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