Take a look at this image, from the video game Beyond Good and Evil:
What race would you consider this character?
Jason over at Microscopiq.com did a write up on what he deemed “The First 11 Black Videogame Stars“, and this character was one of his selections. Wired did a followup on it because people reacted to Jason’s contention that this particular character (her name is “Jade”) is Black. I, too, am surprised that this character might be considered Black; when I look at her, I see an Asian woman, not a Black woman.
An NPR story caught my attention recently. A study shows that diversity positively affects businesses. It wasn’t just what you’d think: that diversity of people brings diversity of ideas. Instead, it was that diversity of people changes how people think and act. From the NPR story:
If you have two groups of people and one of the groups is all White, and one of the groups is diverse, and you present them with various cognitive challenges, the group that is all White thinks differently and reaches different conclusions than the group that is diverse.
In the Washington Post story on which this report was based, the author writes:
Something more subtle—and intriguing—also seems to happen when people of color join groups that were formerly all white: The entire group starts to think in new ways. Minorities, in other words, not only bring new perspectives to the table but also seem to catalyze new thinking among others.
“It is not just the minority group members who are responsible for the diversity—something happens to all the members in a group when the group is diverse,” [Tufts University psychologist Sam Sommers] said. “White people behave differently and have different cognitive tendencies in a diverse setting than in a homogenous setting.”
Race has long held a fascination for me, ironically because growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, I was never really exposed to “race”: I grew up with Black, White, Indian, Chinese and all kinds of other races and peoples, but it was never noted in any meaningful way. The fact that one neighbor was White and the other Indian had no bearing on our interactions. We were merely different from each other in skin tone, facial features and hair, and other than being jealous of someone else’s green eyes or curly hair, it wasn’t a factor in who we played with, which house we went to for dinner, or whose mom watched us after school.
It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that race had a bearing on my interactions with people. At first, I didn’t notice it, because I didn’t socialize differently based on the color of my skin. But I did start observing subtle differences in how people reacted to me. As I grew older and more aware, I started reading and hearing about “race” and “racism”, and started observing it in action. Eventually, I did start to experience (or, I suppose, become aware of) racism directly, such as when someone would cross the street or duck into a store until I passed them.
I like to think my early experiences in Trinidad made it possible for me to observe these acts without having them negatively affect me. Instead, I became an avid people watcher, and learned to enjoy seeing how people chose to interact with each other. This enjoyment extended beyond race, to gender, class, age, education and other factors. I wonder often how a group of people decides to form and become friends, and whether or not they recognize their own insularity and internal prejudices.
I see this in my circle of friends and family. In one of my circle of friends, the group is nearly exclusively Asian: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. Even more interesting to me is that it’s mostly Asian women. And still more interesting is that almost none of those Asian women is dating an Asian guy. In this circle, there are a couple of whites and a couple of Blacks. They definitely stand out in the crowd (and at dim sum).
I’ve often wondered if the mostly-Asian mix is by design or circumstance; cultural or economical; or perhaps just a backlash against ultra-conservative parents of Asian-born American kids.
After all, we live in an area where there’s no shortage of people of Asian descent, so finding Asian dating partners, if that’s what was desired, would not be a challenge.
(An aside: one of this group could be mistaken for Korean. But don’t tell her that, it’s practically an insult! Likewise, if people don’t assume you’re at least first- or second-generation American, you’re failing to “pass”. The goal? Have people assume you were born here, and not a FOB.)
In another of my circles, the group is nearly exclusively white. So much so, that at a recent gathering of about 60 or 70 of these friends, you could count the Black faces in the room on one hand.
OK, with one finger.
What I’m saying is I was the one Black face in the room.
For a while, there were also only two Asian faces in the room, but later attendees upped that to about half-a-dozen.
I wondered if that group (before this gathering) realized their stark lack of diversity. I wonder still if the group realizes it after this gathering. (One guy in the group made a comment seconds after meeting me that I was, in fact, the “Token Black Guy”. A woman mentioned while we were dancing, as other women tried to dance with me, that they should find “their own Black man, this one’s mine”. I’m certain no harm was meant by either comment; I just found it amusing that they would react in that way.)
It’s interesting to me to realize that in many ways, I’m living just as I did in Trinidad: race isn’t a factor in who I spend time with. I have a relatively diverse extended group of friends, even if individual groups are less diverse. On the few occasions where I associate with a group that is not racially diverse, such as with my work’s “diversity group”, it’s by conscious choice., and even in that context, there is tremendous diversity (in this case, Caribbean, African, American South, and East Coast home-boys). See update below.
I guess in the end, even though I can often be hyper-aware of race and diversity, it seldom has any meaningful impact on how I choose to live my life.
Update: I realize the irony of suggesting that a group of “Asians” composed of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese isn’t diverse, while a group of “Blacks” from the Caribbean, Africa, etc. is. I presume that the group of “Asians” considers themselves diverse in the same way I consider the group of “Blacks” diverse, and that others simply see my group as “Black”. Suggesting the Black group is more diverse is inaccurate from a racial perspective; the diversity comes from social, not racial, differences.