Cristela and the Prize of Dating White

I follow Cristela Alonzo on Twitter, and I almost clapped like a giddy little school girl when I saw this tweet:
The Christmas episode was one my favorites this season as well, so we eagerly hit play on the Quinceanera episode from last week. (Thank you, Hulu, for making all my belated TV watching dreams come true!)

I sort of assumed the episode would focus on the festivities, but the title "Fifteen-Something" alludes to how Josh, Cristela's white co-worker, refers to the Quinceanera. As it turns out, he is big focus of the story and, interesting to me, the dynamics of a white-Latina relationship.

Cristela the actress has been in a 10-year relationship with a white guy. And she wrote on her blog, "Getting a white guy in the family felt like my family had been promoted." She includes this perspective in her sitcom, which had me thinking, "I can't believe she went there!"

Her mom couldn't wait to show off Cristela's white boyfriend in front of a friend with whom she has a competitive relationship. "Take that, Juanita Canales," she says, "My daughter has a white boyfriend." She goes on to describe the perks of dating someone white:

She's so proud Cristela will be bringing a white guy to the Quinceanera, it's uncomfortable. Of course, my favorite one-liner was probably when the doorbell rings and Cristela says, "That's probably Josh."

Hilarious. But also pointed. 

This episode really gave a peak into some of the challenges of race and injustice, and how those can affect a relationship. When Josh is confused by the attention he's receiving, Cristela explains that her mom sees dating a white guy as a status symbol. "You're like an expensive bag!" she tells him.

So often, when parental reactions to interracial dating are discussed, there's an implicit assumption that many parents would feel negatively towards the match. However, there can also be inappropriate enthusiasm. I thought Cristela did a great (and funny) job of illustrating this dynamic.  
Have you ever experienced this dynamic in your relationship? Have you seen it play out in other situations?  
GIF Source: Culpepper & Associates

#RaceTogether: More Than Just Awkward

You may or may not have seen Starbucks' new campaign to initiate national conversations about race. The idea, apparently, is for baristas to write #RaceTogether on your coffee and then casually address the challenges of racism and division as they hand it to you. Hmm...

I first saw the campaign on Twitter as many bloggers and thought leaders I respect were responding negatively to the idea. I am often saying we need to speak more openly about race, but something didn't seem quite right to me about this take.

I spent some time thinking about it, and two statements from Jay Smooth in this video helped me figure out what concerns me about #RaceTogether.

Is Sloppy Conversation Better Than No Conversation?

Jay said it this way: "I disagree with the notion that any conversation is better than none when it comes to this topic." That statement hit the nail on the head for me.

Even good race conversations can be painful for those involved, for people of color and also for white folks truly trying to listen and understand. An experienced, skilled trainer can make a huge difference in a conversation like this, transforming it from pain to reconciliation. My guess is that most baristas aren't trained in this area.

But I've also seen how damaging stray conversations about race can be. I've listened to friends of color wrestle through comments made in passing years before. Discussing such a sensitive topic with strangers in such an unusual setting could give some people the "freedom" to say very hurtful things, whether they know it or not.

You Know What Happens When You Assume

The most awkward part of the video is when the other panelist assumes Jay is white and suggests he has co-opted black culture. He responds, "It's also interesting because I'm actually black, but you assumed otherwise. And this is the sort of awkwardness that we can look forward to at Starbucks across America."

It was painfully hilarious. I've written before about my white Latino husband, and some of the comments he's received from both white and Latino folks. I even had my own amusing encounter this week at my predominately black gym. The front desk worker, who is black, was eager to return my card before I told him my name. But when I looked down, it was the photo of one of the other white girls who works out there.

I am still a big believer in conversations about race, but I think we need to step back before we subject everyday people to the assumptions of strangers in coffee shops. I fully support thoughtful discussions on race in schools, churches, and other civic organizations. I believe the media can help us see new perspectives, which is why I try to support shows like Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat.

Let's hold on to the notion that there are challenges about race that need to be addressed in our society, and we can do a better job. But I can almost guarantee you I will not be discussing it with a Starbucks barista anytime soon.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I am still reading on this campaign and working through my own thoughts, so yours are most welcome! 

A Better Question Than "What Do You Do?"

I was forced to put together a 100-word bio this week. I felt mildly panicked.

You may know the feeling I'm talking about... sometimes it strikes when someone asks you "What do you do?" It's a conflicting concoction of how do I describe myself mixed with my sense of what's expected tossed with my own feelings about how well my job may or may not introduce me.

Oh, am I overthinking it? Probably.

Still, for many folks, the "What do you do?" question is not the best fit. So I've tried to shift my thinking, especially in cross-cultural conversations. Here's why.

Why I Don't Ask "What do you do?"

"What do you do?" is a very American (U.S.) question. We derive a great deal of identity from our jobs, our titles, or our vocations. It's also just a common ice breaker.

Billy and I had been married for several years when I wondered out loud, "Does your family know what I do for a living?" He shrugged and responded, "I think so."

I couldn't really remember having any extended conversation about my work. But it wasn't because of disinterest in me. Instead, I was always asked, "How are your parents... your sister... your nephews?"

Particularly in relationships that also bridge economic divides, questions about work or jobs can be sensitive. Someone may be struggling to find work, may be underemployed, or may feel their employment lacks prestige.

Of course, these questions may also just seem irrelevant since, in my opinion, many other cultures have better boundaries with work. After all, if your job is a means by which to live your life, wouldn't you rather discuss your life?

A Better Question: "How's your mom?"

We've often hear that other cultures are more family-centric, but I think that orientation plays out in important ways in cross-cultural conversations. Instead of work-focused questions, I'm learning to focus on relationships and family.

It's taken some practice for me. Usually, if I'm talking about your mom, I'm making a yo mamma joke.... because I'm an eleven year old boy. One day my kids will truly appreciate these jokes.

But I'm starting to ask "Do you have family in the area?" "How is your family?"

Remembering details about friends' families is good practice all around. But I think this topic is even more appreciated in multicultural contexts.
What questions are your go-to ice breakers? How do you feel when someone asks what you do?
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