Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nano Aggressions

When strangers meet in the jungle, some ethnographer wrote, they start by asking each other about their families and other affiliations, looking, said the ethnographer, "for some excuse not to have to kill each other." Modern encounters are usually less fraught, but we retain the curiosity about each others origins.

I recall reading an editorial by some guy with a South Asian name complaining about the micro-aggression of being asked where he was from, especially when the interlocutor wasn't satisfied with "Portland." Clearly, the questioner wanted some information about ethnicity but was reluctant to be so blunt.

I have reached the age when I have almost as many doctors as I have surviving high school classmates, and a large percentage of them are either Hispanic or South Asian, mainly, I suppose, because a lot of Indians become doctors and we live in a largely Hispanic area. Many years ago my primary care physician was a woman from India, but she created one of those giant mega-practices and sloughed off her most annoying patients, like me, to her new associates. Many of them are also Indian, and many of them don't stay long, so I have gone through a few in recent years.

I recently met my latest. She was young, efficient, relatively hot and had what sounded like an Indian name to me. Of course I wasn't micro-aggressive enough to ask where she was from - which would probably have been pointless, since she spoke completely unaccented American English and probably was born in Portland - but I was nano-aggressive enough to try to decode the clues. Nothing in the speech, little or nothing in physical appearance.

She gave me a sheet of blood tests to have done, so as I left I happened to notice that the prescription had one of those hyphenated names and the one after the hyphen was Hispanic. Probably. I suppose that means that she was either Hispanic who married an Indian (or maybe an Irishman, since it turned out that the Indian sounding name could have been either Tamil, Irish, or maybe even Korean).