Valencia and Gandia 2017

Photography
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On Color-Blindness and Observation Method

Thoughts, US Culture
four diverse women

The author (second right) and international students on a trip to Washington, DC

There are by now several compelling arguments why being “color-blind” does not address the problem of racism but merely masks it. A recent study in Social Psychological and Personality Science, detailed in New York Magazine, found that children were self-censoring to avoid referring to people by race. Middle-school children were asked to identify a photo of a person out of a group of 40 by asking yes-or-no questions. It was discovered that:

Overall, the odds of children mentioning race were 4 times lower than mentioning gender […], despite the fact that both questions were equally useful for completing the task. It was also clear that children noticed race: Over 97% reported noticing that the photos varied by race in the posttask measures.

The results were consistent across different (self-reported) racial backgrounds. The children who avoided mentioning race despite noticing it explained their choice as not wanting to be rude or racist. The study concludes that the stigma on mentioning race hurts minority children as race is central to their identities.

While this is a powerful argument to stop avoiding race in conversation and pretending to live in a postracial society, one should be careful not to interpret the findings as an encouragement for referring to people by their (perceived) background — something the authors never explicitly state in the article. Whatever benefits a person may derive from a strong racial identity, that identification needs to be determined by the person themselves and not assigned to them by the external observer.

California Dreaming

Photography

Long after my first trip to California in April 2015, I’ve decided to share some of the images. I may make a second pass and crop/edit some of them in the future.

Bonus – Impressions of the Best Coast:

  • Composting is real in San Francisco! I would love to see it as a widely accommodated option in other parts of the country.
  • Authentic announcements in Spanish and Chinese on public buses in San Francisco. Compare that to Google-translated or “my niece took a semester of Spanish” signs in many other US cities, including those with large multilingual communities.
  • Trolleybuses in San Francisco! They are green, after all.
  • Dogs are not on leashes but don’t seem to care for/bark at strangers.

Do Foreigners Speak English to Americans to “Practice” It?

Language
two people conversing

Image by Oli Young

I often hear from Americans who visited or studied abroad that, to their frustration, younger people would switch to English when speaking to them, not giving them a chance to improve their level of the local language. A lot of these Americans visitors felt like their hosts just wanted to talk to them in order to practice their English.

While I understand this frustration and recognize this is often an accurate assessment of the situation, I find that another possible motivation is overlooked here — namely, each language’s “suitability,” so to speak, to talk about certain things.

There has been research suggesting speaking a different language makes one manifest a different (facet of their) personality. It may stem from the fact that the different languages are used in different settings — for example, one at home and one at school. As a result, speaking each of the languages brings out a different side of the person.

This has certainly been the case in my own subjective experience. So, dear traveling/expat Americans, whenever I used to talk to you in English, it was rarely about “practice.” Yes, I’m sure part of it must have been to signal my group membership as one who has lived in the US and “belongs” in your company. However, most likely it was simply because I could not come up with a way to talk about any US experiences without sounding like I was clumsily explaining US suburbia to a confused Russian grandma (or answering something like “Are all Americans really fat?”). In my experience, Russian isn’t very well-suited for that.

Does that mean that I should thwart all your attempts to speak Russian? Not at all! I just wanted to write this post to explain that I did care about you as a person and was not just using you as my free English tutor — which, immodest as it may sound, I don’t think I needed that desperately. All in all, it was not about your inadequacy in Russian — it was about mine. Native speakers will struggle to express some ideas in their language, too.

What’s the solution? I have certainly made an effort to honor my partner’s choice of language. To make it easy on the obstinate native, though, consider talking about things the local language will have no trouble describing – local stores, events, or institutions. This may be easier for everyone to describe than all things American.

Toronto Winter 2014

Photography

I mostly remember it being very cold outside and spending a lot of time in restaurants trying to stay warm (and spending time with our friend Carter, of course!). So this is more of a documentary record rather than an attempt at any sort of artistic imagery. No cropping/level adjustment; just a simple conversion to JPEG. What you shoot is what you get.