My race is not your greeting

Last weekend I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things, as you do. As I walked up to the store entrance, a ragged-looking guy sitting in front of the store asked if I was Native American. Were I in the mood to talk to other people and not in a rush to get in and out of the store, I would have told him outright why this wasn’t a proper way to start a conversation. But instead I just said “Nope”, walked away from him, and entered the store.

This is not the first time someone has asked me if I’m Native American, nor is it the last. When I was waiting to be seated at a restaurant for lunch on Wednesday, a guy also waiting for a table turned to me and asked if I was Native American. Hungry and still not in the mood to talk to others, I said no. If he didn’t have a small child with him, I might have launched into my own conversation on why this wasn’t an appropriate way to start a conversation. But instead I just said no, and the host appeared then to seat all of us at different tables.

This has happened enough times in the past to get my attention and make me cranky for awhile afterward. Even though I’m a little socially awkward, I am not (or at least try not to be) rude. It sounds like some people need some extra help in starting a conversation off on the right foot.

So here we go, Internet: Sushi’s acceptable ways of starting a conversation.

  • Hello! (Hi, Hey, and other variants are acceptable. Bonus points for using a foreign language. Extra bonus points for using a language I don’t recognize.)
  • Make an observation about your surroundings. This could be about someone’s shirt or an interest of theirs. I pointed out someone’s NaNo shirt this morning when I spotted an unfamiliar Wrimo. Someone else started a conversation with me this afternoon when asking about the fountain ink I was using.
  • Ask a question. “Do you know when…” or “Do you know where…” related to something in your vicinity are good ones.

This is by no means a complete list, and I’ve covered nowhere near every single situation out there. The social skills website Succeed Socially has a better guide for even the ultra-awkward person. (By the way, if you’re super-awkward and want to become less so, this is a good resource for learning how to do it.) Do you see “What’s your race?” or “Are you [insert race here]” on either list? Of course you don’t. While the opener itself isn’t essential to get just right when starting a conversation with a stranger, it can set the tone for the next few minutes. Quite frankly, asking someone’s race as a conversation starter is akin to asking how much someone weighs or when they’re due (in the case of possibly pregnant people). Just don’t do it.

I don’t mind if people ask once we’ve started a conversation–heck, it’s bound to come up eventually. But asking this question as a greeting is flat-out rude. I am not here just to satisfy your racial curiosity. Figuring out someone’s race is not a scavenger hunt. Please stop treating it as such, world.

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