Friday, January 01, 2010

I'm Donna Chang.

Awhile back, I was at a piano bar celebrating a birthday party. Not my birthday, someone else's. As the party was winding down, I went up to the bar to close my tab. As is customary, the white bartender asked me for my last name. I told him and he said, "You don't look like a _____."

I've been trying to think of a last name that I could use for the purposes of this post that would get the point across, without me having to reveal my own last name. I've decided on Gustafson. So I tell him my last name and he says, "You don't look like a Gustafson."

'Tis true. When people think of someone with the last name of Gustafson they are probably more likely to picture someone that looks like this:

than that fine young woman you see over there to your right. I get that he was taken by surprise. What I don't get was why he felt compelled to say something to me about it. Was he looking for me to explain myself?

I too, was taken by surprise. I mumbled something (probably like ehhhmmggth) got my card, tipped his dumb ass and left.

Why did I call him a dumb ass? Because he annoyed me, and that is a term I like to use for people that annoy me.

But why did he annoy me? That is a more difficult question to answer. I thought what he said was inappropriate and racish. It's like, "You don't know me like that, bartender--just give me my mmereffing debit card and be on your way."

And like I said, I got the sense that he wanted some kind of explanation from me for why I had this last name that didn't fit with his understanding of the way the world works.

I suppose that one good thing about it is that his horizons were expanded, and the next time a customer's last name doesn't fit with his preconceived notions, his mind will be a little less blown. Or, maybe he'll say, "What the heck--you're the second black person named Gustafson that's come into this bar. What is the deal?!?"

I'll hope for the former.

If you've ever been in a similar situation, or if you haven't--I'd love to hear your comments.

P.S. Happy New Year!


  1. yourwhitefriend6:00 PM

    You are officially my favorite person ever, Mrs. Gustafson.

  2. I just wanted to say that I love this post's title.

  3. I often get "you don't SOUND black", or note an obvious look of surprise on the face of someone with whom I've only had phone conversations.

    Or "I don't THINK of you as black". That's a good one too.

    Happy New Year

  4. i was about to leave a comment, but when i arrived here, i saw that my sister michelle had already left virtually the same comment i had intended.

    happy happy!

  5. Didn't read this particular post....BUT I did read your profile......AND I do plan to come back to read......lots of posts....I just found your blog.....When reading this, you need to know that I grew up in a very small all white but very poor community.

    There are a few things I've always wanted to say but never felt anyplace was safe enough to say them....(I hope this is a safe place).....But race kind of drives me crazy because ........I sometimes think that some people use race as a crutch. An excuse for misfortune or bad behavior. Not EVERYONE...but some.

    However!! I do believe there are racists people out there who are terrible and do what they can to make the lives of minorities miserable. Racist people infuriate me.

    I used to want to see the first woman president before the first black president but then I thought about it and I decided that I wanted to see the first BLACK WOMAN president (preceding black male or white woman) because if you're going to break barriers you might as well break more than one. I'm thrilled that Barack Obama is our president and I proudly voted for him. I may have even shed a tear in the voting booth.

  6. My husband's last name is a less common but very Spanish name. His great-grandfather was an indigenous person from Mexico and his great-grandmother was an indigenous person from the US (I can't remember the tribes). My husband has blonde hair and blue eyes.

    My second cousin who I had not seen in since I was a child asked him when he met him if his last name was German. He didn't really respond when my husband told him it was Spanish.

    I later realized (when my husband explained it to me) that a lot of the things he was saying that evening were code words for very racist sentiments. My husband didn't tell me until later because he knew I would have either gone off on him or left. We were on vacation and there were other family members around so he didn't want to deal with the scene I may have made.

    It just kind of flabbergasted and disappointed me that I was related to him and that my other family members who I liked and respected knew what he was saying and just ignored it.

    On another (not horrible) side because of my husband's last name marketers assume we understand Spanish. Before the Do Not Call List we would get calls and we still get junk mail in Spanish.

  7. j.galt1:40 PM

    You should join the Sweat Hogs
    D. Gustafson. The Swedish Female Black Nordic Viking.
    Juan Epstien. The Puerto Rican Jew.
    Vinnie Barbarino. The Catholic Italian.
    Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington. The Athletic Black Guy.
    Arnold Horshack. The Polish Guy.

  8. Anonymous4:17 PM

    I get told my last name doesn't sound Filipino a lot. I also get told I don't look like an engineer a lot, too (thank you!).