Yes, both of my daughters, Grace Shu and Julia Qiao, were adopted from China. Yes, both of them lived in orphanages in the Zhejiang Province. But they are not biologically related, nor do they look anything alike.
Grace is 23, Julia 19. Grace wears glasses, has a tattoo, and sports multiple facial piercings. She has distinctive full lips, golden skin, roundish eyes, and a heart-shaped face. She is 5 foot 3, outspoken and highly articulate. She’s heading to graduate school soon to study cultural anthropology. Julia is 2 inches taller, has a pale, oval face and almond-shaped eyes, and she is soft-spoken and reserved. She is an artist, a chemist, and a rock climber.
Some of you have known these girls since they joined our family as toddlers. You have traveled with us, dined with us, attended church with us. Your kids have attended the same schools as ours. You have seen Grace and Julia’s pictures on my Facebook page for a decade. You have attended their birthday parties, confirmations, and graduation celebrations.
So why are you still mixing them up? Why can’t you tell them apart? Why don’t you even bother to try?
In the last few months, half a dozen people — two of them quite close to our family — have confused Julia for Grace or vice versa. These two people, both men, have known my daughters since they were tiny. The look on Julia’s face when she realized that a longtime family friend had confused her for her sister made me sick. The hurt and anger Grace felt in the same situation was devastating.
No, Asians do not all look alike. No, Chinese women do not all look alike. In fact, I would assert that my daughters look a hell of a lot less alike than many of your white, blonde, blue-eyed offspring. Yet why am I consistently able to distinguish between your daughters? And why am I quite certain you would be appalled if I could not?
So here it is: When you address one of my daughters by her sister’s name — or you say something to her about her life that makes it painfully obvious that you have mistaken her for her sister — know that you are insulting her, hurting her, and showing yourself to be careless, thoughtless, and yes, racist.
I know you consider yourself to be a committed liberal and a proponent of diversity and racial justice. So please start proving your politics closer to home. Please show all of us that you are a friend worthy of our trust. Please learn to tell my daughters apart.
Lynette Lamb is a longtime Minneapolis writer and editor who has worked at Utne Reader, Minnesota Monthly, and the alumni magazines of Macalester and Carleton Colleges, among other places. She lives on the Mississippi River across from downtown Minneapolis.
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