This episode is the first of a 2-part interview with my friend, Amy Daniels. I'd been wanting to interview her for a couple of years now, and she happened to be hanging out my place when we were like...let's do this! Amy is a superstar recruiter in the management consulting industry in the DC Metro area - sometimes called the "DMV" since it encompasses parts of Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
In this first part of her interview, Amy talks about navigating situations when people make assumptions about her identity, particularly as it pertains to her having been transracially adopted. Together we talk about the strange things folks do when they aren't sure "what you are" or "where you're from".
Don't forget to check out Part 2!
References & Resources
If this is your first time with OTC, check out EPISODE 1: START HERE for more background on the show.
Our True Colors is sponsored by True Culture Coaching & Consulting. Head to our website to find out how True Culture Coaching and Consulting can support you and your organization. You can find us at truecultureconsulting.com where you can also contact us to schedule a free consultation.
If you like Our True Colors, you should also check out The Culture Clinic, a podcast that offers actionable strategies for fostering inclusive and thriving workplaces through insightful discussions and data-driven insights. Dive deep into organizational culture, diversity, and leadership impact to unlock hidden potential and redefine the future of work.explores the challenges of being racially ambiguous and focuses on identity and belonging.
Transcript by otter.ai
Welcome to our True Colors hosted by Shawna Gann. Join her as she explores the challenges of being a racial, racial, and ethnic Enigma, and a cultural conundrum. Let's dive in.
Hey, everyone, welcome back to another episode of our true colors. As always, I'm so glad that you're here. This episode is part one of two with my good friend, Amy Daniels.
Professionally, I worked in management consulting in the DMV area. I am a senior recruiting manager. I am a Korean adoptee and I grew up all over the place. But I would say California is primarily like what I would still call home even though I haven't lived there. I don't know. 20 years. When I was married, my ex husband's job took us all over the place. I've lived overseas, as well as various places throughout the continental US. I am single, and I have a 30 year old daughter.
In part one of this interview with Amy, you'll get to know her a little bit and also hear her describe her experiences as she has faced assumptions that people have made stereotypes that people subscribe to, and what that means for her as she navigates spaces in her everyday life. So I invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the conversation. Here we go. Hey, friends, this is a very exciting episode to me because I have been inviting Amy to come on the show for about two years or so. Today, we just happened to be having a Hangout day we're together. And I was like, oh my god, let's do the interview. Amy and I are friends or former colleagues. But because I already know her well I know her story. And it is just so freakin fascinating. And it's everything that is our true colors. You know, we often talk about belonging particularly. But there's this racial ambiguity, ethnic ambiguity, cultural ambiguity, all this stuff. Because as you know, people are always trying to categorize one another, we do it to ourselves to right folks make assumptions about other people try to fit us in boxes, we try to fit ourselves in boxes. I mean, I don't care who you are, what box you think you fit in, you probably don't fit perfectly, because they're arbitrary. There are these social constructions, these things that we just make up, oftentimes, because we want to feel like we belong to a group. Anyway, I'm just gonna go ahead and dive right in, I think it'd be great. If you would just start off by talking a little bit about your experiences growing up, you know, there are folks out there who look very different than their family members belonging to a family unit. But unless you share enough about your family, people would have no idea. And so these assumptions come about. I'm skirting around this a little bit because I want you to tell the story. So why don't I sit back and let you just get us started?
Absolutely. So I think as you guys heard early in the introduction, I mentioned that I'm a Korean adoptee. So this is a central part of my identity for sure. It has literally color influenced every aspect of my life. I wouldn't say it's like a cross to their right, cuz I've so become accustomed to this is how I go through life. Right. But yeah, regardless of what kind of scenario whether it's professional or personal, does not matter, the type of relationship eventually, at some point or another, the topic will come upon, like, Oh, where did you grow up? Or where are you from?
I was totally about to say that, what's your background?
Correct. And I see all the like, little like, you know, sort of tagline is running through their head, all the stereotypes, and it's like, I sit here and as I answered their questions, it's like, there's, there's always this sort of, like narrative that runs through my head, like, what are they looking for? What do they want to know? Because they know they just want you to reaffirm those assumptions in those stories that they already think they know about you. But usually, where are you from his code for what is your race? That's polite speak for so what are you and this is what they want to hear this what they want to hear that I am Korean. So that answers okay, what kind of Asian Are you That's number one, then they want to know about my family because they will assume a sign that I am, you know, grew up with this Korean family and we have all this rich heritage and cultural like background, right? That like my grandmother, I don't know, like, taught me how to like, make him cheat or something like, and so eventually, it's like, oh, well, where are you from? And it's like, oh, I'm from California. Oh, okay. Oh, well, what is your What's your background? And then usually my question is like a qualifier. In terms of, right? Yeah. And they're like, oh, no, I mean, like your your heritage or your culture, like, they never just come out and say, What's your race, but that'd be too explicit into forward and to direct out sometimes, rather than just ask them like this. Let's get to what you really want to know. But yeah, no, it's usually that and then, once they know it's Korean, then it's like, okay, you grew up with a Korean family. And then it's like, oh, you know how to cook Korean food, you know, how to speak Korean?
Do you find that people start to tell you the things that they know about you? Or what they think they know about you and your culture? Or who you are, like, try to find some sort of connection for what they assume you would have experienced? Something like that?
Yes. Or what they assume they have experienced, they want to tell me what they have experienced. Right? Because then it's like, oh, look at me, like, Aren't you proud of me? Like, isn't that cool that I know what? Like, the punchline is, yeah, you know, when I was younger, though, people would always say, Your English is so good. It's so good. And when I was younger, I didn't have sort of the mental and maybe even emotional capacity or the language to be able to sort of respond with an appropriate response. Like with the type of response, I would respond now, if somebody were to say that, right, but society has moved along. And now people don't say things like, Your English is so good. Instead, it's like, you know, instead, it's the where are you from question, but they're all versions of that. But usually, what's interesting is like, once they do start to talk about, like, the fact that I was adopted, then it shifts. Okay.
Yeah, I'm gonna ask you. So what happens when they find out that your family actually isn't a Korean family? Yeah. Like, were you adopted by others?
Yeah. But they will if they're forward enough to Lascaux. So are these your family Asian? Are they Korean too? Or are they white? And then it starts to get to a territory where I don't know, it's like, maybe out of habit, I should just be like, That's none of your business. Right? Like, I don't ask them like, Oh, you have a German last name? Like, did you like grow up? I don't know, in Wisconsin, where there's a large population of people with German lineage, but it's somehow seems okay to ask somebody who was not wait, that question.
Well, where are you from? Question? If you ask a white person or black person in America, where are you from? Most often, they want to know where in the city you're from, where in the country you're from. But you ask somebody else, and it's like, nowhere in the world are you from and you can be from the same city they are. But they make this assumption that you're so
foreign. It's not just that you are you look foreign, but it's everything that's attached to that foreignness, your language is different. Your food is different, your customs are different. Those are not of America. Right. Whereas white and black people to your point, it's like, where are you from here? It's assumed that your answer is we're born and raised here. Yeah, yeah. And often, yeah, not relations are. The diaspora of Asian people is pretty prevalent and widespread. Right. So it's not an unusual question to ask. But going back to your other question, though, about when it gets on the topic of adoption. Yeah. So then they want to know if it's white, or if it's Asian. And then after that, they want to know the whole bio, like, oh, well, how old were you? And how did they find you? What was the story indebted? That, and I understand that it's a curiosity thing, that this is something still so foreign to them. But I don't like even after what I'm like, a 40, blah, blah, years old. And even after all of those years, it's still you know, the one question I still get that I don't, I'm still not comfortable with is, what do you want to find your birth family? And it's like that, where is where it typically crosses the line? Because when you're translationally, adopted, there's so many circumstances to how you got here. Yes, there's some common themes. But it's not unusual to have some very unique circumstances and ways in which you know, you arrive to this country and were adopted. And I don't think people think I know, people don't think what they're asking me that question. And that's where I typically will draw the line and say that's too much.
So with that in mind, and for a little bit of context for Lee, tell us a little bit about your family.
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So so my family is white, Caucasian, American dads from Iowa. Mom's from Wisconsin. They had my older brother, biological brother, their biological child, they had opted myself. And then like a year later or something like that they adopted another Korean child, my younger sister, Cindy. So grew up in a middle class white family, mostly in suburban neighborhoods. I've moved around a lot and grew up in this middle class white sort of part of society. And as such, as you can imagine, and went to white schools, and you would think like, oh, California, like kind of like New York City, there must been a lot of diversity. And the answer would be no, because what people don't always know is that the bulk of my schooling years was in the Central Valley of California, where there's a large Hispanic community, but not a lot of Koreans, some Asians here and there, but and also not to date myself. But this was like in the late 70s, all in all throughout the 80s, very early 90s. So yeah, so guess what? All the friends I had were white. Typically, I was the token Asian dating. I always, like only at that time, liked white guys. And it's like, you know, what's funny about this is, I remember one time growing up, my mom when I was a teenager said, you've only ever dated white guys, white men or white boys. And I was like, you know, at that time, I was like, oh, yeah, I guess. And I kind of started to question why is that right? Years later, I was like, well, you bring a child, from Korea to America. We're at that time, blonde hair and blue eyes in our Americana was what you wanted to date. And you grow up with these, like the ideal.
The expectation that this is what's this is who's supposed to be hot or popular, or whatever.
And was not me, right. So yeah, you wonder why that's what I was attracted to. Because that's what I was around my entire life.
Yeah, I mean, I would say also for a very long time, that was what was portrayed. Yeah,
let's not let's not forget
the ideal, right? I mean, I think even for me, you know, I grew up in Anchorage, which was probably the desired
everybody wants to be with this. Yeah. Right. And it went both ways. Both men wanted women and I wanted that too. And a Korean person or an Asian person, I guess. Koreans are having their moment right now, from music to movies, to you know, we're actually not getting typecast to the same types of like, roles, right? That's still like a long way to go. But yeah, and on my board was this like, during my foundational years, when you know, you're establishing your identity in your, your, your ego and your self esteem is developing, you know, your sense of worth was always you're not good enough. You're not pretty enough. You're not enough. You're just not enough to now it's like, oh, now you are, but those ideals don't ever leave. You know, that's sort of how you look at how you approach work. How you approach relationships is like, am I enough now? Like, I'm enough now?
Oh, wow. Yeah, no, I do talk about that a lot. This. I always call it enough as I know, there's like real words out there. But that's what I say. Right? Like being enough of this or enough of that. And feeling like you're not enough or that you're too much. Right?
Like are you too much of this? Right? Right.
Don't be too much. Like yeah, that's the whole load is
too exotic. Aren't you supposed to be eating like cheeseburgers, anyhow? Man, you in hot dogs? Like, you're white? Like you grew up in this white family. You're the safe race.
Tell me about being the safe race. Tell me about
that. It's like when a white man nowadays in 2022 has never dated outside their race or have been in a relationship outside their race. It's like, oh, Asians like the gateway to me becoming comfortable with dating and working my way up to something else. Maybe you know, that's that's how I feel. It's like, you're Asian. You're safe. You're not too exotic looking exotic enough.
You're not too ethnic.
You're not too ethnic.
Oh, you're not you epic,
are you You check I can check off all the boxes. Oh, you you're hard working. You probably are well educated. You know, you're not all of these things that I am not comfortable with. So therefore you're acceptable, but I still get to but I still get the cool points or the progressive look how progressive I am brownie points because oh look, I'm with this ethnic but it's when a scenario where situation presents itself where they need to even be cognizant of that, you know, I mean, so for example, they don't see your race and the you know, In a way, people who are racially ambiguous, it's almost we get hit twice in a way. Because if you're racially ambiguous, and by and how I'm defining that is multi racial makeup, or you're Asian, because you can be full Asian, I mean, half would be better, you know, as far as they're concerned sometimes, but if you're full, that's still safe, right? Because you're not that race that is going to make it difficult for them to, like, get used to this. But another stereotype that Asian people do, or racially ambiguous people do tend to contend with a lot is they don't see your race. They don't see it until they have to tilbyr until a situation or scenario warrant that they need to see it.
Oh, my gosh, so yeah, so there is a Key and Peele skit, I'm going to have to put this link in the show notes. Because what you're talking about is basically this. I mean, I don't remember all of the names of the characters in the skit. But you guys, like I said, I'll put it in the show notes. So you can, I'll try to, I'll try to find it and put it in the show notes for you. But basically, here's the situation. So keys character, he's on this date with this white woman. And you can see that they've been waiting for a while they're waiting to be served, basically. And somebody finally comes over and says, I'm sorry, it's taken too long, whenever whenever we're ready to take your order or something like that. And so he says character says, Okay, well, thank you, and seems to be like happy that now if somebody's paying them attention, but his date is like, hey, wait a second, where was the black version of you? And he's like, What are you talking about? So she basically explains the stereotype of what people expect, like this black man to do as reaction. So then when the server comes back, who was then very nice, and like, Okay, I'm ready to take your order. He uses this stereotypical, or what she expected this, this character to be like, and then it just goes back and forth. He you see him like switching between the black side of him and the white side of him, because those of you who don't know, both of them are biracial, black, white men. And so it's this fluctuation of their identities when I'm supposed to be white when I'm supposed to be black, which is ridiculous. And that's why it's funny. But yeah, definitely, I'm going to put that in the notes. Because that is exactly what it's like. It really is like the perfect depiction of this. I'm not even mixed, like I'm not multiracial. I'm not black, white. But still, when I show up, or you know, other people who are racially ambiguous or fall like straddle in some sort of cultural place, it's like, when do I show up like this? Versus this? When do I show up like, who I am versus what you expect me to be? When do I dial it back? Like, oh, you need to be more black, you need to be less black, you need to be more. Anyway, it is such a great skit, for capturing
what's all the time if we go to an Asian restaurant, if I'm with a group of people, whether they're friends, colleagues, whatever, whatever. But it's got to be a group usually. And I still get this. It's like somebody will be like, ask about something on the menu. And when nobody knows, they all look at you they all look at. It's like, oh, and I honestly don't think they even know that physically. They just did that.
Are you like expected to be the representative of all Asian knowing?
Can you tell? Can you translate what this is? Because we don't want to actually have to ask you where it is going to look at you until you like perform Ooh, perform. That's, that's what I need you to please do the thing that you do. So
that I assuming it's the thing you do, by the way? Oh, well, yeah.
I mean, that's like a given the assumption always has to be built in. Yeah. But then it's the performance, you know, I need you to be this in this situation in this scenario. So then we learn, we learn what these performances are these acts,
so then what happens or how do you handle that?
Now, when I was younger, of course I did to fit in to, you know, don't be disruptive. Do all the things that we expect of Asian people to do. Now, I don't but you know, what's interesting, is, I don't want to be a jerk about it, either. I'm not going to like, you know, hit somebody over the head with it. I could do that. I mean, there's that voice that always that's part of Amy's, you know, always wants to like, do that. But I don't do that. But what I do do is and a friend of mine coined the term, I do the velvet punch, pay the velvet punches. I'm going to school you I'm gonna hit you with this knowledge, knowledge, thank you, but I'm going to do it with dignity and some Grace, you know, because I don't need to be ruthless about it. But I do need to say something in that moment, right? Every moment like that is a teaching moment. But sometimes I'm just tired. And it doesn't even rise to that occasion, you know, where it's like, there's so much to unpack, and I just don't have it right now. And how much time do I have? Like, I don't know, like, how it let me tell you all the ways in which you are effed up. So but no, but it's
still like no matter what, like the burden, the labor is yours, it's on your shoulders, right? It's up to you to decide how much of an investment you really want to make into this situation. Right?
Oh, squarely on your shoulders, for sure. Has it gotten? I sometimes think like, oh, has it gotten better? So there's
something you said earlier about people knowing better now than to just ask things straight out. Right. So I feel like there are a lot of things that are couched and I think about when Trump was elected, there were so many people around the country who had for a long time held beliefs that people thought were gone, like, you know, they used the Obama presidency as evidence of this, which of course, was not right, that whole post racial American thing, you know, we know, we know that. We are not post racial America, but when Trump was elected, and he said things very openly, and some very racist things. It gave people license or permission to say things that they had not stopped thinking permission, they weren't socially accepted anymore. And they felt like why should I they felt liberated, you know, there was a lot of stuff out there that people really wanted to ask or really wanted to say that they believe that society would slap them on the hand. So you can't say
that you can't do that. You can't say it like that. Right.
And it's like coded language. You know, for example, in Reagan's Reagan's campaign, the Lee Atwater campaign manager, and where he said in this interview straight out, like, you can't be calling people the N word. So you have to do this other thing, you got to kind of talk around it. You know, that's how the whole dog whistle thing was born, right? You can't be straight with it. So we're gonna say this thing, you're gonna know what I'm talking about. You're gonna know who I'm talking about. But we won't actually be saying the thing so that you won't be able to hold us accountable, or call you racist, or that kind of thing. Right? Know that
you're right. That is in terms of modern history, that is the earliest sort of formal like, yeah, definition or behavior of dog whistling. But it really became a thing, like people
are afraid to use the words that have anything to do with race. They're afraid that using those words, someone's going to call them racist. So like, whenever you say, Okay, here's a little story. So Chad and I, we were shopping somewhere. It was a small, like men's store. And it was pretty tight in there. You know, there were a couple of employees, I think they're like three employees out for sure. There were three plays, because there was a black woman, a black man and a white man. And they were doing whatever they do in their store. And we're kind of browsing around, and the black guy comes over and asks to get us started. And we did like, he got Chad, you know, pointed in the right direction, whatever. And then a little later, the black woman comes over and she says, Have you been helped? And we're like, yeah, and he said something like, there's this guy helping me. And so she wanted to know who it was. There's two other men. So she starts just like describing the guy like, was at this very tall man. And like, she was just very carefully describing him without saying, was it the black
guy? But was the woman What was she was a black woman. Interesting. So
anyway, I guess I was just feeling like, Y'all know that he's a black man. There's nothing wrong with saying is it the black guy, people people are afraid of, like, if they use a descriptor or that they're being racist. It's just a description. Describing a person is not racist. I'm talking about Yes, right there. So they're so afraid that they're going to be called racist if they use a word that falls into this arbitrary,
there's rules story. See, they don't put any thought around context to those rules. It's like no matter what the scenario, the situation, I don't violate those rules, and then I will be safe.
But see, here's the problem. It starts to go into this down this path of colorblindness, right, like I don't, I don't see color, right? Like, right, I understand the idea of where they're coming from, right. Like, I have lots of friends from so many places, and we've gotten to know them so much. And I'm not even really thinking about who they are racially or ethnically, unless we're specifically discussing that thing. However, when you don't acknowledge people's race, ethnicity, or whatever it is,
it's more glaring in.
Here's an example. It's kind of like encountering somebody who's in a wheelchair, right and tiptoeing around the fact that they are a person who uses Oh, that's a great example. You know, you know, it's not
even about like you that you actually dismiss the fact that they need help, and they're like, could you actually hold open that door for me?
Well, no, not even so much about like them needing or IDL but it's like, I'm not going to build a ramp for people who use wheelchairs because I don't I don't See ability or disability, everybody should be treated the same. So up the stairs you go, right. It's kind of like that. But you can't dismiss that just because you're afraid, is acknowledging that a person uses a wheelchair being ableist. Right saying that a person is a black person or an Asian person, or that's not being racist, right? It's it's about those discriminatory behaviors. It's that's the
problem. But this is the irony behind it. They think in doing that, Oh, look how much I don't see the differences. Like and I should be lauded for that. Yeah, like, please recognize, see, I don't see color. Exactly. Oh, my God, it was like this. In the condo that I live in. We have a strict policy in this building, which is that unless you know the person you don't let them in, right? Unless they know that there's who they need to get in contact, there's a directory and you can like dial in the number and they'll answer and let you in. Right? Yeah. But if you don't know them, you don't let people in. So I'm like, Okay, fine. They published this pulse. There's like, Please, just for everybody's safety, blah, blah, blah. So that day I had been in and out. And the first time I went out, I noticed that there were three gentlemen, a white guy and a black guy. And probably I think another white guy, I don't remember exactly, but I just I do remember, there was a white guy and a black guy. They were moving stuff in and out. And I saw it and I didn't think anything of it. I came back hours later. And I walk up in there and I recognize one of the residents and he's out there with his hands on his hips like this. And he is like, having this like, verbal altercation with that black guy. And he goes, You know, it was basically like telling me get out of here has no business being here. A bla bla bla bla bla, and like, you know, I've literally walked into the middle of this. He sees me coming. He's like, get in. So I get it. He started yelling good. And so I like he's somehow protecting all the women, right? And I was like, I will get inside, but I did not feel threatened. So why am I rushing? I'm literally I'm looking at the blog, I'm looking at the other guy. And literally, there was no posturing. Nothing, none of this, he was just yelling at this guy. So I finally get in. And inside once I'm inside, there was my other neighbor, white woman, and another neighbor, black woman. And they're both watching this altercation, the white woman's like, That's my brother, the guy that's yelling at the black guy out there. And you know, I feel like they've lost his woman. and I were like, what's going on? Like, what happened? And she was I came into the building. And I saw this black man coming behind me. And I was like, well, he does not live here. So I did not let him in. We're like, Okay, thanks for the policy. And then he's like, hey, please, can I come in? Let me in. I just didn't hear blah, blah, blah. And she's like, well, I don't I don't know. I don't recognize you. And she's like, I mean, what was I supposed to do? I did not know who this guy is. And it's not because he's black. I'm not a Karen. Oh, wow. He literally said this, right. But
the two scary things that white women don't want to be seen as, like the Karen and a racist right away.
Don't you assign me don't you call me a racist. I am not being a racist. Because I didn't lie to men. It was security. It's I'm not a Karen. I am not a Karen. I'm not a racist. Like nobody was calling you that. We were wondering what was going on? Yeah, there's fear the other woman and I look at each other because we're the two minorities, of course. And let me ask you something, though, Shona. Had we both been white? Would she have said I'm not a Karen? My guess is not?
Maybe not. But I don't know. I guess I don't know. I don't know that you would be saying she probably would have said it's not because he's a black man.
It's not because he's black. I'm not a Karen. I'm not a racist. But she said that to two non white people.
I would also ask, What if the two movers were white guys, and they're like, Hey, can you hold up door open? What her brother have come out to yell at them? The white guys? Well, I because there's a history in America, white men trying to protect white women. That's
what was going on the storyline that was playing out. That's why he said Get inside. I'm like, Oh, I'm an honor honorary, like white person, because like, you know, you get protected, protected now. Right. But I said, Well, I said, I actually I think I recognize him. I said he was here earlier in the day. He's helping somebody move. I saw him in and out like, they're moving. I don't know that there's an issue. And she was like, Well, I don't know. I just know that. Like, I mean, he looked scary. Like it was a scary situation. He looked scary.
That happens in so many situations, because Because black men are seen as such a threat in America. It's like this automatic default.
I'm going to assign this these stereotypes to you because that's what needs to happen. So it was so subconscious I So many there were so many
subtle about like unconscious biases the unconscious
the unconscious biases playing out that I don't even know she was not even aware. All she was were aware of. I can't be labeled don't call me. I'm not a Karen. She was in it like this very emotionally volatile state. Yeah,
like defensive. I gotta be defensive like no I'm not that I'm not that almost more
worried about being labeled that than her fear of this black man that she did not know. It was like equal. It just kind of fear isn't that interesting, but that I think just speaks to what you were saying earlier is like, but don't call me that. Like, I gotta make sure I word this this question the right way. Cuz, like, worse than that
words I'm not allowed to say and these are the questions I'm around to ask people.
Yeah, and I've mastered those so I am the good, white blank
that does it for this episode. But don't worry. Part two will be coming out soon. So if you haven't already, please be sure to subscribe to our true colors or follow wherever you get your podcasts so that you don't miss the next episode or the episodes that come after that. In the meantime, be safe out there y'all you know how it is. Share a smile with somebody and when you can please find the opportunity to make someone feel welcome, love y'all. I'll be talking to you soon.
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