Why do we always ask, “What do you do?” That was the question Peppino posed and it brought up a couple of other questions that we ask one another when we meet: Do you have children? is one most often asked of women, as is, “Are you married?”
These questions may seem innocuous; it’s just “small talk.” But why should anyone be asked to define themselves by their connection to a job/business/corporation or to another person or by their reproductive ability or choices? And, then there’s the question, “What are you?” posed when someone can’t quite tell by looking at you what racial/ethnicity/cultural box to check as they try to categorize you.
Have you noticed that in some contexts, people have begun to “declare their pronouns”? I’ve noticed it on some email signatures (e.g. John Doe: he, him, his) and in the television show, Billions (an orignal Showtime series), when Taylor introduces herself (themselves) and says, “… and my pronouns are they, them and theirs.” With all the interest in mapping out our DNA, will we start to declare not only our pronouns, but the racial percentages in our genetic material, right behind whatever academic letters might, or might not, follow our surname?
Will we be any more, or less, comfortable with who we are? Will the people who ask these questions like us any more, or less, according to our answers?
I noticed in a Facebook notification that my oldest son is going to an event tomorrow, Which Ancestors Do We Run Towards? “A workshop designed for those who struggle with their privilege as well as discomfort with being seen as they are. Conversation will center around the forces of assimilation, how to counter them, and what reclaiming one’s cultural heritage without taking up all the damn space. Participants will be led through a series of exercises designed to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
I’m wondering if he is struggling with issues of identity and I suppose we all do to some extent. Some of us don’t “conform to the norm”. Do we really need to try to define ourselves during the course of “small talk”?