The Masks We Wear

masksNicholas Gattig wrote a  fascinating article from The Japan Times on how people adopt or expect people of different cultures to behave in a certain way, to don a stereotypical mask.

On the night of April 18, three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, a side-drama to that story unfolded between three men as they criss-crossed the city, a performance staged partly in the theater of culture.

Just before 11 p.m., Danny, a young Chinese man on a work visa in the U.S., was carjacked at gunpoint by the Tsarnaev brothers, two immigrants from the Northern Caucasus. As recounted by Danny to The Boston Globe, the ordeal was a gruesome variant of the ethnic interactions that play out in America every day, with the players assigning and assuming their roles based on stereotypes.

“Maybe you think all white guys look the same,” said the older Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, warning Danny not to remember the brothers’ faces as he was chauffeuring them around Boston.

“Exactly,” lied Danny, who later identified the men to the police.

“You are Chinese,” said Tsarnaev. “I am a Muslim.”

“Chinese are very friendly to Muslims,” Danny said. “We are so friendly to Muslims!”

The exchange is surreal, especially Tsarnaev’s non-sequitur about identity. Islam is a religion, which means being Muslim doesn’t contrast with being Chinese (however friendly disposed, China is home to an estimated 20 million Muslims).

In fact, Tsarnaev imagined himself as a jihadist, a self-image that helped propel him through a heinous crime. In his perverted reading of the faith, killing Americans is a thing Muslims do. The Chinese Danny, in turn, obliged the views of the Chechen with the gun, so he would live to see another day. Both men were staging a performance, projecting identities to each other. Their encounter was a high-stakes version of what since the 1950s has been known as “impression management.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

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2 thoughts on “The Masks We Wear

  1. You’re absolutely welcome. I know it’s true as I’ve been told “our job here is mainly to “be foreign.” And to a certain degree I’ve noticed disappointment or puzzlement if I don’t live up to a stereotypical American.

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