03 May 2013
By Curtis C. Chen
"No," Hailey said as soon as Mark dropped the brochure on the table. She didn't need to read past the title: MECHANOID DEVELOPMENT EXPO, rendered in shiny chrome letters above a photo of an automated sentry unit guarding a little girl.
"Come on," Mark said, sitting down and unwrapping his sandwich. "This is the perfect opportunity for us."
"To embarrass ourselves?" Hailey shoved the brochure across the table. "No thanks, I can do that just fine right here at my day job."
Mark frowned, pushed the brochure back at Hailey, and said through a mouthful of roast beef, "You want to design robots. We both do. This is our chance to get out of the tech support salt mines."
Hailey sighed and put her sandwich down. She turned the brochure to face Mark and tapped a finger against the photo. "What's that?"
"A little girl."
"A little white girl," Hailey said.
Mark shrugged. "So?"
Hailey shook her head. "Boy, it must be nice to be a tall white guy from an upper middle class family."
"What the hell does that mean?"
Hailey pointed a finger at her own face. "What's this?"
"Your... face...?" Mark said.
"This is an Asiatic of indeterminate national origin," Hailey said.
"You were born in Oakland."
"And you can tell that by looking at me?" Hailey held up the brochure. "Every single robotics manufacturer depends on some kind of government or domestic defense contract for the majority of their income. They're not going to hire a non-white, potential security risk when there are plenty of 'real Americans' available to do the job."
"You're exaggerating." Mark bit off another hunk of sandwich and started chewing. "Besides, the prejudice works in your favor. Everyone thinks Asians are good at math."
Hailey counted to ten before responding. "Do I look Chinese to you?"
"Dude, your family's from Bangladesh."
"Forget that you know me," Hailey said slowly. "Do I look Chinese to you?"
Mark shrugged. "How should I know? You look Asian. Maybe a little Hispanic."
Hailey scrunched up her face in disbelief. "Hispanic?"
"I don't know!" Mark threw up his hands, sending a shred of lettuce flying over his shoulder. "I can't tell. You just look—normal."
"No," Hailey said, "you look 'normal.' People look at you and they don't have any preconceived notion of who you are or what you do. People look at me and they instantly think they know something about me."
"That's stupid," Mark said.
"It is what it is." Hailey dropped the brochure and stared at her sandwich. "But I have to deal with it every day, whether I like it or not. I'm not going to go looking for more of it to deal with, and I'm certainly not walking into a convention where everyone is going to be paranoid about Chinese spies stealing their secrets. Can we talk about something else now?"
Mark nodded. "You are good at math, though."
Hailey stood and jabbed both middle fingers up at Mark. "I'm going back to my desk."
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc