A few weeks ago I took an epic phone survey on SEPTA, prompted by a hilarious older gentleman on the other side of the phone.
I know that most people dread these calls, but I delight in them. They are a chance to register my opinion, and to observe a company’s communications in action. This one covered everything – schedules, drivers, cleanliness, safety, advertising – just about every aspect of what SEPTA does as an organization.
My prompter was stunned as I rattled off the litany of routes that I ride in an average month. “Are you a transit inspector,” he asked in awe. “No,” I replied, “just a yuppy musician without a car.”
From there we established strong rapport, and as a result merrily progressed through the dearth of questions with hardly a pause.
After thirty minutes of grueling survey, we got down to the final section – some basic demographic information. Zip code. Household income.
We arrived at ethnicity and I declined to answer, as I have since second grade. Except, my prompter gravely explained, I was not allowed to skip this question – my entire survey would be invalidated. All of our hard work down the drain.
Without thinking, I said, “Fine, then put Asian.”
Elise and her sister were in the next room, and chuckled at my flippancy.
Except, I wasn’t being flippant. Not entirely, anyway. The section was about our household, and as an engaged pair of dependents we’re not just “Caucasian.” Elise and her sister wouldn’t say that. Our eventual, hypothetical children won’t. I’m just the single, white, outlier in an otherwise ethnic household. As a microcosm of the melting pot, Asian is the thing that still sticks out about us.
So, in the context of the survey the “ethnic status that most accurately identifies [me]” was Asian.
That innocuous question made me take note of ways that I’ve become subtly attuned to an Asian perspective in my daily life. I’m noticeably more critical of stereotypical Asian characters in the media. I even reflexively flagged a casting call for Chinese actors, later sending it to Elise and her brother when I realized that I couldn’t attend.
Suddenly “diversity” is a lot more than just a buzz word to me. I respond to diverse advertising more than I used to, and I’m turned off by ad campaigns that make a point of showing diversity just in black and white.
Most interesting was that – though I don’t tolerate any kind of ethnic slur – upon recently hearing a common piece of slang for Chinese I became not only enraged, but viscerally offended.
I usually delight in phone surveys because I feel like I usually learn more about the company than they do about me, but this time I wound up learning about myself.