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Something different: A Question of Culture

So, in my college pursuits, one of my classes is Introduction to Screenwriting. As an exercise in this class, I was assigned the task of writing a short scene in which two people at a cafe have some kind of expositional dialog. At the same time, while preparing for Diversity Day, which was sponsored by the student government (I’m a member,) I learned that there was a need for some skits to be written highlighting the issue of racism. There were already a couple of skits written by other folks, of course, but there were two complaints discussed in one of our planning meetings: First, that the existing skits were a bit…provocative in their language, and second, that both entailed white students attacking minority students, which is, of course, not how things always roll.

Well, it occurred to me that perhaps i could combine these projects, and moreover, that I might be able to assemble something that would be a complete short story wherein not only is the perpetrator of the racist act not a caucasian student, but the racism involved isn’t even meant in a harsh or hurtful way; it’s simply a matter of culture and traditional values clashing with the modern world. The following story, written more or less in Screenplay format (I’ve made some modifications to make it easier to read in this medium) using CeltX, was probably a little too subdued to justify being performed live on a campus (indeed, it wasn’t,) but is nevertheless, I think, an interesting short story.

A Question of Culture

ACT I

SCENE 1

A WHITE MAN and an ASIAN WOMAN walk together,
laughing and chatting casually. They appear very
comfortable together and seem to be enjoying each
other’s company a great deal. They are coworkers
at a Computer Services consulting company.

 

MAN

Boy was that guy funny in the meeting today. What in the world made him think that server would work online without a network card?

WOMAN

I don’t know, sometimes people at this company are so silly! The look on his face when you explained it to him was so funny, though, you almost made me laugh out loud!

MAN

Was I rude, do you think?

WOMAN

No, not at all, I thought you were very polite. You’re always polite…and sweet!

MAN

Well, you make it easy to be sweet. You’re so smart and funny all the time!

The two sit down at a table, still smiling and
happy. A waiter approaches.

WAITER

Good afternoon to a lovely couple! What can I get for
you today?

WOMAN

I’ll have the steak nachos and a coke please

MAN

Teriyaki chicken plate for me, thanks. Oh, and a bottled water

WAITER

Thank you very much, I’ll return with your drinks shortly!

The two continue smiling and talking, their hands
on the table slowly starting to come close to each
other and touch

WOMAN

You know, this past year we’ve been working together and sharing our lunch hours have been one of the best times of my whole life. You make me enjoy coming to work more than I ever have

MAN

Aww, well thank you. I’ve actually been meaning to tell you the same thing. I always thought work was just about showing up for a paycheck, but working with you has really opened my eyes to how much more enjoyable it can really be.

WOMAN

I’m glad it’s mutual, that makes me feel good! (Giggles and blushes as she touches the man’s hand)

MAN

Well, it is, I promise. Do you think that maybe-

WOMAN

You know, I really think I could see myself with you. Like…WITH you, you know what I mean? We have so much in common and it feels so nice to spend time together.

MAN

I agree, I was thinking-

WOMAN

It’s just too bad you’re white, you know?

MAN

Err, wait…what? I think I misheard you.

WOMAN

I’m sorry, you didn’t. You’re really something special, and I want you to know that I see it and I care about you like I’ve never cared about anyone. But I could
never be with anyone who isn’t Asian.

MAN

I…what? I don’t understand. You just said-

WOMAN

I know, it’s not fair. I’m sorry. But you know I come from a really traditional family, and our values are really from the old country, very strict. It would break my parents’ heart if I were with someone of another race.

MAN

(clearly shaken) I just…does this really make sense? I mean, if you feel like you just told me, and I feel the same way, isn’t that all that should matter?

WOMAN

I agree with you, but I just couldn’t disappoint my family like that. I hope you understand, your
friendship means a lot to me.

MAN

(stands up, speaks with a soft voice and a lowered head, clearly trying to hold something painful inside) Uh, yeah, I understand. Listen, I uh, need to get back
to the office, I’m really behind on a couple of things I need to finish for tonight. (Puts money on the table) Have a good lunch, I’ll see you later on

The man walks away, hands in his pockets, head
down, clearly shaken and hurt. As he disappears
into the crowd, the waiter returns to the table
with the two drinks

WAITER

And here are your drinks, ma’am

WOMAN

Umm, I’m sorry, can I have the check, please? think I’ve just lost something very important.

WAITER

We all do, sometimes. The question is, was it worth it?

WOMAN

I thought so, but now I don’t know anymore.

  • Wonderful scene you’ve set up here. While it wasn’t an intentional cause of racism or stereotyping, it doesn’t make it hurt less, does it?

  • People of the future will love each other and racism will become a concept of the past. It might not seem that way now and your story may show that but it will come to pass. In lets say 100 years or so. Things will get better for sure! Art heals thanks for the great post.

  • AnneMarie

    This is a scene from real life.Two of my students had the same problem. A white boy and a girl of Vietnamese origin fell in love. They had to break up their relationship because the girl’s relatives put her under pressure and controlled each of her steps. It is sad to see how culture and traditions sometimes are abused to destroy people’s love and lives. Literature is an effective means to open peopl’s eyes.

  • admin

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I certainly agree that racism, at least as an overt, angry thing, will become a thing of the past and has shown lots of promise in that direction over the last several decades, at least in the US.

    AnneMarie, this story was inspired by a similar event in my own life, except in my case I wasn’t interested in my coworker romantically (I was already dating someone else), it was just something that came out of her mouth one day at lunch. For me it was sort of a chuckle moment, where I thought “how funny, I’ve been discriminated against on the basis of race! Now nobody can say I don’t know what it’s like!”. When this opportunity came to write on this topic I thought, “What might it have felt like if I *had* been interested?”

    I think the most difficult racism to overcome will not be the hateful, bitter, angry kind-it’ll be the kind that comes from a place of tradition and societal/familial pressures. Hopefully people will continue to choose on the basis of individual lives rather than these kinds of pressures, but only time will tell!

  • I like this. I too have been through a similar situation and this story captures it perfectly. That moment when a casually-thrown word throws off the whole day both because it clearly wasn’t meant to be offensive but as Kelley said, it doesn’t make it any less a sting.

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