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“Slip of the Tongue”: Questioning ethnic make-up

By December 14, 2009 3 Comments
A frame from the short film "Slip of the tongue"

A frame from the short film "Slip of the tongue"

I stumbled across the Media That Matters Film Festival web site while randomly searching for documentaries online. After browsing through the taglines of numerous films on the site, one description immediately intrigued me:

“What’s your ethnic make-up?” A young man makes a pass at a beautiful stranger and gets an eye-opening schooling on race and gender.

I was impressed and touched by each of the short films I viewed on the site, but Slip of the Tongue (2005) especially stood out because it hit very close to home.

“What’s your ethnicity?” “What’s your ethnic background?” “Where are your parents from?” “Where are you from?” “What are you?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked these questions, I would not have to worry about paying off my college loans. Believe it or not, these are the questions most people have asked me upon meeting me for my entire life.

I understand that I’m asked out of curiosity, and I often wonder similar things about other people. But I’d like to explain that a question like “What’s your ethnic make-up?” is much more loaded when the person you are asking is a young, brown, American woman.

We may feel very proud of our heritages, but that doesn’t mean we want to be immediately defined by them. That kind of classification, especially for women and especially in the context of being hit on, feels like the all too familiar fetishization of the “exotic” woman: mysteriously beautiful, yet ultimately the strange “other”–a spectacle and a sexualized object.

The girl in the story is not necessarily mixed-race, but she still lies in the spectrum of ethnic ambiguity. Once plagued by the beauty standards that all American women face, made even more unattainable to women of color, she now explains the connections between not only race, but also imperialism, globalization, and capitalism within the conventional beauty ideals.

Like Sophie in the video “Beauty is Not How Skinny You Can Be!”, the girl in “Slip of the Tongue” reminds us that we are unique individuals. We should learn to embrace our natural beauty because our genes carry the rich history of our ancestors.

Beauty standards are simply trends marketed to make money for cosmetic industries. Covering up or altering our natural appearances to fit subjective beauty standards is, in a way, denying our ethnic roots and diverse forms of beauty.

What are your thoughts on the video and the issues it brings up?

–Sabrina