By Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils
I’m mixed. Chinese mother, white father. I don’t particularly look like either of them (nor do I look definitively “Chinese” or “white”). Ethnically-ambiguous mixed kid. In a country (U.S.) that likes to think of “race” as an either/or thing (and usually just “black” and “white”). Hmmm.Now there are a lot of ways I could have handled this growing up. Being the smart-ass that I am, I chose to make a game of it. I now know that it is a game that many other mixed folks have played, as well (probably since the dawn of racial categorization), but here I’d like to introduce it to those who have yet to play: The “What are You?” Game.
This game has its origins in the common way in which people across this country try to figure the race of ethnically-ambiguous “others” such as myself: by asking the oh-so-polite question, “What are you?” (*1)
As a kid, when I was first asked this (probably long before my first conscious memories), it was up to me to figure out the true meaning behind it; because (most of the time) the asker was fully aware of my species and gender, and they had no interest in my religion, position on the football team, or any other possible answer to this question other than my racial background. But why did they ask it like that?
Okay. For those of you non-ethnically-ambiguous folks out there, just try to imagine, for a moment, how you might start to react to this question when asked regularly over the course of your life:
You’re a child and – over and over – people come to you (adults, children, teachers, whomever) and ask you what you are, with no context clues suggesting that you are playing “let’s pretend.” It’s not Halloween. You’re not wearing an elaborate costume. No, they are honestly questioning your identity in a way that so thoroughly strips you of pride, humanity, and belonging – and doing so as if it’s just a matter of course, and fully acceptable to do.
They are not asking about who you are – your interests, what you do, the important people in your life. They are simply asking you what you are, and in such a self-entitled manner that turning you into a thing like that comes with the expectation that you’ll give them the answer they want without any negative reactions.
Imagine what that does to a kid’s sense of identity, their self-esteem. Imagine the message it sends them about their place in the world. It’s no wonder that the majority of mixed folks I have known have – at some point – considered themselves isolated and without community. Continue reading