IMG_5718“What are you?” people sometimes ask. It seems to come from a place of perplexity. There appears to be frustration because when someone’s ethnicity isn’t identifiable, the ability to categorize is suspended.

When people ask with malicious intent, they don’t know exactly how to mistreat those of us who appear more racially ambiguous. Their slurs appear feigned as if they’re practicing being insulting and hurtful. There’s a fake barrier that feels almost protective because they seem silly in their attacks. It’s poetic justice, their buffoonery.

But oh man, when people know exactly how they want to direct their behavior, they’re heinous and ugly. It’s premeditated, exact and ironically sincere. And that’s the purpose the question serves for them. They’re asking, What are you so that I can hate you with a special type of ignorance.

The are is sometimes drawn out and accompanied by a sneer. It’s an inability to judge. Maybe they wish they could call me the N word, or maybe confidently accuse me of being an illegal “alien,” or Muslim, although, if not so ignorant, they’d know that the latter isn’t even an ethnicity.

Yes, it’s happened to me before, on multiple occasions and in various forms. Sometimes it’s blatant, most times covert. On business trips, my white colleague and I were consistently pulled out of the airport security line to be frisked and have the contents of our luggage overturned. “This only happens when I’m with you,” she’d marvel, and we’d shake our heads.

Most often though the high-pitched, “What are you” with furrowed brows and head cocked to one side is asked by well-meaning people who are simply curious. And when I tell them, they usually respond with an, “Oh! I love Indian food” or “Have you seen Lion?” and we dive into intriguing conversations about what we are, far beyond our race. And that’s beautiful because it comes from our ability to wonder and connect.

So what am I? What are any of us? Well, we’re people and being human intrinsically means we’re knitted in many fascinating, complex ways based on how we’re created and the lives we’ve lived. So go ahead, I see the crease in your brows. Ask me what I am.

12 thoughts on “What Are You?

  1. My wife is curiously exotic. I’m ambiguously undefinable. We have fun with it. We keep people guessing and take the What are you? as a Score! Their befuddlement means we are out of range of their radar. We let them draw their own conclusions. When someone names us something in error, we’re amused. If they become derogatory, we look them in the eye and talk at their level, reach a common ground. Then they really get confused, disarmed, won over. It’s all perception.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s amusing to have people guess. It’s the covert acts that are harder to address because you’re not sure what people’s true intentions are.

      It’s always cool to have conversations with people who are just curious. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephen Fry says it best: “We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

    I think the same applies to ethnicity, religion and nationality. No one should be treated as a ‘what’ we are who(s).

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’m half Korean and half Puerto Rican, and I used to get asked all of the time, “Why can’t you speak your language?” Well, which on is my language. I was also born in the US. I got over it.
    We are all human! I have met some amazing people in the blogging world from all kinds of walks in life and religious backgrounds. We all have two things in common: 1. We are human 2. We all want good in this world. You are beautiful and have a large heart. Keep sharing your light, Patty.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great topic, Patty J!

    My parents are from Spain & Argentina, I was born in the U.S., & my husband is from Iran. His accent is sexy (as are most accents) & in the way that the most wonderful things often come from far off lands, he was specially imported for me 🙂

    All that aside, intention is everything. As someone who’s always been from everywhere & nowhere, when I ask someone where they’re from, people rarely take offense as they can tell that I am intrigued by them & want to know more.

    Also – it is always interesting to me that the the answer varies – If someone in the U.S. asks me where I’m from, I’ll tell them about my parents & of my roaming childhood. If I’m vacationing in another country, I’ll more likely just say I’m from the U.S….

    Liked by 2 people

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