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Awkward! I'm Biracial and Get Asked: "What Are You?"

Awkward! I'm Biracial and Get Asked: "What Are You?"

Thanks to a reader with an issue (sorry, reader!), we have an awkward scenario requiring your advice. (Have some awkward tales of your own? Join our Awkward! group to share etiquette questions and stories with other readers.)

"My father is Mexican-American and my mother is Chinese-American. Some people think I look 100 percent Chinese, others know I'm only part, but sometimes I wish people would just see me for me. I get uncomfortable when people ask me my ethnic background, and especially when they say, 'What are you?' I grew up in a small town where some racists said worse, so I appreciate positive curiosity, but is it ever polite to ask someone this question?"

Image Source: Getty
HollyJRockNRoll HollyJRockNRoll 7 years
I get asked this a lot, and I answered depending on the vibes I get from the person. If the person seems to asking from a messed up place I just say "I'm all mixed up", and leave it at that. If I feel comfortable, I tell them. I do think its, rude to ask right off bat and I know MANY people who agree.
dani17731 dani17731 8 years
Do you mean I didn't get your first comment or the second one? Actually, I see your comments a lot and often I agree with you. I guess this is just one of those issues that people will just have to agree to disagree on.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Dani, even with that clarification, you still obviously didn't understand what I was saying.
dani17731 dani17731 8 years
lilkimbo, I'm sorry. My comment was unclear; only the first paragraph was actually directed at you, the bottom was just in general.
biarose biarose 8 years
There are so many people whining on here.. and in Australia we have a little saying that I think is appropriate; 'Harden the f*** up."
dikke-kus dikke-kus 8 years
I would say American is born and raised here. Speaks English as their first language. But a lot of people don't want to address that. They'd rather make lofty statements about ancient European heritage from six generations ago which is pointless to me. I could do that as well, but I prefer to be a more authentic person than that. What I detect in such claims is snobbery and false claims. As most of the time no one is going to bet on the family tree that Grandma has in her desk. I get tired of it that's all. I could do the same being of German heritage but I don't go around saying Guten Tag to try to make an impression. As for lumping in the ones who don't want to be asked I'm just flipping the coin here to see a different side to the story.
MissSushi MissSushi 8 years
lol, dikke... good job on a really lame attempt at stereotyping millions and millions of people.. No one is just "american", it isn't a race. It's a hodgepodge of people from all sorts of backgrounds, so technically, you're lumping in the people who say they DON'T want to be asked..
dikke-kus dikke-kus 8 years
What's even funnier is when people start to brag about their heritage. Ever seen that? It's obvious their just American. I have friends who will go into detail about some great aunt who is Irish, Grandfather is German, Fathers side had Spanish blood, blah blah blah, then the whole thing takes an hour. Then they tell you they know German or some other language like they just got off the boat. Americans like to feel more important by doing that stuff, and therefor when they ask they think they will find some kind of hidden answer, some secret story that they can sink their boring little teeth into.
bleached bleached 8 years
I get asked this question on a regular basis (I'm half Filipina/half Irish). I have never found it offensive, in fact I find it really amusing when people try to guess. My brother and I have a list of all sorts of guesses... I am always amazed when people get it right. I don't think the question is rude or malicious in any way. I think it's human nature to try and classify. I certainly don't mind since often, it's a conversation starter. It's not like someone is coming up to you and asking what your cup size is.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 8 years
Size smiley face with glasses? ha, it's size eight
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 8 years
I get asked this question all the time. Sometimes, the person is just curious. Sure, whatever. I usually answer the question. But other times, this segues into completely inappropriate conversation. I'm super tan, asian and born in the us. I'm tall for my family (5'7) and big boned/huge for my ethnicity (about a size 8). I've had people say, "wow, you're so dark. Most asians I know are really pale" or "you're such a BIG girl!" Really? Is this something to ask a stranger? When someone asks me "what are you?" I immediately get on the defensive, because that is what my experience dictates. Besides, anyone who spends any amount of time in an actual conversation with me, will eventually find out my ethnicity. There's no need to ask, because it will eventually come up.
biarose biarose 8 years
Why do people have to be so sensitive about their race? I'm white. Sometimes I get asked what my ethnicity/background and I don't care! I just tell them. Why the hell does it matter?
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Dani, before you rudely assume that my comment meant one thing, you should read the comment above mine that bashes Americans for starting conversations with/asking questions of others. And, I am often asked about my heritage, and no, it doesn't bother me. I'm not sure why you chose to single me out, but if you are concerned about rudeness, you should think twice before singling someone out again, even though others have expressed similar opinions.
dani17731 dani17731 8 years
lilkimbo, I think people are trying to point out that in their experience, it's not just "genuine interest in people they see every day". It's rude and invasive questions from strangers. For many people, including myself, their race has been a life-long area of personal issues that are not easy to deal with. Having "interested" people remind you of it everyday is not fun. Unless your bi- or multi-racial status has not been a hindrance for you, you wouldn't understand. I'm just trying to get you to see where people who share my opinion are coming from.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
How dare horrible rude Americans take a genuine interest in people they see every day! The nerve!
dikke-kus dikke-kus 8 years
My take on it, for the most part is it's just a question. People here in the USA are used to starting conversations like that all the time. Like the way the old lady tells you her life story in line at the grocery store. Or when someone starts asking you what time it is, or how old you are, or where were you born. We have an open culture here that often breeds too much familiarity and unwanted attention. But there's no malice behind the question. It's just what Americans do. Annoying little stupid questions and nosing their way into something more interesting that what they have. The thing is, you have to come to terms that you will always be asked. Will you forever be angry or just be at peace and give the answer? I would say come to terms with an answer. If you could say you're adopted to shut them up, would that really be best? Or maybe you could tell them you don't know your father/mother or maybe you could tell them it's none of their business. But you know, you could just say, I'm part this or that and just leave it there. Who knows maybe you could just pin "proud to be Chinese and Caucasian, Mexican, Indian, Irish, Polish or whatever to your shirt so you wouldn't have to answer anyone anymore! I could beat you on how many time I've been asked about having an identical twin sister, or the questions about my paintings. I would rather be asked any day about my heritage. But I'm just a fourth generation German and no one notices that around here.
kulikuli kulikuli 8 years
I get asked this question all of the time. Literally almost once a day. It doesn't bother me, it can get annoying though, however, ppl don't usually know that 4 other ppl just asked you the same thing, so i dont blame them. I'm half-white half-palestinian. I get why ppl ask, i dont mind answering. I'd rather them ask then assume, i've had ppl start speaking spanish to me and i don't get it. Yes i'm tan but that doesnt mean im hispanic nor do i know how to speak spanish or any other language spoken by the many tan colored ehtnicities around the world. However some strangers do ask in a derogatory way, then it bugs me, but most of the time i think its out of general curiosity. I think its especially common when it comes to mixed ethnicities. But i'm proud to be mixed and don't mind sharing that at all!
dani17731 dani17731 8 years
"I don't understand what's so wrong with asking what someone's ethnicity is. It's interesting to find out. " That's the problem right there. I'm not a science project. I don't need to be "found out". If we're not close enough for you to have my number, don't ask. And it's not that it's "so wrong". There's nothing inherently wrong with being curious, but why is it so important for you to know? It just gets annoying being asked "what are you?"
kimbly kimbly 8 years
I love being asked this question! I am also half white, half Chinese. I am proud of being multi-racial and "confusing-looking." It's flattering to me to know that I can look like I'm Greek, Latino, Italian...when I'm actually none of these things. I suppose it can come off as a rude question, but I like the fact that people who ask are interested in me and my background.
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