All Mixed Up

by Rachel on August 24, 2010

If you’ve seen my stand-up routine, then you’ve already heard me talk about people’s confusion with my race. It’s a recurring theme in my life. I get so many variations of, “What are you?” it’s become quite a joke (hello, The Differences Between Black Girls and White Girls at the Gym!). But I totally forgot that Eric isn’t used to the awkward questions I get asked at the most inopportune times…and so I was so excited when he got to witness it for the first time last week!

This was a pretty good one to start with too.

We were at Specs and were checking out when the very nice, sorta Wal-Mart woman working there looked at me and cocked her head to the side.

“You have such beautiful skin!” she said in her Southern accent.

“Oh, thank you!” I responded. I just took the compliment; I totally forgot that that’s how this always begins.

Her head had been cocked, but then she began to turn it even further, sort of like a dog hearing one of those high-pitched whistles that are inaudible to humans.

“Where are you from?” she said.

I opened my mouth to answer, but then I realized what she was asking me. I blushed with the realization and I was trying not to smile but I was so excited Eric was going to see one of my public WTF RACE ARE YOU? moments in action. He realized it at the same time I did — that she definitely did not want to hear “Michigan.” She wanted to hear the most exotic combination of locales imaginable. AH! What next? Would she ask if I was Chaldean? Perhaps Dominican today? Would she insist — insist! — that I’m Indian? Or would she say something totally racist, but kind of awesomely so? The excitement was killing me; Eric and I didn’t even look at each other; we both just stood there biting our lips in pure joy.

I should have indulged her fantasies and told her I was some sort of rare nearly-extinct race, but as always, I was truthful.

“Oh, I’m just black and white!”

“Really!” She said it as if I’d let her in on an amazing secret that she had never known. She was genuinely surprised, but at the same time, sort of delighted to be learning this new fun fact. I was just batting my eyelashes, trying not to laugh.

“Really!” she said. “I didn’t know blacks and whites could…look like that!”

It was like all the slot machines in Vegas started pouring coins into my lap. I live for these kind of responses. I felt like I was in “The Office.”

I just love how poorly she phrased it. She really was implying was “I didn’t know blacks and whites could make something that looks like that!” but she didn’t want to flat-out say that.

I know she didn’t mean any harm so I really wasn’t offended. I mean, she was trying to compliment me, and besides, it’s better to surprise people with the information that blacks and whites can, in fact, look like this than to get accused for twenty minutes of being a race you definitely are not.

I just grinned and said, “Thanks!” and then headed out with my beer and my white boyfriend, both of us just relishing in the awkwardness of the whole thing.

“I told you,” I said when we got outside. “I told you, but now you get to see it in action! There’s going to be so much more of this too!”

Eric said that next time, he’s just going to turn it into a game. He’s going to answer for me and then I just have to go with it and create a total back story based on whatever he says is true. I’m always down for a good improv game, especially when it allows me to mock people.

Still…joke is going to be on him when his first son is asking him about getting a jheri curl.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bridget@PavementandPlants August 24, 2010 at 8:43 am

I love that you can joke around about this and not get offended. People really are just nuts sometimes. They don’t try to be mean and I can respect someone for asking questions instead of just staring.

I can’t wait to hear the story when Eric improvs.


2 Eunice August 24, 2010 at 8:49 am

Haha wow. When people ask me where I’m from I always forget that they mean what my nationality is and I answer with “Florida”. Once, an Indian woman came up to me and just started chatting. If you’re not white or black, people get confused!


3 Mika August 24, 2010 at 8:58 am

This happens to me all the time as well. Although, my skin in darker my hair gives me away every time. I always have people start with the compliment, oh your hair is so beautiful…wait for it….what are you mixed with? I know they are expecting me to say Indian, or Caribbean and when I say White, they look disappointed.

I don’t if it’s good or bad that we get to a point where we don’t even get offended anymore. I know they mean no harm, but the ignorance just rubs me wrong some times.

I’m with Eric, mess with them a little bit!


4 Rachel August 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

I know what you mean — but make no mistake, when someone’s phrasing rubs me the wrong way, I’m pretty bitchy.


5 Michelle @ Give Me the Almond Butter August 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

Wow. Her phrasing was very rude.

My mom and I were talking about how mixed raced people tend to have the most beautiful looks. Like complextion and hair and everything. My two good friends, one who is Canadian and Mexican the other who is Northern European and Persian are absolutely stunning.

Anyways, I mean to consider you should consider it as a compliment.


6 Summer August 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

When she said that she didn’t know that “blacks and whites could…look like that!” I would have just given her a knowing smile and wink, then nodded toward Eric and said, “You should just wait and see what this one and I come up with!”

I have a friend who is Pakistani and Afghani in origin but American-born, and she’s absolutely gorgeous…but whenever people ask where she’s from, she always just says, “Texas!”


7 Tanya August 24, 2010 at 9:12 am

Wow – that lady is … weird! I had to laugh when I saw the “Chaldean” phrase – brings me back to living in Michigan where I actually heard that term for the first time (blame it on me living in the South for most of my time in the US).


8 christine August 24, 2010 at 9:15 am

who ARE these people who ask these questions? seriously so weird to me.


9 Bess August 24, 2010 at 9:48 am

People used to always tell my little sister and I that we didn’t “look” Jewish because I have green eyes and straight hair (well after serious chemicals were applied to my fro) and she is blonde/blue eyed.

And they’d say it like a compliment which I thought was just rude.


10 tish August 24, 2010 at 11:02 am

i luv to tell people i’m japanese lol. it’s cruel but oh-so-fun!


11 Trinidad Pena August 24, 2010 at 11:41 am

He, he, he… I get asked where I’m from all the time as well and I just love to answer New Jersey, in order to get them to ask the real question they are asking. I also get asked “Are you from Trinidad” and I often feel like replying do you ask girls named Virginia, if they are from Virginia. And the 3rd question I always get is: Is your hair naturally curly and then they try to touch it! Seriously… What’s wrong with people?


12 Summer August 24, 2010 at 12:16 pm

We had a friend named Cubie, and I had a friend who I heard telling someone he was Cuban. Because his named was Cubie. He was Vietnamese.


13 Katie August 24, 2010 at 11:47 am

That just blows my mind. I get why people think you’re Dominican, but that’s sort of beside the point. I just don’t see why so many people think that knowing what “race” you are is such vital information! It would be one thing to discuss that aspect of your life/identity with people you know, but I would never think to ask some random stranger about it.


14 Libby August 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

One of my friends plays multiracial bingo — whenever someone starts up on this line of questioning with her she mentally plays bingo with different catchphrases (“exotic” or “no, where is your FAMILY from?”). If they hit four of these offensive/not-knowing-any-better statements or questions, she gets a bingo.


15 size queens fiance August 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

That sounds amazingly awkward. You need to have a flip cam to get that on video.


16 Kendra August 24, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Two of my best friends have this problem all the time but they lack your patience for it. One of them (who is absolutely stunning) is Madigascan, Irish, and Philippino. No one can quite tell what she is. The other friend is half French, half Japanese. People always think that she’s either Middle Eastern or Mexican.


17 Clarice August 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I love that people rarely ever think of a black and white mixture first. It’s always Hawiaan or Filipino, Mexican or Indian. I hope you only have positive experiences in Texas. I had a few less than enjoyable ones in Arkansas.


18 eatmovelove August 24, 2010 at 9:07 pm

What a great post! Nice blog – I seen you post on Jenna’s and wanted to check it out. I wish you only positive experiences as well – life is full enough of the negative though isn’t it?


19 Hayley August 24, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Too funny. This happens to my roommate ALL the time- she’s Portuguese. The funny thing is people will ask ME in order to avoid actually confronting her about it. They almost always phrase it something like: “So… what IS she?”


20 sari August 25, 2010 at 1:12 am

LOL!!! oh boy. in a wal-mart. shocking!!!


21 Beth August 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

Welcome to Texas. ; D


22 Carla August 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Story of my life! I hear this multiple times a week, mostly out at the bar. So i developed a game to play with these strangers that absolutely must know my ethnic background . . . I tell them they must guess 3 times before i tell them what I am. This way i get to hear 3 absurd guesses before i disappoint them by telling them i’m just half white/ half mexican.


23 Sarah August 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Wow. My cousin gets that all the time because she is also black and white. She went to Northern Michigan University. I always remember her stories about the people that were so insistent, “But what ARE you? Are you Indian?”

Although I’m white and don’t get this particular form of sweet ignorance, I do get into a lot of similar situations because I live abroad. People don’t want to offend me by asking if I am American (or for some reason they mistake my Michigan accent as Irish), so they will always ask me about a thousand questions trying to GET to where I am from, rather than just asking me straight up. Often I play a little game with them, then finally laugh and tell them I am American. The usual response: “Oh, okay! I thought so, but I didn’t want to ask, especially because I know how pissed off Canadians get if you think they’re American.”

Then cue the whole “I have friends who are American, and they’re REALLY nice…” routine. Kinda like “I have gay friends!”

Good to see you have such a good sense of humour about it.


24 Hima August 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Loved this post! I go through the same thing with the “where are you from” (Michigan, but I was born in Chicago)/”no, I mean what are you” (I’m American and my background is Indian) questions. You’d think the ridiculousness would stop once I reveal that I’m Indian, but where would the fun be in that. I’ve been asked “what tribe” by a person and another said, “Oh I can totally see that now. My grandmother was part Cherokee”. Along the same lines, I’ve had a couple of patients tell me how great my English is and how easy I am to understand. Umm, thank you?
I never take it personally. These moments always make for a good laugh and story later.


25 Joyce August 31, 2010 at 2:19 pm

LOL I get this all the time, but people mostly ask me “what’s you’re nationality?” instead of ethnic background. If I know they’re just curious, I tell them the truth but if it’s just coming off all wrong, I just say “Canadian” since they asked for a nation and not my ethnicity. I’m not really Canadian lol but it works in these cases.


26 FoodCents September 6, 2010 at 8:39 am

What I would give to be w/ you when this happens. The improv games, in these situations, is endless & beyond amusing for the record of “Stupid Shit White People Say…”

I get the “but you don’t look like a Jew…” w/ my blondie locks & blue eyes. Well, cool – you don’t look like an ass-hat, but you are….so, “the more you know” :)


27 Stacy October 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

My Chinese friend is married to a white guy. He was out with their son one day. Some woman asked him where they “got him” and he said, “my wife’s vagina.” So perfect!


28 Taylor @ Delish World March 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Hahaha, I just stumbled onto this post and it’s hilar. I’m white and my bf is Ethiopian and black, meaning our kids will be mixed. I’m sure they will get these kinds of comments and more.


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