Sometimes in rare moments of introspection I stare at myself in the mirror and think, do I look white?
It’s hard to tell because all I see looking back at me are two eyes, a nose, lips…my mirror twin. When I scowl, the woman in the mirror scowls back, when I smile, so does she. We stick our tongues out and laugh. I switch off the bathroom light, and she disappears.
It’s difficult to be your own critic or to really see yourself as the world does. My reflection is an old friend who’s accompanied me for many years. There’s a photo at my parents house of me as a baby staring at a mirror, confused as to why the other baby won’t come out and play with me.
Being truly objective is also difficult when you look at your friends. Years later all you see is them – not their race or facial features – but them as a whole person.
One of the first times I actually thought about my race and the fact that I am bi-racial was pretty late – in college actually. A close friend asked me if I identified more with my mom’s culture or my dad’s. I just had never really thought about it because being me was all I had ever known. Of course I knew that my parents were from two distinct cultures, but it had just been a simple fact of life. Like my reflection, my family had always just been there.
Although I like to say I’m a minority, which is true, there is still half of me that has benefited from white privilege. Being half white has its privileges, whether its my light skin, generational advantages from my Caucasian side, or just assumptions people make when they hear my Anglo-sounding name, which makes me seem white on paper.
But on the other side, there is the other half of me that has had unique experiences for not being white (see randomly weird questions below). For the most part I’ve managed to leave rather unscathed, but probably looking back there were more instances of weirdness that happened than I really dwelled on at the time.
And then there’s the third part – the ALL of me. I think coming from a multi-cultural background, I’ve definitely had a more nuanced understanding of race and culture even from an early age. Being in between provides a clear picture that YES, there are people who are different from you, and YES that’s ok. I also had the advantage of actually growing up in other countries with cultures very different from the American culture. This too, has been important in shaping my world-views.
Please Stop Asking Me Weird Questions
I’m not alone in my thoughts. Amber, who is also biracial, has also said she thinks about this question too.
I’m half white, so do I look half white? Do I look white? What do others think when they see me?
We both concluded that no, we don’t look white. Or at least not fully Caucasian because of all the weird questions and assumptions we get from random people on the street or acquaintances we’ve just met.
Some of our favorites include:
- Where are you from? No, where are you really from? (I am really from the U.S.)
- Are you Afghani?
- Do you speak Arabic?
- Are you Spanish?
- You must have something in you (Like what? Am I possessed???)
- You’re mixed blood (Are we in Harry Potter? I wish, but I believe the proper term is half-blood or Muggle-born!)
- Or when people randomly start speaking to me in another language. Fun times!
Curiosity Killed the Cat…
There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, but there is a time and a place to ask questions and a time to be silent. What really bugs me is when people press for an answer out of a sense of morbid curiosity like I’m an animal in a zoo. For example, none of the questions above bother me that much (OK except for #5…that is really, really weird one I have received SEVERAL times). Some are innocent enough (Where are you from?) and I may politely deflect, thinking the person may not realize I don’t want to answer the question. If I say that I’m from Boston that is the answer that you’re getting. Please, do not ask me where I’m really from. Why is my ethnic origin so important, stranger that I just met?
This common courtesy is applicable in many other situations. I feel like I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but apparently, judging from my own experiences, I do. So here it is: If someone deflects a question, they are being polite and you should take your cue from them. For example, when asking about family members, if the person you’ve just met doesn’t mention their dad, DON’T ask about him, no matter how curious you are. That may be a sore subject. When you’ve been friends for a while, you may be able to broach the subject again or you may learn more simply through the natural course of your friendship. But, you don’t just randomly ask people, “No, what happened to your dad? What really happened to him?”
Not sure if you’re question is appropriate? Here’s a quick test: Would you ask a white person this question? If your answer is “no,” resist the urge to ask your burning question.
It’s About Relationship
I’m not saying that you should NEVER ask questions about race or avoid difficult conversations for the sake of being politically correct. When you’re close friends you can and should be having these conversations. I’ve truly enjoyed some of these discussions with close friends. You’re coming from a place of humility, understanding, and respect. With close friends you have the relationship capital to ask the tough or stupid questions. You’re not asking just out of fascination with the “other” but truly because you want to get to know your friend better, understand their perspective, and broaden your horizons.
* I’m sure there are many others who have written about their experiences with race and have a completely different perspective. This is just by own. Feel free to post your own experiences and reactions in the comments section.