“What are you?” people always ask.

Nancy Sheperd
Sacramento, CA

As a mixed-race woman, I’m often struck by others’, and especially strangers’, need to put me into a box. It isn’t only white people, though they are the only ones who use the phrase “What ARE you?” as if I am something other than human. Those who ask are always surprised, sometimes seemingly bewildered, when I tell them I’m “mixed – black and white”. As if they can’t wrap their mind around the concept of someone who is not quite one race, and not quite another.
Black people ask, “What are you mixed with?” (they can tell I’m Black, but what ELSE?) and when I tell them, they smile and nod confidently. Of course, they knew they were right. Hispanic people ask, “Are you Mexican, or Puerto Rican?” (As if those were the only two options. My skin color and hair texture lend themselves to assumption.) and when I tell them, they deflate, seemingly disappointed. Funnily enough, though I rack my brain, I cannot recall an Asian person ever asking, even people I know well.

When I see other mixed people, we only share knowing looks and smiles. We have no need to ask – we already know what we are.

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