Never Been Asked: “What Are You?”

Ella Harris,
Columbia, MD

I always felt disconnected from my African American identity. With my blonde hair, light green eyes, and fair skin, the world that I live in is fundamentally different. I am never asked where I am from, or if I am mixed. I am never asked the notorious, “What are you?” And rather than facing the discrimination that most African Americans face, my dilemma is that I must prove my blackness, and thus my biracial identity, in a society that views me as white.

For a long time I equated my own adversity to the discrimination that most African Americans face, but in reality, I possess a unique power: If I so choose, I can live my life as white without contradiction. This was a privilege I refused to acknowledge for years until I watched the death of George Floyd.

A few days later, dehydrated and aching from holding a sign for hours at my first protest, I somehow felt energized — I wanted to do more. I could no longer wait for someone else to present me with an opportunity to take action. I had to forge my own path to advocacy. I ultimately created an entire website,, to present what I had found.

Creating and sharing this website has empowered me to develop my voice and stand firm in my beliefs. I have the privilege of being white-passing and the responsibility to tell the narrative of my African American ancestors.

Becoming an activist has also forced me to be vulnerable with people I have known all my life and people I have never met. I revealed my insecurities about my conscious and unconscious privileges as white-passing. I came to terms with my outsider status in both the white and African American communities, while also accepting that even though my narrative is different, it is still valid.

George Floyd’s murder fundamentally changed how I perceive myself and my role in society. I am black, living under the guise of a white person — a juxtaposition I hated for so long — but now I see the power I possess. It is this power that drives me to continue my journey.


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