Your hair’s pretty. What are you?

FamilyRenee Bracey Sherman.
Oakland, CA.

“Can I touch your hair?” they ask, hand already extended, a mere inch from my thick brown curls. I feel invaded. Living as a biracial woman isn’t the easiest thing in the world. People come up to me with an inquisitively tilted head and say “What are you?” If I simply say “human” or “American” they reply, “No, you know what I mean.”

What they mean is what is my ethnic make up. Why does my tan skin look the way it does. Who are my parents and where are they from. Why does my hair look like that – how is it different from theirs. They’d like to categorize me – which is a natural thing for people to do, except these are people I don’t know. They’re strangers in a coffee shop who stare at me on and off for thirty minutes then come ask for the answer to the question they’ve been pondering. No one ever asks what my name is or how I’m doing that day. It makes me feel like an outsider in my own community. As if my skin color doesn’t belong.

People of all races and ethnicities ask me some of these deeply personal questions. And get frustrated with me whenever I don’t give them the answer they were looking for. I usually don’t mind sharing my family’s story, but I just wish people would ask my name first.


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