For as long as I can remember, people have asked me the same question over, and over, and over again. The question I’m repeatedly asked cuts deep, and leaves a mark. It makes me uncomfortable, it makes me mad. The question is, “what are you?”
If you’re like me — no matter your race, religion, or ethnicity — just reading that question induces a serious cringe-spasm. You can’t see me right now (at least I hope you can’t because I’m wearing my PJs) but for some reason my dark hair, golden skin, and almond-shaped eyes make people take the quest of finding out “what I am” as seriously as some take understanding the last season of Lost.
Throughout my childhood, I wondered why the answer mattered so much and why people felt driven to determine what race I am. I mean, who cares? There is more to me than what I look like. I’m a mother and wife, a runner and writer, a friend and doughnut lover, but in my 33 years, I’ve been asked what’s in my blood more times than I can count.
When I was old enough to grasp the weight of the “what are you” words, which was in around fifth grade, I started answering the bizarre question with answers that would entertain me.
“What are you?” They’d ask.
“Female. American. Lover of Steven Tyler. Superb sleeper. Mediocre break dancer.”
“No,” they’d press. “What are you mixed with?”
If only I’d have thought to deflect to sex-ed (“I’m mixed with my mom’s eggs and my dad’s sperm.”), the conversation might have ended sooner (note to self: answer with this from now on).