Everybody has that one little quirk (or six). One of my friends is convinced that high roofs will crash down and fall on her – and, therefore, is weirdly claustrophobic in food courts at malls. Another is completely freaked out by feet.
My thing is I don’t generally appreciate it when people ask what my ethnicity is upon or before even meeting me. I’m biracial – I’m like an early-generation Prius or a Brass Monkey because no one should have to choose between vodka and rum.
Maybe this hang-up sounds dumb, but the reason is it happens all the time. People can get pretty weird about it. Last year in the library, some random guy came over and more or less demanded to know what I am. He then stormed off, declaring that I was “hella rude” when I countered that it shouldn’t matter.
Another guy came over and asked my friend the same thing while she was literally on a treadmill at the ARC. The reason why they want to know is a large part of interpreting the intent behind such a question. It could be innocent curiosity, but if you’re ever so curious about someone you don’t know, at least try to exercise a little tact.
There are people out there who care more about a stranger’s heritage than their first name. Sad, but c’est la vie. It’s not that I’m immensely touchy about my ethnicity. As far as I’m concerned, I was born with just enough common sense to refrain from purchasing a Bump-it – and, thank God, a liver that will get me through the rest of college or at least houseboats. (Where I hopefully won’t be sliced and diced by the propeller under my boat like julienne fries).
Maybe people see ethnicity as vital information when drawing assumptions about you. If you knew what my parents look like, you might assume that I get good grades and roll like a boss on the badminton court. Neither of those things is true.
While ethnicity serves the purpose of providing people with a sense of identity, it also introduces the notion of segregation. Ethnic pride can be a good thing that can also, unfortunately, become a very bad thing when its ideas are taken too far. There is a fine line that must be walked between the two ends of the spectrum, and it’s often tricky.
Though most are probably aware of Obama’s multi-ethnic heritage, they choose to conveniently ignore it. He’s frequently categorized into a single race box based on the color of his skin. Pop culture would have you believing Jessica Alba is Mexican and Alexis Bledel is Caucasian. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons why people so often like to think of others in terms of race – it could be laziness or simple hesitation to defy what social constructs you were raised to echo.
That said, there’s no reason to act surprised when someone doesn’t fit into your preconceived notion of what they should be based on what you’ve been told or led to believe. I’ve encountered people in my life who refuse to believe that I am what I say I am. Oftentimes they’ll flat-out tell me that I don’t look like it. I don’t know what to say. Should I apologize for the fact that the old parental units didn’t manufacture me to look exactly like the girl from Smallville? It’s more or less inevitable that the production rate of mixed kids is only gonna go up, so those boxes asking you to “please check one” should disapparate like Bellatrix Lestrange. Because they’re stupid.
I can’t say I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, because as far as my observations carry me, I’ve always been given a fair enough turn in life. I’m not a fan of unnecessary bitching, but this is meant to be more of a reflective spiel than a frenzied soapbox rant.
Instead of trying to ethnically analyze people you don’t know, people should focus more on making the world a better place. Figure out how we can make sure every stray cat in Davis has a place to call home. Figure out how we can get that one girl in everyone’s communication class to stop trying to relate every lecture topic to her family’s 2004 fishing trip. Figure out how we can make sure Sean Paul is never heard on American radio again.
I leave you now with a quote from the one and only Derek Zoolander: “Who cares what color someone’s skin is, as long as they’re really, really, really good looking?”
MICHELLE RICK should have written this during Mixed Heritage Week, but she didn’t. She can be reached at email@example.com.