Why Your Genuine Curiosity Might Breed The Next Generation Of Racial Slurs
"Yeah, you're from Kansas, but where are you from?"
"You have really... unique hair."
"You're ethnically ambiguous enough that no one will know you're not Middle Eastern."
"I know you're white, but what's the other half?"
"Didn't your mom teach you Spanish growing up?"
"We only accepted you for the diversity vote."
"Seriously, what are you?"
It seems that some people are so concerned with "figuring it out," that not much else matters when categorizing a person. As if knowing what race or ethnicity a person really is will pull rank in the decision of whether or not to get to know the person better.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes capitalize on another person's intrigue. ("Sure, guess my ethnicity, but if you get it wrong, you owe me a whiskey shot!") But at what point does this line of questioning supersede curiosity and spill over into plain offensiveness?
Although I am white, I field these questions regularly because I don't look like a "typical" white person. My dark skin, black eyes and black hair make me stand out in pictures with my tall, blonde, blue-eyed friends. Sure, I joke about being ethnically ambiguous, but waiting to be "figured out" is exhausting.
While I deal with these questions daily, their answers have no bearing on my ability. Even in today's world, in which minorities are the majority, if someone doesn't adhere to some preconceived notion of his or her race, gender, sexuality or some other identifier, then the person couldn't possibly belong to the specific group.
These comments — more commonly known as microaggressions — are everywhere, all the time. Subtle, but obvious jabs at a person for not coming across as assimilated enough under a specified umbrella identity.
What microaggressors fail to realize is that these statements and questions are hurtful. Through the purported curiosity, you're really just telling someone that not only is he or she definitively unlike you, but that he or she is not him or herself either. "You can't be white if your skin is that dark!" "You can't be Hispanic if you don't speak Spanish fluently!"
These types of comments force anyone on the receiving end — regardless of "what they are" — to provide an explanation in a place where one should in no way have to do. We are who we are, regardless if you figure us out or not.
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