Sooo, where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from? Where are your parents from? What's your background? What's your ethnicity? You look so exotic, what are you mixed with? What ARE you?? Well, if you are like me, and have the appearance of a person that is difficult for others to "classify" or "figure out", then I'm sure you've been asked one or more of the previous questions. I've been asked all of them and more in my lifetime... mostly from people I don't really know or were just getting to know. The situation surrounding the questions always vary as well. Whatever the case may be, these days, as we are all learning to speak up more against things we are uncomfortable with, I think it's good to share my viewpoints on the subject.
As I was aimlessly scrolling Instagram, as one often does, I came across a very nice looking lady who posted a fairly normal looking close up photo of herself. I always like to look at the caption under selfies and photos of people's faces for some reason (nobody ever just wants to admit they posted the photo because they think it's cute). Her caption under this particular photo caught my attention. It read; "When you get called #exotic for the umpteenth time and you're not sure whether to feel complimented or low-key offended. I say thanks for the compliment bc I believe people always mean well, don't they? What do you "ethnic" folks think?" I also divulged into the comments section to get other people's perspective. I thought to myself, hmm... this is something I DO go through quite a lot, but never really stop to think about its complexity. In the caption, there is a struggle between feeling complimented or offended. This reminded me a bit of the "complementing, (but not really)" guys CLAIM they do whilst cat calling (guys stopping random women on the streets to tell them they are beautiful/sexy/pretty/gorgeous/nice body, etc.). Is any of it REALLY a compliment? Should women LIKE being called exotic?
For me, I'm a bit conflicted on the subject as well. Perhaps I am much more of an analytical person, but I looked up the definition of the word "exotic".
When people use this word to describe a person's look, it would appear to be because they think the person is attractive in a non-conventional way. In that regard, I can see how it may be viewed as complimentary. But I still know that it annoys the crap out of some people. Another comment from the Instagram photo reads; "I know that the only reason it's a compliment in my case is because of the media's disgusting fetishization of the 'exotic foreigner'. I've been reduced to some sexual fantasy and that part of it sickens me. There are other ways to say 'you are beautiful' without implying 'you are other'". Even if I don't specifically view it as this, I am aware that some do.
In my case, it is true that often I will get annoyed when someone whom I don't know from a can of paint will START OFF asking me "what I am" (which is the absolute worst way to phrase any inquisition) even before they fully know my darn name sometimes. Depending on how much of an a-hole I wanna be that day determines my response. I am American. I am a woman. I am Bretony. I'm a human being, sheesh. It also depends on how the person inquires. Sometimes I can tell that people really wanna know my racial/ethnic background, but just don't know how to ask or don't want to be rude. In that case, I may be inclined to speak with them a bit more. At the end of the day, yes, people are curious about what they don't know. I don't want to turn away or shun someone for seeking knowledge, ya know? We are all misunderstood creatures. I'm sure I've been curious as well (but thanks to the magic of google, I can usually just research without having to ask!).
Growing up in Detroit, a lot of people asked me questions like these more so in a rude way. I looked quite different from those whom I was claiming to be the same as. My skin was a few shades lighter, my hair a different texture, tall, skinny. My look DID vary from most. I'm sure folks just wanted to know why. Heck, I did too! In the community in which I was raised, people who had Native American in their family history were the bee's knees. A lot of girls claimed they were mixed to seem more special. This, in turn, had everybody in a tizzy about finding out if someone was something other than black, assuming that was more special somehow. What's wrong with being just black? That's special too. Being light skinned doesn't automatically mean you are from some far and distant land or that you have foreign blood. Sometimes you're just from the good ole city of Detroit, Michigan USA.
I admit I'm a very hard person to offend. Not sure why but most things don't really get under my skin like that. I am however aware that people perceive things much differently than I do. Even if someone thinks what they are asking is completely harmless and innocent, if who you are asking is uncomfortable or offended, their feelings should be respected. It's not about intent, it's about impact. I also think it's important to note that finding out "what a person is" should not be the most pressing question you ask. Get to know people for WHO they are, not WHAT they are. Sure, this world is full of different cultures, backgrounds, and amazing people from all walks of life...especially here in New York. Learning about another person's history organically is beautiful, but if your sole intention is to just classify someone by their race, that can be taken offensively. Just remember everyone, if YOU know who you are, learn to be comfortable being that person. Be proud. The stronger your sense of self, the less you will be bothered by whatever anybody else has to say. I would love to get other perspectives on this topic, so feel free to leave a comment! And to answer your question, who am I? I am so, so many things...
P.s. Honestly, semantics have totally confused almost everything in modern times. I barely know what's what anymore!
P.p.s. Another conversation I have often is one where people try and GUESS "what I am". They usually throw Asian in there for some reason. I think it's the way I do my eyeliner sometimes.
P.p.p.s. This blog makes me think of this song (was it subliminally about interracial relationships?)...