Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Unexpected Gathering

It is part of human nature to try to figure things out, so I try not to be too disconcerted when I get the dreaded, What are you? question.

I know, I know. I could answer, I’m human. What are you? or Well, my mom was hoping for a kitten, but I came out a person, so there you go. But really, I know what they’re asking, and they know what they’re asking, and I have found that being snide doesn’t make either one of us feel any better, so I typically do my best to make a gracious response while gently challenging their right to ask.

Them: What are you?

Me: Well, if you are speaking about what race I am, I am Black/White Biracial. What makes you ask?

Them: I don’t know. I just wondered what you were.

(Typically, they start to look a little sheepish at this point. Well, unless I’m in the Deep South, then they just peer at me a little closer and ask, “So was your mom white and your dad black?) Yep.

Me: Hmmm…well, that’s it. No big story here.

(Then I try to move the conversation on to other things, or I just keep walking down the grocery aisle).

This conversation in no way upsets me.
Most of the time it makes me smile a little bit. I have been asked What are you? in some way, shape, or form many times for a lot of years. I have been spoken to in languages other than English when someone mistakes my identity and have been given extra courteous treatment at particular restaurants before people figure out that I’m not quite what they think I am.

Perhaps the only thing that causes me a bit of angst is the use of the term “mixed”. I find this particular term quite annoying. I tend to think of it as a similar characterization as oreo or twist cone – not hateful, but not especially humanizing, either. (For purposes of fairness and full disclosure, many multiracial people have no trouble with the term “mixed” at all).

Please, please do not read the above and begin to believe in the myth of the tragic mulatto – you know the tortured soul, who doesn’t fit in with either group and would have been better off not being born. I am really firm and happy in my identity, and I was really pleased when the last census forms allowed me to check every single category that I belong to.

And more recently, I had a really fabulous experience as a biracial woman. Oh sure, it came during the dreaded trip to Chicago, but it was still a stellar experience.

Me and Zane in Chicago – Breathing Treatment #764

While at a conference, I decided to go to a workshop entitled, “Straight Talk About Multi-Racial People”, which was described as a space to come together to talk about the concerns and needs of multiracial people in higher education.

Anyway, I walked into the workshop to find a room full of multiracial people – an experience I have never had in my entire life. I cannot tell you how singularly cool this was for me. I was in a room of people like me – a veritable Benetton ad of multiracialism. A plethora of folks who were not “either/or” but were “both/and”. It was totally, completely delightful.

We talked. We laughed. We disagreed. We laughed some more. We shared our experiences, and we nodded as each person told pieces of their story. It was so flippin’ beautiful I can’t describe it. It made me feel great. It made me feel so excited for my son and what his experience as a biracial person will be, and it made my god-awful trip to Chicago bearable.

And what do you know, but as the session was nearing its end, the workshop facilitator happens to say as an aside, “…well, I don’t care for that term, mixed, so I don’t use it, but I understand that it is okay with some people…”

I thought I might die of validation nirvana.


Dustin said...

You ever get people who come up to you and just bust out a guess as to your racial heritage without so much as a 'hello'? Those are the ones I always cinge at. Not from personal experience or anything (unless you count the combination of Irish and Bavarian as grounds for bi-racial status).

SRH said...

Irish and Bavarian, you are drunk right now, aren't you?

zingerzapper said...

When you said mixed I always thought you meant you were confused. Now I just feel silly. Not that you aren't confused and a little crazy, but it all makes sense now. But as an aside, I say take the great service, nod and try to pull it off as long as you can. Maybe you'll even get a FREE dessert before they figure it out!! Hopefully I'm there with you to reap the benefits of their confusion.

Anonymous said...

I have watched too many damn I <3 the 70's shows on vh1 this week, so this is where this idea comes from...
Next time some one asks you, break into the classic Cher song, half-breed. I know it does not technically apply but you could pass for cherokee/white (sure, wh not) and the mental picture of it makes me laugh and laugh. I can see you sitting on that horse in the slinky indian costume belting away "Half-breed, that's all i have ever heard..." plus the thought of you in that costume...mmmm...look out tonight lsig...

lsig said...

I have no response that seems adquate, "anon".

Dustin said...

Yes, I am intoxicated. By Irish and Bavarian I meant Whiskey and Beer.

SRH said...

I too am a bit disturbed by anon's comment

Zany Mama said...

Well, my drunken Irish-Bavarian cringing friend, I have found that most people will at least give me the courtesy of a "hello" before they interrogate me about my heritage - again, unless I'm in the Deep South. My favorite was when a woman actually followed me into a restroom and said, "What are you? Are you Black? Mexican? What?" This was the first person I spoke to - besides SRH - on my first trip to Alabama. Ah, good times.

Please don't use nationalistic stereotypes. Let's all play nice here. I'm sure the chances of Dustin being a drunkard are low. Oh, wait...he's Irish and Bavarian. Never mind. Belly up to the bar!

While I appreciate your support of my using people's misperceptions of me to get free stuff, I think you're just angling for a free meal at the Indian Oven. Hey, go get your own racial ambiguity!

anon - if that's truly who you are -
I'm flattered and a little freaked out by your fantasies. Call me, we'll see what we can do.

It's entirely appropriate for one's partner to fantasize about other women...on the back of a horse...singing a really bad 70's tune...that is racially offensive. I'm going to have to support anon on this one.

So, the idea of me on a horse singing a racially offensive 70's tune doesn't work for you, huh? Well, it's probably for the best. You being newly engaged and all.

You're just jealous that anon came up with the imagery first.

kenya said...

yall are funny! being from georgia, and having a bi-racial mother, i can agree that many south'ners can be blunt to the point of wanting to run and hide. point - my cousin (deep brown like me) and i, my cousin's 1 month old child (very fair skinned), and my mother (golden toned) were at the mall. i cannot count the number of people who came up to the carraige and said something along the lines of "oooh! lookit that red baby! gonna be red just like mama, wit all that white blood!" (assuming that the child was my mothers, never minding that my mother is in her 50s and lord help us all if she had an infant!)


um, what was my point? who knows. in any case, that is an absolutely beautiful picture of you and zane! the simple affection in your positioning oozes through the screen.

i will stop monopolizing your blog now! (smile!)

Zany Mama said...

Thanks for stopping by! Welcome to all this silliness.

Red?! Red?! I have never heard that. Is that a southern thing? Maybe I've never heard it because I return to Alabama with SRH as infrequently as possible. Being an inter-racial couple down there is not the funnest ride at the carnival.

And thanks for giving me another way to look at that picture. I see at it and think about how very stressed I was in a strange city with a sick child. Maybe I can begin to look at it a different way now.

Shannon said...

Thanks for your thoughts and for participating in BlogHer in Spirit. Nice to find some new bloggers to read.