My mom has blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. She has Dutch, French, and German ancestry. My dad has kinky, thick, and black hair with brown eyes and brown skin. He has West African and Native American ancestry. All my life, I have been asked, “What are you?” I have been asked by grocery store cashiers when I’m checking out, by my teachers when I’m making friendly conversation, by guys I was dating, and by my close friends. Most people think I’m Hispanic, yet I don’t look Hispanic enough for them to put me in that “category.”
Why does it matter? I have always asked myself that question. Recently I have gotten so fed up with people trying to label me that I have started asking others that question. They then respond back, “I don’t know, you’re pretty, but I don’t know what you are.” Okay? That still doesn’t answer the question. However, I find myself asking questions like this about others too…specifically about celebrities. I have looked up the ethnic backgrounds of people like Kim Kardashian (because she looks white, but like not, Yah know?) to see what she was. I myself don’t know why I cared. What would that information do for me? I have deduced that people like knowing, because people like categories.
Categories make the world much easier to understand. The foods we eat, the shows and movies we watch, the languages people speak, what people major in, economic status, and your ethnicity. It’s easier to say what you like and don’t like. It’s easier to categorize things, when those structural categories exist. We like to know things about people, so that we can put them into categories. I do this everyday, especially at JMU. I see a white girl who’s wearing basic, yet expensive, clothing and I immediately think she’s in a fraternity. I see a girl with blue hair and think she’s a liberal. I see a well built young black man on campus and think he plays a sport at JMU. I categorize people like this because after I deduce one thing, I can deduce another. After I decide that a girl is in a sorority, I think she has a lot of money. After I think someone is a liberal, I think they are supporters of the #metoo movement. After I think someone is an athlete, I think they don’t try hard in their classes. We all love to categorize, we need to change that.
I understand wanting to understand. However, I do not think we need to understand so badly that we make others feel uncomfortable. This is especially common with people who aren’t white. My teacher who asked me what I am wouldn’t have done that if I were white. I would be white, that’s all they need to know. If they did ask, they wouldn’t go one to ask, “No, what kind of white?” I see these things happening all around me way too often. An Asian person gets asked, “But no, where are you really from?” Indian, Arabian an Israeli people aren’t put into the same category as Asian people, because when people think of Asian, they only think “Chinese.” When we think of African American people, we only think of people with dark skin; however, there’s millions of African Americans who are in the United States who look just like what most people who consider to be “Caucasian.”
I have a call to action: Stop trying to put people in boxes. Stop trying to put together people’s life stories based on the box you put them into. If you want to do it so that you can feel okay about who you are and where you stand in the world by comparing others to you and you to them, stop it. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don’t ask people what they are, where they are “really” from, or what part they come from. I’m really tired of being put in uncomfortable situations so that others can add layers to the categories they like so much.