william steig drawing

July 6, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Race in Film: Shanghai Express

**I’m a little sick. Please excuse the stuffed nose voice**

As evidenced by this very Race in Film series, color is a large part of my life. This is frequently not by choice, as was certainly the case when I was a child.

It is 1993. I wear turtlenecks under Champion sweatshirts like on TV. I feel proud about this, my first deliberate sartorial decision. I sit at my desk and quietly enjoy the feeling. The room is hushed. We scrawl on a worksheet. The substitute teacher calls me to her desk. We all look up.
“Kartina,” she says.
“What are you?”
Her eyebrows draw together in the middle.
“Are you Eskimo?”
She must find out. She must know.

Unfortunately my sass had not yet developed, and instead of protesting her insensitivity, I replied and satisfied her curiosity. I returned to my seat and continued my school life as the “other”, turtlenecks in sweatshirts of little help.
I had this same teacher a few more times, and since she had forgotten, she asked me the same question again…and again.

Such is the life of the mixed person (in the parlance of our times). When you are multiracial, or even look like you are, prepare to be reminded of the fact every day.

What are you?
What nationality are you?
Where are you from?
Where are your parents from?
Do you speak English?
…You mean like Tiger Woods?

Sometimes I am feeling friendly and generous. I will answer willingly and honestly.

More often however, I know I am being exoticized and I will choose not to play. Even if asked in admiration, it is still objectification at heart and I find myself suddenly and unwillingly on display. Frequently when people do not get an immediate answer they will continue to ask (offering possible ethnicities) with curiously increasing speed and desperation until the whole exchange resembles something of a quiet frenzy. Are You Chinese? Are you Japanese? Cambodian? Are you Peruvian? Columbian? FillipinoPortugueseSicillian?

And why? I wonder.

Why does this person feel the need to know and why do they think it’s ok to ask in such an indelicate way? I do not think it’s a coincidence that these questions come mainly from those who are male and those who are white (both sexes). People, who I gently suggest, may have a certain feeling of entitlement in the world. It is their right to know.

This daily experience is enough to make you raise a few walls. Women (of all colors) are familiar with this I’m sure. The unfortunate unfriendly armor many of us must wear to  simply walk down the street when something as wonderful as a genuine expression of our happiness can be interpreted as an invite.

It can be dismissed as innocent curiosity. But few things are as simple as we would wish them to be. Being unable to identify a person’s race or ethnicity can make certain people uncomfortable. How should they interact with you? In what context should they regard your behavior or even your body?
…Did that just make her a corny black person or a cool Asian?
…Was that the opinion of a Latina or an Eskimo?

Without this knowledge some folks are adrift in a rudderless boat, and that inspires panic. Maybe unconscious, but nervousness and fear nonetheless.

This state of not knowing will frustrate many people. Sometimes they won’t waste any energy hiding it. This is an honesty I can almost admire, and one that cements my fondness for Eugene Pallette playing (yet again) another gloriously frank man in Shanghai Express: the gambler Sam Salt. Ah yes I knew this post had a purpose.

You might expect a Race in Film post on Josef Von Sternberg’s 1932 film to focus on the fantastic Anna May Wong and her husky voiced character Hu Fei, or Marlene Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily “The notorious white flower of China”, or the multiracial warlord Henry Chan played by Swedish actor Warner Orland (yellowface made him a wealthy man),

or the sneaky sneaky opium induced lethargy of Asian characters in early Hollywood. Yes, you might expect me to examine all these things and more, but I have always been interested in one quick interaction:

The devilish Henry Chan (sneaky sneaky Oriental) enters his car on the train. He has just been denied access to Hu Fei’s most forbidden blossom. He is not in the brightest of moods. Lost in sinister thoughts, Chan accidentally bumps in to Mr. Baum (Gustav Von Seyffertitz). An ornery fellow by nature Baum tells Chan to get out the way. Shockingly Mr. Chan does not concede to the European man’s aggression as one might expect a Chinaman to do.

Indeed Sam Salt finds this behavior extremely curious. His mind reels, perhaps implodes. What is going on? Exhausted from strenuous deduction, poor Salt makes no buts about it:

“I can’t make head or tail out of you Mr. Chan! Are you Chinese? Or are you white? Or what are you???”

Chan displays surprising patience with Salt’s blunt questioning and answers him (uncharacteristic for the character but an easy way to give the audience information).
My mother is Chinese.
My father is white.

How many times did Chan have to repeat these words in his fictional life?

I wonder.

He might have been a rape inclined war lord, but here he has my sympathy.

Race in Film is Mirror’s first special series! Read about it here and stay tuned for more!

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42 Comments

  1. Dear Kartina,

    Thanks for the post. As an Asian-American female (Japanese, to get it out of the way) I’ve spent way too much time fuming about having to deal with questions like these based solely on my appearance. You managed to convey a feeling I’ve tried to describe for years that nobody else quite seems to understand unless they’ve also experienced it. I’m pretty sure most of my pent-up aggression stems from having to field these offensive probes, no matter how innocently asked, for years from childhood on.

    Anyway, you’re not alone. And you’ve made me feel infinitely less alone myself. So glad this post found its way to me (thanks, Roger Ebert!) because I’ll be coming back to read more.

    Jen

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      And you’ve made me feel infinitely less alone myself.

      This is maybe the best compliment I’ve ever received.

      Reply
  2. Funnily enough, I feel the complete opposite. Being born and raised in America by British parents (who have already moved back to the old country), I feel I don’t get enough people interested in my race. I want to be seen as different, unique, foreign. But no, I’m just another white guy.

    Ah well, the grass is always greener :)

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      But your not just another white guy my dear Stuart, you have an ethnicity and a history too! This is why I really dislike the term “ethnic”

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the insightful post. I have problems dealing with both of my cultures (white and Chinese) because of my mixed background…everyone wants something easy to categorize. Of course, there are always the questions of “what are you?”; when I tell them that I am mixed there is always the assumption that my mother is Chinese and my father is white (sorry, other way around). Then, of course, the wheels start clicking in their heads (your mother must have low self-esteem for marrying a Chinese man, your father is disgracing our culture by marrying a white woman), etc.

    It’s also really funny when people ask “what is your nationality?” Um, I’m American, just like you, Bubba. Maybe we should just wear signs so we can avoid this, but honestly, sometimes it’s fun to hide and keep people guessing until they get all flustered and have to ask these questions in their “indelicate way”.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      “What’s your nationality” is really infuriating, almost as much as “Where are you from. No, I mean where are you from originally”

      And it’s also really interesting to see how people gender certain races or interracial relationships. Asians are feminine, blacks are masculine etc. Whites are default everything, so they can be whatever.

      Reply
      • My favorite is “no, where are you REALLY from?”

        “Ok, you caught me. I thought I could pull a fast one on you, but you’re too quick. I’m not REALLY from America, that’s just what my birth certificate says.”

        I love your blogs, just discovered your page today but I’m an instant fan :)

        Reply
  4. I am multiracial, and it never ceases to amaze me that people think it is okay to ask, “what are you?” I am trying to think of something more offensive to say to a fellow human being, and I’m drawing a blank. The first time I was asked, I replied, “I’m a girl, silly!” Too bad people don’t find this as endearing now as they did when I was 5.

    Interestingly, in my personal experience, women are much more likely to ask me this than men. I wonder if the men I encounter are just too afraid of offending women in general, and maybe more careful about what they say.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      Haha, I used to try to think of witty replies to “what are you”, like “a human”, “an aquarius” etc, but I found it really just drew the whole encounter out even longer since they never really got the hint.

      Reply
  5. (also directed to this post by Roger Ebert)
    I have to say, I completely understand where you’re coming from, though I get it from the other side, in a manner of speaking.
    I’m a mostly-white American female, but living in Japan for the past three years I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count and it can get kind of annoying. There’s a strong idea here of “half,” a term that mostly is used to refer to someone who’s half-Japanese and half-something else (the nature of the “something else” is typically less important).
    Being a non-sterotypically white person (ie I don’t have blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin) who also speaks pretty fluent Japanese, I’m often asked if I’m “half.”

    One particularly memorable conversation happened with the grandmother of the host family I was staying with when I first came here. We were talking, and got on the subject of how even though I’m a foreigner, I have dark hair and dark eyes so I don’t really *look* like a foreigner (with a slight undertone of “and isn’t that a pity”). In an effort to be polite, I explained that my dad’s side of the family originally came from Mexico, hence the dark coloring. And all of a sudden the light bulb went on, as if she finally “got” me and could now relax: “Ohhh, so you’re half!”

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      That’s really a fascinating experience Sarah. I loved that story. Do people in America ever inquire about your ethnicity or other whites in Japan?

      Reply
      • Not at all, really. I mean, here everybody gets asked “where are you from” but that’s more of a fellow-expat thing, since we pretty much all came from some other country.
        Back in the states, I’ve been asked once or twice what ethnicity I am but that’s tended to be in the context of asking about the origins of my last name (most people guess Italian).
        But Japan is such a homogeneous nation (or likes to think that it is) that it’s pretty much impossible to avoid getting stuck with an identity as a “foreigner.”
        And then there are the inevitable stereotypes based on what kind of foreigner you are. I can be a bit of a shy, reserved person at times; which always throws people for a loop because as an American I am supposed to be gregarious, assertive and unafraid about stating my opinions.

        On a side note, there’s a fascinating opinion piece on the NYT today about a Japanese woman who doesn’t look “Japanese enough.” She describes being stopped on the street and asked for ID, which is something that has happened to me once or twice, though fortunately not as often.

        Reply
      • I’m white and I’ve had the same experience in Japan. In my case, the question of ethnicity came up most in relation to language. I’m fluent in Japanese but I don’t have the expected strong Amerrrrican accent, and it actively seemed to upset some people when they could not “explain” me. (As the sad-but-true joke goes, say “hello” and you’re a tourist; say “nice to meet you”, and you better be a) half or b) married to somebody.) I am somewhat ashamed to say that sometimes I managed shocked/outraged reactions by lying and claiming that I couldn’t read or write. “Haha, your language is still too hard for my foreign mind to comprehend!!” was a sentiment that honestly just made some people more comfortable.

        Reply
  6. I found you through Ebert’s twitter…what a beautiful post. You’ve articulated a feeling I’ve had for years — feeling uncomfortable about my otherness being exposed. I’m half Filipino and half Irish/Scottish/French, and I get asked every single day whether I’m something “exotic” and the worst is when those stereotypes about Asian women come up like jokes in conversation. As Jen said above, you are not alone.

    I’m also really interested to read more of your series.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      Thank you joann! I definitely feel you with this: “and the worst is when those stereotypes about Asian women come up like jokes in conversation

      And also the sadly misguided compliment “that’s a nice mix”

      Reply
  7. “Ah yes I knew this post had a purpose.”

    “He might have been a rape inclined war lord, but here he has my sympathy.”

    ^MARSKSMANSHIP.

    Reply
  8. Jason A.

    I too arrived here by way of Ebert.

    I’ve found my experiences as mixed race to be similar to those you’ve described here. Like Chan, I’ve often had to go to standby rehearsed phrases. They have changed over time. I’m still trying to come up the most efficient way of explaining my genetic makeup while attempting to salvage some sense of self.

    It aggravates me when it comes up in conversation to be sure, but in all honesty I’ve been guilty of it myself I’m afraid. When I meet someone that doesn’t fit into those mental categories, I find myself wondering about them. I typically refrain from asking, knowing what it is like on the receiving end (and for the simple fact that it makes a conversation awkward as hell).

    However, it doesn’t keep me from wanting to ask, and for that I am ashamed. Like even when first visiting your site, I saw your photo to the right and saw your name as “Kartina Richardson.” I thought to myself, “Hmm, she doesn’t seem like a “Richardson.” Is she married?”

    I’ve tried to scour my mind for why I care at all. I know full well all the rational explanations as to why race is meaningless, yet I still care. Is it curiosity? Is it some part of my mind that needs to generalize? Did society or my parents create this, or was it in me all along?

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      I know exactly what you mean. There have been many times when I’ve wanted to go up to someone and ask them their ethnicity. I get especially excited when I see someone who looks like they could be Asian & African American like myself (a lot of people are tipped off by my name hah). I wonder whether they too would be excited, or just annoyed as usual.

      Reply
  9. So bowled over, I couldn’t spell “marksmanship.”

    Hey, somebody tell me the name of a war movie about Asian-American GI’s circa late ’40s or early-to-mid-50′s. I saw it on a dollar store DVD a couple years ago, and I’d be curious to hear/see a Race in Film on that one. It had a few amazingly candid Race Moments, if I remember right. Just can’t remember the title.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      Steven, I can’t take all this praise. My head is full of fluid, there’s no room for anything else.

      Let me know if you find out what movie that is. It doesn’t ring a bell for me, but sounds very interesting!

      Reply
  10. Jason A.

    Also, I think its worth noting that Chan doesn’t say a direct statement about himself. He doesn’t say “I’m…” anything. He says: “My mother is Chinese. My father is white.”

    Those are the facts, make of them what you will.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      That’s a very interesting point. Sometimes it’s just simpler to say what your parents are instead of having to explain your own identity (maybe you aren’t sure how you identify or you don’t feel like explaining it to a stranger). It might also be distancing in a way. Putting some space between you and the question/questioner?

      Reply
  11. I found this site from @ncecire. Great. I sympathize with Stuart; I am Irish-American (my parents are Irish.) Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  12. blissing

    Thanks for articulating something I never could–that weird feeling I get when people have to know what I am.

    I remember meeting someone at a training and when we both realized we were mixed, she still asked me, “What are you?” and laughed at the irony. She still wanted to know, and actually I wanted to know her ancestry as well.

    Reply
  13. my mother is Colombian and my father is Bolivian, and my whole life people have assumed I was Puerto-rican, Chinese, Mexican, Cuban, Filipino, and many other nationalities…it does get annoying and I loved reading this.

    Reply
  14. (Came here by way of Shanghaiist.com btw).

    Being attracted to Asian-, Latin-, black-, mixed-American girls, I always feel like I have to avoid questions like these. I’m scared to ask “Where are you from?” (meaning “Are you from this town or two towns over?”), because I might be misunderstood. But since it has no bearing on her as a person, it can always wait until later (assuming there is a later).

    It’s not a judgmental thing (although I can’t speak for everyone, because your teacher did sound like kind of a dick), just a curiosity. I can tell what gender you are, what accent you have, and what clothes you wear, but I can’t guess race with just a glance (mixed or not).

    Don’t be offended by their question, be offended by their reaction.

    Reply
  15. I have to admit, I find mixes interesting, I like to see how the genes combine (or don’t!!).. I am a typical American mutt.. mostly *white* but I tan easily(that would be the Native American and black Irish) and my mother(Dutch) doesn’t at all.. when we lived in Indiana when I was an infant in the early 70s (and spent a lot of time at the pool) my mom would get rude comments and glares- people thought I was mixed… dumb.. people are people. I try not to be rude about my querying- I’ll try even harder now… ;D

    Reply
  16. Oh, wow, did this hit the nail on the head, or what?

    I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been asked that in my life, as a multi-racial African-American/Caucasian/Native American/whoknowswhatelse. By teachers, by friends, by random strangers, whenever someone meets me the question doesn’t seem to be “What’s your name?” but “What are you?” But what was more offensive for me, was when, often in the case that someone rightly guessed I’m mixed – “So which parent’s which?” Like it really matters which one is black, or white, or purple or blue. Like it makes a difference in who I am as a person.

    I think it’s sad that people have a need to categorize you as a certain ethnicity when you meet them. I even had a doctor once ask me if I was Samoan. A doctor, of all people, asked that question.

    Reply
  17. I am eurasian…(Italian/Chinese) I have gotten this weird attention about my race all my life….. people actually asking me, What are you?! Even worse, the “once over” looks from people as they try to figure out without asking …
    Lots of folks assume and get it wrong. Its been assumed I’m everything from Native american to Hawaiian to Samoan to Spanish.
    My husband gets asked what nationality I am all the time, from people who feel funny about asking me directly, but, as Kartina has also found, feel they have some right to know. When he tells them, a strange reaction comes from the older people…” Oh, her mom and dad must have met during the war.”……
    What war did we ever have with China? My parents met in the Catskills!
    I am neither overly proud of either of my heritages, nor am i ashamed of them. One thing I know I will never do is pre judge anyone based on their ethnic appearance.
    We still live in a society who’s racial groups still segregate themselves for many different reasons, and folks like us who don’t seem to fit snugly into these categories will always have these questions and these “what are you?” looks thrown our way…
    But that’s ok. Some people don’t mean it in a bad way, they are just curious. And then others really do mean it nastily…. oh well.

    Reply
  18. Maybe it because I’m from Miami, and a good majority of the public is from different parts of the Caribbean and South America, but asking, “What are you?” never came across as offensive. I’m mixed, so I used to get asked that all the time. But so did all my friends. Most would declare where their families were from with a sense of pride.

    Sometimes it would spark long conversations of family history, but most of the time the topic would end with, “Oh that’s cool.” and it would move on to something else.

    Also, I think the question came of a place of not wanting to call someone something they aren’t. I know I would rather be asked, “What are you?” then people assume they know what I am.

    I used to get mistaken for Hispanic often, and when I was spoken to in spanish, I’d have to say I didn’t speak it well. A few times the person would be offended (You’re hispanic and you don’t know spanish? Why are you losing your roots!), and I’d have to explain I wasn’t. THAT was far more annoying then being asked what I was.

    Reply
  19. This is a hell of a great post, Kartina. It’s definitely struck a chord.

    As far as it being a refreshing moment, I’ve always found that Eugene Pallette brings a kind of honesty to his performances. Broad, sure. Definitely a character actor. But his reactions are genuine.

    Reply
  20. Got here through Ebert as well. And oooooooh does this resonate. I got this question a lot when I was younger, but people don’t ask me what I am much anymore. That, or I haven’t met a new person who doesn’t know my parents as well, in a long time. Or else I look like I wouldn’t take kindly to being asked that (which would be true). It always bugged me. It always feels like whoever’s asking really can’t be comfortable talking to me until they know what races or nationalities they shouldn’t disparage. Which probably isn’t fair, but I genuinely don’t understand why else my race would be anyone’s business. I can see how race as a shared experience would maybe help a conversation or relationship along, but it also seems to me that race is becoming less of a…thing. A valid category to put people in. Or to judge people by. Or maybe it is just me, and my little brother, for whom categorization by race was never a comfortable fit anyway.

    And trying to mitigate the damage by saying that mixed people are the prettiest only makes it worse. I don’t want to hear that kind of crap at all.

    Reply
  21. Enjoyed reading the post.

    My family is Filipino mestizo. My cousin has encountered the people who do not believe her to be pure Filipina and must be a mixed.

    Then the people she meets from South America who believe her to be Latin American and problems with immigration in Cuba, Malaysia and Thailand asking where she got/stole her British passport.

    Wow…just found your facebook page…lol

    Ciao,
    Obi

    Reply
  22. Funny enough, even some of us non-mixed-race people get the question, “What are you? . . . No, but I mean, you’re FULL black?”

    Great article Kartina! Keep it up.

    Reply
  23. Persephone

    Being a mutt American who’s Native American bits show heavily during the summer, the most I’ve gotten is people trying to speak Spanish to me. Only once has anyone ever actually asked me anything that I found to be left field–someone I just met asked me if I experienced any discrimination at my college since I was Hispanic. I couldn’t help but laugh.

    As to the “What are you?” question, I think a reasonable response would be, “Alive. What are you, braindead?”

    I have thick skin. It’s a necessary survival trait, as a brainy, androgynous female, to defend myself from the idiocy that comes from everyone–male and female. Working in a male-dominated field, has in some respects made things easier. I know my stuff, don’t suffer fools, and I have a “kick ass and take names” attitude; those traits fly a little better with males than females.

    Reply
  24. My mother was half black, my father was white. Therefore in terms set down for generations by the people of the United White States fo America, I’m Black.

    Adore Eugene Pallette, and of course this film. “What are you?” is a question applicable to the narrative in numerous ways. “Shanghai Lily” suggests a meeting of “East” and “West.” Marlene is German. But cinematically he hails from Marleneville — a fabulous country knowing neither race nor gender.

    Reply
  25. Anna Johnson

    Thanks for the post. I too am mixed and though people stopped asking me years ago, there is something inherently off about asking, which is hard to convey to those who are never asked. You’ve eloquently nailed it. Perhaps people’s need to know is akin to asking a woman on the bus how far pregnant she is and reaching out and stroking her belly. Happens all the time. Not meant to be invasive.

    To me “Where are you really from?” suggests an outsiderhood, which I guess most people-of-label receive. I think I must now have a look that does not invite such questions. Not sure this is such a great thing. But I feel fully and unapologetically, gloriously and proudly at home in London (UK). As a writer, poet and academic I still feel this is off putting to some, like I should be shuffling about the place, know less about British 19th century Romantic poetry and 16th century sacred choral music, history, linguistics and geology. It’s taken me twenty years to own my belonging and my cultural delight.

    You seem to own your belonging, and that inspires me. You have a home in (American) film and as a writer (and many other places, no doubt). You excel there. As it should be. I love that your insidehood makes you want to run around the block and bake chocolate cakes (to re-interpret your comment). Delight is precious. It is a function of living on the inside. Thanks for sharing yours.

    Reply
  26. I work at a college in the south, and I get to talk to many people – I enjoy talking with students. The international students feel comfortable talking to me since they can tell I am not American born. And most are pleased at the interest. I have learnt much of other religions, foods, history, and culture.
    Then they feel they can ask questions, as above – you have an accent! where are you from? English your first language? assume I speak Spanish because of my looks. I don’t mind being asked and I am happy to say what I am. That although I am an American by choice, I am still part of my birth country, especially researching family history going back 300+ years.
    Most think I am filipino, hawaiian, or american indian- none are correct! and if the person is interested I’m pleased to share that I am of three races and I don’t care about the exact percentage – that I have relatives of many races, cultures, religions and living in different countries. I know I am classified sometimes as “black” and I noticed at the voting “white” – I normally write in “multi-racial” instead of “other” on forms when asked for race.
    Race-color-religion- and being asked does not bother me at all.
    I think “class” is a bigger deal. People who are more educated, have more money, and thus more power, look down on the ‘working, lower class’ I work at a college, I face it every day.
    Its all a game.

    Reply
  27. While waiting in lines at Disney Land, my sister and I got asked this question so much that by the end of the day we were just making up countries. The best part: Americans on average are so awful at geography that most people completely believed us. :)

    As a person who is interested in finding out how one’s ethnic roots impacts the life experiences of a person, I find the question of cultural ethnicity is completely legitimate if you plan on legitimately conversing on the subject. When strangers ask this in passing with no intention of educating themselves on what the answer might mean to the person or prompted solely on non white appearance I get frustrated.

    So come to me and speak about your family having immigrated in the potato famine and how that impacted you in family culture. Or maybe you feel out of touch with the culture of your ancestors as a “white American” despite knowing your lineage. Let’s talk about that. Then ask me “What are you?” but mean it “Who are you, do you identify, and how do you get along in this old world?”

    Reply
  28. I’m, certainly, not surprised that your earlier posts are no less wonderful than the recent ones. I, especially, like this one because I always face such situations.

    I am Egyptian but sometimes people think I come from Europe or the States. It confuses many people to find me veiled but not look, typically, Egyptian. When I’m in a public transportation with a foreigner, and then I turn to someone and speak Egyptian Arabic, I find everyone staring at me like this is the last thing they ever imagined would happen.

    This, of course, puts me in some embarrassing situation. For example, I was with my American *boss* on the subway when an Egyptian girl, after finding out I can communicate in Arabic, told me that she, first, thought I was related to my boss. I can’t say my boss was very happy to hear this, which was hilarious.

    Also, when I used to work as a bookseller, it happened twice that a customer thought I was my boss’s daughter. My ex-boss is Icelandic!

    To avoid embarrassment, some people would ask me directly, “Do you speak Arabic?”

    However, this doesn’t make me feel like an outsider because Egyptians don’t have typical features. Here, we have a lot of people who look Asian who, if you asked, will say no one in the family recalls being of an Asian descendent. The same applies to those who look European, or like any other race. As for me, I do know– I’m from a very, very old Turkish-Saudi descendent :)

    Reply
  29. Trinity Wells

    Funny, why, I was just thinking of how I am always being asked about my race in a rather, nostalgic, “In My Life,” kind of way. For me I guess it depends in what way I am being asked. Kartina, I relate to you saying it isn’t so much a question as it is being “exoticized.” I think there can be a coldness with people’s need(motivation) to label, and especially in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s an inclusive celebration of divesity!

    Of course, many people ask me what I am because they feel that I am not American. Often they feel I look hispanic and I have told some that hispanics aren’t quite as foreign to America as they think ! (obviously, nor other races,etc).

    I am mostly Native American with a little bit of European. I have been told that I look or don’t look like a Native American(while often the persons idea of what a Native American looks like doesn’t include diversity within the tribes, hispanics, or whatever combination ) I get told i look Mexican, Indian from India, Greek, Italian, Iraqi,etc,etc.

    Other people of multirace, have asked or assumed what I am (and often in humorous, warm, and endearing ways) and it’s pleasant as they tell me that they often get asked what they are. Many people of various races have warmly assumed I was of their race. Yet, I have enjoyed many nice chats about the diversity of and beauty of race with people who don’t look like the races I pass for Ha Ha. A few times I have been blatantly yelled at by people in passing cars like i am some freak. But overall, in my experience, i tend to see that people are kind and loving and I choose to accentuate and focus on that.

    One African American woman told me that my taste in music was soulful and asked if I had black in me. I took this as a warm compliment. I enjoy all kinds of musical flavors and I love how they compliment each other. I am human but i am not just the bland cliche of human and I think that is true with the music metaphor hahah. I think Uniqueness transcends limiting views of gender and race. I think indivuality paints(and paints with) with the inherent beauty of them in a way that is free from dogma.

    I naturally enjoy diversity, beauty and unity. I don’t think i am this or that when i naturally love something. I remember some woman asked me what authors I liked and I named some and she thought that maybe I was mentioning them because of her own race but it was only because those were some of the actual authors I enjoyed and I hadn’t really thought of the authors in singular racial terms.

    I have friends that have never asked me what race i am. I have had people ask me the question with an encompassing view that doesn’t pin down multirace with limiting assumptions. I have a sense of humor and if a person’t intent is nice, i don’t mind. Yet, It depends, it can be nice, annoying, or make me think of how race is viewed so insentively.

    Once a guy asked me what I was and for some reason I thought he may of been inquiring of my sexuality as I felt he thought i was eccentric and wanted to be assured that I was heterosexual! I told him i was a mammal but then i quickly realized he was “just” asking me about my race. Yet, he asked me in a way like he had some fear and that he just had to pin me down with a label.
    Of course, people fearing things that don’t coform is happening with homosexuals and the majority trying to decree and impose their “morality” upon them but i won’t go into this tangent! I am heterosexual but i don’t care if someone thought i was homosexual and i think many labels placed upon hetero and homo are limiting and i see a correlation with race and limiting views hahah. I think our sexuality is part of our individuality but it doesn’t define it. I see a correlation here with limiting labels on race(to justifiy my tangent) haha.

    When my mother was a little girl she remembers being told to stay out of the sun cause people would think she was black. The family history is too long to get into but my uncle and my mother have different fathers and I thought how obviously insentive for adults to say that to my mother and especially when her brother was this “dreaded black.” I never grew up thinking of my uncle as half this or half anything! In the neighborhood i lived in till i was 10 there was nice cultural diversity and I remember being angry when as a teenager I visited some old friends and noticed some of them were sterootyping and labelling people where as my experiences only showed to me warm and loving people! My beliefs were based on my experiences. It’s obviously ludicrous when people use beliefs to collect limiting and blinding judgements. loving beliefs are magical.

    Kartina, you made an interesting point about labels applied to gender and race. I find it interesting that America is often thought of as a “masculine” country and India is thought of as “feminine.”
    Race and gender are both very often assigned certain charactersitics that can be so limiting! I feel race is a celebration of the diversity within unity. I love the beauty of multirace and the harmony of yin and yang. I enjoyed relating to and learning from the various comments and perspectives here.
    I think we are all multirace as the human race has a variety of beauty. I like to see the harmony and the beauty that comes from blending and celebrating unique approaches and views.

    Reply
    • Trinity wells

      I think the “primitive” cultures(around the world) that were seemingly marginalized, reflects aspects in society that still need to be healed. I think there is a symbolism with the health of race relations. In the U.S.A., One particular partriarch approach has tried to dominate until transformations in the 60′s – which are still un folding(hyper -rationalization, fear of natural impulses, success at the expense of others, divorce from Nature,etc ) has driven a wedge through many things like reason and intuition(to name a few). Where os of course, that isn’t the natural way!

      The overspecilization of what is thought of as the masculine approach isn’t blending and centered with spiritual principles that are often thought of as “feminine.” It’s easy to destroy Mother Earth when the unity of creation isn’t respected.

      Obviously, many men are taught to fear their so-called feminine sides and vice versa. I think there is a connection with the unnatural wedge between the sexes and the races. Where as evidenced in myriad ways, intellect and intuition are harmonious, and so are the races,etc. That’s the natural way.

      Many people still fear the races that symbolize to them what are thought of as the feminine or unconcious aspects of conciousness. That may explain why the wicked witch in the Wizard Of Oz wore black. I think it’s poetic that she symbolizes irrational fear cause it’s irrational to fear the “unconcious” aspects of night or “feminine” energy,etc.

      Or maybe I am crazy hahaha. In Summation: Society has made progress but individuality, diversity, and unity should never be suspect and we are still growing through challenges with this but I like to contribute with optimism. Also, I know I misspelled words from the other day but i am hurried and it’s a statement against patriarhc pedantry hahah. Multirace is beautiful cause it’s what the human race is.

      Reply

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