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S/O- "What are you?" - Page 2

post #21 of 38
Thread Starter 
Okay, I'm glad to hear that and I will bear it in mind when I speak to people of Asian descent in the future. Thank you for the education.
post #22 of 38
I figure that I as a white person, growing up in an area that was 99.9% white, I really can't say what is or is not offensive to other ethnicities/races. To me, and to everyone I know, any question asking about heritage is totally acceptable. All variations of "what are you" are fine. It's not loaded where I'm from.

But I know that my very German blond haired, blue eyed Grandfather got irked when my aunt and her husband (a more dark-skinned man of Slavic heritage) had a son. His sisters asked, "Is he dark?" and Grandpa snapped at them for asking such a thing, because he felt that they implied a judgement, that being darker would be undesirable. His sisters are kind of like that... so I guess the context matters. He felt that their question was "loaded."

Anyway, I asked my husband, who actually is a minority, if it bothers him, and he went back and forth. At first he said, "No, why would it? I just answer." and then he said, "Well, I don't like it sometimes..." and then he said that basically, the question by itself wouldn't bug him, but that under some circumstances (like, depending on who is asking and why) that it could.

I am basically (because of my 99.9% white background) just really afraid of being offensive without meaning to. So I try to steer away from ANYTHING that would indicate that I'm focusing on color or ethnicity. : To the point of being overly PC. So I wouldn't say "What are you?" or worse, "What are they?" in reference to someone's children. I'd say, "What a pretty little girl!" and move on.

But in some instances it's helpful. We have some Asian neighbors, whose daughter is good friends with our daughters, and all I knew is that they were not Japanese or Chinese - I would have recognized the language, and it would have been easier to get to know them because we have a bit of understanding of Chinese culture, and more about Japanese. I really really wanted to know, it seemed like it would be helpful in bridging the gap. On the one hand, I want to honor that there ARE distinct cultures in Southeast Asia. On the other hand, I don't know how to ask. I found out from the daughter in as roundabout a way as I could. (Laotian, if you were wondering.)

I had a friend in college that everyone assumed was AA, when in fact she was Hispanic (Dominican.) I think she actually appreciated it when people asked what she was, because it showed a lack of assumption.

My grandmother always used to say that biracial babies were the most beautiful babies possible... I wonder if that is offensive? I don't think she would have said it in front of anyone other than immediate family, but she was very sincere. It just made me uncomfortable to even have race mentioned. Which I know is silly - because my family really appreciates diversity. But - I guess because I know that they were even more insulated than I was, just by circumstances - that they naturally will have a bit of ignorance in how to be sensitive while still being comfortable. I got burned in college in a history class, in my bright eyed, bushy tailed freshman year, when talking about slavery in the US - and I was talking about the plantation owners viewing the slaves like cattle... and somehow this one AA girl got the idea that I was saying that blacks are like cattle. I was mortified, it was the worst feeling. I still to this day don't know where I mispoke. If it had just been her, I would have thought she was simply mishearing or very sensitive about it, but several other AA students were also angry, so I can only assume I was ignorant in my wording. I still can't think of it without a bad feeling in my stomach, and it's been over a decade. My professor fortunately got what I was trying to say, and helped me feel a bit better, and I posted a formal apology and explanation that I didn't think anything like that. It blew over but I was traumatized.

This was all very rambly, mostly I'm just trying to figure out what I'm thinking. I just would never talk about heritage with anyone who wasn't white, unless they brought it up first. And then I'd be very interested in what they had to say. I'm not sure I'm expressing myself very well, it's 2:30 AM here!! :

(While I liked my childhood, and feel like my family did a wonderful job of instilling in me a love of diversity despite the insularity of our area - I am SO glad that my children are growing up with more exposure to different ethnicities and races and cultures than I had. Less self-doubt, more connection.)
post #23 of 38
I like to invite people to guess my ethnicity when they ask "what are you?" They never get it, and the guesses tend to be amusing. It is also frustrating and sad that when I do tell them, most folks' geographical knowledge is so poor that they STILL don't know where we're from.

I have been yelled at by older Hispanics for "not speaking my language" (not Hispanic) asked questions about Oklahoma and the reservation (not Native), and especially in the summer, complimented on my tan. :roll:

I understand the wariness at answering the question, and the feeling that the question itself can come from a place of ignorance (trying to decide which jokes to tell around a person, for example). I like to think that my little guessing games are my way of exploiting the ignorance and getting some entertainment out of what could have been an uncomfortable conversation.
post #24 of 38
Once DH, DC, and I were at Chuckie Cheese and an Asian lady was speaking what seemed to be fluent Russsian to another woman. I was just in awe. I told DH and he said that she was probably from Kazakhstan. Oh

When I worked in Macy's there was an Asian manager. I was looking for her and asked around, using her name. One employee said, you mean the Chinese lady, she's over there. I found the manager and discussed whatever. Then I went back to the employee and said, 'I don't think she's Chinese'. To which the employee responded, Chinese or whatever. HOW RUDE.
I later sked the manager, and in fact she was Vietnamese and married to an AA. In the beginning her parents were very upset, but came around once the DC were born.

ETA:Alot of people think my DH is Russian, which frustrates him because he thinks he doesn't look Russian. He says so many people assume because he's White and non American looking, then he must be Russian.

My aunt often takes my DC out and she has tons of experiences. Most recently she took my DC fishing and was asked by the Park Ranger if she was the babysitter. She told him that she was the aunt, and he asked if they were visiting her. She said yes, although we share a 2family home with her. I guess it was easier to just say yes. Then he asked, where are they visiting from, and she said Brooklyn, LOL. I just know he was expecting some exotic place
post #25 of 38
I've never been asked "What are you?", but I get offended when people asked me "Where are you from?". I guess I just don't like to talk about my heritage that much.
post #26 of 38
This is a question I get frequently.
I am Korean and Afr. American (and all of the other stuff that gets mixed in with being Afr. American, like Native and White).
I have been told that I look like the following: Jordanian, Arabic, Egyptian, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Dominican, Filipino, Samoan, Hawaiian, Chinese, Jamaican, Russian (by a Russian man), and a host of other things.
I used to get offended by it and I'd usually answer, "A woman" or "human" or something like that. I'd just assume that the asker lacked the manners to ask in a non-offensive way.
My DS will probably get it as well. He is Korean, Afr. American, Turkish and Scottish.
post #27 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by olliepop View Post
I'm not sure it's a slur, but it is definitely politically incorrect to refer to people as Oriental. I was taught that things are Oriental (rugs, food, etc.) but people are not. A friend of mine adopted a little girl from China and was very offended when people referred to her dd as "oriental," instead of Asian.
My Korean mom still says "Oriental", even though I've corrected her a thousand times.
What are you going to do, huh?
She does not find it offensive so it's not a problem.
post #28 of 38
I break into a sweat when anyone asks me "What are you?" because I don't know, myself!

I actually feel a little thrill, too, as if the person asking is going to figure it out for me.
post #29 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turkish Kate View Post
Call me crazy, but I'd just to have someone ask about DS's ethnic background. I'd be more than happy to talk to them about all things Turkish, discuss culture, food differences, and why he wears the beads and charms he has on. As a culture, we'll never be comfortable with our differences until we can talk about them with impunity.
I'm with you, my dh is filipino and I'd love for someone to ask about my kids' heritage, since of course they look like him. Since getting married to my dh, I've been more interested in all things asian and will teach my kids to be proud of who they are and what they look like. I've been asked a few times if they're adopted when they're with me, and the question doesn't bother me remotely. I think adoption is an absolutely wonderful thing--my brother has adopted two hispanic boys, my cousin has adopted a korean boy (after have 4 of their own kids). I understand my kids don't look like me, and honestly I'm thrilled that they don't. Everyone else in my side of the family has blonde headed kids, why would I want more of the same? I figure it's more of a compliment if anything that that strangers might think I've done a wonderful thing like adoption. It was hilarious one day when we went to get their picture taken --my girls and I without dh, my brother and sister-in-lawe with their kids. The photographer was trying to organize kids with their parents, but had to ask whose kids were whose since they didn't look like any of the adults there!
post #30 of 38
I'm one of those who finds the "What are you?" question rude so I usually respond,

"American."
post #31 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Minxie View Post
I'm one of those who finds the "What are you?" question rude so I usually respond,

"American."
Dh said he answers "Human." That is also his race.

Interestingly he said the question that doesn't bother him is "What's your nationality?"... but he's probably disappointing for them, since he's American.

Interestingly, my sister's ILs thought Dh looked Egyptian. That same sister has been told she looks Romanian or Bulgarian (we have zero known heritage in that area.)

Jannah5, the woman could also have been from Uzbekistan,Kyrgyzstan, etc. I had a couple of close friends in college who were Kyrgyz.
post #32 of 38
I struggle with finding a polite way of asking people what their cultural background is. For the most part I just don't do it, then wish I had. I am white, but my husband is Japanese and Korean. Our daughter looks mostly white, except she has sort of Asian looking eyes. Her hair is light brown and her skin is like mine (except in the summer when she tans). Mostly my reason for asking people is because I sort of feel like I have some Asian heritage myself (even though that sounds stupid) and I would like to talk with other Asian people to see what kind of things they do with their family and to somehow parent my daughter better. I'm not sure I'm explaining what I mean very well, but it seems like I am missing out on what could be meaningful conversations because I don't want to come off as the rude white person asking an annoying question. Also, I am trying to find a good way to respond to other people when they ask me about my daughter. I usually get told I have a beautiful daughter and is she mixed with something? I think "mixed with something" is such a strange word to use.
post #33 of 38

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Edited by RainCoastMama - 2/26/14 at 9:51pm
post #34 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by pokeyrin View Post
I agree it's all in the context. Sometimes the "What are you?" question bugs me when I feel like it could be asked in a more intelligent way such as "What is your ethnic background?"

For the most part I'm pretty laid back about it until someone uses the word Oriental. That just makes me grit my teeth, I can't stand being referred to as Oriental and I can't stand hearing people call other Asians or refer to Asian things as Oriental.
I totally agree! I really hate it when referred to as Oriental. The other thing hate is that I get comments that I speak so well. When I used to work as an auditor for a large government contractor company, I had to travel to the midwest a lot. I would interview people regarding their jobs. The comments I get all the time would be what I am and how I spoke english so well. I just didn't like the assumption that just because I was Asian that I would be speaking with a an accent or that I would be speaking broken english.
post #35 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by RainCoastMama View Post
Hee hee I'am always asked that Q b/c I look (Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Native, biracial, Greek) (I'm actually South Asian).

An ex bf once took me to a B and B and the (white) manager asked my (white, redheaded Irish) bf what I was when I was out of earshot. His anwer? "She's perfect." :
Awwww.....
post #36 of 38
when I was younger, it had never been explained tactfully how to ask about someone's ethnic background. We just said, "what are you?" But, as I got older, I learned that it was rude and tacky to ask that.

I had a man recently stop me at Walmart and say, "is their father white?" to me, that was fine. I said yes. Had he said "what are your kids," I would have been offended.
post #37 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by RainCoastMama View Post
An ex bf once took me to a B and B and the (white) manager asked my (white, redheaded Irish) bf what I was when I was out of earshot. His anwer? "She's perfect." :

My - with a quote like that, bummer he's an ex!
post #38 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by suburbmom View Post
I totally agree! I really hate it when referred to as Oriental. The other thing hate is that I get comments that I speak so well. When I used to work as an auditor for a large government contractor company, I had to travel to the midwest a lot. I would interview people regarding their jobs. The comments I get all the time would be what I am and how I spoke english so well. I just didn't like the assumption that just because I was Asian that I would be speaking with a an accent or that I would be speaking broken english.
Being multicultural is a lot more acceptable and more of the norm now and I think that is why I get irritated now and then if someone calls me Oriental, because it's so outdated. My step-mom who is Korean will use the word Oriental to refer to Asians when speaking to a non-Asian. But if she's talking to me or other Asians she'll actually refer to them as Chinese, Korean, Japanese etc... or what she thinks they look like.

When I was younger I would also get those "Wow you speak perfect English!" or "Hey, how come you don't have a Chinese accent?" comments before. As I got older I would get it more from Chinese people who were shocked that I spoke Mandarin with no American accent.
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