By Danielle Huxley
Chair of the Women of Color Action Team
Guessing one’s ethnicity has become passé. “Why take the time to go down the list? There are so many varieties”, ponders the inquisitor. A reconfiguration occurs; a scrambling of sentences to give the façade of freshness to generalizations of cultural masses. I can see the strain of the thought process go over my inquisitor's face. I am amused slightly because I am already well aware of the answer to the question that they seek. Should I help this person out? Nope. Why should I be the one to concede?
Oh, here come the compliments. “You have an exotic look. It’s unique.” I smile as a way of saying thank you for the faux compliment. “Where are you from?” This inquisitor has a fast transitional speed; right into the cross examination phase. I respond coyly but honestly, “All over.” This is actually true. Growing up I have never lived any place more than 18 months. “Oh, okay. But where are you from originally; your birthplace?” I answer. “I meant to ask about where your parents were born, originally”, frustration building for the interviewer. I am sure you can tell where this is going.
In the past I was more naïve and believed that it was my duty as an individual with a mixed ethnicity to identify first with that background. Through the years and the endless inquiring I had an epiphany. I decided to turn the tables and see how the inquisitor responded to an interrogation of them. The reactions I received on more than one occasion were of perplexity and in some cases irritation. Most were confused as to why I did not realize that they were “just white”. I pressed further with my questions about where their parents were born, originally of course. If it was within the states I asked about grandparents and so on. I was astounded that many did not know their ancestral tree like I did. So, why was I expected to know the answers to these questions? Why is it anyone’s business what my cultural upbringing was? The answer in short is it is not. Would knowing it change how they interact with me? For some yes, my cultural heritage was essential to form a bond.
America has a plethora of people from various other places. Sometimes they traveled from across the world to make this place their new home. In order to have some commonality with them why do we need to first know why they look like they don’t belong? I feel for those that are either new to this indoctrinated process or still have yet to find a way to deal with it.
I was on the MAX blue line the other day and there were two gentlemen that were at the initial stage of conversation. One had a very thick accent the other did not. The accented man asked a very general question about the other man’s day. The response that he received was not an answer, but rather a new question of, “So, where are you from?” The man responded, “Portland.” The other man raised his tone, “No, no way. I am from Portland and you don’t look or sound like me.” The other man having realized the true nature of the conversation gave in and stated his country of origin, although I cannot recall but it does not matter. “That’s more like it. One of my good buddies from college is from around there”, he stated with a satisfied tone. It turns out though through their curt dialogue that both men arrived to Portland within a few years of each other. The only difference was one came from another country and the other from a different state within the United States. The man with the accent never asked which state the questioner came from. It was not of concern to him. All he expected to have with his friendliness was a lighter toned conversation. The interrogated man got up to get off at the next stop and wished the other a good day. The inquisitor sat with a smug look on his face. My internal reaction was sadness and irritation. It distressed me to see another go through that and left me with wondering if the inquisitor ever knows how the ones they come in contact with are affected. My assumption is that they do not.