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This Video Will Give You a Clue on What Not to Say to Mixed Race Folk

Liz Dwyer

Thanks to America's diversity and changing social attitudes, the number of multiracial children has skyrocketed from around 500,000 in 1970 to more than 6.8 million in 2000, according to U.S. Census data. However, that doesn't mean folks have stopped making inappropriate comments, like asking "What are you?" so here's a handy video to help cover the basics of what NOT to say to mixed race folk.

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  • Granny Cooper

    Of course people will be curious. Some are just plain rude. Answer then as best suits the situation. My major bugbear.... I am very fair skinned, and to all intents and purposes I look like typical anglo-celtic Australian. However I am of a very mixed racial background. Genetics made me look this way. It made my sisters look gypsy dark. I take enormous offence at being labelled "Caucasian". To me that is just as offensive as labelling someone Mongoloid, or Negroid. Those terms are offensive? You bet your sweet backside they are! Yet calling me Caucasian is somehow ok? Stop it. It's outdated and anthropologically wrong. We are just people. I don't identify as aboriginal, white, asian, romani.... I identify as an Australian. I don't care if someone asks me my background, or where I am "from". I just answer truthfully. I am an Australian, born in X and my ancestry is X. What do I consider myself? Duh... a human being. We just need to stop having to label people and see each other for what we are.... individuals.

  • black 12 year old

    im black but look mixed. and i know that im technically part of this coversation, i still have something to say about it.
    i am forever being asked "what i am" and to tell its very disrespectful to me and to all those mixed PEOPLE (see the way i capitalized people, i mean the way others look at mixed people as creatures not people)
    and listen im sorry if i sound stupid or not toyou im only 12 :)

    • I'm Irish not "White"

      Wait, I ask people all the time what nationality they are. No matter what they look like. Granted, I mostly ask white people if they're Irish, but, what, is it okay to ask anyone what they are except for someone of mixed race what nationality they are? Isn't that kind of racist? I ask them because I don't think it's a big deal. I'm curious, just like if I ask, "What are you studying?" Most "White" people I ask are mixed nationalities anyway. So I guess I'm racist.

  • Christopher Joseph

    Just ask anyone who appears mixed or not fully Asian, Black or Latino "May I ask what your heritage is?". That's all. Not "what are you"? or "Where are you from"? (my MOST hated question ever!!). My response: I am American and I am from America via NYC. What the hell are you? It's just the stupid questions that are irritating not the question itself. If people really thought first about what they were saying BEFORE they say it or ask it, videos like these would not have to be created. People LEARN about other races, heritages and cultures. That will help you avoid asking stupid questions!! And it's not just white folks, as I have had African Americans ask me "where I am from" or asking "Are you sure you Latino" just because I happened to be black or have black features (as if Latinos can't be black? Since when?). Sheesh.

  • Yeah So

    Oh jesus christ. Really? Getting offended at people asking you what you are?

    I'm mixed race (Caucasian/African American) and absolutely none of these would have offended me. I've actually been asked most of them.

    People are just curious. There's no need to be a stuck up douche because you think you're hot shit.

    • I'm Irish not "White"

      Thank you. All the sh_t going on in this world and people are worrying about this. Cry me a river.

    • Christopher Joseph

      It's all in HOW you ask someone. I don't think anyone who is offended at being asked "what are you" is saying NO ONE should ask them but it's how you ask the damn question! I'd rather someone ask me "what is your heritage" than say "you don't sound Latino" (I am Nuyorican) or "you are so articulate" or "you don't look Latino (because I am dark skinned... as if "latino" was a race?!). These videos are aimed at making people of all races aware of how dumb their questions sound and how offensive they are (because it's not just white folks asking these ignorant questions as I have had blacks/African Americans ask me dumb questions about my heritage!). There is nothing wrong with asking someone about their heritage or background; it's how you ask it and if your questions are just simply racist (as in assuming someone must speak Spanish if they are Hispanic or just assuming someone might not be Hispanic if they are "black").

  • Cristina Gazca

    That video doesn't help the problem multi- racial people face. It just made me mad watching it. try again. *thumbs down*

  • Ambelleina Warwillow

    All three of my siblings are biracial, I am not. Oddly enough, I am the one who always gets asked "Is your dad white?" Apparently I am the one who looks biracial because I have dark eyes and hair, but fair skin for a fully Hispanic woman whereas my siblings (and my mother) all have darker skin. I get asked what I'm "mixed with" all the time; the only issue I have with "what are you" is the implication that if you're not obviously white, you must "be something," meaning white is the default race, which it most certainly is not.

  • carsonleigh

    I am black and I get all of those questions. This video is of what not to say to people. Period. Especially the whole thing about looking exotic. I am not a kinkajou, I am a human being

  • Gene Dixon

    The question that I really did not care for was, "what do you consider yourself?"

  • Andy Robinson

    Say whatever you want to folks of mixed race. If what you say to them is meant in good humor and good will, then humans in general will not take umbrage. Those who do, and will not be mollified by your good will, are best ignored and marginalized by all.


  • AliceNWaters

    This does not even scratch the surface but it's still an awesome video!

  • Alexander Rose

    I agree with most people on this thread about intent -- i also want to add how people not of mixed race tend to fetishize my amazing mix of Colombian + Caucasian American background. On a date, it's always the first, second, or third question, and honestly, it is SO annoying, because it really just figures into what they find most attractive about me, and it's completely superficial. Bleh.

    • Richard Starr

      Fine, except they really don't know you except at the superficial level to start with. The reason why you date is to get to know someone. I've dated people that were very attractive on the outside but not so much on the inside. Which is to say, I stop.

      I must admit that I have not attempted to date women I do not happen to find physically attractive despite having other qualities that I admire. And then again, I'm quite certain a number of women have likewise chosen not to date me base on my looks too. It's human, and normal. It takes an extraordinary person to get fully beyond someones looks.

      • Alexander Rose

        Yes, but then I'll give them their answer, and they have this look like "oh boy that's really HOT" and I'm just creeped out by it. And usually, there are other things I'd say that are far more interesting that don't get those eyes as wide when they find out my heritage.

    • Alexander Rose

      as an addendum these people did not get second dates.

      • Liz Dwyer

        I can't tell you how glad I am that they did NOT!

  • Xian Barrett

    I kind of welcome these questions because they let me know quite early on in the relationship whether a person is capable of empathizing with me or not.

    It's like, if they are completely clueless on how to show respect for my life experience, I get to choose: "Do I want to spend energy educating this person, or am I not feeling it?" Do I want to risk them using what I teach to mess something else important up?

    If I feel like it, I will, if I don't--well it's not my job to spend 100% of my time trying to fix ignorant.

  • Andrea Despain

    I am mixed and look it (half Bolivian, half American/White/Caucasian). I have to say that I agree with what Tyler said about intent. Anyone who has ever asked me (in many different situations and circumstances) have simply genuinely seemed curious and often trying to connect- not just place me in society or make me feel like an outsider. They knew someone that looked like me, but was from ____, or they knew someone else from Bolivia!, etc. I have made friends online with someone Bolivian that I have never met in person because of a simple friendly exchange with someone else. To me it has always been more about connecting, sharing, making the world a smaller place. That being said, I've never had someone ask me with a superior tone. I haven't been offended even when it did just seem simple curiosity. In fact, I tend to get slightly irked when people assume I'm Mexican and that I must make amazing homemade tortillas/tamales/etc. I'd rather they ask me. The who vs what seems like an important point as well, although I don't think I've paid sufficient attention to notice before, so it hasn't bothered me . . . yet. I'm a little more aware now :)

    • Christopher Joseph

      Exactly! It's all about "assumptions". As in asking a Mexican "Are you sure you are Mexican?" if they happen to have European features and are tall and not Amerindian-appearing or asking a Dominican if they are black?! I mean, it's apparent if they are dark-skinned that they must have some Afro heritage... no need to ask such stupid questions. Are they African American? Not really, but yes, most Caribbean Latinos like me, have African heritage and some African features, but don't assume we are African American. It's all in HOW you ask someone. If most people became educated about other races/heritages, we wouldn't need this discussion, LOL. So in essence, it is not offensive to ask someone about their background; it's all in how you phrase the question that can make it offensive if it is based on assumptions, stereotypes and generalizations.

  • Tyler Sammy

    I don't understand why being curious about a person's ethnicity is offensive? We should all be more curious about each other's roots, so we can learn more about our differences, and recognize our similarities as members of the same human race. People ask, "what are you?" because they are interested in learning more about you, instead of assuming things they don't know...

    • Liz Dwyer

      Intent matters, as well as personal relationships. If someone knows me for awhile, they're going to find out that my dad is Irish and my mum is black, but otherwise, what difference does it make? If you don't know me, why do you really need to know "what" I am? I have been shopping for a car and the dealer asked, "What are you?" I've been standing in line at Disneyland and been asked that. It's an "othering" sort of question, one that suggests that you are not the norm, and oftentimes, it is asked with a superior tone--as if the person is saying that they are normal, while you are something that needs figuring out so they can "place you" in society.

      • Christopher Joseph

        Liz, I agree with your right to be irked by such stupid random questions. I've been asked those same questions by both Whites and people of color (you'd think at least people of color would know better!!). Your racial heritage and by judging from your avatar photo can easily pass as Puerto Rican (my heritage) but also Caribbean or Dominican or just plain American mixed with white. It's all in the intent and HOW you asked. I know better than to ask someone who appears "exotic"... "where are you from?". If the curiosity is killing me, I will ask politely and ONLY if I know them well or not complete strangers... "May I ask what your heritage is"? I think that is less offensive and just sincerely curious as you want to get to know that person. The old "Where you from", especially if you were born here in America and sound American, is just irksome and rude.

      • Tyler Sammy

        Intent definitely matters. Here in Toronto, I have experienced much more of a curious intent, people who just seem to be curious about the people that live and work near them. If you are experiencing someone talking down to you when they ask about your ethnicity, I can understand how that might irk you. Personally, I enjoy the conversation, as it gives us all, strangers and friends alike, to learn a little bit more about each other, how we are different, and how we might be the same. Just happened to have a random chat with a blue eyed, blonde, "white" lady the other day who was curious about me. Turns out she happened to have a little bit of Trinidadian in her too!

    • Sarah Connor

      I 'm OK. At least we will be from nowhere land. I'm proud to say my grand parents came from this place. Because it means I have a family and not just a citizen, a number. The problem is only with some mixed folk. When you talk a black or white guy about his birthday place he answers, just like a little chat. Maybe the problem comes from a range of people who has a personnal problem with family and don t accept to be "mixed". It's weird because we are all mixed now.

      • Liz Dwyer

        I don't know if "the problem is only with some mixed folk." I'd love to know more about what you're thinking when you say that. From my perspective, the problem lies in the way racial rules and codes work in our society. Someone with a parent of Irish descent and someone with a parent of Welsh descent is identified as white in America and enjoys the societal privileges that come with that. If you are mixed across other groups, particularly if you have two parents of completely different colors/ethnic backgrounds, there's an entirely different experience.

    • Stacy Portnoy

      I don't get overly sensitive and offended when asked what am I, but if you think about it, to be asked what you are, rather than who you are, sounds like I am something other than a person... I am not a who, but a what..a thing. This could go for anyone asked what they are, mixed or not. I think its about looking "different" in the eyes of others, like feeling like a novelty, that may feel uncomfortable. Anyhow, in a way we are all "mixed" at some point or another in the our history.

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Great point Stacy- it's the WHO vs the WHAT that's key.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I've gotten "what are you?" and I'm not even mixed. It's so offensive. Same goes for the "exotic" comment.

    • kenny500

      Whites are the ones that caused all these crap in the first place through their discrimination against all people of color. Look at Barrack Obama, will it make sense for him to identify with his white side? He looks so black for God's sake just like many black Africans who are not mixed. Obama is WISE. He knows where he belongs and that is why he married a black woman despite the millions of whites in US. He is wise, he knows he will be accepted by blacks more. The whites still see him as 'the other'. My mutiracial child for instance knows where he belongs even though he has a white mother, he looks so black and feels more accepted by blacks. Look at the support Obama received from blacks including Africans. This is because he is one of their own. He has a black African father who he looks so much like. Look at his hair, is it blond? or does he have blue eyes? So, let's face the reality here. That is why people like Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Obama and several other biracial are wise to be dating and marrying blacks because they are more accepted by blacks then whites. That is the simple truth. Go back to history and look at the discrimination 'non whites' faced in USA and think. The problem is from the whites who look down on others.

    • kenny500

      This entire video does not make sense at all. There are too many hasty generalizations and it is seriously poorly researched. What a SHAME. I am a black African and I know black Africans have a variety of colors. There are many black Africans who were never mixed with other races but who are as light as Beyonce, Alicia Keys or even lighter. Have you ever been to Africa, so why talk about what you don't know? So, your example of a black African does not represent all the blacks, that is narrow minded. It represents a majority of blacks though. And to you, If you do not tell anyone you are biracial, do you think anyone will know. No one will know because you look so black to me. You are not different from many full blacks. Your video is a waste of time and a complete failure. You have not helped biracial people like my child with this terrible video. I have a child who is mixed (white and black) and i call my child black because he looks almost like me, his black father.