On Being Mixed

Few things on Good ol’ planet Earth have the potential to be more confusing than being mixed. Actually, a lot of things are more confusing, but this article isn’t about any of those things. Regardless, being mixed is a condition/state of being that is becoming more and more common. If you aren’t mixed (and if you go back far enough who isn’t?), odds are you know plenty of people who are. Either way, here are a few of the weirdest things about being mixed.

[DISCLAIMER: for simplicity’s sake, I’m using the term ‘mixed’ to refer to anyone who is of two or more races, for all you purists out there (get it?) who think it only means black and white.]

 Race isn’t the real issue (it’s what you look like)

Let’s start this one off with a personal experience.

Am I black? No, but for all intents and purposes, yes. How the heck is that? It’s all in how people perceive me. For instance, if asked to describe me in as little words as possible, most people would say “skinny black guy” (followed either by “I think,” or “wasn’t he?” or my personal favorite, “he was actually more of a bronze color.”) Point is, at first glance, most people think I’m black. Of course, a lot of people think I’m Latino, or Asian, but I digress.

Now in high school there was this friend of mine who had one white parent and one black parent. At first glance though, one would assume he was white. There was this thing called African American Culture Group that met every so often, and we both went (to get out of class, of course). Guess which one of us got all the weird looks and funny faces? It wasn’t me. Why? Simple: l looked more black than he did, so even though technically he had more black in him than I do, we were both treated as though the opposite were true. All based on how we appeared.

The point? It really doesn’t matter exactly what you have floating around in your gene pool, because whichever you end up looking like the most, that’s what people will – for the most part – assume you are. Unless, of course, you give them a reason not to. Which brings us to the next point . . .

Society wants you to choose sides (at least that’s what it feels like)

Quick, describe a typical Latino man. Okay, how about a White woman? Now, an Asian man.

Odds are, some of the images that popped up were stereotypes. Unless you don’t get out much, in which case, turn off your computer, go outside, it won’t hurt you. Back to the first group. Are stereotypes wrong? Most of the time. Do they sometimes contain a grain of truth? Sometimes. Do we all have them? Absolutely.

That’s not new information. It’s human nature to try to bring order to or make sense of the world around us by categorizing (or stereotyping) what we see based on our own individual experiences or the experiences of those who raised us. For instance, if every single one of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa’s that we see was orange with green hair (they were, by the way), it only makes sense to assume that every Oompa Loompa out there is orange with green hair.

But suppose we travel to Oompa Loompa land (Oompaland?) and we spotted a dozen Oompas with red skin and purple hair. How might we react? Aside from “What the scallop, a red Oompa Loompa!”

The thing about that scenario is that we shouldn’t really be all that surprised to see our little red Oompas. For all we know, most of them are actually red with purple hair. The orange ones could be the minority. We’d have no real way of knowing because we haven’t seen every Oompa Loompa in existence, nor would we ever. No one will, because Oompa Loompas do not, in fact, exist. All we know are the ones we’ve encountered in Wonka’s factory.

The point of all this is to illustrate the problem inherent with stereotyping. It really all depends on one’s own experiences, or the experiences of the people who raised us. For all we know, every Oompa Loompa really is orange, every black person will kill you for stepping on their shoes, every Asian person is from China and knows some exotic form of martial arts, and every white person is a closeted Klansmen. Are these things true in ever case? Of course not. Are there some cases? Maybe, and for some people, those cases are enough to justify the belief that they are true in every case, because who’s going to take the time to meet every person of a particular group to verify that they all do indeed all have that weird way of talking?

We can’t do that, even if we’d like to. So the only way to really do anything about it is to widen our own experiences, get to know as many different types of people as we can, things like that.

Circling back to the mixed among us. Oftentimes mixed people are the children of two or more cultures, which means that many times, we act in ways that aren’t always culturally specific (Asian guy who doesn’t speak a lick of any Asian language? Black guy who loves Coldplay? What?). This doesn’t always happen because you’re mixed. But when that is a reason, it makes everything a little weirder. For instance, I could count on one hand how many times I’ve been called ‘white boy’ if my hand had a bagillion fingers on it. My sister’s been called an Oreo since, well, before she could eat Oreos, I guess. All because for whatever reason we didn’t act in a stereotypical ‘black’ fashion. You know what that feels like? Like people are pulling you aside and saying “Look, you’re either one of us or one of them. What’s it gonna be?”

Crazy question, right? Oh, but it gets weirder…

You Will Get the Weirdest Questions Ever

I was taking the bus one day, minding my own business and whatnot, all alone. A couple gets on and sits across from me. No big deal. Ten minutes later I hear them whispering to each other and laughing. You know that feeling you get when you know somebody is talking about you? Finally the guy gets my attention. This is how the conversation went.

Complete Stranger: Are you part Asian?

Me:…yeah.

Complete Stranger: I knew it! [Turns to his wife] I told you!

Complete Stranger’s Wife: I knew he was.

Me: …

Another time I was at work. I was at my register, taking a nice lady’s order when she stopped, looked at me and asked (in all sincerity), “Are you from an island?”

This type of weird thing literally happens to me all the time. I’ve had people deconstruct and analyze my facial features (while I was sitting right there), argue over where I must be from (while I was right there), and tell me I’m lying when they finally ask me what nationality I am (it’s implied, but I was there for that too). Do I mind people asking? Absolutely not. I’d rather people ask than assume. Is it weird sometimes? Sure. Can it be awkward? Oh yeah.

Now, I’m pretty open about my mixedness and all, but it’s not like I wear a badge or something that advertizes it or something. I get those questions just for existing, which means that, short of drastic reconstructive plastic surgery, I’ll keep getting them. And I suppose, that’s cool.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and in the larger scheme of things, being mixed is by far not the worst thing in the world. In fact it’s pretty sweet. These are just a couple of the things I’ve noticed about it over the last 22 years, and I’m sure in a couple more years, I’ll have a few more items to add to the list. In the meantime though, that’s about it.

 

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