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PSA: 'What are you?' Is Not an Icebreaker

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I'm single. And I live in NYC. And I'm really busy just like everyone else here, so I decided to give Internet dating a try. In the midst of the flood of ever-creative messages simply reading "hi" or "let's chat," there were an overwhelming number of messages asking: "What are you?" 

The only thing that is more annoying than the question itself is both the frequency -- and the freedom and authority -- with which people feel they can ask it.  

In the words of one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls: "You can't just ask people why they're white." It's pretty unheard of to ask a white person their particular country of origin directly upon meeting them. Just as you probably wouldn't ask an African-American person their particular country of origin upon meeting them -- especially due to the unfortunate way in which many Africans were brought to this country, in many cases cutting off the ability to identify a country of origin. Now, I know a lot of my Asian friends get this question because people want to know "what kind of Asian" they are. But as my girl Bon Qui Qui from "MADtv" would say, "RUDE."

I have gotten this question all my life. At school. At the park. At parties. On the subway, a woman once tapped me on the shoulder and had me take out my headphones, interrupting my favorite Mariah Carey song, to ask me, "What are you?" She wasn't ready for the answer she got that day, because it was just a whole lot of side eye.

The problem with this question is, for a lot of us blended people, that it doesn't have a simple answer. In most cases, our identities were not something we were born with or something we inherited from our parents. Because our parents are different from each other and different from us. Our identities are something we chose. They are formed and cultivated over years, and some of us may still not have the answer for ourselves, so we surely can't explain it to you. Nor should we have to. For ANY person, shaping an identity is an intimate process. And it's more than the genetic combinations that make up the color of your skin, eyes, hair types and features.

So, what am I?

I'm a woman. I'm a New Yorker (yes, I was born here). I'm American. I'm human.

If I was Borg, I'd be one of two. Because as far as I know, there are only two people in the world with my particular ethnic mix. Myself and my brother.

I'm a singer. I'm a songwriter. I'm a fashionista.

I'm a Christian, but I'm open-minded. I hate that I have to say that I'm a Christian that's open-minded.

I'm the "other" check box.

Apparently, I'm exotic... good thing I like birds so I don't mind this stupid saying so much.

I'm complicated.

And for the sake of never having to answer this question ever again because everyone who asks me henceforth will be forwarded to this note, I am (in alphabetical order) African-American, Italian, Mexican, Native American and Swedish.  

Right. You were NOT gonna guess that. And now that you know that, you still have no idea what box to put me in. Because I'm pretty sure there is no box for that. You might need a suitcase for all of that. And knowing that will not likely help you to relate to me, understand me or know me any more than you did five seconds ago. It might satisfy an unnecessary and fleeting curiosity of yours, but in your quest to do so, it might make me or any other blended person you'd ask that question to feel incredibly uncomfortable.

For me, my identity has caused a lot of arguments and pain in my life. So I might not want to answer "What are you?" because I might be apprehensive as to how you, a total stranger, are going to judge me and possibly react to the choice of identity that took me years to accept and understand.

As a kid, I went to a pretty much all-white private school, but lived in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood. I felt like I was connected to everyone, but I was a part of nothing. For the white kids, I was like show and tell. I always felt like I was on display. Like, "Look at this cool interesting creature I'm friends with! Isn't she so exotic?" Not kidding. One of my 'friends' actually called me a creature one time. Pretty sure she didn't get invited to my awesome Barbie roller skate party that year. And then you get those back-handed compliments like "Well, you're not REALLY Black..." Um, thanks?

The Latina girls looked down upon me because I "didn't know my heritage" and couldn't speak Spanish. So even though they could speak English, they only spoke Spanish around me. I'm not sure if they were secretly ahead of their time with the whole Rosetta Stone immersion concept and thought I'd pick it up or if they were just bitches. I'm gonna go with bitches because it just made me feel isolated and rejected, and I was a kid. I just wanted to play with them.

And then there were the arguments I got into with African-Americans since I don't answer, "What are you?" with "Black." I don't know if maybe they felt that I was somehow rejecting them or embarrassed of being Black, but neither is true. Yes, I am fully aware that for certain closed-minded types of people, 1/32nd of the blood in my veins is Black, so therefore I am Black. But to me, identifying solely as Black makes me feel like I'm rejecting my father, whom I love very, much. And I can't just pretend that half my family doesn't exist... that's... weird.

And then I have to explain why I "talk white." And that my hair is real. And that my mom was not my babysitter, but in fact my mom. And that my dad did not adopt me. And it all becomes so tedious and exhausting I almost want to walk around covered in blue paint because it might actually be easier. Everyone loves Blue Man Group. No? OK, maybe not...

My point is that "What are you?" is not an icebreaker. Let blended people give that information to you, should we choose to. I usually offer it up with pride once I know someone and feel accepted by them based on my own merit and sassy charm. Let's be honest, I know you're confused as hell looking into my face... I surely was for most of my life. But especially if you're trying to get a date with me, or any Blendiva, don't be that person.