Trigger warning: mention of rape.
As a mixed race person, navigating a world that is so obsessed with binary can be exhausting. We are constantly defending who we are as well as never really feeling like we belong to any ethnic group. While I recognize that I am white-passing and I receive many privileges my Chinese family members do not, my passing privilege is conditional and oftentimes I am faced with much ignorance to me being multiracial. There is a lot of disbelief and invasive questioning that follows me revealing that I am half Chinese.
While we are all in favor of you learning and becoming educated about who mixed people are, many of the questions we receive are inconsiderate, even if they’re not intended to be.
So here is a list of things you should probably stop saying to mixed race people. As I am Chinese, I will mostly be centring these statements around multiracial Asians.
What are you?
I personally am a human being, if that is what you are asking.
“What are you” is invasive and is often said out of the blue. It stems from us being perceived as racially ambiguous, prompting you to ask why that is. Instead, perhaps allow us to share our backgrounds with you when we choose to.
Where are you really from?
This implies that we are lying about where we are from (which, by the way, is Australia for me).
When we are asked this question, it comes across as you thinking you know better than we do about where we come from. It is received as you overriding our experiences and identities because we do not fit your oppressive stereotypical expectations. We really are not trying to trick you by saying that, for example, we were born in Australia. We are simply choosing to share with you a part of who we are.
Not to mention that we all have different yet valid experiences of what it is like being multiracial. My experience being Chinese is just as valid as my mothers’, who grew up in Guangzhou City. There is no one correct way to be and live as a member of a certain race.
You’re so exotic!
While this seems like a compliment and is probably coming from a place of good intentions, that is not how it comes across. This label is often placed upon multiracial people (as well as people of color) because we do not fit your eurocentric expectations of what is beautiful and attractive. We are seen as ‘unconventional’ and ‘alternative’. This label further others us and perpetrates the idea that we are products meant for the consumption of white people.
I wish I had mixed kids!
The underlying message this statement is projecting is that people of color ‘need to have some white in them’ in order to be perceived as beautiful or attractive. Obviously, a multiracial person can be a mix of two different races which are not necessarily white, however when you say that you ‘wish you had mixed kids’, it is often intended as being a mix of whiteness and color.
Not only is this fetishization of mixed people problematic, but this underlying goal of ‘purifying’ people of color so we fit your whitewashed image of what is beautiful is one that leads many of us to question who we are. Usually, you wanting mixed kids is so they can have all the hip and trendy features of a ‘foreign’ culture while still maintaining a white (passing) or light-skinned complexion.
This idea has been validated throughout history. For example, light-skinned multiracial slaves (who were the result of rape) were often given preferential treatment by plantation owners and their henchmen. They were promoted to house slaves while monoracial slaves worked field labor. This created a hierarchy within black people which still continues to this day, in which being light-skinned or multiracial is seen as attractive and desirable, more so than being dark-skinned.
You don’t look Asian. / You’re practically white.
Saying that we do not look Asian implies that we do not fit one of the preconceived stereotypes of Asian people that you have in your head. You are basing our validity as Asian people off of oppressive ideas of how an Asian person should act, behave and speak. The reality is that we are valid whether or not you acknowledge it.
These are just a few things you should probably stop saying to multiracial people. Go check out a YouTube video I uploaded where I discuss more things mixed race people are tired of hearing in a more light-hearted manner.