How To Know You Are Racially Ambiguous

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As someone who is of mixed race, I cannot even begin to describe the many encounters I’ve had—some hilarious, some disrespectful, all memorable—with family, friends, and strangers that have all centered around my skin color. Being Colombian-Italian means people almost always have no idea what ethnicity I am, and this creates the utmost and urgent need to categorize my racial and ethnic self. The following is a brief checklist, if you will, that confirms the occurrences of the racially ambiguous. It’s based on the culmination of my experience as someone who constantly must define her racial and ethnic background. Read on, and see if you make the cut.

You know you’re racially ambiguous when…

1. If you had a dollar for every time you were asked, “What are you?” you would have been world’s youngest billionaire

This question is the bane of my existence. It’s a question the racially ambiguous cannot escape, no matter where we go. Why don’t you people leave us alone, we shout, beating our fists at the sky, why don’t you let us find a bit of happiness! To no avail. The question persists and demands an explanation. What am I, you ask? I’m a  human, goddamnit, I’m a human and I just want to be loved. Sadly, this type of response never works. They don’t have time for jokes, these people—they demand answers: cold, hard answers. If you say the state you’re from, that won’t work either. “Massachusetts” isn’t what they were thinking when they saw your brown ass.  And don’t you even think of telling them you—and your grandparents—have lived here for, like, ever. That won’t cut it. They’re ruthless, these questioners, and they’ll pounce on any indication that you’re from somewhere that’s… not here. Mention an upcoming vacation to Puerto Rico and you’ll hear in response: “Oh, is that where your family is from?” Eat something with beans in it and the next thing you know, they’ll be asking for the cooking recipes of your peoples.  Eventually, however, you can only avoid the question of “what” you are for so long. There comes a time when you must answer that question. Before you do, though, you have a bit of fun.

2. You make strangers guess your ethnicity for your entertainment

That’s right, before you reveal “what” you are, you play that classic game: “Guess What Ethnicity I Am.” You’ve heard of it, right? It’s a favorite pastime of mine that never fails to result in amusement and merrymaking. The reason why it’s so fun? Because you’re racially ambiguous, that’s why! Based on the answers I’ve received from this guessing game, I now know that I can pass for Native American, Cambodian, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, African American…Oh, and white with a “nice tan.” Pretty cool, huh? Who knew you were so culturally diverse? If that’s not fun, I don’t know what is. The best part is that with all these various possible ethnicities, it’s a guaranteed fact that the racially ambiguous were destined for travel! We blend, people, it’s what we do, so please respect our craft. I could fit in with various populations from all over the world, and no one would be the wiser. Wohoo, Team Racially Ambiguous till I die!

3. People can’t shut up about how “exotic” you are

This kills me. Do you know how annoying this is? Just because I have a dark complexion doesn’t mean I’m exotic. If anything, I’m the opposite: the majority of people in this world share my complexion. Maybe YOU’RE the exotic one, you ever thought of that? Oh, how the tables turn! The worst is how “exotic” is used as a compliment. You are cementing my difference with that word; you are single-handedly perpetuating the “us vs. them” mindset with that term, and FRANKLY—on behalf of the racially ambiguous community, the time has come to say that—ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Tell me I’m beautiful! Compliment my intelligence or integrity, why don’t you! But if “exotic” is the best you can do…You need some new material, and fast.

So, do you qualify for Team Racially Ambiguous? There could be many more generalizations on what makes a racially ambiguous experience, but these three are probably the most relevant, for me at least. Let me tell you, it’s a tough job, this whole “I could pass for so many different ethnicities” thing. You deal with strange questions and awkward moments, yes, but ultimately I wouldn’t trade if for the world—or a different complexion. To all my racially ambiguous friends: Sure, it’s annoying to deal with the same questions over and over. Sure, sometimes you make up different ethnicities just because you’re in a mood. No judgment. But hey, it’s all part of the job, right? Those people aren’t trying to be annoying. They’re just…curious. And in desperate need to classify you. Embrace it. TC Mark

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Nora Turriago is a sophomore at Smith College, where she studies history and government. Read more articles from Nora on Thought Catalog.
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