Racist and Inappropriate Questions and Comments About Multiracial Families and Individuals Part I

Comment: Does your family approve of your relationship?
Variations of Comment: What do you parents think? Have you told your family?
What Comment Really Means: I know your family probably isn’t happy about this. Or, my family would be pissed; let me see if this is true for this person. Or, your family couldn’t possibly support you, could they? Or, does you family actually like Blacks/Asians/Latinos/Indians/Whites?
Why comment is racist/inappropriate or both: The main reason this comment is inappropriate is because it is none of other people’s business. It also holds up a double standard. Could you imagine random strangers going up to same race couples and asking them how their family feels about their relationship? Another problem with this question is that it really becomes tedious because people ask it all of the time. So if you get up the nerve to ask someone in an IR this sort of question, your certainly not the first person, and you may have to pay for the fact that many people in interracial relationships get tired of having to justify or validate their existence by answering personal questions.

Is this question ever appropriate? I think if you get to know people well it is a perfectly acceptable question, but people should still proceed with caution. I can also tell you from my numerous interviews with people in IRs that you are probably not going to get an honest answer. This is a really painful subject for many couples and individuals because rejection or distance from loved ones and many people don’t feel comfortable talking about something of this nature.

Comment: What about your children?
Variations of Comment: How are you going to raise you kids? Are you kids _______ or ________?
What Comment Really Means: I think your children are probably going to be messed up, so it’s not a good idea to have kids. Maybe you shouldn’t be together. I really oppose interracial relationships, but I am going to use the excuse of “caring” about biracial children, so I don’t have to say I think IRs are wrong.
Why comment is racist/inappropriate or both: This comment is wrong in part because it is another question that crosses personal boundaries. How other people raise their kids is not the business of random strangers. Additionally, the assumption that people are somehow socially (or genetically) damaged good because they are multiracial is not validated by any legitimate scientific research. This is not to say that there are not individual cases of mixed race people dealing with identity issues, but there are same race people who struggle with racial identity issues too. Moreover, the primary reason that multiracial identity is loathed and pathologized by many people in this culture is racism. You can not blame indidividual interracial couples or multiracial people for this problem.

Comment: Is he/she adopted?
Variations: Are you adopted? Where did you get that child from?
What the comment really means: That child doesn’t look like your biological child. Or, I am really surprised to see this interracial family. Or, I know/hope she didn’t give birth to that child?
Why the comment is inappropriate: Once again this is another none of your business moment. Moreover, many interracial couples who are created by blood take strong offense to the assumption that they are not a “blood family.” In both adopted families and biological families, this is just one more reminder that many people think of interracial families as less than. Moreover, this is another question that people get tired of answering over and over again, especially in cases where the parents are biologically related to the children.

Comment: Is that your husband/wife/child? (usually followed by a drawn out “Oooh”)
Variations: Where is your husband/wife/child? Are you with him/her?
What the comment really means: When I see people of different races together I don’t think they can be related, so I need to do some double checking. Or, Why are you with this person? Or, You don’t look like a family.
Why the comment is inappropriate: The big problem here is the assumption that people of different races cannot be a family or cannot be close to each other. The constant pressure to have to prove you are really a family and you are legitimate is unfair to interracial couples and families.

Comment: What are you?
Variations: What is your background/race? You are so beautiful/exotic. Biracial people are cool/exotic/a symbol of progress.
What the comment really means: Are you biracial/multiracial? Or, I can’t tell your race by looking at you. Or, you look exotic/different/strange/funny/unusual. I’m uncomfortable because I can’t put you into a racial box; please help me alleviate this discomfort.
Why the comment is inappropriate: Part of the reason this sort of question is inappropriate is based on the grammar used. “What” is a pronoun used to refer to things, not people. If people used the more appropriate language, “Who are your?” hopefully, they would also realize the absurdity of this sort of question. How can a person tell you who she or he is in a concise sentence? How can who we are be reduced only to our racial/ethnic backgrounds, as these sorts of questions imply. Are same race people asked those sorts of questions? These sorts of questions exoticized mixed race people. The truth of the matter is when it comes to appearance mixed race people are like everybody else—some biracial people are plain looking, some are exotic, some are pretty, some are ugly.

One of the general problems with these sorts of questions is that they treat interracial couples and multiracial people as if they are some sort of museum exhibit set up to educate everyone else. Rather than being given personal and private space, the boundaries of interracial couples and multiracial families are not respected. This is also true for people of color more generally. I know of cases of African Americans who have strangers or coworkers who want to touch their hair. The respect for privacy and personal space is denied when these sorts of questions are asked (especially repeatedly). I know at some point people need to be educated, but asking these personal questions to complete strangers or casual acquaintances is not the appropriate context. Additionally, other many people in mixed race people and interracial families just want to be treated as “normal” having to answer such questions is not normal. I’m not trying to say that race doesn’t matter in interracial relationships/families, but I am saying treating interracial couples as some sort of exotic oddity is insulting. Maybe people who ask these sorts of questions need to think about why they want to know the answers to these questions?

Admin note: In part 2 I will address the following three inappropriate questions 1)What is the sex like? Does he have a big/small penis? Is she a freak? 2)Could you find a person of your own race? 3)Well you can’t help who you fall in love with.

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35 Responses to Racist and Inappropriate Questions and Comments About Multiracial Families and Individuals Part I

  1. Pingback: Oh no, she has something to say...

  2. 2
    Kevin says:

    Out of all of these comments, it’s the “what are you?” question that pisses me off the most, with the “can I touch your hair?” a close second.

    I’m not bothered as much by the “does your family approve of your relationship?” question. I guess it depends on who’s asking. I’ve voluntarily talked with most of my friends about the matter because it is an issue in my relationship.

  3. 3
    mangala says:

    A question: are these comments specifically offensive when asked, uninvited, by strangers? The first two questions in particular seem like the sorts of things one might want to know in a study of inter-racial relationships (in which the couples/individuals have volunteered to participate), for example. While it’s clear that these sorts of comments are racist (and that is not to mention rude) in the former context, I think that they’re defensible in the latter, but I’m not sure that you’d agree. This is certainly still singling out inter-racial couples as a separate group.

    The cases of requests to touch another person’s hair are really strange, though. I can’t imagine how anyone could think that’s appropriate.

  4. 4
    me says:

    Sometimes I am shocked at how unobservant/rude I am. Don’t think I’ll be asking that first question again.

    But I am always flattered when people ask me what race I am, as they obviously see what I see: a mysterious, beautiful woman. I don’t blame them. They are just trying to figure out what mix of genetics results in someone as wonderful as me.

  5. 5
    Lu says:

    I can’t imagine asking anyone any of these questions unless I knew them very well — well enough, for example, to call them in the middle of the night and ask them to bail me out. And if I knew them that well and the subject hadn’t already come up, I’d figure it was probably a sore spot and leave it alone.

  6. 6
    immunokid says:

    I have an example, that doesn’t rely on the person actually being multiracial/in a multiracial family.
    When I went to the doctor to get my vaccination records before moving to the US, the only attempt to make conversation he came up with was: “so are you going to bring home a black boyfriend and shock your mother? ha ha!”
    I wish I’d come up with a better response on the spot than just staring at him in disgust.

  7. 7
    Sailorman says:

    I can imagine asking the “does your family approve” question mostly because I ask it all the time. My preferred phrasing is “so, do your parents like him/her?”

    To me, it’s a normal and harmless question. In fact, I think I have asked the question (or a derivative of it) to almost everyone I am reasonably well acquainted with who is in a relationship, it being a fairly normal conversation topic. Everyone likes to rant about their parents. I get the question a lot myself from my friends and acquaintances.

    It never occurred to me that it would fall into the “nasty racist question” category, mostly because, well, it’s not a nasty racist question per se: when I ask it, it’s a conversation topic.

    Similarly: Since when is “Is that your husband/wife/child?” GENERALLY inappropriate? I swear, I get asked this daily at the local pond. I ask plenty of other people. For children (not wife/husband) the default followup on either side is “s/he’s really cute! How old?”

    So I am torn by this. I am glad to have the information that those are “inappropriate” question to some people. But I’m not really sure how I feel about the whole interpretation aspect. it seems to automatically assume the worst about what i’m saying, and I don’t generally find that either sensible or appealing.

    I suppose that I could avoid asking anyone who looks multiracial, or any POC, those questions. But to me, that would be rejecting them socially and as I have no desire to do that, this seems trickier than the post makes it out to be.

  8. 8
    beth says:

    i’m a white girl, but i have been asked what my nationality / background is. people have wanted to know if i’m irish or french or what have you. i think context is important to the “what are you?” question. sometimes i think it’s innocuous curiosity or conversation-making; sometimes i think “you’re really beautiful” just means that, and people genuinely want to know about your ancestry because they’re curious.

  9. 9
    SamChevre says:

    I agree that in some circumstances (random strangers) these questions are rude–but I’m not sure they always (or even usually) are. Like SailorMan, I often ask friends who are dating “does your family like him/her”–I ask that of straight couples, gay couples, inter-racial couples–and it often is a good question (as in, one that people like to answer and expand on.) Same with “what are you”–I answer that a lot myself, as I look very German and have an identifiably Jewish name. I can’t count how many long, detailed family histories I’ve gotten asking “what are you/where is your family from”.

  10. 10
    Lu says:

    OK, Sailorman, I have asked a stranger “is that your son/daughter?” generally while watching him/her play with my kid at McDonald’s or on a playground or whatever, and in that context it is a completely harmless question, and I would add “s/he’s very cute” on getting a “yes” answer. But I would not ask “is s/he adopted?” or “is your wife/husband white/black/Asian?” because it is none of my business.

    Similarly, I have asked “do your parents like him/her?” generally in the context of someone’s taking their SO of recent vintage home to meet or stay with the folks, but here again I wouldn’t dream of asking “are they OK with his/her being white/black/Asian/Jewish/Catholic?”. (I have to say that in my world this question doesn’t come up that often, as I and most people I know are in long-settled relationships, and I don’t know that many interracial couples.)

  11. 11
    Sailorman says:

    Lu: I agree completely. I only responded to the two which confused me, in thet limited contect I described.

    “But I would not ask “is s/he adopted?” or “is your wife/husband white/black/Asian?” because it is none of my business.”

    That would be extraordinarily rude.

    IMO some of these posts which are in “list format” lose some of their power by stretching a little too far. It is a tricky thing. If the post had left out those two examples, or qualified them a little better, I think people would not be protesting at all.

    So on the one hand I don’t want to protest ANYTHING about the post (since I agree with the underlying premise and the majority of the list) in the fear of somehow diluting its overall effect. But on the other hand I have trouble agreeing with a list which suggests that entirely wellmeaning and common questions are racist and/or inappropriate.

    Better to comment? Or remain silent?

    Anyway, sorry re the side track.

  12. 12
    sly civilian says:

    sailorman…your response sounds a lot like “but how could i ever do these people the favor of paying attention to them?”

    Attention from white priviledge doesn’t usually register as being a gift when you’re being held down by the same. You’re being deliberately disingenous to suggest that it is impossible to socialize with a person in a multi-racial relationship without centering that fact with your comments, and examing the same from a position of priviledge. It’s called gaze, and if you don’t get why it can be destructive, think about why you feel you have the right to be looking there, when it’s obvious that this attention is unwanted.

    Asked to be self-critical about the role of language, your reply is petulant.

  13. 13
    Sailorman says:

    Sly–that’s a very aggressive way to twist what I said. I don’t think “these people” (whoever they are) need the “favor” of my attention, that would be ludicrous. That’s why i didn’t say that; I really do try to say exactly what I mean in these posts, though I sometimes fail.

    You’re being deliberately disingenous to suggest that it is impossible to socialize with a person in a multi-racial relationship without centering that fact with your comments,

    I am? I suggested that?

    That’s very odd, because I would have sworn that I was talking about an attempt to deliberately NOT treat a person in ANY relationship “differently” because of their status, racial or otherwise. And how to balance that desire not to diss someone socially with a realization that some entirely neutral questions get misinterpreted at times. “Impossible” never came up; perhaps you replied before you read the entire thread?

    I also have (sorry…) absolutely no idea what the whole “centering that fact with your comments” thing means.

    It’s called gaze, and if you don’t get why it can be destructive, think about why you feel you have the right to be looking there, when it’s obvious that this attention is unwanted.

    Now this is disingenous, or at least “moving the goalposts” in relation to what I (or anyone else) said. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate misquote…?

    Because the whole point of this was a desire to AVOID being rude, and if it is “obvious that this attention is unwanted” then duh, it’s rude, and only an idiot would follow up on it. I don’t think this post is talking about the “obvious that this attention is unwanted” scenarios. Anyone who ignores the obvious is on a different level of insensitivity.

    As for your assumptions on “gaze” well, let’s leave that for a different thread.

    Asked to be self-critical about the role of language, your reply is petulant.

    Damn. Look, there’s a really nice reason to use this type (*points up, at own post*) of italicized posting, which is that it forces you to specifically quote sections that reinforce your point. And if you can’t find them, it lets you know that you’re misquoting. Try it, it’s really helpful.

  14. 14
    Diane says:

    Judith Martin, bless her, suggests the standard answer for all rude, intrusive questions be “I beg. your. pardon!” It is indeed very effective, whether the question is “Is he adopted?”, “What do your parents think’, “How much did you pay for your house (or that dress, or your car)?”, or–my personal favorite–”When are you going to have children?”

    Should the above not be adequate (and it almost always is), I recommend people give an absolutely outrageous reply, as in: “Is he adopted?” “No, we stole him from a hospital in another state.”

  15. 15
    Lu says:

    Sailorman/sly civilian, I think the tone and context of the question matter enormously — there is a huge difference between asking “is that your child?” in a setting such as we’re describing, and asking “is that your child?” with an intonation of disbelief. And, sly civilian, Sailorman’s point as I took it was that if you overanalyze every possible interpretation of a how a harmless friendly remark or question might be construed as racist, the effect may become racist in itself if it leads you to act differently than you would if you weren’t worrying about it. And if you conclude that a certain question or turn of phrase might be offensive, then you shouldn’t say it to anyone.

    Diane, I don’t know about you, but I got my kids on eBay.

  16. 16
    Fred Vincy says:

    Mary and I get the first question fairly often, as I am of Jewish descent and Mary of Christian. In that context, it also seems off because it assumes (a) that we have the right to decide our kids’ religion for them; (b) that we have an obligation to do so; and (c) that they’re not “really” of whatever identity they may eventually choose unless we expose them to particular rituals, experiences, etc.

  17. 17
    Rachel S. says:

    I agree with both Kevin and mangala that in the right context these are not offensive. If you know people very well and the sentiment behind the questions in genuine then that is not a problem. I did my dissertation on family approval of IRs so clearly mangala’s point is well taken. However, even in that sort of context with informed consent I waited until well into the interview to ask about how their families felt about their relationships because of the sensitive nature of the question. I thought it would be important to build rapport first, and i did have some people who were still offended (or at least seemed to be offended by the questions.

    I think it is also important to keep in mind that in many cases these are not genuine, and people often want to ask something different, but they dont have the guts to say it out right.

  18. 18
    Rachel S. says:

    In my own experience most of the time when people ask me, “does your family approval of your relationship?” What they mean is: “Does you family accept that your partner is Black?” In this sort of context it takes on an explicitly racial meaning. And even if a person doesn’t mean it in that way. Most people in interracial relationships will interpret it in that way because it truly is what most people mean. I have students ask me those questions every semester when I talk about being in an interracial relationship. Given that I am an educator and it’s an educational context I address it, but the students generally know that it is a very personal sort of question. I am a very thick skinned sort of person, so I don’t take much offense at the family approval question. But I think in most contexts it is a very personal question, and one that people in same race relationships are just not exposed to. You don’t have random same race couples approached in public and asked that type of question–primarily because the assumption is that the parents must accept a same race relationship and must reject a interracial relationship.

  19. 19
    Rachel S. says:

    SamChevre,
    I think a big part of the problem with the what are you question is 1) the grammar issue that is uses a pronoun for things. 2)It is not specific–if someone wants to know you race then why not ask people what is you race. This is also different from religion. You pointed out that your name makes people curious about your religion, but at least these people are using some sort of information to base the question on. Just looking at somebody and saying what are you based on their appearance is objectifying. Plus, many mixed race people, really get tired of answering this type of question over and over again.

    I think this is an important point that many people are missing. These usually are not isolated questions. They are questions that emerge as a sort of script that people use to exotify and marginalize mixed race people and interracial relationships.

  20. 20
    Rachel S. says:

    Diane and Lu,
    You should check out some of the snarky replies that my Dad suggested over at Rachel’s Tavern (the Ebay one would fit right in.)

  21. 21
    Stentor says:

    Sailorman: I think the thing to keep in mind is that “equal treatment” is not the same as “same treatment.” In order to be equally polite and sociable to different people, you may need to carry out different actions toward them. So if a certain question is likely to hit a sore spot with couple A but not with couple B, regardless of how innocent your intent is, then you have to be more careful about asking couple A, perhaps to the point of not asking it at all.

  22. 22
    Sailorman says:

    Stentor: Yes, I agree, taking other people into consideration when interacting with them is pretty much the basics of being polite. But of course the “dont ask about that” is just one factor; there’s also the “don’t ignore” and “don’t treat with an obvious difference” factors as well, which is the balance I was discussing.

    I also agree–sort of–that “equal” doesn’t always mean “same.” Though to be honest I would rank damage caused by “equal treatment” as less damaging somehow than damage caused by inequal treatment, given that the history of INequal treatment isn’t so hot (to say the least).

    In a perfect world, i try to “hit the mark” and properly balance all the relevant factors. But in an imperfect world, in a situation where I don’t trust myself to hit the mark accurately, I’m always going to err on the side of “treat everyone the same,” not “treat POC or interracial couples differently.”

  23. 23
    nobody.really says:

    Can an impertinent question also be pertinent? Can a question be racist AND appropriate?

    I see two sources of discomfort in Rachel S’s list of questions. First, ALL of the questions remind her that people regard her/her loved ones as members of a group, imputing to her whatever stereotypes they have for that group, and this fact depresses her and makes her self-conscious. Second, SOME of the questions also suggest that people have negative assessments about the group to which the speaker has assigned her/her loved ones. Let me discuss these two objections in turn.

    1. The first objection is akin to being told that you look tired. It may well be true, but it does you little good and predictable harm to hear it. You have cause to conclude that the speaker is thoughtless, but not that the speaker is necessarily prejudiced or malicious.

    The question, “How are you going to raise your kids?” or “Will you raise your kids as black or white?” seem to fall into this category. These may be racist questions, in the sense that they assume that racial categories matter. But since I live in a society where racial categories DO matter, the question seems tackless but far from irrelevant to anyone who cares about the interracial couple. The issue may be stressful to the couple, whether or not anyone raises it.

    Rachel S. acknowledges that when you know her so well that she no longer need question whether you regard her as an individual, some of these questions lose their sting.

    2. In contrast, some questions/remarks convey an evaluation that Rachel S does not share. “Have you told your family?” clearly means that the speaker anticipates that SOMEONE will find your relationship objectionable. “Couldn’t you find someone of your own race?” and “You can’t help who you fall in love with” both convey a pretty explicit evaluations.

    These remarks give me cause to conclude the speaker is prejudiced, in the sense of drawing opinions based on racial categories. Again, it does not suggest that the speaker is necessarily malicious. But these questions will presumably never lose their sting, no matter how well you know the questioner.

    Both lines of questions seem inappropriate for casual conversation, similar to other questions about sex, religion or politics. But some seem redeemable in more intimate contexts; others, not.

    OK, Sailorman, I have asked a stranger “is that your son/daughter?” generally while watching him/her play with my kid at McDonald’’s or on a playground or whatever, and in that context it is a completely harmless question, and I would add “s/he’s very cute” on getting a “yes” answer. But I would not ask “is s/he adopted?”

    Ok, I think we can all agree here: After telling someone that you think their kid is cute, don’t follow up by asking if the kid is adopted. :-)

  24. 24
    Stentor says:

    Sailorman: I guess I’m just not seeing how asking someone what their parents think of their relationship is so central to your interaction with them that not asking it would constitute some gross and obvious difference in your treatment of them.

  25. 25
    Rachel S. says:

    nobody.really said, “First, ALL of the questions remind her that people regard her/her loved ones as members of a group, imputing to her whatever stereotypes they have for that group, and this fact depresses her and makes her self-conscious. Second, SOME of the questions also suggest that people have negative assessments about the group to which the speaker has assigned her/her loved ones.”

    Not really. People don’t mind being a member of a group–i.e. interracial couples. What people do mind is the idea that when you are in an interracial relationship people tend to forget that you are part of another group–a family. A few of these questions have this sort of tone. If a couple of the same race walks into a restaurant, people generally assume they are together. When you are in an interracial family, people tend to have the opposite reaction. They assume you are not a family or are just dating and not married, etc.

    n.r. said,
    “But since I live in a society where racial categories DO matter, the question seems tackless but far from irrelevant to anyone who cares about the interracial couple. The issue may be stressful to the couple, whether or not anyone raises it. ”

    Yes, racial categories do matter, but I think the problem here is more that strangers would ask this sort of question. These are questions about people’s personal lives, and they can be asked in certain contexts, but many times the what about the children question is disingenuous. People are making this comment not because they really care about biracial children. Usually, they use this comment as a sort of way to oppose the relationship. That is extremely common in white families.

    To everyone,
    I think that many people do not realize that these comments are disingenuous. Many times they are more commentaries than actual concerns about the relationship. Many of them involve as sort of racial curiosity that objectifies couples even if that is not the intention. And, they are often questions that people really don’t want answers to. Many people ask these questions because they are very uncomfortable with the situation.

    Now I don’t think everybody has these sort of nefarious motives, but a lot of people do, and this sort of questioning is exhausting after it is repeated time and time year after year.

  26. 26
    Sailorman says:

    This thread has been educational. It is very distressing to realize in retrospect that what I thought were harmless, polite, questions could have actually been offensive/discomforting to the recipient. I think I will have to be more cautious in the future, though I worry that too much caution may essentially result in avoidance. Still, from what I’m getting here, avoidance is certainly the lesser of two evils. Hmm. Something else to keep in mind, for sure.

    thanks for the commentary.

  27. 27
    nobody.really says:

    I think that many people do not realize that these comments are disingenuous. Many times they are more commentaries than actual concerns about the relationship. Many of them involve as sort of racial curiosity that objectifies couples even if that is not the intention. And, they are often questions that people really don’t want answers to. Many people ask these questions because they are very uncomfortable with the situation.

    Now I don’t think everybody has these sort of nefarious motives, but a lot of people do, and this sort of questioning is exhausting after it is repeated time and time year after year.

    I share this understanding of the questions – with one exception.

    Yes, the questions are often disingenuous; they may be motivated by something other than dispassionate curiosity. Yes, they are often comments in the form of questions. Yes, the questions objectify the interracial couple. Yes, the questions may not be designed for the purpose of soliciting information. And yes, people ask the questions as a means of coping with their discomfort.

    Yet I don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on. Rather, as Rachel S suggests, people are uncomfortable with issues of race and uncomfortable revealing their discomfort. In the face of discomfort, people tend to adopt one of two strategies: retreat or advance. Some people deal with their discomfort by withdrawing. They studiously avoiding what is, for them, the 10-ton elephant in the living room – although for you, the novelty of being in a biracial couple may have worn thin long ago. Other people over-compensate for their discomfort by seeking to build rapport with the very people who have triggered their discomfort, on the very topic that triggered their discomfort. Sailorman hints at this dichotomy:

    It is very distressing to realize in retrospect that what I thought were harmless, polite, questions could have actually been offensive/discomforting to the recipient. I think I will have to be more cautious in the future, though I worry that too much caution may essentially result in avoidance. Still, from what I’m getting here, avoidance is certainly the lesser of two evils.

    But Rachel S.’s final remark is possibly the most relevant: responding to these questions is draining. Intentional or not, well-meant or malevolent, the behavior of majority groups saps the energy of minorities. It may be inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

    The psychological phenomenon of “attribution error” predicts that people will impute the most charitable explanations to their own actions and the least charitable to others. Thus, people who are repeatedly harmed will tend to impute malice to the people who harm them. And people who feel wrongly blamed will tend to develop a grievance toward those who blame them. Round and round.

    And that’s why we continue to tune in to Alas, a Blog!

  28. 28
    RonF says:

    I swear, if people would just mind their own damn business instead of thinking they can ask strangers and acquaintances personal questions like these we’d all get along a lot better. Thinking “I have no racist intent behind this question, I’m just curious” doesn’t justify asking any kind of personal question you like. That’s why you don’t ask questions like this; you have no idea what’s behind what the answer may be, and no idea what pain that may cause the person being asked.

  29. 29
    RonF says:

    Rachel S., I checked out that posting you linked. Perhaps we could all cook up some answers to some of these questions.

    1)What is the sex like? Does he have a big/small penis? Is she a freak?

    Scenario:

    Rude person, in normal voice in public setting: “Does he have a big penis?”

    You, in normal voice; “Hell, yes, it’s damn big.” In elevated voice so that the person in question can hear you, as well as everyone else within 20 feet: “Hey, Bill, Shirley here wants to know how big your cock is.” Bet you don’t get asked too many more stupid questions for a long time.

  30. 30
    Petar says:

    I do not think that these questions are necessarily offensive. If it’s a stranger asking them, they are rather inappropriate, but some of them are perfectly OK among friends.

    I am three quarters Slavonic and a quarter Tartar. I have a mix of Asian and Caucasian traits, and tan to a rather dark brown. People are often curious, but I have never been offended by the question. I do find questions about my religion weird, but being an atheist, I do not care much, and depending of how I feel about the person who’s asking, I give answers ranging from ‘Atheist’ to ‘Tangra’s Chosen, but I had to leave my horse outside’.

    On the other hand, one of my friends has a Dutch father and a Islander mother, and is much, much darker than his siblings. He is understandably upset when people comment on that fact, and once took a swing at someone who thought his insinuations were very funny.

    If I have a point, it’s that it very much depends on who’s asking and who is being asked. One has no business asking unless one knows the person well enough to be sure that no offense will be taken. But then, there are people who will point out the black hair of the child of two redheads.

    In any case, I disagree there is anything inheritently wrong with asking most of these questions (for “Is her ass hairy?”, I’ll make an exception). As far as I am concerned, you are free to say anything that crosses your mind, but you have to live the consequences – from letting people you’re an idiot, to a having your face kicked in.

  31. 31
    Erin says:

    As the mother of two biracial children, I’ve gotten a lot of those questions from strangers. Usually, I don’t mind, as I can tell it’s just honest curiousity, and I’m a big ol’ extrovert and I tell people on the street my life story. But sometimes, as in the following example, I do find them very offensive.

    I was a Sears with my elder daughter, when she was about 7 months old. I am very pale, redhead, blue eyes. My daughter has dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and her skin is about halfway between her father’s and mine. He’s Asian, and his skin is several shades darker than mine. As I was walking into the restroom to change her diaper, a young white employee was walking out. She was probably 17 or 18. She stopped and stared at my daughter and then said “Where’s she from?” I was not in the mood to give her the easy way out and just say “My husband is Asian” like I usually did, so I said “From here.” She said “No, I mean where did she come from?” “I said ” From me.” She said “No, I mean where was she born?” I said “Norwich” (the town a few miles up the road.) She looked confused and walked away. There were very few Asians in this area, which, I think, contributed to this girl’s ignorance.

    A lot of times, when people find out that I’m married to an Asian man, they say something along the lines of “Wow, your kids must be gorgeous!” I am not particularly beautiful, nor is my husband so there’s no reason looking at us separately to think that. Our kids *are* beautiful, but not because they’re mixed or exotic or “other”. They’re just beautiful kids who got the attractive traits from each of us and luckily didn’t get the unattractive traits. I know plenty of biracial kids that are *not* beautiful, and I know plenty of single race kids who are and who aren’t beautiful.

    We have since moved from the place where that Sears is, and we’re thankfully in a more racially diverse area, where biracial couples and children are very common. My daughter’s best friend is also biracial, and several others in her class are as well.

  32. 32
    Rachel S. says:

    Erin thanks for sharing your story. it really exemplfies some of the points I was trying to drive home.

  33. 33
    Maria says:

    I get asked “what are you?” “what is your race” and other similar questions just about every time I am out in public. I understand that people are curious and want to know my racial/ethnic background and I try to be understanding of this. The first thing that comes to mind is, “I am a stranger to this person so why are they asking me a personal question?”.
    I get the whole “you are exotic and beautiful, what are you?”..or variations of that. My answer is usually that I do not have a race and I am mixed with many things. Then if they continue to ask (which is usually the case), I break down the mixture for them. Often times, after all this explaining to a stranger the person will ask, “what are you more of?” that one really gets to me. I answer with, “I am more of a teacher ballet dancer, animal-lover, and an American actually..”
    I have had people respond to my answers to these questions by saying to me “oh so your a mutt”, I have had this happen to me MANY times, and I find it terribly offensive, especially since the word mutt refers to a mixed dog that lacks value. I am sure that most of the people that have responded to me this way are far too ignorant to know that the word mutt can also be defined as meaning ‘a stupid or foolish person’. I have tried pretty hard for so many years to be patient with people regarding these issues but the response that I am a “mutt” is just plain insulting.
    Asking a person’s race does not tell you about who they are or what cultures they have learned, or were raised with and adopted. It is simply asking what “race” they are. I don’t like the question, it is objectifying and most of the time it appears as though a stranger just wants to fit me into a little racial category in their little heads (the, “what are you more of?” question adds to this).
    Something else that I find strange is that often times people have a lack of respect for my personal space. I cannot count the amount of times strangers reach out and touch my hair. Some people ask if they can touch my hair and some people don’t, and instead just reach out and touch it. It is, on the one hand a compliment because people are trying to learn and admire my hair and genetic make-up, but at the same time it is a disregard for my personal space and for the idea that I may not be in the mood for strangers to reach out and touch my body. I remember as a child people grabbing my hair, sometimes with a smile and other times with a strange look on their face.
    On the one hand I am happy to hear that people find me attractive and that the curly hair and pale skin combination gets their attention in a positive way, especially since I was teased so much for it as a child. On the other hand, it is forcing issues and views on me in a way that is not me or my responsibility. My family has many colors and every type of hair, eye color, you name it. I was raised around every kind of person and I see them as NORMAL. I did not care if one of my family members looked drastically different than another because I looked beyond their external to find something more intense on the inside. I enjoy and am happy that I am part of so many cultures and appearances. Race is not an issue within my family, and I like that we define ourselves with much more depth.
    I do not like being forced to drop down to the level of looking at people as ‘this color or that color’, but I find that sort of mentality gets pushed in my face by strangers just about every time I go out in public.
    When friends ask me my family background I do not get offended because obviously a friend is so different from a stranger passing by.
    I have had to answer and deal with these types of behaviors my entire life; after a few years you get tired of answering the same old questions and wish that people could just look beyond your “race” and get to know WHO you are. I am aware that I will have to continue to deal with this so I try to be positive about it the majority of the time and try to see it as a question from a curious person that thinks I am “different”.
    If you want to get to know me, then do so like a regular person gets to know another, and if you don’t want to get to know me, then you should not be asking me questions about my personal family history.

  34. 34
    Meep says:

    I cannot count the amount of times strangers reach out and touch my hair. Some people ask if they can touch my hair and some people don’t, and instead just reach out and touch it.

    I still feel like I have to let people touch my hair otherwise I might get sick. Better safe than sorry.

  35. 35
    John Cowan says:

    I walk on the street with my grandson (age 5) a lot. I’m white, he’s black. He likes to run ahead of me down the block (this is entirely safe; I’ve never seen him put a toe past where he should, like into the street), and sometimes people who look like him will ask him “Where’s your mommy?” or “Who are you with?” I then say “That would be me”. If they look skeptical, I say “I’m his grandfather”. I don’t mind this, particularly since (somehow) people who look like me never bother to make this inquiry at all.

    On one occasion when he was 2, I was walking with a cane (I no longer need to, fortunately), and I had him in a toddler harness and lead for safety’s sake. He was overtired and I was more dragging him than not, but I had to get him home somehow, and I couldn’t carry him and use the cane at the same time. Two young black men got rather upset at the sight of a white man dragging a little black kid “on a rope” (a lead is not a rope), and called 911 on their cell. The dispatcher evidently told them I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but they did follow me home, so I shut the door in their faces. My daughter and my grandson’s father came home shortly thereafter and told them it was all legitimate, and they were apparently more inclined to believe my brown daughter and black non-son-in-law than me. So it goes.