Culture Column

By Tori De La Vega

It’s the question we’ve all asked our peers: “What are you?” The question—such a simple question, we’ve all asked or been asked. As a mixed-race female, this question has been asked to me multiple times and at times I have been taken by surprise due to its bluntness.

My mother happens to be mixed with African American, German, and Cherokee Indian ancestors. She identifies as an African American, albeit knowing she has more than one ethnicity. Today’s society has created an unnecessary focus on the ethnicity of a person rather than who the person is or what they stand for. My mother has been asked the question mentioned previously, only to be judged and questioned on whether she was lying—and then further prompted for clarification. She is constantly clarifying to people that she identifies as African American and then having to further explain her reasoning. Her reasoning comes down to the fact of self identity.

Being mixed with more than one race allows a person to choose a dominant race. Although some may agree that it’d be easier to simply explain one’s multiple races, this is quite the contrary. Many mixed people find it easier to claim just one dominant race just to avoid the overall confusion that come from other people. Not only are people surprised when you finally elaborate on your ethnicity—they then begin to interview you and stand in amazement when discussing the differences between your siblings due to your clear differences in facial features. Personally, I think that the biggest pitfall to this question is that it leads to so many more questions and the constant explaining becomes frustrating.

On many occasions when I am asked this question, I don’t know to what extent or how to answer properly, thus being said the answer most likely depends on who is asking. If the person genuinely seems interested then feel free to elaborate your uniqueness, and if the person just wants to know right away then I would definitely just claim one part of my many ethnicities.