Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An interesting read.

I took a hiatus from writing about race on this blog for a little bit, but because the discussion of race and ethnicity and how it plays into American culture is a discussion that is ongoing, I'm back on the subject. This is mostly because I am incensed that the word "Negro" is on the census this year, and "Latino/a" is not. It's 2010, folks.

I've been spending a lot of time on Racialicious and listening to Mixed Chicks Chat recently. Both forums have interesting discussions about the issues that impact mixed-race and minority individuals. They cover everything from racial identity, the use (or misuse) of words, to the absurdities that mixed raced people often face.

Like I've said before, I consider myself to be black and multiracial. Black, because that is the way society views me, and multiracial because my mixed roots are too prevalent to deny. I prefer to define myself as multiracial.

While playing around on Racialicious the other day, I came across the posting "The 'What are You' Game: Rules and Regulations". It's a bit snarky, but perhaps it can offer a little insight into the world of those of us who don't necessarily occupy just one box.

Here's the post:

Try to imagine, for a moment, how you might start to react to this question when asked regularly over the course of your life:

You’re a child and – over and over – people come to you (adults, children, teachers, whomever) and ask you what you are, with no context clues suggesting that you are playing “let’s pretend.” It’s not Halloween. You’re not wearing an elaborate costume. No, they are honestly questioning your identity in a way that so thoroughly strips you of pride, humanity, and belonging – and doing so as if it’s just a matter of course, and fully acceptable to do.

They are not asking about who you are – your interests, what you do, the important people in your life. They are simply asking you what you are, and in such a self-entitled manner that turning you into a thing like that comes with the expectation that you’ll give them the answer they want without any negative reactions.

Imagine what that does to a kid’s sense of identity, their self-esteem. Imagine the message it sends them about their place in the world. It’s no wonder that the majority of mixed folks I have known have – at some point – considered themselves isolated and without community.

An ethnically-ambiguous kid (or adult) will never be able to avoid this question (or similar variants). It’s going to come at them throughout their lives, often at the most unexpected times. Most ambiguous people have to figure out how to deal with this on their own through trial and error – seldom does anybody else help them navigate this particular aspect of their lives.

The “What are You?” Game (U.S. Edition) Rules and Regulations

Minimum 2 players, no maximum.

Object: You.

Goal: Retain as much dignity as possible while dealing with racial ignorance.

Materials: All you need is yourself – an ethnically-ambiguous human being – and somebody else’s lack of respect.


Be born into this world. Interact with other human beings. Game-play should ensue shortly.

When to Play/Who to Play With: The “What are You?” Game can be played at any time, anywhere. It can be played with friends and family, but is best played with casual acquaintances and outright strangers. Any time another human being asks you the question “What are You?,” the Game has begun, and your humanity can be earned or lost. Again, it is important to stress that this can happen at any time, as ignorance has no concept of appropriate boundaries and/or timing.


Game-play is commenced once another person (“the Asker”) asks you (“the Person”) “What are You?” It is then your turn.


- “Just Deal” – this technique entails humoring the Asker and just giving them the response they are looking for (i.e. your racial/ethnic background); least time-consuming, but will cost you 5 Humanity Points (HPs), paid to the Asker

- “Go Off” – if you give in to anger and let your Asker know exactly what you think about their questioning, you have elected to “Go Off;” “Going Off” usually involves expletives, loud volume, and possibly aggressive physical movement; “Going Off” might feel better at the time, but it costs 8 HPs, paid to the Asker, as they leave the situation believing that you are “oversensitive,” “irrational,” or “dangerous,” possibly reinforcing their own racial and/or gender stereotypes

- “Play Dumb” – choosing to act like you don’t know what the Asker is getting at means you are “Playing Dumb;” “Playing Dumb” involves asking questions like “What do you mean?” or giving answers like “Pisces,” “a lawyer,” “the Queen of Dance,” or “a carbon-based life-form;” a “self-entertaining” tactic, “Playing Dumb” can leave you with 0 to 5 HPs, depending on the Asker’s reaction: a confused look allows you to break-even at 0, while having your Askers explain themselves and possibly understand the disrespect inherent in their question can earn you 5 HPs

- “Flip the Script”* – this tactic involves turning the question back on the Asker (similar to the “Playing Dumb” technique of asking questions); “Flipping the Script” involves a response of “What do you think I am?” which subsequently changes the power-dynamic, as your Asker will now feel uncomfortable, wanting to make the right “guess” without exposing the obvious ignorance that caused them to ask in the first place; also “self-entertaining,” “Flipping the Script” earns 2 HPs.

- “Create-a-Play” – players are not limited to the above tactics; creating your own plays not only increases your problem-solving skills, but can also increase the richness of the overall game; “Create-a-Plays” are self-scoring - earning up to 5 HPs for plays that enhance self-dignity and/or cause the Asker to become aware of people outside of themselves; losing up to 5 HPs for plays that decrease self-pride and/or cause the Asker to feel “right”

*Game-Note: “Flipping the Script” can also lead to playing other Ethnically-Ambiguous-based games such as: The “What do You Think I Am?” Game (make note of all the different responses to the question you get, see if you can guess other people’s assumptions based on environment, other person’s background, etc.) and the “What Can I Convince Them I Am?” Game (try different body-language, outfits, etc. to see if you can elicit a specific, incorrect guess).* (*3)


New “Askers” or “Persons” can join in at any time. Game play continues indefinitely, “Persons” and “Askers” taking turns playing tactics or responding until physically separated or “understanding” occurs.


Unfortunately, due to the unending nature of this game, there is no way to achieve a final, decisive “victory.” However, if you can keep your head up and realize that the other players are doing so out of ignorance, and that it has nothing to do with you personally, then you are a “winner.” Being however you feel best in the world – no matter other people’s ridiculous opinions and/or questions – also results in a “win.”

And I agree- the most important thing is that you identify however YOU want to- not just how others (especially the majority) want to define you.