It feels like a cliché to complain again about my own racial ambiguity, but that’s honestly because I always live in the same soup.
I’m feeling a little disappointed. My friends who are international students told me that it’s really only in the US that they talk about race. The obvious problems of not having a vocabulary or conversations about systemic racial inequality aside, I was hoping that maybe this would translate to questions about my own origins desisting once I went abroad. Unfortunately this hasn’t been true. It’s about once a day now that I’m asked some version of, “Where are you from?” and of course they’re never satisfied with “New York.”
It’s just tiring.
Take this example:
We all live our lives having the same conversations over and over. We introduce ourselves a million times, meet new people, and repeat the same scripted introductory conversations over and over. Except that when I was taught about the, “Where are you from?” conversation, it wasn’t something that someone prepared me to be harassed over and over again for. No one explained that it would be something I would be asked more than anyone else I know, at all hours of the day from strangers who barely even know my name.
And I know why it matters that I’m even asked.
But remember when I said that it was just tiring? I live my existence as everyone’s familiar stranger. When they ask me where I’m from, or where I’m REALLY from, or what my nationality is (Which is not the question they think they’re asking), or what my origins are, or where my parents are from, or if I’m Brazilian, Guyanese, Indian, Hindu, Muslim, Venezuelan, Colombian, Dominican, or Puerto Rican, they see both the familiar and the strange in me. It’s like when you approach someone from behind, thinking it’s your friend, but when they turn around, it’s just some random person in the street you don’t know, who is wondering why you’ve interrupted their day.
I am refusing to embrace the noise. If I were cleverer, or more relaxed, I would have better evasions for these questions. I would ask them to guess, or ask them the same question. If I weren’t so bothered, maybe I would. The truth is that an ideal situation doesn’t exist. Even if people don’t ask, I’m left wondering what assumptions they’ve made. Most often, they’re wrong anyway, and need to be corrected.
I once wrote that race has given me the burden to redeem it as a concept, but fuck that. I’m not the one who invented it. I’m not the one responsible for others’ assumptions, but having to deal with the consequences is the shit I don’t like.
So, if you’re reading this, and you’re a person of color, I want you to know that this is some of what you might experience as a traveler. My struggle may not be yours, but I hope that being aware of it will help you in your journey.
If you’re not a person of color, please don’t let your guilt get in the way of you actually doing something to assist others in their struggle. It’s okay if you feel disconnected from this struggle. If you have a friend going through this, be there for them. Don’t make assumptions. Just ask what they need.