I don't know why anyone would get angry over that question....?
Originally Posted by AnnieRose
I'm also sincerely interested in why the "What are you?" question is felt to be so offensive ... aside from a situation where the person asking seems to have nefarious intentions, like: to know if you're of a certain ethnicity they'd rather avoid, or for them to know what racist things they can/cannot say in front of you. Or maybe some think it's "too personal". But idk, I mean "What do you do for a living?" doesn't seem to get people hot, usually. And I consider that somewhat personal too (not that I mind being asked).

There probably are reasons for feeling offended that I just haven't considered, as I'm just one person with one set of experiences. Personally, I just figure there's nothing wrong with someone expressing some curiosity about me, and in a way, it's flattering because there's something they find interesting about me. Plus I figure they have the right to ask me whatever they want and I have the right to answer, or not.
Originally Posted by Korkscrew
I can only speak for myself, but for me it has a lot to do with the tone and the intent of the question. That and the person's history with having been asked this question.

For instance, I grew up in Baltimore, which is largely black with some white people. We rarely ever saw anyone of any other race, so when I was growing up and kids said to me, "What are you?," they didn't mean it in a nice way. They meant why do you look different from every other person I've ever seen. And that hurt.

Nowadays, when someone says, "What's your ethnic background?", that doesn't bother me much. Like you say, they are mostly just curious. I actually find my ethnic ambiguity and the combinations I've been asked funny.
Originally Posted by elizard
ITA, elizard. I'm not saying I would bite somebody's head off for asking but it is a question that makes me very uncomfortable, esp. if the person is asking with any type of attitude or weird behavior towards me. It makes me wonder why they care about something like that. Are they racist/ignorant or simply rude? Who asks a stranger what "race" they are? Why does it matter? To me, it makes me feel like they are the type to judge others according to race/color instead of seeing me as a fellow human being.

People can also be very rude when asking this particular question. It really is none of their business, but I would see nothing wrong with it if they could be more respectful about it. In my own personal experience, that is rarely the case. I've had some very painful experiences with this and how I've been treated. Most people who have asked me about my background weren't nice about it at all.

So I have trouble with seeing it as innocent curiosity most of the time. I know that some people really don't mean anything by it, but there are many others who are asking for reasons that aren't positive. Not saying that folks are out to get me or anything, but some people are prejudiced and there is a reason they feel the need to know stuff like this...some people want to feel superior to others. It makes them uncomfortable when they can't "classify" you and put you in a box.

I remember when I was younger and I was with a white friend and this other girl that I didn't know very well. The other girl always seemed to have an attitude with me for no apparent reason. One day she was picking on the fact that I was wearing lip gloss (wtf?!) and she said, very snarkily, out of the blue: "What ARE you, anyway?" It's just the way she said it...her tone and demeanor was just very negative. It was almost like she was trying to imply something bad because I looked different. So I replied, very casually: "a human being". My friend busted out laughing while the girl who asked the question rolled her eyes and screwed up her face.


I'm still proud of my 14-year-old self for handling it that way. I'm now 29. I know some people might see my response as rude, but really...she was being a witch about it. I've also had some very derogatory comments about my ivory skin coupled with 4a/4b curly kinky hair and the comments were shockingly racist. So I can only speak for myself in saying that the questions aren't always innocent. Sometimes the intent is to be mean and hurtful. People definitely weren't appreciating my beauty, they went out of their way to make me feel ugly and ashamed of my heritage, like I didn't belong.


I know that some folks have only had positive experiences, though.