5 Valid Questions People Ask About My Appearance That Are Totally Annoying

There’s been a lot of talk about race and racism in the past week, on this site and others, and I thought I’d keep the conversation going.

Race has always been a topic of great interest to me. I’m bi-racial; my mother is “white” (one of the most vague terms used to describe race), and my father is Chinese. I’ve never had a hard time grasping my bi-racialness, but it seems to baffle others.

Below are five questions I’ve heard way too often. These questions bother me because no one asks me about my “white” side. No one is interested in the fact that my mom owns a farm in Kentucky or that we raise cows. Everyone is far more intrigued by my Asian side. Because I’ve heard them so many times, it gets old, but these questions actually lead to some pretty good anecdotes on my part. And on further reflection, I’ve come to realize that these are all pretty valid questions.

The Asian’s in the Eyes?

1. What are you mixed with?

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard this one. Often, I hear it from people I’ve just met. This past weekend, I met a guy on a train who thought it was perfectly acceptable to ask this. I kid you not: he turned toward me and stared at my face for a good 15 seconds. Awkward. He guessed right on his first try, “definitely Chinese.”

It’s not that I find the question offensive, I just find it an odd thing to ask before you even know someone’s name. I’ve never felt the urge to go up to a single person and asked what they’re “mixed with” because I detect a stereotypical trait on their face.

2. Do you speak Chinese?

This is usually a follow-up to Question #1. The answer: no, no I don’t. I did not attend Chinese School, my dad didn’t speak Chinese to me when I was a kid, and he still doesn’t. People are always surprised when I tell them I only know a couple words in Chinese. My response is usually met with, “It’d probably be useful if you did.” Yes, thank you, I realize being bilingual is a useful skill in today’s world. Unfortunately for me, I am not bilingual, but go ahead and tell me how awesome it would be if I was.

3. Is your mom a tiger-mom?

This is a hard question to answer. First I have to preface my answer with the fact that my mom is not the Chinese-half of me. Is my dad a tiger-dad? Sort of. He never deprived me of food in order to get me to play piano (although I did have to play until I was 16), but a lot of my childhood memories involve my dad pushing me to learn math. One of my first memories is my dad carrying me to the car from my babysitter’s house asking me the square root of 9. Until recently, I was unaware that Easter eggs didn’t have to contain a math or spelling question. Maybe my dad had a little “tiger” in him, but growing up with an Asian parent isn’t the torture some in the media like to portray it as.

4. Are your parents mad you’re pursuing journalism?

Let’s face it, Asians are not well-represented in the journalism profession. Whenever talk of school or work comes up, people assume I’m pursuing a profession in medicine or something similar. As far as I know, my parents are okay with my pursuit of a career in journalism.

No, I’ve never seen this in real life.

5. Have you been to China?

Again, the answer to this question is a sad “no.” I’ve not yet had the opportunity to travel to China. This question is another bizarre one. I’ve never asked any of my “white” friends if they’ve traveled to the land of their ancestors. This question is another that seems to be reserved for minorities only.

My slight annoyance at the above question comes from a strange place. I’m glad people are interested in me; it’s just irritating that people fixate on my Asian-ness. People always seem shocked when I remind them that I’m just as white as I am Chinese. Of course, this isn’t something I’m unable to get over, just an interesting quirk in our society that I’ve discovered as a halfsie.


3 thoughts on “5 Valid Questions People Ask About My Appearance That Are Totally Annoying

  1. 1) I agree with Anna. That’s a great picture and I think you’re beautiful!

    2) I think most people see me as white, but there are a few who can pick out my Irish ancestry and I am almost immediately am faced with similar questions. I don’t have quite the same experience as you, but I get it at least a little bit.

    3) I’m intrigued by your statement that you find them valid questions. Why do you think that they’re valid?

  2. This was really interesting! Thanks for sharing. As a fully caucasian person, I think that sometimes I don’t understand how questions that I think I am asking innocently can be frustrating or mildly insulting. It’s great to hear from the other side!

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