I’m Ethnically Ambiguous And I’m Tired Of Hearing These Things

I’ve always had an ethnically ambiguous look. I can’t even count how many times a week someone questions me about it – and it’s not just because of the way I look either; I also happen to have a name that’s more commonly associated with a certain high street fashion chain than with a specific heritage.

I’m willing to bet a lot of you can relate to this: No matter how many times we hear that the majority of Americans will eventually look multi-ethnic, it sometimes seems like we’ll never make it past this place where people have an incessant need to categorize or define us based on the way we look. This is especially true if you have an ambiguous look – often people will ask you clarify your “nationality” (see below) within a few seconds of meeting you, and that’s not cool. You are more than the color of your skin. We all are.

Some people just don’t seem to grasp that, though — and that’s when the whole ethnically ambiguous thing starts to get annoying. Am I saying that every ethnically ambiguous person out there hates these comments? No. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I don’t think anyone likes to be tokenized or called out for looking a certain way. Think about it this way: How often do you ask people who conform to that outdated idea of “all-American” looks to tell you about their roots?

I can’t change the fact that I don’t fit neatly into any of those little boxes at first sight…and frankly, I don’t want to. I love the fact that I have an interesting name and an uncommon look. But sometimes I really, really don’t like the questions and comments I receive all too often, many of which are listed below.

Related-ish: How I’m Using My Biracial Heritage To Help Heal The Racial Divide


“No, but we are you really from?”

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Listen, if I’ve just told you that I’m from Pittsburgh do you really need to ask that question? Especially when we all know what you’re so clearly trying to determine. Identifying as being from the place where you grew up – not the country or countries of your heritage – is totally #teamnormal.

“What’s your nationality?”

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Ummm. I’m American. Oh, you’re not happy with that answer? So what you’re trying to ask me is what my ethnicity is. In that case, no my ethnicity is not American. And I hate to break it to ya, but it’s likely not yours either.

“Wow, you’re so exotic!”

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Right, because I haven’t heard that one before! People generally have pretty good intentions with this one but still…hearing it all the time can get real old.

“But English is your second language, right?”

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Nope. English is actually the only language I speak. I’m sort of an underachiever like that.

“So what kind of person are you going to marry then?”

Um, a great person? Who may or may not look a little bit different than I do? Spoiler alert: I’m already married and my husband is, well…let’s just say he’s probably never been the recipient of any of the comments on this list.

“You’re so unusual-looking!”

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Is there a “usual” way to look these days?

“You look like {insert name of other ethnically ambiguous celebrity here}.”

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Especially when I look nothing like the person in question, aside from the fact that we might have similar skin tones. OK, fine. I kind of like this one. Cause, I mean, who doesn’t like being compared to beautiful women like Selena Gomez, Shay Mitchell, Hannah Simone, Vanessa Hudgens….

“{Insert phrase in some language I don’t speak.}”

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Not offensive or anything, just sort of awkward ’cause it inevitably results in me just looking confused (and unfriendly. Which I’m not. Unless I’m really hungry.)

“Go back to your country.”

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Don’t be that person. Just don’t.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re going to talk about racial/ethnic identity, you need to be sensitive and, more importantly, sensible. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t challenge the way someone identifies. Don’t rely on stereotypes. Don’t make a question about ethnicity or race the very first thing you ask someone – there are probably way more interesting topics you can tackle first.

Related-ish: 12 Things Biracial Women Are Tired Of Hearing

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