By Amanda Marie Heileman
It was another slow day at the smoothie shop that I work at, and an African-American student walks up to my register. Instead of telling me what he wants to order, the first thing that comes out of his mouth is a question.
Guy: What are you?
Me: What did you just say?
Guy: Yea man, like what are you?
Me: That’s a very offensive way to ask your question. What are you? I’m a human being.
Guy: You know what I mean. Like what’s your race.
Me: I’m black.
Guy: No you’re not.
Me: Well you obviously know better who I am better than I do.
Guy: Are you sure? Are you mixed?
Me: I’m Creole. Both my parents are Creole.
Guy: Then why are your eyes so light?
That’s when I gave him the whole Louisiana-was-settled-with-white-people-who-had-slaves-and-raped-them-and-that’s-how-the-Creole-people-of-Louisiana-got-their-start speech. After we finished our entertaining conversation he actually thought it was a good idea to ask me out.
This is something I get all the time. Due to my light complexion, yellow-boned as my family calls it, and curly hair people always want to assume what ethnicity I am. But why is it so important to know? What is so necessary about knowing what race I am before someone can even have a conversation with me? Why do strangers walk up and put their hands in my hair and ask me 1) if it’s real and 2) where I bought it?
Due to the all the ignorant questions, stares and invasions of privacy, I have learned to prepare little speeches to handle these issues. Phoebe Robinson says in her book “You Can’t Touch My Hair,” that as black people we learn to “rise above the ugly statements–the “Your natural hair isn’t professional” or “You’re black, but you’re not black black”–that are directed towards you.”
“You just live. That’s what you do.”