What do I hear when someone says what are you?
I think people are trying to make sense of me.
When they ask is mainly to categorize and to sort of put someone in a box they already had in their mind.
It’s like a reason to talk about a way that they have an identity that is not like a homogenous American Identity.
I am 1/16th Cherokee.
Do you know how many people have told me that?
Everyone is 1/16th Cherokee.
[MUSIC] When someone asks me what are you?
I think what they are really saying is I am pretty sure you are not white.
I’m sure you are probably not entirely Asian, or not Latino.
In fact, I don’t really get what thing you are so you need to help me label you so I feel comfortable.
I find that very upsetting because it’s based on an assumption and any assumption about what all people do is a dehumanizing act.
It means you are not yourself.
You are a bowl cut when you are young.
When you are an adult, you speak in hip-hop language and you trick out your car and maybe you like too many cocktails and get wasted after one, ok?
These are the sort of things that people make assumptions about Asians, just aren’t true, you know just how I stay out of the real racist ones because I know the racist ones.
But that’s for my act.
Here’s the thing – racism is uncomfortable, sexism is uncomfortable, gender bias very uncomfortable, white privilege, extremely uncomfortable.
And they can trigger you.
You can’t claim a trigger and microaggression and then just shut down the conversation, the whole point is to feel uncomfortable by talking about uncomfortable subjects and then be able to break them down and look at the sources of them, the real sources of them so that we can make a better world.
What I hear from some asks what are you, is that you are not seeing me as a person and you are seeing me as something that needs to be labeled.
I think people who usually get asked what are you, are sort of ambiguously brown in a sense that there is some middling complexion.
I like to give them benefit of the doubt.
Maybe they don’t mean it aggressively.
But, they don’t know the history between race and racism.
They don’t know the difference.
So maybe if they did, they’d be more sensitive.
It’s an empirical fact that people do change their race.
It happens all the time and it has happened throughout our history.
In the United States because of the one-drop rule I’m a black person.
But if I go to France, “oh no no, you are a Métis, you are mixed.” And if I go to Latin America, I have been called white.
And then frankly, when the census and all kinds of official forms changed the categories then millions of people automatically get their race changed overnight.
And I’ll give you some statistics to give a feel for this.
So back in 1960s, over 50 years ago when they took the census, almost 90% of the population was classified as white, about 10% was classified as black and that was pretty much it.
Less than 1% of the population was classified as anything else.
So all you needed to know in that circumstance was white or black.
There were just the two categories.
Whites now make up about 65% of the U.S. population.
Blacks around 12%.
And now we have a whole new category that we didn’t have in 1960s, the Latino/Hispanic category, which had about 16%.
And we also have an Asian population around 5%.
And a mixed race population, people claiming more than one race for themselves around 2% so already we go from a situation where you have whites and blacks in the 1960s to now a situation where many more kinds of groups on the radar, on the nation’s statistical radar.
If we included the black population which is overwhelmingly a mixed race population, not to mention the Latino population growing so quickly again, hugely mixed population, really we’d be looking at counts of U.S. populations at being something more like 45%, 50% of the nation.
Being mixed race really has everything to do with how we choose to count and how we choose to identify ourselves.
How I react and what my response is like could negatively affect my career.
Clapper is ready.
A camera, B camera ready?
And here we go.
It’s a really good skill to learn to bite your tongue because you’ll have a million indignities thrown your way.
And if you can figure out how to deal with indignities where you smile at people and you laugh it off and you go out for drinks with your girlfriends and you mock people about it versus chewing somebody out because that would end your career.
And you’d just find yourself pissed off all the time, all the time.
I cannot tell you the number of meetings I’d had with people where they’d say but you know, “not you, we need a real black person.” [LAUGHTER] And you'll lose your mind if you are constantly offended.
You’d just be offended all day, everyday, and so I really learn to just laugh it off and just not let it kind of get to you.
Here’s what I am going to do instead – step one, take back your voice and tell the stories you see exist around you and those could be very powerful.
So I think you have to define yourself.
I mean I think literally the only solution is to define yourself so it was a little bit of a surprise when people would kind of push back on your own self-identity.
So you have to make sure that it doesn’t frustrate you that you smile and you shrug it off, and you just keep marching on and doing the thing that you want to do and hitting the goals and achievements that you want to have.
It’s very nice and comforting to be able to say you are this, and you are this and you are this, and you're in this box.
All those boxes make a lot of sense the minute people start stepping out of their boxes or god-forbids stretching over their boxes or leaning into other boxes.
It makes everybody uncomfortable and it’s actually one those things I've always liked about reporting and storytelling is making people a little bit uncomfortable.
Kind of getting them a little off kilter so they start to maybe doubt, maybe rethink, maybe not be so confident in those little boxes that they believe keep everything nice and comfortable to kind of shake things up.
Hey, what are you?
Where are you from?
How come I can’t seem to pick it out right away?
Are you Chinese, Japanese, from somewhere near there.
Black hair, black eyes, skin the color of sunrise, yo why you got to look like that?