By Esther Fensel, guest writer
What are you?
I get this question from nearly everyone I meet. They’re asking, of course, what my mix is. I’m half-Korean and half-German, but I look “ethnically ambiguous,” as a friend once said. People look at me and can’t figure me out: they are trying to categorize me racially and they’re stumped.
This happens to virtually every mixed-race person I know. I do it too. And really, there’s nothing wrong with it – we have a natural tendency to categorize and classify. We do this to better understand what we come across.
I am a part of HapaSC, a social group on campus for multicultural and mixed-race people. We’re a room full of people who blur the lines of racial categorization, a group of young adults creating our own racial identities. In the fall, we walked over to the California Science Center to check out its exhibit entitled “RACE: Are We So Different?”
The exhibit is intended to challenge our preconceptions of race. And some of the installations in the room did: one booth has you match voices to ethnically diverse faces – much easier said than done. There are pictures on a wall from Kip Fulbeck’s “The Hapa Project,” portraits of beautifully unique mixed-race faces.
But there are also installations that make painfully obvious the fact that race is still very much a pertinent issue. One piece illustrated the stark differences between the average incomes of different races in the U.S. – the money pile representing the income of a white person towers over that of a Hispanic person.
One of the installations is an interactive feature: a vote on how the 2010 U.S. Census should categorize race. Should we keep it the same? Should we make it simpler? The majority of college-aged students thought it’d be best to eliminate race entirely from the census.
Race is still an issue. To deny this is more dangerous than to acknowledge it. Our president is biracial, and there are people who do not support him because of it. A judge in Louisiana will not marry interracial couples because he “fears” for their future biracial children. I hear racial “jokes” all the time that are ignorant, not funny.
As a mixed-race person, I don’t really feel that I belong to a specific race. My mother is Korean and my dad is German. I am neither. I do think that people are beginning to better understand race and differences, in letting people check more than one racial category on the census, for example. A person’s appearance alone is nothing more than a chance to learn and appreciate such differences.
So go ahead and ask me, “What are you?” I’ll be happy to give you a real answer.