On Identity and Ambiguous Ethnicity

I don't often link to videos in my blog postings, but maybe I ought to do this more? I often watch the videos that I see in my various social media feeds, and do spend quite a bit of time watching the videos from my various YouTube subscriptions. Usually I just share/comment/retweet etc. to these postings on the various social media networks, limiting the extent of my discussion to a few sentences at most (or maybe as little as 140 characters). And sometimes the video might come up in casual conversation and get shared in person. But this video is different for me in that it resonated on a completely different level.

There aren't many depictions of people of mixed racial/ethnic identity in media and popular culture these days. Even so there are more of these nowadays than there were when I was a teenager and trying to develop for myself my own identity (okay identity building is a continual process, but I think that in one's adolescence one often devotes the most time/thought etc. to this potentially traumatic process of trying to figure out how to fit in to the outside world and how to think about one's self). Such a video wouldn't have been made even a few years ago, and I'm happy about that aspect. Most public personalities that are of ambiguous ethnicity find a way to fit into one or more cultural niches or to identify more strongly with one or more aspects of ethnic origin, downplaying the others at least in the public sphere. And I don't fault anyone for this: the whole process of fitting into categories is something that is particularly human about our behaviour patterns. But I really appreciate seeing videos like this one (even with all the flaws of such a video… I could spend ages picking apart these flaws but that's for another day or person to do, I'm sure).

In North America I'm often perceived as being some sort of Asian. On my first trip to Asia (Taiwan) and even on my more recent trip to Japan (though to a MUCH MUCH smaller extent actually) I felt incredibly white. I don't particularly fit in with White culture (which can I guess be exemplified by some of the [positive AND negative] interactions I have with the public at work, or some of my online dating adventures, because I'm 'exotic or something') or Asian culture here (I've noticed this most strongly at University when I didn't feel like I had all that much in common with the more predominantly Asian groups of friends)… and you know what? Usually I'm okay with that though it is occasionally really truly frustrating.

I don't mind people asking POLITELY about my race or ethnic origins, provided that it's in an appropriate setting. I don't easily fit into a category: at work I wear my first name as a nametag and so people try to reconcile my commonly Arabic/Islamic/Muslim male first name with the fact that I'm definitely female and not overtly from that area of the world (though people often wonder); my Polish last name sometimes confuses people (and not just because people can't seem to spell it properly on a regular basis, because two consonants obviously can't follow each other) but hey that's less of an issue because I'm female and it could be a married name, right? (it isn't, and I'm not married, thanks. I'm actually part Polish though no one guesses that, though they might try to assume that I would speak Polish and get disappointed when it turns out that I don't); my features are such that I've been mistaken for being from literally any non-traditionally Western country I can think of (some examples include: Egypt, the Philippines, Lebanon, Korea, etc.).

And you know what? some of the racial slurs that have hurt the worst were those where the speaker got the racist epithet wrong. I am far less insulted when accurate insults were thrown my way (because in a strange way it shows that they put at least that much thought into it) instead of them just lumping me together with any other marginalized race/ethnic identity/subculture etc.

The misplaced anger of people when they realize that I don't speak Chinese, Korean, Polish, etc., or that I'm unable to become whatever race or ethnic identity that they suddenly want me to be is sometimes the strangest and most off-putting. And for me, it's wrapped up with all sorts of aspects of identity from my name to my appearance to my language abilities to my skill sets and hobbies. I actually really like whom I am, and find that on occasion it becomes tiring responding to all of these questions/insults/pigeon-holing comments/etc. Sometimes it is the entitled attitudes of strangers that they would know better than I would what my ethnicity might be that frustrates me the most. And really, if someone asks me where I'm from, it's not inaccurate to say Canada. And no, unlike what at least one person has said angrily, I can't go back to whatever country I'm from (what am I supposed to do, split myself in pieces and return each portion to the country where my ancestors once lived? And how far back would that kind of thing have to go, really, to get it right? Because if you go far enough, we're all just residents of planet Earth).

There's a lot more I could say about my reaction to this video. And I've already participated in a few social media conversations about it this morning. But I'm glad that media such as this one are being made. And I'm glad that this video has started some interesting discussions. I don't often applaud BuzzFeed, but this one really deserves some kudos, as much as I do realize there are flaws and always will be in such a short video.