Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Are You?

Bless his heart....a young guy was at the cash register when he struck up a conversation with me.

"Your name is Simone?" he asked.

"Yep, sure is," I replied.

"Do you know what your name means in Spanish?" he asked, testing me.

"Sure do. It means, "right on!" I replied.

I hated bursting his bubble but I had heard that so many times while growing up. People were constantly telling me the "meaning" of my name.

I went on. "You know, my mom didn't name me that because of the Spanish meaning. She named me after the French version."

He didn't take long to digest that one. "So are you Mexican?" he asked.

"Uh, no, I'm Black."

"Serious?" he asked, looking totally shocked.

I walked towards the door. He yelled back, "Where's your mom from?"

I smiled and said, "From the U.S."

It got me thinking about the many times I'm asked what I am. Have you ever had anyone come up to you and say, "What are you?"

One time, I was working in a big corporation when an elderly couple were sitting in the lobby. I hear them whispering back and forth. One of them saying, "No you ask her."

Finally, the lady says, "Excuse me dear but what are you?"

At that moment, I started to say, "A human being ma'am" but chose to answer politely.

If you've followed my blog long enough, you will know that I don't mind answering questions about being black. In fact, I'd rather you ask than to assume or regret not asking later. I just don't understand what it is that makes people wonder what I am.

I realized that I gave the young guy a shortened condensed version of who I am. Here's the long version:

"I'm a 47 year old woman who is blessed to have the greatest daughters in the world that are not only my kids but my friends. I'm sympathetic to everyone and everything, a giver, and a friend. I cry easily and laugh even more easily. I'm loved by God in spite of my moments (which are often) of failure. I love hard, play hard and live hard. I'm a cheerleader, an encourager, a writer, an artist, a cook, a blogger, a nature lover and a lover of all things creative. I'm a friend to the friendless and a mom to the mommyless. Oh, I almost forgot, I'm Black."

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask away in my comments. I'll do my very best to answer each and every one in my next post.


Buckeroomama said...

That question has been asked of me many times. People have preconceived notions of how a person should look based on how (s)he talks, acts, whom she hangs around with, where she`s from, etc.

MissKris said...

This brought to mind an experience I had from years and years ago, where someone FORGOT who I was. I had a very dear black friend and she and another coworker, also black, invited me to go with them during dinner break to buy some barbecue. As we pulled up to the little restaurant and I began to get out of the car with the two girls, my dear friend gave me a shocked look. "Krissy-Wissy! You can't come in here! I'm sorry, but I forgot you're white!" Now it was MY turn to be shocked. "What do you mean, I can't go in there because I'm white?!" This was back in the days of only a few years past all the race riots, some of which got pretty ugly here in Portland, even. The restaurant was owned by some rather 'militant' Black men and whites were DEFINITELY frowned upon as far as entering their premises. So to keep me safe, Marge and Ruthie hustled me back into the car. And there I sat, thinking "So this is what it must feel like to be a minority and not being welcome everywhere." A very, very huge eye-opener for me and something I've never forgotten. But what a Life Lesson!

roy/elisabeth dean said...

RIGHT ON Simone!
My Mom is Cherokee Indian, I'm sure there was some African American thrown in there too.
My Dad is Irish American.
All of my sisters and brothers have very light skin, hair and eyes. I have very olive skin, black hair and eyes.
I was born and raised in the South.
Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus right down the street from me.
I didn't fit in AT ALL. Our milkman when I was born (yes, I'm THAT old) stopped by the house for his delivery. He was a sweet black man and loved children. He asked Dad if he could see the new baby. He picked me up and declared "Mr. Norman, she looks more like MY baby than yours!" It was a joke for years.
When the schools were intergrated, I was in the 5th grade. I became fast friends with Kanotta. I would spend endless hours with her, playing with her sisters and her neighbors. Life was great until my Sister drove there to pick me up one day. That was the day they found out I was white.
It happens to this day, only now I stay out of the sun and my skintone has faded remarkably. Now people ask me if I'm mexican. I always hated that people had to be catagorized. If you're a cat lover, you don't say "ummmm, I don't care for calico cats, I only like tabbys". Dog lovers don't pet Rottweilers and bypass the sweet beagle that's wagging his tail and smiling with his eyes. If you're a lover of Homo sapiens, we're all that species. It's time for this maddness to stop.
Whew...quite the soapbox for so early in the morning. Sorry. I hope in spite of my rants that you have a beautiful Monday~

Nezzy said...

Right on Simone. First and foremost, I am a child of God. My heritage is Scotch-Irish and German but mostly I'm just Nezzy!

Hubby get's that "what are ya" thing all the time. He has American Indian on both sides but his Great-Great Grandma Hanna was Black-Indian. He is mistaken from Mexican-Jewish but to me he's simply Hubby!

God bless ya girl and have a glorious day!!!

Deidra said...

One day a man insisted that I was Egyptian. I couldn't convince him otherwise. He was dead set on my being from Egypt. Poor thing. He just would not bend.

Brian Miller said...

love hard, play hard, live hard...i like it...and you sound like you have a pretty good idea of who you are...

Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts said...

I guess people expect everyone to neatly fit into each defined box and we often just don't.

Danica said...

I can't even imagine asking a stranger what they are. You are an amazingly, beautiful, smart woman and I'm glad I know you!

blueviolet said...

Yes, I was at dinner last year with the ex and another couple, and the lady just point blank asked me, "What are you, a Jew?"

I was like WHAT????? Firstly, I'm not, but regardless, why in the world would someone ask that question?

Fragrant Liar said...

Seriously? I can't imagine asking you that. It would never occur to me, I don't think. I mean, do you look like you might have features that look like something else? Like Asian or something?

I have never been asked that question. Usually, it's this one: Who are you and what have you done with my mother?

Suz said...

I have to say on one has ever asked me that Question. I'm not sure what I would say if they did.

I get asked, sometimes, where my ancestors are from but I am definately white, anglo-saxon protestant.

I agree with your description of yourself. You are definately a Barnabus (an encourager) with a sweet empathetic soul.

What you are is a wonderful person.

Lin said...

What an awful question to ask someone! I mean, in what context does one ask that?? I can see if we are all talking heritage, but other than that, I would sooo take offense.

I like your description. :)

Veronica Lee said...

You are a wonderful person and that's all it matters.
I've been mistaken for Japanese many times but then again, all Asians look alike.

Happy Tueday, Simone.

I love you, whatever you are - black, white, Asian, etc.

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

You are my friend, that's what you are. Nothing else matters, skin color or name.

Heather said...

I'm surprised this would happen, maybe I'm just ignorant. It seems silly to me that anyone would ask "what are you" to another person, because as you said, your a human being...period. You are just another person living your life. I give you a lot of credit for being polite, more polite than I would probably be in that situation.

Chris said...

I can relate.

My mom has often been asked that question because of her fair complexion and her accent. Granted, I don't know what others hear when they hear her speak. She just pronounces certain words different.

As my sister and I grew up, I believe most people assumed we weren't black because our hair was mid-back in length w/o a perm. Others just assume I'm anything but an african american woman.

Erin said...

I can relate right now because my girls have been asking/noticing about people looking different---not just color-wise, but also about people with disabilities, homeless people, etc. "Mommy, why did you give that man peanut butter crackers and your money?" "Mommy, why is that man in a wheelchair?" "Mommy, is so and so Jewish like us?" Sometimes explaining can be hard. I just try to say that we're all people, but we're all different, none of us the same, and that is what's so cool.

♥Georgie♥ said...

I loved your last paragraph! I long for a day when there isnt a black and white or mexican and immigrant...I love you just the way you are!

Life with Kaishon said...

My question is: what do you enjoy most about being a black woman? What preconcieved ideas do you think many people have about black women?

Mom et al said...

Huh. So Nina Simone was Nina Right On? Who'dve thunk it.

I can't believe you have actually been asked "What are you". I have certainly asked acquaintances with whom I was already engaged in a "getting to know you" conversation about their ethnic background. But what are you? Sorry, but even stated politely that just sounds so rude.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

That's funny--just Friday night I met a brother and sister in their 20s. They were so good looking and had such beautiful skin, I actually asked, "What are you guys?"

They said they were part Polish, part Russian, and a mixture of almost everything else. But I had to know!


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