Yes, I'm just catching up on my email…
Eric Stoller blogged recently about his girlfriend being confronted with the “what are you” question, and queried as to why many Whites feel the need to put people of colour into identifiable little boxes.
To me, it's just a by-product of the Other-izing of minorities. For many Whites, who are, by definition, never face the racial degradation of Otherizing (or even conscious membership to a racial community) see nothing wrong with being curious about a “different person”'s background or appearance. For some, there is a fascination with being visibly different, for others, it is a belief that racism exists only as racial slurs and sodomizing broomsticks, and cannot be found within an “innocent question” posed by a curious and nonetheless open-minded White liberal.
The truth is that people of colour loathe the “what are you” question because it's a reminder of the inequality we face inherent to our racial background. “What are you” suggests that we are not them, we are not normal, we are different. Though the White querient may believe the question is not harmful, they never consider how the very non sequitor nature of the question not only reminds us of our “Other”-izing but showcases the mindset of Whites who feel entitled to the knowledge.
I'm frequently asked by Whites “what I am” — and these questions are usually followed by comments about Chinese culture that supposedly connect them to my background. I haven't quite figured out how to respond to these kinds of questions, but I certainly know that I'm tired of being a “what” in the first place.