Changing The Face Of America: Why I'm The Perfect Example Of An Evolving Society
I often perplex strangers. I disable their unconscious and automatic classification system to place me in one racial category. This leaves them feeling unsettled and immediately, they ask about my place of origin.
I've answered “Los Angeles,” but that never satiates their curiosity; they question my ethnic background and ethnicity in their follow-up inquiries.
The first time someone confronted me, I was 9 years old. Patiently waiting in line during recess for my chocolate chip cookie, an older boy tapped my shoulder. Unwilling to believe that I wasn't Armenian, we eventually agreed to disagree and went our separate ways.
My favorite part of the day was ruined; I didn't even want my cookie and walked back to class, fuming. In the span of five minutes, I was called a liar and was pointedly assumed to be something I was not.
It took me many years to get past the frustrated feeling I invariably felt after continuous badgering about my ethnicity. I couldn't understand why it mattered so much.
The problem wasn't that people thought I was Armenian, Jamaican, Mexican, Moroccan or French (to name a few) but that my outer appearance was the only defining factor about which people seemed to care.
Recently, there's been a lot of hype surrounding a National Geographic piece, “The Changing Face of America.” The author, Lise Funderburg, leads with the idea that these faces are so intriguing because the features disrupt the expectations of what we're used to seeing.
In my late teens, the idea Funderburg mentions, allowed me to finally feel okay with other people's constant need to categorize me. I had accepted that we're all pigeon-holers. No matter how much we fight it, it's part of our genetic wiring.
The amount of data we absorb, especially these days, is so vast that our hidden brain does a lot of the categorizing for us. Using a series of unconscious biases set by societal norms, this hidden brain classifies those we encounter by their gender, race, age, weight, hair color, attire and general appearance.
This is why, when someone's race or gender is ambiguous, we immediately have the urge to figure the person out.
In the years to come, racial ambiguity will no longer be the exception. The boundaries that define racial categories are becoming much more blurred as interracial marriages and relationships are on the rise.
My hope is that the changing face of our nation will begin to dismantle our definitions of racial classifications. If society can get to a point where race is no longer an identifying factor, perhaps one day, we will be able to do the same for other inherent qualities.
I now realize how awesome my gift of obscurity really is. When I travel, it's easy for me to immerse myself in different cultures and populations. I've even met a number of former flings and close friends due to their curiosity about my look.
These days, when someone asks, I have a number of go-to answers at my disposal. Depending on my audience and mood, I often turn the question around and ask others to play the guessing game; it's amazing to hear the varied replies.
Truthfully, I don't really know the exact location of my ancestors' origin. The most honest and simple answer I can offer is that I'm an Ashkenazic Jew. I'm proud of my heritage and hope that one day, my ambiguous-looking kids will feel the same way.
Photo via We Heart It
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