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Ebony, Ivory, Banana, Coconut

What are you? Animal, vegetable, mineral? How do you define yourself?

My column about got lots of people whispering to me this week. They stopped me in the school parking lot, at church, and around town. Even though it is taboo, we want to talk about race.

Years ago my father-in-law asked me what language Jamaicans speak. He looked doubtful when I said English. I was both Black and foreign, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was just curious. I wish all racial issues were so easily handled with a question and friendly dialogue.

I’m sorry that I can't fix all racial issues everywhere, but my life’s goal is to try. I'm not even touching economic issues until the holiday shopping season. Here’s a preview: Don't buy a Wii unless you can afford it. Economic crisis solved.

As for race, a while ago I asked my friends to answer a few simple questions:

  1. Where were you born?
  2. What do you consider yourself (in terms of race, culture or ethnicity)?
  3. What should other people call you?
  4. If you have offspring what do you call them?

This is me:

  1. Jamaica.
  2. Jamaican, West Indian, African-American, Southern (I’m thinking of creating southern fried jerk chicken now that . .... Good thing there is always )
  3. Black.
  4. JaMexican.

Here are some responses I collected from my friends:

  1. Seoul, Korea.
  2. Asian (Korean-American).
  3. Korean or Asian is fine. I hate the word "Oriental." Sorry, but I'm not a rug.
  4. Korean (100% ~ second generation Korean-American).
  1. Indianapolis.
  2. Black.
  3. Black, African American, Hoosier.
  4. Puggles.
  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Chinese-American, though sometimes I forget and think I'm Korean.
  3. I'm pretty flexible, but most people assume that I'm mixed (hun xie er) and I feel the need to correct then. American, Chinese-American, Asian-Americans, whatever. I'll even take Korean. Sometimes people think I'm French, for some reason, and I don't really mind that either.
  4. Kids are tougher. Korean-Chinese-American? Chinese-Korean-American? American-Chinese-Korean? My son prefers, "You don't need to know."
  1. Maine.
  2. White.
  3. White.
  4. Mixed, Biracial or Multi-ethnic. Anything but "mulatto." And, yes, we get that. Oh, and please don't ask me where I "got her."
  1. NYC
  2. Race? White. Culture/ethnicity? Ashkenazi Jewish.
  3. White is fine.
  4. Given that the offspring will be of Irish, English, German, Hungarian and Latvian descent, my guess would be "European-American."
  1. New Orleans, LA.
  2. White.
  3. White. Terribly boring although my background is Polish/French (Cajun)/Catholic/Jewish. Mother is now a Mormon. So I'm a confused puppy.
  4. My kids got some German and Irish from dad so they are really mutts.
  1. St. Louis, MO.
  2. White.
  3. White.
  4. Monsters will do, but my son thinks we're peachy/apricot colored. Kids are so literal!
  1. Columbus, GA.
  2. Mixed, Mom is Puerto Rican and Father is Black/White – I’ve always hung out or felt comfortable with all races, cultures. I’m just a good ol’ Southerner.
  3. Call me my name or a nickname. I kind of like American Mutt, though.
  4. My offspring will respond to sugar monkey ... but he's Puerto Rican, White-Irish and a little bit of black.
  1. Palo Alto, CA.
  2. I am pure 100% Eastern-European Jewish stock.
  3. The census would call me white. I call my ethnicity "Jewish," which to me is cultural, not religious. I don’t practice the religion, but I am quite proud of the culture.
  4. Husband is from Panama and he came up with Pana-Mexi-gringita, but that's a bit of a mouthful.
  1. Atlanta, GA.
  2. White.
  3. White.
  4. Kids? "My peeps" sometimes. My daughter will say, "He/she has a different skin tone than I do. Kind of a brownish tone, we are whiteish tone." I'm so boring!! Everyone else is so interesting. This is kind of funny: growing up with my last name "Lee" I would hear this a lot, "I thought you would be either Black or Chinese." I was never offended by that.
  1. Grand Island, Nebraska.
  2. Bald and pink.
  3. American.
  4. I call them their names.
  1. Bakersfield, CA.
  2. Half Hispanic/Half French, but who am I kidding. I'm white.
  3. Call me American!
  4. My kids are a very pale shade of American.
  1. Central Valley, CA.
  2. White (also Spanish, American Indian, Prussian).
  3. White.
  4. So far, we don't. Husband doesn't want to label them. But they're a mix of me and Jamaican, Basian (Barbados), White.
  1. Ukraine.
  2. White or ethnically (but not religiously) Jewish.
  3. People should call me white, but rarely do because I look pretty mixed (Hispanic/Asian/Indian/Vam​pire).
  4. This is a hard one - our kids would probably be called white or Jewish, and although we're teaching them to speak Russian, they definitely would not be called Russian.
  1. So I am from the Southern part of The United States and Southern (family has been in South since 1700's).
  2. Scotch-Irish-German-Cherokee --basically mostly white ... everything. ... We have that whole European Polish thing going on too (don't you dare say Polack ...) so it’s a racial-ethnic-mash up for us!
  3. The girls will comment on their skin differences in the bathtub. One has olive skin, one is about the palest child I have ever seen and from same parents!
  1. ‎NYC.
  2. Puerto Rican (but if you ask again, I'll tell you that my father is Puerto Rican and my mother is caucasian).
  3. People should call me by my name.
  4. I call my kids all kinds of things, mostly their birth names. I'm not big on biracial (their dad identifies as African-American, but after we were married I also learned that his mother's mother is half Mexican). One daughter used the term "mixed" to describe herself. My other daughter is a bit confused. She is almost my skin color, a bit darker, so maybe she is Black and I am white but last night she wasn't so sure.
  1. India.
  2. Indian. Asian is fine too.
  3. People are amazed at how good my English is. They ask me if I grew up here and I have to tell them that most of us back home go to English speaking schools. I was from a convent and in fact we speak more English than our own mother tongue.
  4. Indian-American/Asian-American. I just hope she likes Bollywood movies like her Mom and Dad!
  1. Texas.
  2. Mexican.
  3. People should call me Mexican-American if they have to label me but mainly I don't see why they should care and they definitely shouldn't ask me stupid things like, "What are you?" which has happened to me most of my life. I don't know, I'm human, I'm female, I'm a sci-fi nerd, I'm wondering why people ask dumb questions.
  4. No offspring but I have two cats, one is black and one is tuxedo and we call them kitties.
  1. Jamaica.
  2. JAmerican is the term I have liked most, includes a little Celtic on my mom's side.
  3. At this point in my life, I'm fine with whatever. In college, my Ed psych instructor sent back my paper on myself because she insisted that I share about growing up as a young woman of "Afro-American descent.” I sent back a paper on how annoying it is when people make (incorrect) racial presumptions and want to see you as a racial category rather than connecting to you as an individual. (The West Indian experience is different than the African-American experience).
  4. Technically "Black/African-American” because they won't eat ackee, so I just call them American.
  1. Canada.
  2. Above racial labels.
  3. People tell me I am white and I believe them because I drive a Volvo.
  4. Houdinis if they got past the birth control.
  1. Havana, Cuba.
  2. Cuban-American (although I should be just plain Cuban, but I've lived in this country 46 of my 51 years)
  3. I don't get called names. My son was told at a gathering last week that he speaks really good English for a Mexican. He said his parents were born in Havana and in Jasper, Alabama. Then the couple said, “Oh man, didn't mean to offend you.” My son answered, “Now I'm offended that you think being Mexican is offensive.”
  4. From now on they're American Mutts. Love that.
  1. Born in San Diego, California, to a mom whose parents were Mexican and Anglo (German and Irish heritage) and my dad was Anglo (Swedish and Welsh heritage).
  2. I call myself an American and my ethnicity is Anglo-Latina.
  3. Two offspring with a man who is half Italian and half Native American-Anglo.
  4. I tend to get annoyed with people who insist on putting racial tags on themselves and get their knickers in a twist if someone accidentally gets it wrong.
  1. Born in Worcester, MA, to a 100 percent Russian mother and black Irish/Swedish father. I don't expect people to know that about me when looking at me, however, so I'm always amenable to a conversation.
  2. Other than that, I'm American, but always choose the "other" option when filling out forms inquiring about my race.
  3. My husband is full-blown Persian, but is now American, as well.
  4. My children are American, but if we're getting nitpicky, I suppose they'd be called Persian-American. No one is going to know that unless they ask though.
  5. Asking is okay. I love it when people ask and ask others whenever I get the chance.
  1. Born in Memphis, TN.
  2. I consider myself American.
  3. I check the White box on standardized tests. People can call me whatever they want -- I have too much other stuff to worry about to care.
  4. No offspring yet, but odds are they will be called "pale."
  1. America.
  2. African-American.
  3. Merely "American."
  4. Black, Cherokee American (All Southern Blacks are part Cherokee -- or, so we say!)
  1. New Britain, CT.
  2. Whiter than sour cream (an equal smattering of English, Polish, Italian and Ukrainian. More specifically ... European-Am​erican.)
  3. They should call me Dan.
  4. My kids will be called Geordi, Krylon and Dennis Jr.
  1. New Orleans, LA.
  2. White.
  3. I, too, am "whiter than sour cream." I think that's on my birth certificate.
  4. My children will be called "stolen" because my husband's Puertorriqueño genes could take mine in a fight with their hands tied behind their back. I will be a blond, pale, blue-eyed mother of tanned, black haired, brown-eyed children with great melanin content.

This came from a dear friend and writer.

  1. The South.
  2. Southern, survivor, indigenous, pioneer, iron-willed, unpretentious, perpetual, infused, authentic, mystical, superstitious, divine, diverse, intractable, transcendent, sincere.
  3. A good cook. A good mother. A good daughter.
  4. I call my children the light under my bushel.

Really, should we ever ask a Southern woman what she is? I hope one or two of you might also respond. If you are brave, ask these questions of the people in your life and start a healthy discussion.

Mary Flad August 21, 2011 at 12:54 PM
I always enjoy your columns Nicki. I’ll give it a shot: 1. Jersey City, NJ 2. An American of Irish descent. 3. They should call me Mary but around here I’m probably called a yankee. 4. No kids: no issue. I read an article not too long ago about the recent popularity of DNA testing, to find out “what we are.” The writer underwent the test and found to his surprise, that in addition to the African and European stock he had assumed, he was also Chinese. He made the point, and I thought it was a good one, what do we really know about ourselves, past what our oldest living relatives can tell us?
Meg Clark August 21, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Nicki, I was just wondering why you hadn't asked any of us Southern gals who we were! There is too much of everything in most of us to be called anything but stubborn :) 1. Georgia 2. Southern and Irish-Native American; my mother's daughter and the result of a long line of women who wouldn't stop fighting and give in. Ok, I could have just stuck with Southern and Irish there. 3. Meg. Or stubborn. Or Mae, because I totally respond to that, too. 4. Most likely pale. I'm also a fan of calling them monsters; nobody says you can't love a monster! We looked back through the annals a few years back and there is also some Portuguese Jewish ancestry and Basque. Wouldn't know from looking at me!
Scott Pyron August 21, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Wonderful, Nicki! Sure you did not make some of these up?
Nonie Ravenberg August 21, 2011 at 08:06 PM
1. Upstate New York 2. American of mostly Nowegian descent, but sometimes I wonder if I wasn't Italian in a previous life 3. Your Majesty, or Most Always Right 4. No kids.
Nicki Salcedo August 22, 2011 at 02:18 PM
I'm sure I didn't make these up. You can't make this kind of stuff up. If you are my facebook friend, you can view the entire stream of comments. With the exception of typos, these are verbatim answers. I got about 50 reponses in all. I learned a lot about my friends this way! The last answer is from a friend with a debut book coming out this year.
gomommy August 23, 2011 at 12:48 AM
1. The great state of PA (technically a Yankee but raised south of the Mason-Dixon line, y'all). 2. Welch (like Catherine Zeta-Jones!) and German 3. White (or Fabulous, whichever) 4. White (and open-minded :)
Nicki Salcedo August 23, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Meg, I did ask Southern gals, but they all turned out to be from NJ, upstate NY, and PA. I think you and I are the only Southern ones in the bunch. You know you can't find anyone from Georgia in Georgia... or at least in Atlanta.
john penn October 06, 2011 at 08:41 AM
1. Virginia 2. Black 3. Human 4. They're grown/Always only by their names Guess what? Character and keeping life simple are the only things that count. Does anyone watch "Hoarders"? I can't. LOL.

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