Where You From?

Comment on Intersectionality

First off, @2DopeQueens has an amazing, absolutely amazing (doubled that up for emphasis—then reiterated for further clarity; see what I did there), podcast. Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are hysterical, in-your-face, and unapologetically entertaining. They dive into intersectionality, feminism, and everything that might makes some people’s butt clench. And they do it with ease, charm, and humor. Check them out here.

Second, this week’s show was absolutely—again with the superlatives, but for real—incredible, show. I mean, the type of show you stay listening to in your car, in the parking lot, in front of your job thinking, “I should get into the office,” incredible.

At the beginning of the show Phoebe Robinson describes her Tinder experience. “Oh I have to participate,” she describes when nothing was happening because she hadn’t right swiped guys. I mean tears, hilarious. Then she goes on to speak about her first match which she describes as a “good conversation.”

The guy asks, “What’s your background?” Phoebe is totally weirded out by this question.

“Cleveland, Ohio.”

Guys says, “Lol. No. What’s your ethnicity?”

“Uh, black… you saw my picture… right…?” Phoebe replies. This guys was white. It is relevant. Trust me.

They go on to comment about another guy, this one is black, and he asked her pretty much the same thing. Where are you from? Something to that effect.

The thing is that I don’t see anything wrong with the ethnicity question. Listen, if you come from a diverse community where there is a huge amount of different cultural backgrounds, asking about background becomes a way of navigating cultural mines. I mean, are you Cuban, Puerto Rican, African-American, Haitian, Bahamian, Jamaican, Colombian, White-American, White-Cuban, etc. I don’t want to categorize who you are as a person but if I know where you’re from, I know how I can build a cultural connection with you. For example, Haitian, great, I know that maybe you like soccer, kompa, and can speak Creole—don’t call it Haitian boi—Spanish or French. It is a starting point.

The questions, where are you from? What is your ethnicity? Where does your family come from? Are normal jumping off points for conversations in an ethnically diverse community. People ask me all the time where I’m from. It is fine, really, it's a conversational set up akin to how is the weather?

Me. Oh, I’m Cuban. Really? Bam. Done. Normally that is followed by what type of food I like… I hate Cuban food. Hahaha, blew your stereotype out of the water, but I had fun with it. Well, at least the healthy Cuban stuff. But get me that papa rellena or those pastelitos, or, or, okay I’m gonna stop now. I mean if you want to have a conversation that is anything other than a monosyllable exchange, you are going to have to dig into the person’s culture. Be it their suburbia nintendo-laced childhood or their free-roaming fabella childhood. What is your ethnicity? Is as normal as, what city are you from? Oh, New York, bam, we can have a whole huge conversation about sports, city-life, night-life, traffic, etc.

Frankly, I think it's offensive to assume that just because someone is black they are African-American. Hello, the diaspora is huge. In fact, now that you know that I’m Cuban here is an interesting fact. Cuba’s Mulato (mixed white/black) population sits at about 26%. We have a 10% percent black population and about a 1% Asian population. There are descendants of British, Spanish, African, French, Chinese, Indian, American and Jewish people.

But, I diverged. There are Black Brazilians, Colombians, Venezuelans, Uruguayans, and, in fact, in most the Spanish world. Then there are the Carribean islands. Not to mention the Black French, Brits, and even Germans. So, while the point in this podcast was and is funny and I understood Phoebe’s cause for pause. Where are you from, stands at the intersectionality of multiculturalism and leads us away from the boxed in nature of the white/black binary. We are so much more than that just American born and where we are from gives meaning and depth to our experiences as Americans.

So, Pheebs, may I call you that? Although I get the whole white guy asking might be a little out of place, if someone asks you where are you from or what ethnicity you ascribe to, maybe they are just trying to start a conversation. Why Maybe? I’ll admit it, sometimes they are just being pompous dicks.