What Are You?   13 comments

I’ve been told that I can be culturally insensitive.

It’s not a goal, I assure you. However, as an old white guy, there are many things that I will never experience. I’ll never be arrested for Driving While Black … though, come to find out, there is a Henry Mowry that’s been arrested for driving while drunk. He skipped on his bail … and I was once briefly detained while a friendly policeman proved to his own satisfaction that I was not a drunkard from Tennessee. That was black.

Thank you, Officer.

I will observe that if I’m occasionally culturally insensitive, it’s probably because of my extremely cloistered upbringing. I grew up in a rural area of Missouri that was pure WASP … even Catholics were an extreme minority. I never met a Jew until I went to college. It’s not that I avoided contact with non-white, non-Protestant people … they simply weren’t around for the first 18 years of my life.

Here I am in blackface, with a black actor, Greg MacDonald, in whiteface. It was in a one act play festival ... and a comment on racism. I submit this as an example of my cultural, uh, expansion.

Here I am in blackface, with a black actor, Greg MacDonald, in whiteface. We appeared in a one act play, presented as a part of a MIzzou festival for amateur writers. The play, with a name I’ve forgotten, was a comment on racism. I submit this as an example of my cultural, uh, expansion. Circa 1975.

I am happy to report that when I went to Mizzou, I broadened my cultural horizons immensely.

I had a Jew for a roommate … and witnessed the making of homemade bagels. I went to a Jewish wedding. I worked closely with people of many heritages at the Mizzou theatre. My horizons were broadened at the land grant state university that was founded in 1839.

Thank you, Mizzou.

35+ years later, I’ve been in the cultural melting pot that is Los Angeles for … 35+ years. Though it was not a specific goal to widen my cultural horizons, that has happened.

This week, a former co-worker posted a Facebook link to a very interesting article from the Huffington Post … that uber-culturally sensitive news site.

My friend linked to an article by a multi-cultural, self-proclaimed “blendiva.” My friend also has a multi-cultural heritage, and she related completely with the Huffington Post author who was tired of strangers questioning her genetic heritage. My friend has been there, too: here’s a typical dialogue with a stranger that my friend remembers:

He: Where are you from?

She: The Bay Area.

He: No, where are your FROM?

She: Oh, you mean what nationality am I? I’m Japanese.

He: You speak English really well.

She: Good thing, ‘cuz it’s the ONLY language I speak.

And here’s another one she remembers:

He (in front of her older daughters): What are they?

She: Half Japanese and half German

He: Well, how the hell did that happen?

Andromeda Turre, from her Facebook page. She's the author of the provocative Huntington Post article ... and she's tired of people asking "What Are You?"

Andromeda Turre, from her Facebook page. She’s the author of the provocative Huffington Post article … and she’s tired of people asking “What Are You?”

I may be culturally insensitive … on rare occasion … but I would NEVER make that kind of comment to another human. I mean, c’mon, who would say something like that?

Back to the inspiration for this post, and my friend’s comments … a post on Huffington Post by a singer named Adromeda Turre. She’s a New York resident, and got tired of the online dating scene when she was consistently asked, “What Are You?”

OK. As I stated in the beginning, I have been accused of being culturally insensitive. But would I EVER ask another human that I didn’t know well … “What Are You?”

No.

Please read Andromeda’s article. The post is here.

Now, I will observe that I am interested in genealogy, and that makes me interested in where I’m from. Yes, I have investigated the heritage of my family, and the heritage of my wife’s family. I’ll fully disclose “What I Am” in an upcoming post.

For now, just know that I’m English, Irish, German, Dutch & Swiss. And I’m just getting started. My wife, on the other hand, is Serbian, German … and some other country that’s changed its name a few times. Slovack, Polish, Austria-Hungarian … something like that.

So, YES, I am interested in my family heritage. But as to what I am … that’s a little tougher. I’m from Missouri, and I definitely worked hard to become a Missouri Tiger. But as much as I identify myself as a guy from the Show Me state, I’ve lived on the Left Coast longer than I lived in the Midwest.

So, what am I? Well, it’s complicated. I can only imagine how that question might frustrate people with a heritage that’s viewed by some as “unusual.”

More

Huffington Post: What Are You Is Not An Icebreaker

13 responses to “What Are You?

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  1. And THAT’s why Grandma Decker said I was “slopbucket Dutch!” Mom

    Letha Marie Mowry
  2. I sorta like “mongrel” – gives me an excuse to be growly!! grins g

  3. Our parents told us we were Heinz 57!. Our mom was pure Low German and our dad was French-Indian (American version, from Canada, probably Arapaho/Algonkin) and High German.

    Let me tell you our paternal grandfather was the worst. He married his High German self to our French/Indian half-breed grandmother as a missionary act, and then changed her first name, he being a self-proclaimed Christian. The worst is that several of us grandkids turned out to be real Christians (the kind that die; not the kind that kill) and we had to sneak into the kitchen where our grandmother was banished whenever we visited. But she did entice us with chocolates, hence my addiction. Heh heh–probably mostly Arapaho in my leanings, wouldn’t you say?

    Oh. I forgot. You would never say, right?! 😉

    Anyway, I ended up in Columbia, MO (go Tigers) so it’s okay, right? 😉 Where I put my husband through school, after which we moved to the Deep South, where absolutley no one (except fellow northerners) accepts us, White as we are…Sighs.

    Whatever you do don’t move to Mississippi. Just joking, of course, right?

    Oh, and get this: My daughter is DAR. Ha!

    • At least you’ll have an opportunity to see the Tigers play Ole Miss & Mississippi State now! Wear some black & gold & you’ll feel better.

      Love your story about your grandmother and grandfather. That’s what makes a family, IMHO. The stories bind us all together.

  4. It’s Complicated is a great answer! I think I’ll use it. For today and tomorrow tho, I’ll celebrate the 1/4 Irish from my Mom’s side (German and Irish) and have food and a beverage with other friends at Stovall’s Grove. Stovall’s has been on Manchester (Wildwood/Pacific) since 1935. Odds are that my grandfather “Shorty” Hepler most likely stopped here after work for a brew or two or three … back in his day.

    Christine Hepler
    • I think you’re right about Shorty. And raising all of those kids through the deaths of 2 wives … he deserved an adult beverage or two, I believe!

  5. My kids and my husband are often asked “what are you?” When my kids were small, I often got asked “what is your husband?” or “is your husband (fill in the blank)?” The worst was having a woman ask me, right in front of my youngest daughter, if she was adopted. Appalling. But Henry, right up there with that sort of rudeness would be the questions I would get from perfect strangers when I was pregnant with my 4th kid such as “another one?” “are you planning to have any more?” “don’t you know what causes that?” Or when my psoriasis would be flared, I’d also get comments like “Ewww, what is that?” “Is that contagious?”. So basically what I think is that there is a large subgroup of human beings who are simply rude. They have no filters and no sense of what is inappropriate. It’s not as much culturally insensitive as it is simply bad manners.

    • I agree that “polite society” is not a goal for many in our “modern society.” For myself, I still hold doors open for ladies (well, and most gentlemen, too). I know there was a time that a simple act like that was offensive to some, but I still believe being polite to everyone you meet is simply appropriate, 100% of the time.

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