The Disrespectful Curiosity

By: Jaelyn McAllister

It always starts with the one question from strangers:”Are you black?” When I answer, mentioning that I identify as mixed, the following question always appears and leaves me in disbelief every time: “So which of your parents is black?” Although I understand that this question could most definitely be asked as innocently as possible out of curiosity, to me, this question shows their lack of empathy. When asked this question, my initial internal reaction is to ask the following questions back:

  1. Why do you need to know my parent’s skin tones? Why are you so curious about it?
  2. Will the clarity of knowing my parent’s skin color give you some satisfaction? If so, how?
  3. Will this follow with another racist question about my parents being a black person’s stereotype? 

My actual response varies. Most of the time, my signature move is to make a face that indicates that those questions were inappropriate, at which point they usually cannot take the hint and ask more questions about my name. My name is six easy letters. However, when I say my name loud and clear, I need to repeat it at least three times before they understand. Once they understand, it becomes too difficult to pronounce and they ask for a nickname. These questions can be insensitive and thoughtless, and there is no reason to ask them at all. You can pronounce my full, correct name, and you can be more cautious when asking questions. Curiosity is not an excuse to lack respect. 

The most insensitive question I have been asked by those who identify as white is “Can I say the N-word?”. My response will always be no, because if you are asking me, it means you were never allowed to say it in the first place, which gives you no reason to say it now. Singing it in a song does not validate the use of it either. I have had friends who think that just because they are friends with me thinks it validates them to say the word, however, to believe that I validate them to say a derogatory term is foolish. Curiosity is not an excuse to lack respect. 

The intent of this message is not to hate, but to simply confront and educate those who think these questions are appropriate to ask. These questions have a purpose and have a time and place to be asked; however, when asked in the wrong times, they can be disrespectful. The solution? Please wait for the person to talk to you about it when they are ready rather than asking them first. It will show patience, respect and a little bit of knowledge, because although curiosity can be a great tool, it is not an excuse to lack respect.