I love a genuine, platonic compliment. Few things make my day like a woman at a coffeeshop telling me she likes my outfit, and then both of us carrying on with our lives. I don’t love when those “compliments” hinge on my race or my racial ambiguity. The list of things mixed race people are sick of hearing is dark and full of microaggressions. Often, these comments are intended to be complimentary but are, in reality, insulting.
I’m half White, half Asian, and wholly confusing to a lot of the Midwest, where I live. My racial ambiguity is often seen as invitation for people to ask “what I am.” I’ve heard it all, and I’ve heard it from everyone from a stranger at the pool to my boss’ boss’ boss. While, luckily, I've rarely felt threatened by the comments I've gotten, that doesn’t make them less damaging.
Microaggressions are labeled as such because of their compounding nature. One ignorant comment every once doesn’t seem so bad. Compiled, they’re harmful. So, while you may see your comment on a person's hair or skin as a compliment, calling out aspects of someone's racial makeup can be a form of othering.
Like I said, I’m all for a compliment. Tell me you like my shoes all day. It’s important, however, to consider the context of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Here are a few “compliments” mixed race people hear that just aren’t flattering.
1“You don’t even look [insert race here].”
How I'd Like To Respond: "Oh yeah, it's this new thing I'm trying out where I change my genetic makeup. I'm only 37 percent Asian today instead of 50."
Why It's Not A Compliment: The thing about being any race, mixed or not, is there is no one single version of how to look. What the above comment is actually saying is, "You have less of the physical traits stereotypically associated with people who are [insert race here]." When that's used as a compliment, it's essentially saying, "You're more physically attractive because you look less [insert race here]."
For context, I've also had people tell me, "You look so Asian today. No offense." Associating the "amount of Asian" I appear to be with how attractive I am is just straight up racist. Also, I look the same amount of Asian every day because that's how science works.
2“You’re so exotic!”
How I'd Like To Respond: "Do you think I was imported from Asia? Like, I came over on a boat with a bunch of fruit and fancy birds?"
Why It's Not A Compliment: "Exotic" by definition implies "not from here." Words like "exotic" verbally establish mixed race people as "other." It gets into weird, fetish-y territory when my perceived foreignness is seen as a more desirable trait.
3“Your kids are gonna be sooo cute!”
How I'd Like To Respond: "Yes, because I am cute."
Why It's Not A Compliment: The above video by Franchesca Ramsey does a great job unloading the "compliment" that is "mixed babies are sooo cute." The part that struck me most was the way she calls out the frankensteining of characteristics that often happens. (Their hair will be dark but their eyes will be light and their skin is gonna be so tan, etc.)
Like Ramsey says, my kids are going to be cute because I'm cute. Not because of some amalgamation of traits deemed societally attractive.
4“I wish I could have babies that are [insert race here].”
How I'd Like To Respond: "So sorry, but I'm not taking future orders right now."
Why It's Not A Compliment: See above video. While meant to be a compliment, this type of comment fetishizes mixed babies and interracial relationships in a disparaging way.
5“You look just like [insert another mixed race person].”
How I'd Like To Respond: "How dare you insult the goddess that is Olivia Munn like that."
Why It's Not A Compliment: I won't lie — I don't hate hearing people say I look like any beautiful part-Asian celebrity, however untrue that may be. But I don't look identical all of them. Or all of the part-Asian people who exist in the world. I am constantly compared to other women who are part-Asian in a way I don't think all white women are compared to, say, Tilda Swinton.
6“You’re so lucky you have a year-long tan.”
How I'd Like To Respond: "You can get a tan like this, too! All it costs is generations of privilege associated with your current skin color!"
Why It's Not A Compliment: Equating attractiveness to a skin tone gets into real dicey territory. Also, as Rashida Jones experienced in a red carpet interview, it's just awkward.
7“You’re pretty for a person who's [insert race here]."
How I'd Like To Respond: See the above GIF.
Why It's Not A Compliment: This both implies that people of that race are not pretty and establishes that a person of that race cannot be attractive by any larger standards. Next time, just stop at "you're pretty."