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"So, What Are You?"

I just read this article on the mainpage, as well as the accompanying comments, and a ton of people were discussing the offensiveness of the question "what are you?," which I found interesting.

As most of you know, I live in South Brooklyn and always have. Here, asking people "what are you" is really common. I'm white, and for those of you who know what I look like, I'm pretty obviously white (as in, there's no question about it). Every time I meet someone new, I get asked "so, what are you?" Everyone I know does, from people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Now, I'm in no way saying this makes it ok, or that it's not offensive because it's common where I'm from. I'm just trying to convey why I had a "huh?" moment upon hearing that it's offensive.


After reading through the comments and putting my thinking cap on, I realize that it is kind of a really odd question to ask. I just, and this is my privilege talking and I'm aware of that, never even considered that it could be. In this particular part of NYC, it's a pretty standard "getting to know someone" question. I wonder why that is? I'm also wondering if people who are from NYC also don't consider it offensive because it's so common. You think it's because NYC is so diverse?

Like I said, I completely see why it's offensive, and I won't be asking people it (not that I really did much in the first place - other people tend to ask me first), but I'm mostly wondering why it's so common here. It's such an interesting difference in culture. I'm considering asking my friends IRL if they find this question offensive, not so I can be like "oh my black friend said it's ok!" but only because I'm genuinely curious.

What do you all think, GT-ers? I feel pretty awful that I never thought about the implications of this question before. I think, more so than it being common, the reason it never struck me as racist is because I and every white person I know gets asked it relatively frequently. I never thought about it past that, but now that I have I see why it could definitely hold more weight when asked to a PoC.

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