“Seriously, What Are You?”

“What are you?”


“No, seriously.”

“Racially ambiguous.”


I have been perpetually subjected to questions about my race/ethnicity over the past 21 years. It’s really such a pity that most encounter with fellow Singaporeans boil down to my race and the colour of my skin. Why can’t we all be colour-blind? I guess we never will be until our dear government decides to remove the ‘race’ category under our identification information. In other parts of the world, nationality would suffice. But here, it boils down to racial divisions – Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian, or Others.

Alas, I cannot change such social predicaments. So I heave a huge sigh, and try to have my fun with these racially-conscious people by giving them ridiculous responses. My best one yet is ‘mocha-flavoured goodness’. But in all seriousness, my formal answers do vary according to my mood. I usually start with ‘mixed’ as a standard response. But these busybodies would never be satiated by it. So, I say ‘Chindian’ (a common term in Singapore to denote Chinese–Indian). And if they have the misfortune to become privy to my official race (as per my ID) their vision gets swirly from confusion. “What the hell is Ceylonese?” they’d ask. Then, I would heave another huge sigh and give them the full picture.

My paternal grandparents migrated to Singapore (then Malaya) as a result of the Sri Lankan civil war. So the government branded them as ‘Ceylonese’, which is a term used to identify people from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Since your race is traditionally transferred down from your paternal heritage, I am labelled as Ceylonese. But technically it’s ‘Others’ (specified as Ceylonese) on most official documents. However, this doesn’t reflect my maternal heritage which is Chinese. So I guess it’s Ceylonese–Chinese. But that’s a mouthful, so I say Chindian (as Indians were the closest demography to Ceylonese). Anyhow, if you are about to shit your pants from bewilderment, I don’t blame you. Now would you agree that I am racially ambiguous?

Or if you are White, then I’m just Asian. Now, that reminds me of an infuriating anecdote. About few months back, this really nice White lady (from Australia) visited my dad during her trip here. Upon meeting me, she remarked that I look nothing like my father. Her words (to my dad): “Well, now you look Indian; but your son looks very Asian.”

Shoot me now.

Well, I knew that she was using ‘Asian’ and ‘Chinese’ interchangeably. But, I seriously hope that she understood that ‘Asian’ really just refers to people born in the Asia (the continent). So I am Asian, my dad is Asian, the person from Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia etc. are all ASIANs.

So, what did I do? I muttered “ignorant” under my breath; smiled a fake polite-smile; and retreated back to the blissful solitude of my room.

Written in response to the prompt: Curve Balls

6 thoughts on ““Seriously, What Are You?”

  1. On the other side of things – I hate being branded “White” – which is the absence of color, flavor, ethinicity. In a word – BORING, and practically invisible. In the U.S. there are so many white people with a mixed-bag of heritage – that we can’t say we are any particular thing. Have you ever heard United Statesian? No, American, which is actually shared with Canada. But sure, whether I like it or not, I am from the priviledged part of the spectrum of skin tones. And I hate, hate, hate filling in the blank of “white” – it is like saying – Hello, I have no identity what-so-ever. These racial categories erase us as individuals, and are solely for the sake of social control. And who controls society – well, it is a bit more complicated than skin-tone, but the elites of every skin tone would have us believe otherwise.


    • Thank you for your perspective. I hope you weren’t offended by my use of ‘White’ in the post. It was actually intentional –it was meant to somewhat ‘spite’ the lady who came to visit (a taste of her own medicine).

      Anyhow, I’d like to think that no one in particular likes being defined by their skin-colour or race. And I guess we generally do ascribe such sentiments to the minorities in any society. And we brush off individuals from the majority who harbour such sentiments in account of their ‘privilege’.

      Perhaps it’s difficult to challenge the status quo, but with the prevalence of increasing mixed-heritaged individuals, the entire social construct of race might seem irrelevant in a few generations from now –or so, I hope.


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