Here's How To Not Sound Like An Ignorant Fool When Asking About Someone's Race

Things can get tricky -- and sometimes offensive -- when asking someone: “What are you?”

But producers over at Moral Courage TV, a YouTube channel that shares inspiring and insightful videos, provide a solution that won’t leave you sounding insensitive or biased when you decide to probe into someone’s personal background.

In each episode of Moral Courage, various hosts tackle everyday queries and dilemmas that are published as part of their series: “Just 1 Question.”

“[The hosts] ask the tough questions that can lead to moral courage, and the everyday questions that inspire viewers to engage with each other rather than assume,” Adam Grannick, a multimedia producer at Moral Courage, tells HuffPost.

In their latest video, host Amani Hayes-Messinger offers alternative ways to asking someone about their ethnic identity rather than bluntly asking: “What are you?”

In taking a stab at answering the question herself, Hayes-Messinger says there are many pieces to her identity. She has Black, Russian, German, Ukranian and Polish roots, two moms and she’s Jewish -- a mixed bag of backgrounds that some people, at first glance, may not be aware of.

“Asking the question ‘What are you?’ in a black community, assumes that I’m too white to be black, or that I’m too Jewish to be black, she says. “And in predominantly white Jewish communities, asking the question ‘what are you?’ assumes I’m too black to be Jewish.”

While Hayes-Messinger recognizes that it is important to ask these questions, she suggests that they should be done in ways that don’t force someone to confine themselves to singular labels.

Instead, she encourages people to engage in conversations and move past labels in order to possibly get a deeper definition and, ultimately, understanding of one’s ethnic background.

“The next time you’re thinking about asking someone, ‘what are you?’, go deeper and say: ‘I don’t want to assume, but I’m curious if you’d tell me how you racially identify?’” she explains.

“Asking someone how they identify, instead of what they are, opens up a dialogue that hasn’t already forced them into an ‘other.’ That doesn’t assume they’re from somewhere else or are something else. Multiple identities is an identity.”

Grannick said the project’s goals were to help people move beyond the temptation to make assumptions about how people identify or how they think -- instead, he hints to the deeper lesson embedded in the video.

“I hope that viewers will come away with a new way to engage with people, rather than be tempted to censor themselves out of fear of offending.”

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