The hilarious, awkward, and bizarre interactions ethnically ambiguous people have daily.

Kandis Mak is a successful Canadian actress working in Los Angeles. She's been on "Workaholics," "True Blood," and "Rush Hour" to name a few, but the questions she hears when she meets someone usually go something like this:

"So ... where is your mother from?"  

"Montreal."


"Oh, then where are you from?"

"Los Angeles."

"No, no, where are you from from?"

Photo via Kandis Mak, used with permission.

For ethnically ambiguous people, this "where are you from from" question is typically accompanied by a slight cock of the head and squint of the eyes as people try to understand what category to place them in.

If we must, how do we define "ethnically ambiguous"?

It's someone who looks like multiple races and cultures. They can have a slight darkness to their skin or maybe "non-traditional features" (historically defined by Europeans for the last 800 years).

130 million people in America are classified as non-white, and more than 9 million people consider themselves multiracial. That means close to half of the country can be classified as ethnically ambiguous or a melding of many cultures, races, and nationalities. National Geographic went so far as to say that within the next 40 years, everyone will look this way.

Yet despite the growing number of people defining themselves as ethnically ambiguous, individuals still face daily questions and uncomfortable conversations about their identity. Here are some of them:

1. "Do you speak a foreign language?"

"I've had multiple people just be very confused as to what my background is," says Raajik Shah, an Indian producer. "They'll come up and ask, 'Are you Indian? Are you French? Pakistani? Black?' I've gotten Mexican out here, I've gotten them all."

Photo via Raajik Shah, used with permission.

Even when someone correctly identifies Shah's Indian heritage, they often take it a step further and end up asking another silly question.

"The one that's the best is when they ask, hesitantly, 'Do you speak Indian?' Which is hilarious because ... that's not a language, and then I feel like I have to explain it in a way that won't be insulting," Shah says.

2. "How about those Arabic people, right?"

"Sometimes people will talk about my culture, not in the nicest way, without realizing I'm Arabic," says Jessica Sherif, who is of Arabic descent, which of course leads to some inevitable awkwardness when they do find out she is part of the same culture they're joking about or insulting.

Photo via Jessica Sherif, used with permission.

"People have a really hard time pinpointing me down," she explains. "It feels as if not knowing is some weird instability and the conversation can't keep moving forward."

3. "Why are you pretending you don't understand me?"

"When you're ethnically vague, people assume that you are what they are," says Gabrielle Kessler, whose family is from Colombia. "If you're talking to someone Dominican, they think you're Dominican; if you're talking to somebody Puerto Rican, they think you're Puerto Rican. If you're talking to someone Italian — I'm from the east coast — everybody automatically assumes that you're Italian."

Photo via Gabrielle Kessler, used with permission.

She's noticed people assume she's different races depending on where she is in America.

"When I moved out to California, I'd get Persian, all the time, people speaking Farsi to me, literally trying to convince me I'm Persian. And the Armenians would exclaim, 'Oh, you're so Armenian!' It's so confusing because some people want you to be like them and others need to identify you one way or another."

4. "But you don't look [insert culture/race here]."

Mak, Sherif, Kessler, and Shah are of Cantonese, Arabic, Colombian, and Indian descent respectively. On any given day, they are asked if they are French, Pakistani, Afghan, Mexican, African, Persian, Armenian, Korean, Hawaiian, Malaysian, Philippine, Japanese, Italian, Dominican, Brazilian, Spanish, Puerto-Rican, Chinese, Venezuelan, Moroccan, Lebanese, Egyptian, and many more. Daily.

The situation seems to be binary. Either you have been preselected by another minority group as one of their proud members or everyone else is desperately trying to get to the bottom of your DNA. Then when they do, sometimes they don't believe you.

So, is there a way to eliminate these kinds of interactions?

It's not always malicious intent that provokes these uncomfortable interactions of course, but they still happen.

The closer we get to just seeing people for what they have to offer, what they think, and what they say and not the molecular breakdown of their DNA, the better off we'll be as a human race. We'll be more united as a people rather than us being a people solely defined by our race — a historically massive obstacle to true unity.

"Once we realize that we're just a part of humanity and stop trying to classify we'll be in a better place ... though it will take a long time before we get there," says Mak.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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