What’s Your Nationality?

This guest post was written by Ryan Gingery. She shares her thoughts – and responses – to a question all too often asked by assuming strangers.


What’s your nationality? Strangers ask me this all the time. They think they’re being slick, but I’m slicker.

American, I say.

No, but where are you from?

Chicago, I say.

The strangers aren’t satisfied, But, where are your parents from?

Also Chicago.

No, I mean, like, where are you from originally? Hashtag please don’t say Chicago.

Ummm? Okay… Illinois?

Photo of Ryan Gingery | Two or More by Danielle James https://dksjames.com

What do you want me to say? I’m American. My family’s American. We have been for hundreds of years. But no one believes me. Because I am not white and only white people get to be non-hyphenated Americans.

Frustrated, the stranger will drop their P.C. act and get to the point, But what’s your ethnicity?

I’m Black.

Oh, okay, but what are you mixed with? You’re definitely not just Black.

Oh, my bad, what kind of Black am I? I thought I was just Black, but why don’t you tell me what kind of Black I am. The good kind? The kind that’s not threatening? The kind that doesn’t remind you too much of my darker-skinned oppressed brothers and sisters? You don’t ask them what their nationality is. Their non-white history isn’t important to you.

So no, I’m not mixed. You asked me, I told you. I’m Black.


About the Author: Ryan Gingery was born in the United States to American parents. She’s currently searching for meaning in New York City. You can keep up with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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7 thoughts on “What’s Your Nationality?

  1. The Past Due Book Review says:

    My grandfather was born in West Des Moines, Iowa but was harassed by a coworker because he was a “damn foreigner.” It’s nice to know where your ancestors come from and to be proud, but that is your business, not someone else’s. Sometimes we don’t contain enough empathy to understand how unnecessary and uncomfortable these types of questions are. Very interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jahad Rasul says:

    I always tell people my dad’s black, my mom’s white, but I came out Puerto Rican. Nationality is the country that you were born in, plain and simple. I mean, I have a friend named Jose that did the Ancestry.com DNA test who is Puerto Rican, come to find out he is like 16% African 12% Native American, 40% Italian, 20% European Jewish, and 12% Iberian Peninsula (Spain).

    Through DNA I traced my Ancestry to Africa (Togo, and Mali) 41%, Europe (Slovakia, Poland, Germany, and Wales, UK) 57% and Native American 2%. I found my father’s ancestor’s birth records that lived in the South since the 1700’s and my mother’s that came from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s as well. Usually, people understand once I take the time to explain to them that I know where I come from, but I claim the U.S.A. all day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danielle James says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! How did you feel after getting your DNA results? I’ve been thinking about doing that too. I agree that nationality refers to where you were born, although, as in Ryan’s experience, when people ask about nationality, they usually mean ethnicity or heritage.


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