An Inside Look at Biracial Identity
When discussing the racial, ethnic, and cultural identity of individuals, it is seemingly inert for individuals to assume that identity can be summed up in one word. Black Lives Matter, Latinos for la Raza, we the American people. However, the concept of identity is much more complex than that. In today’s world, people immigrate and move around quite often, the world is not as sectioned off as it has been in the past. With advancements in technology and modes transportation, the world has definitely become more readily available to be tread upon. With more diversity among inhabitants of a specific place, there will be a higher percentage of interracial relationships, therefore in future generations a higher percentage of multiracial individuals. According to the United States Census Bureau, as of 2010, nine million Americans identify as two races or more. The United States of America is a country where people from all over the world come to increase their corporate opportunities, and build a more fruitful life for their offspring. My parents did this, and as a biracial, first-generation American, I would like to provide the reminders that this country is built on immigrants from every corner of the world, and the multiracial families built in this country create children with valid, multi-layered identities. These multi-layered identities are the future of race, and it is high time that they are discussed in a serious, accepting manner.
Biracial, or multiracial identity is something that is not discussed adequately, partially because people often may not be properly informed on how to ask sensitive, appropriate questions about racial identity. In a piece written on Boston College’s website, Biracial Identity: Beyond Black and White, the encounter of Professor Kerry Ann Rockquemore with a stranger on an airplane inquiring about her racial identity is described. After serious staring, the man finally proceeded to ask her, “What are you?” Not necessarily the question, but the wording is incredibly politically incorrect. The question “What are you?” when asked to me, makes me feel like a mutt dog, not a human being with a valid and worthy identity. An article on Vox.com entitle “6 Things I Wish People Understood About Being Biracial,” hits the nail on the head. Aside from the fact that there is a huge distinction between asking questions out of well-meaning curiosity versus ignorance, being different does not give bystanders a non-expiring free pass to always ask any identity-related question that comes to mind. Author Jeneé Desmond-Harris states, “We’re probably not interested in conducting an impromptu press conference on our identity.” It is definitely different from person to person. I myself welcome questions the great majority of the time, but other people may not appreciate questions at any time. The topic of racial identity can definitely be a sensitive one, but it is imperative to be well-educated on racial relations and identity issues as a citizen of the world.
With the aim of providing a few examples of answers to typical race-related questions, I interviewed a few students and staff members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who come from a variety of multicultural or multiracial backgrounds. I asked a variety of questions on their experiences with and outlooks on unique cultural and/or racial identity.
Mexican and Caucasian
Class of 2018 – Economics
IM: How do you define your racial identity?
RN: I have encountered many Hispanic individuals with whom I share an identity who assume, based off of my skin color, that I'm not Hispanic. There have been times in which a fellow Hispanic has made an exclusionary remark, pushing me into the racial “outgroup,” in their eyes. This is quite hurtful, because I really am one of them; my skin tone does not define my identity. When people ask me what nationality I am, I always tell them that I am Mexican. I absolutely love the Mexican culture and the people, and I take a lot of pride in being a part of this amazing culture. However, there is no avoiding the American side of my identity. I have a tattoo to represent that. When I explain the tattoo to people, I always say it is a metaphor for my identity, I am, “White on the outside, Mexican on the inside.”
Indian and Japanese
Class of 2020 – Material Science & Engineering
IM: How has your racial identity affected your life?
PB: I’ve known a lot of cultures from within my own home, as I am from Malaysia, my dad is ethnically Indian but from Malaysia, and my mom is Japanese, but she grew up in Brazil. Now, I came to the United States for college and I am exposed to another culture firsthand, living with two roommates who grew up in the United States. At home, we always had people in our house from so many walks of life and from so many places in the world. My parents had dinner guests at our house all the time, and it really taught me a lot about communication with other people, as well as acceptance of other human beings. It has taught me how to adapt to interacting with different people and to different situations in general. I like to think that because of this, I am pretty race blind. I am curious to learn about races and cultures that I do not know much about, but I do not use someone’s racial, ethnic, or national background as a mean to judge them as people. I am more curious about people’s general dispositions when I meet them, not just their dispositions due to their racial identity. I am grateful for my extended exposure to diverse people.
Puerto Rican and Dominican
Class of 2020 – Advertising
IM: In which groups do you feel at home, here at UIUC? How would you describe the diversity in these groups?
GV: I feel at home when I am with my friends from the Orange Krush supporting the Illini at basketball games, when I am with my sorority sisters, and when I am with my group of friends that I spend time with constantly. I just feel so comfortable with them in every sense, and that is what feeling at home should look like. In terms of racial diversity, I'm the one of the few Puerto Rican students that I know of here on campus, other than one of my roommates for next year. Other than that, the majority of my friends are either African American or Caucasian. At my high school, the Hispanic/Latinx population was rather large, I rarely felt like a small minority. Being on a campus with mostly Caucasian students is a culture shock, in a way. I can't play bachata or salsa music in my room without someone coming by and looking at me oddly. This reaction is different to me, no doubt, but it is not anything I cannot handle. I overall feel really accepted here at the U of I and I am loving my social experience so far!
Terry Cole Jr.
Academic Advisor in the College of Media
Jazzmine Cole, 15
Terry “Tre” Cole III, Age 8
African American and Caucasian
IM: As the parent of two biracial children, how do you identify the ideal racial coexistence situation in the United States?
TC: In theory, the idea of color-blindness is great. Realistically, however, color-blindness is not the answer to solving the problem of inequality in our society. It would be awesome if, in the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech, people would “… not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Applying Dr. King’s statement to today’s society, individuals should not be judged solely by the color of their skin, or any other aspect of their racial identity. Individuals should be judged by the content of their character, which will include their racial identity, for some people it will be more heavily emphasized than for others. However, while racial identity is a part of character, there are so many other aspects to consider when appreciating a person’s unique, well-rounded identity. Dr. King’s statement should not be confused with encouraging racial color-blindness. We should strive to treat everyone equally, despite preconceived notions of differences. I have always tried to teach my children to be accepting, of both their own and others’ uniqueness; be proud of who they are, all parts of who they are. Race and racial equality are both commonly discussed topics in my household, as they are great passions of mine. I do not remember ever having had a concrete conversation with Jazzmine or Tre saying, “You are black, but you’re also white.” It has always been a dialogue in my house, never a concrete confession. As the kids have gotten older, they have definitely been included in these conversations, which I find to be very important. Everybody has a unique story, however everybody is so different that we all really have that uniqueness in common. Everybody brings something different to the table, to me that is what makes us equal. Everybody should be entitled to feeling comfortable in their identity, whether they choose to be proudly open about it or not. So, no, the idea of color blindness is not what I hope for, in this moment, for this country and this society. Everybody’s voice should have the opportunity to be heard, acknowledged, embraced, celebrated, and accepted in a manner that makes equal, just coexistence for the human race as a whole a doable task; that is my ideal vision.
These are the views on multiracial identity from a few members of the multiracial and multicultural communities here at Illinois. Let’s spark a discussion about multiracial identity on social media. You can find Hear My Voice on Facebook at Hear My Voice Online, and on Twitter at @Hear_My_Voice_1 . Please tweet us with the hashtag #WeAreAndNotOr and voice to us your thoughts on multiracial identity!