‘What are you?’
‘You are so exotic.’
‘What race are you?’
These questions are all very typical towards those who may not identify with just one race. Even from a young age, those who are bi-racial or mixed race, may already know that they are different from those who are one race. Different factors come into play when there is confusion about not knowing or not being able to identify your own racial identity.
Race vs. Ethnicity vs. Nationality
Before we go into the factors of why racial identity is important, let’s go over a few definitions. These three words seem to cause a lot of confusion, because they are often used interchangeably.
Race is a term that refers to a category of people who share certain inherited physical characteristics, such as skin color, facial features, and stature.
Ethnicity is a term that refers to shared culture such as language, ancestry, practices, and beliefs.
Nationality is a term that describes the relationship between a person and the political state to which they belong to or are affiliated with
Now that we got those definitions out of the way let’s get into the importance of racial identity.
Those who are bi-racial or multiracial may have lowered self-esteem. This lowered self-esteem may be stem from multiple reasons. These reasons could include “unkind stares, questioning by others, family disapproval, feelings of uncertainty, or outright racism” (Hud-Aleem and Countryman, 2008). Most individuals, myself included, are totally fine with questions regarding our racial identity and ethnic background, but there are ways to ask these questions. Personally I don’t mind the questions “what’s your ethnicity?” or “what’s your ethnic background?” But, we should also keep in mind that there are so many experiences that mixed people may live through that we don’t always have in the forefront of our minds.
Microaggressions can be used against anyone, but those who identify as being bi-racial or mixed sometimes are subject to different types of microaggressions. Some of these microaggressions could include being treated differently compared to their mono-racial cousins at family events. Another may be, someone saying an insensitive joke that targets one of the individual’s races, because they may not look like that race. This could come off as, “oh but you’re not really Asian, you’re mixed.” All of these inconsistent messages could cause confusion to those about their own identity and how they are viewed by others.
From personal experience there have been times where I felt like I was an ‘other.’ I didn’t quite fit into any box. When I am with my white friends they may see an array of pens that I use for organizing my planner, but to them it’s so ‘Asian.’ Meanwhile, when I visit my family in Japan, I don’t speak any Japanese and to them I am ‘so American.’ I do believe many of those who are bi-racial or multiracial may have this feeling of not being enough of one or the other, and it could feel like we aren’t allowed to confidently take ownership of our multiple races.
All in all, race is an important aspect of someone’s identity. When you identify with multiple races it could lead to confusion of how you are to identify yourself. Looks could be deceiving, and a lot of the time we are judged by our looks. So to look like an ‘other’ may feel like we are sticking out for all of the wrong reasons. We should embrace our unique looks and be proud to say that we are multi-racial. It is okay to not fit into a box because we are allowed to be us.