Realizing Things: End of Year Thoughts on Being Mixed Race
This year has been the year of realizing things. Seriously -- beyond the reference to Kylie Jenner’s vapid, I’m like realizing things you guys -- much of this otherwise hell-hole of a year has been spent in a challenging but satisfying vortex of self-discovery. I’ve realized things, you guys: realized things about myself and where I come from; realized things about what I fight for and why I fight for them so ardently.
Behind all this realizing is a matured system of roots grown from a ginormous identity seed: my being biracial.
Usually I don’t write so frankly about this seed, but after watching an episode of Blackish, where Rainbow is confronted with her biracial identity, I felt a flood of emotion creep up into my throat without any place to go. Some people talk out their feelings. I write about them.
Coming to terms with being biracial
I started off the year coming to terms with my being biracial. In the previous November I had quit my job after eight months of absorbing endless, sleepless-night-inducing emotional abuse from a manager I worked with. She was one of those: proficient at sucking up to the people who mattered in her advancement while gaslighting those unimportant to her. It was the second job in a row I had where I was the center of emotional and verbal abuse at the hand of those with titles greater than mine -- but this time around, I just couldn’t believe it was my fault yet again.
Coming terms with being biracial was hard but not in the sense of an identity crisis. I had very few resources at my disposal to understand and give a language to what I was feeling. Could I claim an abusive experience while being half-white? Could I tell my human resources officer that I felt I was being targeted for my brown skin, flat nose, and almond eyes while having a white last name? Could I even confide in monoracial friends that I was feeling traumatized?
It took a lot of fragmented Google searches and piecing together tidbits from different mixed race blogs and articles, but I finally landed somewhere late that January:
As biracial or multiracial people (and particularly those mixed with white), our identities will never just come from who our parents are, what our heritage is, or what non white-centric values we hold. Fair or not, part of our identities have been decided for us by the labels and assumptions placed on our bodies by others. By the white managers and leaders who emotionally abused me, my browner-than-white skin and similar non-white phenotypes were enough justification to pin a target on my back. By some people of color my white last name was reason to tell me to “stay in my white lane,” or worse, tell me I am a mutt and dirty.
If being mixed race comes with a disclaimer that others get to treat you based on how they see you, then the act of self-identification becomes the strongest force of empowerment, to shout over the silencers who feel they have a right to determine racial identity. Your life, your experiences creates what race means for you.
Fighting the need to prove who I am
My mom immigrated to the United States in 1985, following her other siblings and parents and cousins who also were immigrating from the Philippines. I’ve never felt as strongly as I do about immigration as an issue until this year. For me, it was kind of a given that my mom, aunts and uncles, and grandparents worked as hard as they did to build an economic foundation that was at least more stable than that found in the Philippines. They might not have had everything, but the spirit of giving and community and never turning away from others in need was just so deeply ingrained in my being.
I’m not sure if it’s in spite of, or because of, my being biracial but I have always felt I had an additional torch to carry in standing up for immigrant communities -- if not in direct activism, then at least in words. When I was in high school I remember lashing out at a student for saying she wouldn’t want to get treated by a physician in the Philippines, as if they use sharpened bamboo rods for scalpels. It’s amazing the crap people actually believe in.
Earlier in the year I had an online run-in with a fairly well-known figure: the owner of the blog McMansion Hell, a famous basher of McMansion-type homes. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable with the ways she (jokingly?) shamed people who owned McMansions or other architecturally- questionable homes. A good swath of my family are constructors, carpenters, hardwood floor installers, and (ignoring residential codes) have used these skills to build for themselves a symbolic version of the (white) American Dream. One of my cousins, a custom home builder, said all his clients are wealthy immigrants -- and are drawn to McMansions for their opulence as a symbol of what they had accomplished in America. But for all that immigrant communities do to “keep up with the Jones’,” it’s still not enough for white people. Immigrants are always Other-ed, and I was curious to hear her thoughts on that.
After asking the question, McMansion Hell took to Twitter to tell her followers I was a stupid wealthy white person and didn’t care about immigrants.*
I was floored, and knew exactly why. She wrongly assumed, after seeing my last name in my email signature, that I was white. And, somehow, wealthy. Without even seeing my browner-than-white skin, without knowing that immigration was ingrained in my history, she decided for me who I am. (If she was calling out a monoracial person of color, I would have cancelled her for using her public platform to publically “put” people of color in their place -- which is just another form of violence.)
As a biracial person, I’ve realized that there are people out there who want to draw lines around “Otherness.” Even more frustrating, those people -- McMansion Hell owner included -- will continue to demonize me and other white-mixed people for our external signifiers of whiteness, without taking the time to understand our stories. It was an annoying lesson to learn, and I’m trying to be better about accepting who I know I am.
Finding safe spaces to explore being biracial
A little over halfway through the year, I did a podcast with Militantly Mixed: the amazing brainchild of Sharmane Johnson. After listening to a previous episode on the experiences of another mixed race Filipina, I reached out to her and we soon set up a time for me to speak about my own experiences.
Although I have issues talking about myself in authentic ways, Militantly Mixed was one of the first safe spaces I had to riff candidly about my mixed race, “blob” identity with someone who understood the nuances of mixed race realities. To be totally frank, biracial and multiracial people are often pushed out of safe spaces created for monoracial communities. I think it comes down to a lack of understanding of the nuances that embody a mixed person’s everyday life:
A woman mixed with white must (absolutely) contend with her privileges but might be told by a monoracial man that oppression she faces because of her non-white ethnicity isn’t “real.”
A child from a Thai mother and a Puerto Rican father wrangles with people telling him he can’t participate in either of his cultures because of his physical ambiguousness -- that because he doesn’t “look” like either, he can’t claim his heritage.
A mixed activist is told she can’t join in a local racial justice forum because she’s “not” really Black.
Multiracial adults made up 6.9% of the U.S. population in 2013, and that number is expected to keep on increasing. But despite the rise of multiracial children in America, I haven’t really seen a concerted effort to make spaces for (or to understand the experiences of) multiracial lives. It might seem like a pithy thing to complain about, but without safe spaces, mixed race people can’t convene, discuss, unpack, and find unity in their lived experiences.
And that was what I found so intrinsically valuable about Militantly Mixed: I could talk about my mixed race-ness in a space that understood where I was coming from. This year, I’m doubling down on researching about and reading on multiracial experiences, if anything, to build up a common language I can share with other mixed race people I meet along the way.
So, yeah, a lot of things were realized
Want to talk more about mixed race experiences? Just send me a message!
*I responded to her and in turn she apologized TO HER FOLLOWERS instead of me. Of course, white women are the “most” persecuted group out there so obviously they said she had nothing to apologize for. lol.