Why Mixed Race Discussions Matter
I'm not a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies or Education or anything like that as this blog might suggest, however, because of my mixed identity I have always been interested in mixed race culture/s and how mixed folks navigate their identities in such a phenotypically-driven society as the United States. My studies focus on public health, and still, I am finding some very interesting and important ways to discuss mixed race from the perspective of public health.
Mixed race is a significant identity in our race-obsessed society. It causes that extra level of ambivalence, that extra set of questions about identity. It is similar in some ways to the immigrant American experience for example, however, being mixed adds another level of scrutiny.
Here are some reasons why mixed race matters:
1. Our Shared Experiences are Significant. Having parents who may not look like each other "racially" can be a normal way of life for us. Having siblings who look like "racially" different variations of us is a common occurrence. Being comfortable and feeling at home in different environments such as ethnic events as well as with our multiracial relatives can be normal to us. Having a love for multiple cultures which feel like home to us is a beautiful thing. Feeling the sense of being a cultural, ethnic, and "racial" bridge can be our life experience.
We are also aware of the experiences of being asked a set of similar questions and hearing particular comments. For example, frustrating questions such as "Which 'race' do you feel like you are 'more' of?" "So do you prefer to be ---- or ----- ?", or comments such as "Wow, that is so beautiful/exotic/amazing." "Wow, how did that happen?" "How did your parents meet?" just seem so ridiculous to us when we hear them, but these are very real, normal questions we hear often. Has anyone else had to endure hearing folks tell you their "favorite mix"? In all seriousness, some of these questions and comments are forms of racial microaggressions and begin to wear down individuals upon hearing them hundreds or thousands of times.
Having a space to share these experiences is important. Additionally, some mixed folks feel a shared identity with each other regardless of ethnicity. By being mixed, I have been able to discuss some unique experiences with other mixed folks, though we are from different ethnic backgrounds.
2. Our Differences Matter, Too. It's good to be respectful of our differences as mixed race folks. Do you have siblings who identify differently than you do? I do, and I choose to respect their identities. We all know we are mixed, but their selected categories are different. I also choose different categories over time, and based on the situation. There are also mixed folks who have been much more welcomed by one ethnic population and not others, and they choose not to identify with these groups. There may be folks who also claim not to be mixed, or select not to be identified or broken down into identity fractions and that's fine. It's not easy to guess and not my place to presume what all mixed individuals have experienced, but it's important to be respectful of our different experiences and identities.
3. Our Critical Lens Can Inform the Public Policy of Racial Categories. As the nation's demographics continue to change and become increasingly diverse, organizations such as the Census Bureau have been attempting to define all groups in new ways at least every ten years. These changes may be to maintain the relevance of categories, to be politically correct, or to more successfully capture the specific identities of populations.... Social perceptions of race do impact the way that the federal government and other organizations decide how to define diverse individuals, whether it be the "Other" category, "Multiracial", "More than One Race" or the "Other Race plus Non-Hispanic" or "Some Other Race plus White" categories. As the number of identifying mixed race folks increases, these categories will continue to change to represent the population the way that the federal government and other organizations believe is most appropriate. Providing your feedback such as in the "Other: Please Specify" column also informs these categories. By speaking to our community, local, state and federal officials, we can help to influence the ways that publicly defined categories of mixed race can be changed to be more inclusive and more accurate of our nation's demographics.
(See http://randstatestats.org/stats/popdemo/popraceage.more.php and http://www.census.gov/population/race/about/faq.html)
4. Our Discussions Can Have Far Reaching Influence. By continuing the discussion by conducting our own research and data collection in policy, education, ethnic studies, history, and other disciplines, we can be part of making significant progress in serving the mixed race population. For example, let's look at the public health side of mixed race. A variety of studies have shown that individuals of mixed race experience higher levels of depression, substance abuse, various aches and pains, and sleep disorders. Health services organizations tend to prefer clear race categories in their attempts to provide appropriate and relevant services, while mixed race folks and adolescents in particular are not being served in the same way. Culturally competent health services to mixed race populations is not highly developed at this time. Society does not make it particularly accommodating to be mixed race in its perception of identity. However, continuing these discussions in public settings can bring about new ways to improve the quality of life for mixed race individuals.
Here are some links to public health research on the effects of society on mixed race individuals: