Do Mixed Race People Experience ‘Problems’?
I don’t buy into this notion that being mixed race is a ‘problem’. I grew up mixed race and am now raising three multiracial children in a multicultural family. So I understand a lot of the nuances that go along with being multicultural, multiracial or mixed race.
I’ve also spent a large part of the last ten years or so researching and writing about what makes being in a mixed race or multiracial family an amazing thing. I write about positive identity, the benefits of being exposed to multiple cultures, diversity, curly hair and so much more.
But like anything, I also recognise there are challenges along the way.
I was shocked to learn that the most googled term when it comes to the topic of being ‘mixed race’ is ‘mixed race people problems’. Is it that people are curious about what being mixed race means? Or, that the discussion about mixed race identity is becoming more mainstream and so people are becoming more conscious about how they should behave? And about what kinds of issues their children might face.
A growing almost 50% of Americans will identify as mixed race by 2020. Similar numbers can be found in Canada, Australia and the UK.
In a globalised world, what kinds of (if any), challenges will that bring for children who are raised in multiracial or mixed race families? And how do we, mixed, biracial, white or not, understand and help each other navigate these challenges?
Let’s start with defining ‘what is mixed race?’
Mixed race refers to an individual whose ethnic background is made up of two or more races (any different races). They can also be referred to as biracial (two races), multiracial (three or more), multiple heritage (which places an emphasis more on the mix of cultures that make up who they are and would include people who may appear to be one race but originate from two different cultures (e.g. someone who has mixed Jamaican and African American ancestry).
Mixed race people should never be referred to as halfie, half-caste, coloured or any other derogatory term. Mixed race is the preferred term in most of the world and accepted by most mixed race individuals. However, some may reject it on the basis that it implies they are a mix of something and not one whole.
Is it always the same Experience for Every Mixed Race Individual?
Not everyone will have the same experience, and most mixed race people are only just beginning to feel that they have a community amongst other mixed people with whom they share similar (negative and positive) experiences. The narrative around that experience can often show mixed race people that there IS a community with whom they have something in common.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the top ten most common challenges (my preferred term but not the one most googled) and problems most mixed race people will experience. Please feel free to add more in the comments below!
What ‘Problems’ do Most Mixed Race People Have in Common?
1. Questions about your Racial Background
Perhaps the first question that people ask you about, even before your name, will be your racial background. People are curious. It’ll get tiring and frustrating because it happens so often. But it’ll also feel like a game to people. “Don’t tell me, let me guess where you’re from”.
Sometimes it can feel as if your mixed background, the topic of much discussion amongst new and old friends, can begin to make you feel like an object. Like how much of you is made up of what percentage etc. Conversely, you may even begin to feel fetishised, seen as more exotic or interesting to the opposite sex because of your ethnic makeup.
Responding to this question may become stressful and embarrassing when most of the time, you feel it’s not the person’s business or you simply don’t want to talk about it.
It’s important to remember that you’re not obliged to tell anyone your racial background and you can simply change the subject politely or you may wish to play along. Most people are curious and you can assume it comes from a good place although hopefully people are learning more and more it’s just not an appropriate question to ask someone you just met. Particularly as it can be a very personal question that reverts into your whole background and history.
2. The Dreaded Question: Where are you From?
That brings us to the next common conversation you’ll have when meeting new people for the first time. The dreaded question: “Where are you from?”
Figuring out what people mean when they ask you where are you from can be the single most talked about problem that most mixed people (and third culture kids) detest more than any other question.
Are they asking, “Where do I live?”, you will wonder. “Where do my parents come from? Where are my grandparents from? Where was I born?” Your heritage will span multiple races, ethnicities and sometimes continents and the question, ‘where are you from?’, though innocent as it sounds, is loaded.
Many will want to identify with the country in which they were born, the country where they grew up. But because they might not look the same as the majority of the population in, say a country such as the UK or the US, people will unknowingly doubt their credentials and press for more detail about their heritage. It can make most mixed race people uncomfortable and very uneasy.
3. Flitting Between Multiple Different Identities and Races in a Matter of Minutes
Arguably more a benefit than a problem to being mixed race is your ability to flit from one identity to another, depending on when and where you are. This might depend on who you are with, where you are, your politics at the time or even how you’ve done your hair that morning.
I’ll give you an example. If it’s Chinese New Year and you’re out celebrating in China Town and you’re reminiscing about much of the Chinese traditions and memories you had growing up and celebrating Chinese New Year with that side of your family, you’ll no doubt be feeling 100% Chinese at that time. Fast forward a few days later and you’re attending a Chinese Student Association meeting and most of the members are straight from China and you may be reminded about how very Western you are having spent most of your life outside of China.
4. You’re often reminded of What You’re Not
More often than not, you’ll be reminded often about the fact that you’re neither black nor white, Asian nor Caribbean, Indian nor European. SO what exactly does that make you?? You’ll feel stressed about not fully looking or acting the part that you are identifying with. Speaking the language, walking the walk, having the same features, not being light enough, not being dark enough… the list goes on.
And while you’ll feel you have a lot in common with people of those different groups, they may not accept you as one of them for all or one of those reasons. It can lead to that sense of feeling like you fit in everywhere but don’t actually fit in anywhere.
5. Wondering where your children will fit in
Accepting the fact that your child will have an even deeper struggle than you about finding out who they are and where they come from can be difficult.
You may already find it a struggle to fit in to certain groups so if your children are multiracial and/or growing up in a culture that is different to both of yours, it can be incredibly enriching but also confusing for them if they appear different from how they feel. Helping them to navigate the mixed identity is a road you will be well familiar with though so hopefully it’s something you can help them with and reassure them.
6. Siblings May Identify Differently
I’ve heard of as many as three different siblings from within the same family who identify completely different from each other. A family with Puerto-Rican/Black and First Nations culture, each sibling, depending on where they travelled to, who their partner ended up being and how they appeared ended up aligning themselves more closely with one culture more than the other.
That might be surprising to you or to others but it reinforces #3, that you will feel differently at different times. But it also means children of the same family will have different experiences and therefore lead a different journey in their identity.
7. You’ll Feel Pressure to Pick One Identity and Stick With It
Whether you’re filling out a government form and you’re asked to check ‘just one’ ethnicity, or your high school friends somehow segregate themselves into black and white cliques, you’re often made to feel as if you need to choose which side you belong to. This can happen particularly when your politics around civil rights, slavery or injustice force you into aligning with the ‘oppressed’ or the ‘oppressor’.
On a more superficial level, watching the Olympics can be a stressful affair especially if teams or athletes face off against each other and both represent part of your heritage.
8. People Actually Believe Mixed People are the Solution to All Forms of Racism
I’m sure people are well-meaning behind it, but there is a naivety and fetishising around mixed race children that they are the ‘future of humanity’, that their simple existence will solve the entire problem of racism and that they are the cutest babies. It can sound like a compliment but it’s also naive to think that children whose parents are different races are the simple solution to end all racism. It’s also a dangerous notion and puts a lot of pressure on mixed people to solve conflict.
9. You’ll never find true community and if you do, it’s like they’re in your Family!
Meeting someone with the exact same racial makeup as you is exciting, mostly because you feel so much like an outsider in other communities, to meet someone who is mixed like you and with the same background is instant family!
10. Cultural Dynamics Can Be Tricky at Home
Your parents are so different and though they love each other, you don’t really need to travel far to experience cultural conflict. Your grandparents, though well-meaning have little in common and perhaps don’t even speak the same language, your parents fight about whether to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or Christmas and sometimes you just have a Christmas Tree at Yom Kippur. Around you is a mini United Nations and the cultural traditions, religions, heritages and festivals can sometimes be at odds with one another. But at least you learn compromise from a young age.
There you have it, most mixed race people experience challenges, not necessarily problems. But, with a little awareness, it’s easy to navigate. And the benefits definitely outweigh the problems.