Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Biracial identity leads to unexpected privileges

I’m biracial. While I love my identity, sometimes having multiple ethnicities leaves me feeling like I don’t belong because society hasn’t established a space for who I am. My confusion about race began in elementary school in San Francisco, where almost all of my class was ethnically Chinese. I was both the only white girl and the only brown girl.

Many of my biracial friends hate the question “What are you?” Though I don’t enjoy being referred to as a “what,” I actually love being asked this. I appreciate the fact that people acknowledge the confusing intersections of my identity and don’t automatically lump me into a box full of preconceived notions of what a given race is or isn’t.

Race is confusing and uncomfortable for me, but since we don’t live in a post-racial society, it’s important to talk about. The problems will remain whether or not they’re pleasant to discuss. Growing up, I could never quite place my finger on why being white and Indian made me feel like such an outsider. My friends at school thought of me as very Indian, while my family in India equated being American with white. I never knew which grouping I belonged in because the binary of white or not white didn’t leave room for someone like me.

However, I feel like my personal confusion is insignificant compared to sometimes-unacknowledged struggles that other minorities have gone through. My struggle with racial identity came from a lack of biracial representation that I could identify with in the media and among peers. However, no one ever treated me differently due to my race, and I never had to worry that police officers would harass me.

I’ve always felt weird referring to myself as a “person of color.” I’m pale enough that I think I can probably pass for white, especially in the winter months. Since we live in a system where minorities and people of color are systematically oppressed and disenfranchised, I’ve come to associate the idea of being a “person of color” with the struggle of experiencing and rising up against such oppressive forces. I’ve never experienced racism. I am part of White America, with all the benefits of white privilege, without even being fully white.

When I use the phrase “person of color” to refer to myself, I feel like I’m taking the microphone from the minority voices who deserve to be heard and interjecting my own opinion over theirs. My opinions on systemic racism may be valid, but they come from a place of second hand experiences, research and critical thought, rather than things I’ve lived through or experienced firsthand. I don’t know if it’s fair for me to validate my thoughts with my status as a person of color.

Nevertheless, despite my hesitance to refer to myself as a person of color, I’m constantly reminded that I’m not white either. Since I now live in a predominantly white community, it can feel like my Indian side is a cool accessory that distinguishes me from other brown haired bespectacled girls, rather than my personal heritage. I can make wonderful Indian food and I can decorate my bedroom with tapestries of Hindu deities without it seeming like appropriation, but I’d like to think that my Indian half is more than an accessory, considering how I’ve tried hard to learn the stories and philosophies of my culture.

One of the hardest things about having family members who are people of color while being able to pass as white myself is seeing the discrepancies in how they’re treated compared to how I am treated. In the airport, where it takes me a couple of minutes to make it through security, my father –– who has dark skin and a foreign-sounding name –– always seems to be subjected to an extra twenty minutes of pat downs and random bag checks. We’re in the same family! I can carry the memory of some of the ways people I love have been treated because of their race, but the lasting repercussions of systemic oppression and discrimination against darker-skinned people in American society will never affect me directly.+

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