Justice

5 Burning Questions About Mixed Race People Answered by Those People

March 28th 2016

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

There is often a very specific look of surprise in someone’s face when they realize my dad is white. (My dad usually smiles a lot more than this, but he struggles with the sun and unfortunately the White House was smaller than he remembered.)

Dad

My favorite way for people to discover my dad is white is by complete surprise. 

If I don’t bring up my dad’s Irish heritage at all or I’m introducing some new friends to my family, I get to watch their brains explode.

The shock and awe is for my own entertainment.

After years of people asking if I’m adopted, or looking past my Dad to look for the little Black girl’s parent, I’ve come to enjoy these moments. This is my family and clearly there's some different racial stuff going on here. 

 My family

My mom’s family came from Barbados to Boston with some Native American ancestry thrown in, and my Dad’s family is Boston Irish-Catholic, an ethnic group Hollywood has made famous in recent years. 

Multiracial Americans are a population growing at three times the rate of the rest of the U.S. population as a whole, according to Pew Research Center.

As ATTN: previously wrote about, National Geographic published a feature article on the next generation of multiracial Americans. The 2013 story used multiracial Americans to predict what future Americans will look like and that day is almost here. 

The Changing Face of America

With interracial marriage on the rise and the U.S. population expected to consist of mostly minorities by 2060, you’re going to have to get used to us. 

By definition, mixed race people have very different experiences and backgrounds.

Their view points differ because of those backgrounds and also how the world views their physical appearance. Do you actually “look Black”? Of course that is a very subjective question. Mixed race people who say that the world views them as Black have a much closer set of attitudes and views to the Black community, according to the Pew Research Center. For example, our  president is bi-racial, and although he may have a different experience than someone with two Black parents he identifies as Black and he will go down in history as the first Black president. 

Race is a social construct. And although there is no gene for race, our experience with the world based on race is very real. You can see this in the discussion and confusion about mixed race issues on Twitter. 

That is all to say that this list below is going to be different for every mixed person, so I enlisted some help from other people navigating their identity. Here is a list of common questions mixed-race people hear often: 

1. "What are you?"

There are many versions of this question but the person asking this question basically implies that there is something different about you. 

India Cobb, 24, lives outside of Boston. She identifies as Jamaican, Indian, and African-American. She told ATTN: that she has heard many versions of the question: “What are you?”

India Cobb

“‘Your face is very unique, are you from Ethiopia?’ ‘You can’t be fully Black you have such nice hair.’ ‘Is your Dad white?’” are all questions she hears. “I don’t really know where they come up with this stuff but I guess it’s from my looks,” she said. 

Morgan Thompson, a 26-year-old from California, is half Black and half white. She told ATTN: that people assume her white mother isn't her biological mother. 

Morgan Thompson

“I'm sure like many mixed race people, I got ‘are you adopted?’ all the time,” she said. “Even still to this day people ask me or my Mom that question.”

2. "What racial box do you check on forms?" 

Classifications make things easier but that doesn’t mean that they are accurate. It just doesn't always work that way.

“One of the hardest things about being bi-racial, is the need that some people have to try and put you in a box,” said Thompson. 

Kiran Permaul is a 24-year-old from California. He told ATTN: that race is much more fluid than most people allow. “One of the hardest things I find, is that in America, rarely are you perceived as bi-racial at all,” he said. “You are one, or you are the other, no matter what community you come from, you are not perceived as both.”

The U.S. Census uses racial data to track many trends and they quite literally will put you in a box.

To address concerns like Thompson’s and Permaul’s, they started capturing data for multiracial people in 2000 by allowing respondents to check more than one box. 

"If I had to choose, Asian but usually, ‘Two or More Races’ if I can,” said 28-year-old Shannon Dempsey to ATTN:. She lives in Boston and she is half Thai and half Irish. On the U.S. Census form, Dempsey would be able to identify with both races. There are five categories for race and you can choose more than one.

However, this can be a complicated question for Hispanic or Latino Americans who are not considered a race by the U.S Census but are listed as an ethnicity.

The well-known PBS documentary producer and Harvard University researcher and Henry Luis Gates Jr., traveled to the Dominican Republic to explore the complicated relationship between Latinos and race. He wrote about his experiences in The Root.

"After Christopher Columbus stopped in the Bahamas, the northern end of Hispaniola was his first stop -- his ships landed here in 1492 -- and racially at least, it has been a troubled melting pot of Europeans, Africans and native people almost ever since, its people and its government deeply ambivalent about the country's relation to its black past."

More than 90 percent of people in the Dominican Republic have African ancestry but only 4 percent of people identify as Black, according to Gates. The vast majority, 82 percent, identify as "indio," a Spanish word referring to indigenous people.

Im an interview with the Huffington Post, Honduran-American Janel Martinez talks about racial identity in the Latino community. "I know people who are far darker than me who are Black Latinos and will sit there and argue for hours and say 'Oh I'm not Black. We're not Black. Why are you describing us as Black?' and it's like 'What's wrong with being Black?'" she said. 

Janel Martinez

Obviously not every Hispanic or Latino person identifies the same, but the mix of races that represent the Latino community is a complicated and fraught issue. 

3. "Do you ever feel like you don’t belong?"

Dempsey said that she feels connected to different parts of her ancestry depending on the situation. She’s often aware that she is different from the other people around her. 

Shannon Dempsey

There's usually a bit of dominance regarding which race I identify more with, but there are some times conflicting feelings regarding where I feel like I am "from." I don't tend to feel like I am from any one place in particular, which is interesting, as people always try to peg me for one background or race. When I'm in Ireland, I feel very Thai. When I'm in Thailand, I stand out as the Irish/Czech representation. In one conversation I may feel more Asian, while depending on the company I'm in I may stand out more as a representation of my white background. 

4. "So you must (insert a racial stereotype about behavior)?"

Permaul said that once people know he is half Indian they assume he knows all the hot Indian restaurants. “There was one time more recently someone asked me to help them find a really good place to have curry,” he said. “This person is a friend and I know they were being harmless...”

But there are other stereotypes that are not so harmless. Thompson said that people will apply many of the racial stereotypes about Black people to her. People assume that I'm "ghetto" or from the hood because I have dark skin,” she said. 

“They assume I'm uneducated and surprised to find out that I have a great job and a college degree.” But now that Thompson is older, she doesn’t let other people’s ignorance bother her. “I used to be hurt by these assumptions, but now I like surprising people,” she said. 

5. "Are you more X race than Y race?"

Lindsay Thornquist is a 29-year-old teacher. Her father is Swedish and her mother is Puerto Rican. “I identify as both but feel more connected to my Puerto Rican side,” she said.  

Lindsay Thornquist

Looks don't necessarily mean everything, and although Dempsey said that the connection she feels to her ancestry can be complicated, she values all parts of her heritage. “I am equal parts of both backgrounds,” she said. “I may look more Asian but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate and value my Irish-Czech background.”

Permaul said that the world’s view of him influences the way he feels about his identity. “As you might have noticed I tend to shift towards identifying with my Indian heritage more,” he said. “I think in part because I see that side of my family more often, and because I am seen as an ‘other’ by people around me.”

The Next Generation

No matter what, it’s important to remember that differences in people are what make life interesting. Thompson gave some advice for young mixed-race Americans. “Many bi-racial people identify themselves differently and that's OK, its no one else's job to tell you who you are,” she said. “It's also OK if you haven't figured out how you define yourself.”

That sounds like good advice to me. My family has always done just fine. 

My grandfather

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