The challenges of being multiracial

mixed family_sfnmBy Sakara Griffith | Generation Next | November 26, 2015 | Santa Fe New Mexican

There is a photo of a black family featuring smiling faces of joy, with some of the participants wearing ugly, matching sweaters that grandma knitted and a brother and sister caught on camera fighting over who gets to sit in the front.

And in the center of the photo is a girl with green eyes, tan skin and blond curly hair.  She is Santa Fe High School sophomore Irie Charity, whose racial background is a mix of African, Hawaiian and German.

“Yup, I’m the white words on the chalkboard in that picture,” Charity said.  She said everyone knows she is of “mixed” race.

Brandi Wells, program adviser for the African American Student Services program at The University of New Mexico, said coming from two different racial backgrounds impacts even the most minute details of your home life.

She should know, as she is a mix of African-American and Hispanic.

“Even your menu at home becomes huge, like I grew up eating fried chicken and enchiladas. I was eating jambalaya one day and beans and chile the next,” Wells said.

Is growing up with a mix of two (or more) racial and cultural backgrounds difficult? Wells thinks so.

“America’s not ready to handle mixed people,” she said.

Children born of multiple races might feel as if they are being looked at as a sore thumb sticking out in the crowd.  Wells gets that: “People don’t know what you’re mixed with, and it’s almost like you’re this foreign object.”

If people start to perceive you as “this foreign object,” then be aware: It might be just as easy to start looking through that same lens and start perceiving yourself that way, too.  Charity said there were times she thought that “it would be easier to be just one race.”

But after some reflection, she added, “Now that I’m looking at it though, I’m like, ‘Well, everybody wants to make a difference in this world, and that’s what I truly want.’  So knowing that I have all these mixed bloods gives me more of a step up, more pride in what I’m doing to represent every culture that I have and every race.”

Most multiracial people have been repeatedly asked about their racial background.  Many are left with two choices: List all your blended possibilities, or just make it simple and identify with one race.  About 61 percent of multiracial adults decided to identify as a single race, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan advocacy think thank the Pew Research Center.

Phillip “Felipe” Gonzales, a sociology professor at The University of New Mexico, brings up the one-drop rule.  “It pertains especially to African-Americans,” he said.  “So, if you are mixed race but you exhibit some African physical features, then in American society, very often you will be cast as African-American and not mixed.  Or if you wanted to say you have black and white heritage, the tendency will be to label you as black and not white.  This tendency will push people to identify as being African-American when they are really of mixed race.  This is true not only for black and white heritage, but also for black and Hispanic heritage, too.”

Other barriers can be erected even within the mixed-race community.  In the 19th century, the term “mulatto” was used to describe an individual born to one parent who is Anglo and one parent who is black.  Those who were claimed by their Anglo fathers were able to escape the horrifying chains of slavery.  But as William Loren Katz’s book, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, makes clear, it was common for the mixed-race to “dominate the free Negro community both in numbers and influence until emancipation became general. … The topmost few, the lightest, quite literally the crème de la crème, lived very well nearly on par with the white neighbors.”

Katz wrote that if a man or woman of mixed race happened to be a couple shades closer to white, they were viewed — unjustly — as superior to African-Americans.

“That’s how I think that society has helped black people hate each other and hate themselves,” Wells said.  “I think that once we educate ourselves about why we feel this way on certain people, and America’s standards of beauty and how lighter skin is prettier, we can understand that that’s where they’re rooted from, then that’s where we can start making cultural changes.”

Discrimination impacts those of mixed heritage, too.  Studies done in February by the Pew Research Center indicate that your racial makeup may impact how others see you when it comes to prejudice.  For instance, among people mixed with an African-American background, the chances of discrimination mirror the same chances for a person of purely African descent.  And 71 percent of multiracial individuals with black and American Indian ancestry are susceptible to racial slurs or verbal abuse.  If you are a mix of Anglo and Asian, that figure drops to 61 percent, and 41 percent of those with Anglo and American Indian ancestry are subject to that abuse.

Gonzales said that the contributions of mixed-race people in America add to our social fabric as a whole.  “What they’re doing is constructing their identity very cautiously and strategizing about it, and it is part of making their own way in American society,” he said.

In the end, as the saying goes, it pays to be comfortable in your skin, no matter how others see you.  It can be quite a gift to be beautifully blended from a mix of cultures and races — and I should know, as I am one of the many who are multiracial.

Sakara GriffinStaff reporter, “Generation Next” for “The Santa Fe New Mexican,” Sakara Griffin is a sophomore attending Santa Fe High School.  Contact her at sakara8823@gmail.com.

 

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