When describing yourself or someone you know, it’s easy to bring race into the picture. Race has become a sort of shorthand to convey a person’s characteristics and is often synonymous with things like skin and eye color. Stereotyping? Maybe, but it’s effective enough for the U.S. Census Bureau to follow. I know, for example, that my mom is definitely Chinese, my dad is definitely white, and I am definitely multiracial.
But “multiracial” isn’t really an effective label, is it? I learned very quickly that when people look at someone like me, there’s usually some type of confusion in what to label me as.
In the third grade, I had to take a statewide standardized exam. The first page – name, age, school – was already filled out for everyone, possibly because they didn’t trust third graders to give correct information about themselves for statistical purposes. Under “race,” I had been checked off as “Asian.”
“I guess I’m Asian,” my third grade self thought.
And this was the start of a massive identity crisis.
In high school, there tended to be a clear racial divide among friend groups. To put it bluntly, most of the Asian students were friends with each other. My friend group, for the most part, was white. A big part about being in that friend group was making white people jokes – “Oh, white people and their Starbucks.”
My high school self said, “I guess I’m…white?”
But if I were white, why would I be officially classified as “Asian”?
I noticed that I was only ever one or the other, and so became defensive about the Chinese side of me. I talked a lot about the things I did that made me super Chinese: we celebrated the Lunar New Year, we went to the cemetery once or twice a year to pay our respects, we frequented China Town…we ate rice every day? My grandparents were both born in China, that’s how Chinese we are, so of course I’m Chinese! Look at my culture!
Another white people joke my friends and I would make was that white people had no culture. This, however, completely ignores the actual truth. I grew up in a town that is 90 percent white, so white that one of the most well known places in the town was the Irish Club, which is exactly what it sounded like – a club that you could only get into if you were Irish. While I feel more culturally Chinese, that may only be because I don’t see the white side of me in the same light. We think white people have no culture because we are so saturated in it that it is seen as the default.
There’s a reason that as a multiracial person, I still only get classified as “Asian,” and it goes back to the “One-Drop Rule,” created during pre-Civil War America. The “One-Drop Rule” basically insinuates that if you have a drop of non-white blood in you, you’re no longer white. This was created in order to justify keeping the mixed children, born from the rape of black slaves by their white masters, as slaves. Of course there could have been some kind of moral discrepancy if there were suddenly white slaves, but with this idea that “white” had to be pure, this wasn’t a concern. Even if slavery is over, this mentality is still so far seeped into this culture, and what is dangerous is how unnoticeable it can be.
There is no biological basis behind the idea of race. Rather, it is a social tool used by a group in power – in this case, white people – to keep other groups of people separated. Categorizing people in this way results in a hierarchy of pure, definite groups, with solid divisions between them. This is where the dilemma comes in for multiracial people, particularly those of a white/non-white descent, as their simple existence nullifies this model. Here, multiracial people are faced with an impossible choice: they can’t be both of their races, because that destroys the mentality that race is a pure thing – but they also can’t be neither, because of how bent our society is on labels. Multiracial people are trapped in a space of in-between.