Sorry for the long post. I guess I just have a lot of feelings on the subject. I’ll make up for it by posting pictures of our puppy.
As I approach the end of my school year and undergraduate career, I find myself having to take a boat-load of surveys—how satisfied am I with the academic environment? How good are my classes? Was the campus hostile toward you?—and the like. But, inevitably, I get asked questions like, “Did you have conversations with people of different a ethnicity? Did you have roommates that were a different race than you? Did you ever have a conversation/study partner that was of a different race that changed your perspective?”
First off, let me express my dislike for the term “race.” There are no “races.” We have all been bred with one another at some point in our human history, and to essentialize and codify people into vague concepts of “race” is dehumanizing. Unfortunately, the term is solidified in our culture, so it can’t really be avoided. I’d agree with “culture,” and I’m willing to go with “ethnic background,” but I really think “culture” is a better term. “What culture do you align with?” Japanese? Puerto Rican? Australian? Samoan? Czech? See, this already allows a lot more flexibility and personalization. When someone says, “Oh, I’m White,” or “Oh, I’m Asian,” or “Oh, I’m African” (etc.) I wonder if they get as bothered by it as when I say it. To use “race” terms like those erases entire histories and complexities of culture. White? Please, the only way “white” is an applicable term as a race marker is because it’s like white light—that is, it’s made up of an entire spectrum of color/culture that has been blended together. It shouldn’t apply to the color of one’s skin. Asians? Blacks? Hispanics? Middle Eastern? Those groups are comprised of people who have warred in the past (and may still be doing so now), have vastly different outlooks on life, and speak many languages. What is even the point of using race terms? So we can save paper and make surveys easier to print? Arguably, a more legitimate reason is to track medical histories, but I think that you can still do that by referring to country of origin rather than a “race,” and even then, you could confine the “race” terms to the medical field and not social ones. But, again, I’m afraid that the idea of “race” is so integrated into our world that we’re not going to get rid of it.
Still, this is not what I’m really bothered about. What really gets me is the lack of acceptance of those of us who are of mixed ethnic descent. This is not to say I get mad about it, but rather I feel a bit sad, or I feel a bit left out. Excluded. Treated differently. There is such a strong focus on promoting one’s heritage in today’s world—Mexican, Chinese, Armenian, etc.—and I say power to you. They have every right to express pride in their culture.
But what about those of us who are from two worlds?
People will say, “Oh, that’s cool, you have parents of two races!” But if people of minorities feel they get singled out, even if it’s through praise, then those of us with two ethnic heritages get spotlit. We’re different from the minority groups. We’re separate from the rest because we’re not just one thing. We’re impure. Maybe we only grew up knowing one culture and not the other. We get judged on looks by our own minorities. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been left out of a group simply because I don’t look Chinese or Asian. Or, there was another instance when a friend introduced me to someone this way: “Hey, this is my friend [insert my name]! We knew each other from freshman year. Guess what race she is!”
Wow, thanks. I’m glad my one defining feature is the fact that I’m mixed. (And I’m glad I got turned into a spectacle/game show.)
And I’m not saying anyone has any malicious intent here. But I will say that people form cliques based on “race.” It’s understandable—you gravitate towards those with whom you have a shared bond or cultural history. Go ahead and celebrate it. But what I’m saying is that those of us who only have half (or less) of that claim get kind of left by the wayside. It takes a bit more effort to be accepted, and even then, you have to promote only that one cultural aspect of yourself. I can’t celebrate both my Chinese and my “White” side at the same time; when I’m with my “Asian” friends, I’m “Asian,” and when I’m with my “White” friends, I’m “White.” Or, depending on the situation, sometimes when I’m with my “Asian” friends I’m “White,” and when I’m with my “White” friends it’s pointed out that I’m “Asian.” Either way, I can never be both at the same time. I’m constantly living with only half of myself.
This is why I propose to create social groups not based on “race” or ethnicity, but culture.
Because, really, I’m American more than anything else. This is not glorifying America in any way—I’m American, and that encompasses all the good and bad that our country stands for. I have been raised with American values, and I was born of a country with a specific history much different than any other country, and this history has shaped the worldview through which I see myself and the planet. When someone asks me what race I am, I respond with “American.” Why can’t “American” be a race? Because we don’t have any defining physical features? To be blunt and ineloquent, that’s stupid. Americans not only have their own accent, but they are very distinctive culturally, just as much as any other “race.” So when a survey asks me “Did you have conversations with people of different a ethnicity?” I find the question to be flawed—should I examine this through only one of my ethinicities? Both? And, really, my conversations with other Americans who were of different ethnic descent were not nearly as culturally educational as the few times I talked with people who were born and raised in a different country altogether, regardless of their ethnicity. My friends from England may as well be from China with how different their culture is from American culture. So if a school is really interested in finding out how often people interact with others of another social background, they should change how they word their questions.
I’m still kinda sad I never had the time or energy to try and make a club at school that centers upon people who are of mixed backgrounds. I would argue that we have our own distinct problems and perspectives and life experiences than those of a single “race.” We have our own struggles. We have our own identity. All our lives we have had to choose one side of ourselves. So, I propose to either change the way we define ourselves socially—shifting the focus from “races” to “culture,” so I can then define myself as American and avoid splitting my identity along historical ethnic lines—or we should create a new “racial” group—“mixed race.” It’s not enough just to be able to check more than one box on the “race” question on a survey (a feature which still isn’t always available); I want to be accepted as a whole being, not just two halves.