Owning Societal Identity as a Multicultural Person

Zariya Hitchcock-Mason
Jackson High School
Grade 10

“Woah! Your mom’s white, but you’re Black? So, are you shipped from Africa!?” 

This particular question isn't as rare now as it was the first time I heard it when I was seven and a classmate saw my white mom for the first time. The skin color makes it pretty uncanny to most people to see the resemblance; when I first heard it, I just laughed, ‘cause it was such a silly question, but the question woke up my sense of racial ambiguity. For the first time ever, I noticed there wasn’t anyone like me in my class. I then talked to my biracial peers who have had some scarily similar experiences as I have, and it didn't matter what culture or race they were mixed from. That then gave me the conclusion of how cultural identity and societal identity go hand-in-hand in being onerous to a multicultural person.

As you can tell from my story, being the only one in my classroom like me was tough, but it's even worse when your parents don't look like you — and confusing. Multicultural people have two or more cultures within them, which can be a blessing and a curse. And to carry those beautiful curses that no one can truly explain and being outcasted by not only society but even your own cultures can cause hesitation and confusion into figuring out the sole identity of that multiracial person, not only as a person, but also how their particular cultures can differ and contract into defining who they are. This long process is especially individualistic and lonesome.

Being biracial comes with a unique perspective and diversity within diversity. For example, a Black and Asian man: Not only is the man Asian, he is also Black. And in America, diversity comes in one color for the most part, so when two cultures come in one person, neither Asians nor African Americans can tell that man how he's going to be seen by the rest of society or what anyone will say to him walking down the street. It is the main cause of individualism; not a single half of you can tell you who you are and what society will throw at you. 

An experimental study found the perceived benefits and downsides to being multicultural. The main researcher and writer of the study, Jordan Soliz, wrote in the study, “Early conceptual and theoretical work positioned multiethnic-racial identity as a marginalized experience based on the idea that mixed heritage would be contested by others, causing difficult identity development issues (Williams & Thornton, 1998). Further, this theorizing assumed these individuals would experience what Vivero and Jenkins (1999) later labeled ‘cultural homelessness.’” In short, individuals from mixed backgrounds would not have a strong and secure sense of affiliation or belongingness with ethnic-racial groups in society. In turn, this lack of a distinct in-group would lead to experiences of marginalization in society, with negative implications for well-being. The text implies the multiethnic racial identity is largely unseen and isolated from parts of their cultures. 

The idea of belonging into a group is to not be alone in your culture or societal identity; the people in the group have experienced similar things as you and do the same traditions as you. But the multiracial don't have that. To their groups, they don't apply to the generics, and even though they are similar, they see each other as not the same. 

Another challenge is self-identification; understanding yourself is part of growing up, and to fully grasp the sense of self-identification is labeling yourself with things that apply to you. When those groups of identification don't exactly feel applicable, it provides a whole new set of questions unheard of to the general population. Even though you technically apply to those groups, sometimes, those groups don't want you because of your other halves. 

In the article “Seven Essential Facts About Multiracial Youth,” Astrea Greig writes some interesting insider facts about the experiences of the multiethnic. She states, “Multiracial youth and mixed families often experience unique types of discrimination and microaggressions. Among the multiple types, one is exclusion or isolation in which multiracial people are excluded due to their mixed status. For example, an Asian and white biracial child may not be treated as equally as his or her monoracial siblings or cousins at family gatherings by disapproving distant relatives.” In this statement, Greig signifies the exemption of mixed children from parts of their culture, giving attention to how truly unique the multicultural experience is and how difficult it can be to reach self-actualization due to “cultural homelessness” as Vivero and Jenkins put it. 

“You're Black, Zariya, that means you need lotion — no child of mine is going anywhere with ashy knees.” “Don’t forget you're white, so stop acting like you're only Black.” These are some of the phrases from the people around me, and the statements are rather contradictory. There are many times in life someone will ask you to define yourself in as few words as possible, and adding an additional culture makes it very difficult for everyone to understand and tedious for the multiethnic to explain themselves. In “What You’ll Never Understand About Being Biracial,” an introspective article by Brianna Moné, Moné converses with psychologist doctor Sarah Gaither, stating, “The big problem is that, as a society, we think in either-or categories. You can only be one thing or another. You can’t be two things at the same time.” Moné notices acquiring many races can be inconsistent when it comes to being perceived, thus giving the pressured option to pick only one. Doing this can make it easier in society but can be self-inflicting. 

Society has always emphasized race and culture; it can be seen in nationality, standardized tests and filling diversity quotas. Giving more than one answer on those sheets is confounding to the person filling it out and the one receiving data. Because of the paradoxical way racial identity is supposed to work objectively but is used subjectively, people take race subjectively into their own encounters and experiences, while superficially using race from data research to applied science. In the same article by Moné, she interviews Samantha Ferguson. Ferguson declares, “People like a for-sure answer. People like math, because if you solve a problem, you have an answer, and that’s just the answer. I can’t just choose. It’s like asking, what half of yourself do you like better?” Divulging the matter of self-exterior and how other people perceive the multiracial can give the mixed-race community trepidation and therefore result in a fragile sense of self-identity. 

“Your hair is so pretty, can you give it to me?” “I’d kill for your skin tone, it's the perfect color!” Some could dismiss the challenges of being multiethnic because of the accusatory benefits that come with the identity. In the article “The Biracial Advantage” by Jennifer Latson, Latson affirms, “Studies show that multiracial people tend to be perceived as more attractive than their monoracial peers, among other advantages.” The perception of biracial people through the media and people who aren't opposed to the multicultural seems to have abnormal fetishizations due to their highlighted features of tan skin, brighter eyes and unique hair. Another option is the fetishizing of the biracial culture; monoracial peers can develop a keen disliking for being compared to their multiethnic counterparts. Another argument could be the mixed community has a keen ability to understand more complex social constructs and empathize with other minority members. In the same article, Latson interviews social psychologist Sarah Gaither as she states, “One advantage of embracing mixedness, she says, is the mental flexibility that multiracial people develop when, from a young age, they learn to switch seamlessly between their racial identities. In a 2015 study, she found that multiracial people demonstrated greater creative problem-solving skills than monoracials — but only after they'd been primed to think about their multiple identities beforehand.” Because of the individualistic mindset and problematic background of the micro-community, however, the benefits come from the strife of figuring out themselves and fully reaching self-actualization. 

To conclude, biracial people have a challenging journey with claiming their cultures and facing society. The intricacy of the individualistic findings of self and culture is something all multicultural have to go through. In addition to finding and claiming a culture, the societal aspect pressures the biracial community to confine their alleged subsidiary that makes them whole. And the next time someone asks me if I’m shipped from Africa, I’ll just say, “Sure.”