Why does being mixed-race mean double the rejection?
September 2, 2016 11:34 AM   Subscribe

How do mixed-race people (i.e. with multiple ethnic backgrounds) reconcile living in white supremacy? Do mixed-race people ever transcend the barriers to become grounded and thrive in their identity? (so no, I don't mean a mixed-race person who has settled for a singular identity as the pricetag for membership benefits in a single ethnic group; I mean mixed-race persons who've thrived in spite of membership or acceptance by either group).

1) How do mixed-raced people, with historically competing 'lighter' and 'darker' ethnic backgrounds, find their peace when it comes to the rape, violence and abuse done by the 'lighter' ethnic group to the 'darker' group? Examples: African-Americans in the US, French-Algerians living in France, off-reserve First Nations living in Canada, Anglo-Indians living in any country that was part of the British Empire (India, Britain, or Canada -- as is my case).

(Btw, if anyone has responses to these questions re: British and Irish historical injustices, or other 'white-on-white' or 'dark-on-dark' scenarios, please share. I acknowledge it's not just about 'white-on-dark' historical injustices; however, it is impossible to deny the powerful trending of 'white-on-dark' injustice that has accumulated as a result of imperial colonization over the past few hundred years).

2) How do mixed-race people cope with how some 'darker' ethnic groups can be just as aggressive and overt as 'whiter' groups in their racist outcasting of 'half-breeds'? Sometimes the aggressive rejection is even from other mixed-race people who have managed to achieve what you have not: some level of membership in the 'racially pure' group.

My guess is that no matter what group a mixed-race person finds themselves in, they can become targeted for failing to reflect Eurocentric standards of 'racial purity'. After that point, it does not appear to matter -- a mixed-race person is already barred from mainstream 'white' society on the basis of their visible ethnic impurity (unless they are devout in their adherence to the 'white is right' mentality in their day-to-day living), but now they are double-rejected by their non-white non-mainstream counterpart group on the same basis of ethnic impurity (e.g. "you didn't grow up on the reserve, so you're not a real Indian" or "you didn't cook Indian food or watch Bollywood movies growing up, therefore you're not a real Indian" etc etc etc... all variations of "you're not a real person because you're not purely white") -- as if the exclusion from humanity on the basis of race is now complete with the pan-global experience of the new other: 'the disgusting half-breed'.

3) Finally, how do mixed-race people cope or respond to claims by anyone that they are 'inauthentic' in their Indianness or Blackness, on the basis that they are mixed-race? If the response is through silence, what have you seen or experienced in people that helps them to break that silence and live more freely, authentically, and with greater happiness in their lives?

I'm asking these questions because I want to improve my skills for connecting with other people of mixed-race heritage who value and enjoy that heritage. I consider myself someone who thrives with the 'best of both worlds', but to express outloud that I'm interested in meeting more people with mixed-race identities is JUST NOT DONE, it seems. In Canada, only one ethnic identity is allowed to be expressed at a time, or else you can count on any lighter-skinned or purer-raced person in the room to correct the error...

Thanks in advance for thoughtful answers!
posted by human ecologist to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
so no, I don't mean a mixed-race person who has settled for a singular identity as the pricetag for membership benefits in a single ethnic group; I mean mixed-race persons who've thrived in spite of membership or acceptance by either group

I question this condition in your question because I think part of white supremacy means not being able to claim mix race very easily and having to "settle" for a singular identity.
posted by zutalors! at 11:39 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm asking these questions because I want to improve my skills for connecting with other people of mixed-race heritage who value and enjoy that heritage. I consider myself someone who thrives with the 'best of both worlds', but to express outloud that I'm interested in meeting more people with mixed-race identities is JUST NOT DONE, it seems. In Canada, only one ethnic identity is allowed to be expressed at a time, or else you can count on any lighter-skinned or purer-raced person in the room to correct the error.

In what contexts are you meeting these people? If it's group stuff where people don't really know each other, yeah, that's going to be a powder keg of assumptions coming up against reality and so forth.

If it's as an individual meeting other people, well, here's the big secret: you treat them as the human beings they are. Everyone has their quirks and foibles. Few people like to be tagged with labels that don't come from their self. Talk to them like you would anyone. Make no assumptions. Let them tell you who they are.

Race is a construct, with systemic abuses that result. There's no such thing as "pure". That itself is a colonialist mindset. You mentioned French-Algerians. Do you realize that there are white Algerians? Who aren't from French descent? Amazigh. Algeria has a long history of diversity, as do any countries. Like, literally all of them.

The more I re-read your question the more I wonder what exactly you're asking, to be honest. This: e.g. "you didn't grow up on the reserve, so you're not a real Indian" is seriously insulting. As in only someone who hasn't bothered to learn anything about Native Americans would imagine that they as a group (?!) would say that on a regular basis. It's mind-bogglingly reductive. If you want to connect to people, do away with preconceptions like that.
posted by fraula at 1:21 PM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hi. I'm mixed-race Japanese and white. Your question has me reeling a bit in its scope and some of its assumptions, but I have sympathy for all the things you mention, and I'll try my best to talk about how I deal with this. (I wrote this comment on the blue a little while back, which is more specifically about the language used to describe mixed-race people, but I think some of it speaks to your concerns a bit.)

I guess the first thing I'm wondering after reading your question is about you, your ethnic makeup, and your own experiences. You don't have to answer here, but I think these things are super important in how each individual mixed-race person feels about these issues. For example, both my races are relatively privileged in the US today, and Japanese Americans in particular are a very small community with a LOT of mixed-race people (I think a majority of Japanese Americans under 30 are mixed), so they tend to be more understanding and welcoming. I've still gotten tedious bullshit all my life, don't get me wrong, but those things have made it relatively easier for me. Each community has a slightly different attitude toward mixed-race people and it can really affect how we think about ourselves.

I've done a lot of thinking about how we as a society deal with mixed-race people, including all the things you mention - the rejection from both sides, the constant insistence that you can only be one race - and I think understanding these things in context has helped me a lot. Often people of color feel embattled and feel that their culture or community is under attack, and they think they can find security in pushing out mixed-race people, who they see as diluting their culture. (I'm thinking here of monoracial Asian Americans who are insecure about their own "authenticity," but this plays out in all kinds of communities.) Pity them and ignore them. As for the insistence that it's impossible to be more than one race, this is a very deep embedded bias in our society, and I get why people default to this way of thinking, even though it's frustrating when they can't accept the obvious.

So like, these are all big philosophical questions, but on a practical level, I think these people are just jerks. Understandable jerks, but still. These are the dominant ways of thinking about race in North America, but I have found it very possible to find individuals (both mixed-race and not) who DON'T think like this, and those are the people I feel safe with. I should add that as I've gotten older it's gotten a lot easier, not because people are less racist, but because they've figured out their OWN identities and thus are less apt to start speculating about mine. It was worst in high school and college when my Asian American peers were all figuring out where they belonged in the world (which can be difficult even for monoracial people); I feel like people have chilled out now and I can't even remember the last time I was asked "What are you?", but when someone is rude about it or otherwise challenges my own statements about my ethnicity, it's always, always because they're lost themselves. I'm usually stumped on how to respond in the moment, unfortunately, but because I know this, it's relatively easy not to let it affect my understanding of myself. They're assholes. That's all.

To speak to your first question about dealing with the stain of racism... I think this is a sin that we all have to answer for. All of us. Mixed-race people bear no special responsibility here. I'm not quite sure if that's what you're asking, and I guess it doesn't really help for me to say that if it's something you feel deeply.

I would recommend trying to find some mixed-race artists or writers who deal with their mixed identity in their work. It's so easy to feel like you're alone in your thinking on this, and it's so refreshing to hear someone else express the same things. (Even for me - I have plenty of mixed-race friends but we don't exactly sit around talking about this stuff.) Two that come to mind are Kip Fulbeck and Laura Kina, and there are some good links in the FPP where I made that comment I linked... I'll update if I think of any others.

Hope all this makes sense and is helpful in some way. Feel free to memail me if you want to talk.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:24 PM on September 2, 2016 [19 favorites]


You're asking people of color to do a lot of work for your benefit here. Perhaps a better approach would be to ask for resources (links to good websites, books to read, etc.) so you can do your own research.
posted by jesourie at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


You're asking people of color to do a lot of work for your benefit here. Perhaps a better approach would be to ask for resources (links to good websites, books to read, etc.) so you can do your own research.

I can't say whether or not the OP identifies as a POC, but the OP does identify as mixed-race, if that affects your answer at all.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


Basically, I take an extremely long view and I note that A) if you go back far enough, we are all "mixed" and all have some DNA from someone who came from elsewhere B) inbreeding is really harmful and there is evidence that people find "exotic" peoples hot, probably because inbreeding is harmful and it is better to get a few outsider genes added to the gene pool occasionally and C) these groupings are all, ultimately, a fiction of our imaginations anyway and the people who insist on categorizing people in this way are gonna do what they do and it doesn't actually change what we are. I am still mixed, no matter how much people want to act like I am "white" and this is some monolithic box that fails to acknowledge within that box the differences between, say, my Irish heritage and my German heritage.

My German relatives see me as looking obviously Native American. Americans don't see it. There were a few photos of me from age 17 when I had shoulder length unlayered hair where I looked more Native American than I normally do. When I lived in Germany, Americans would greet me in German and assumed I was German, not an American military wife.

So, my experiences suggest to me that humans much more readily recognize differences than similarities. The differences stand out in their minds. Americans saw me as German. Germans saw me as looking Native American. The parts of me that were "weird" stood out in their mind. The parts of me that were similar, were "normal" to them and they didn't notice.

I am part Cherokee -- not enough that most people would "count" it -- part Irish, part German and I think part French and possibly a few other things that I don't know about because I haven't paid that much attention to genealogy. I have noted that people like me -- who are predominantly white and obviously look white -- get completely excluded from claiming their native heritage at all. So, I have seen online discussions where I knew for a fact that other people participating in the discussion were part Blackfoot or whatever and everyone was assuming their interest in native culture was some sort of white fetishist thing or otherwise as an outsider with zero claim on that culture.

I try to give pushback against that where I can. It's not an easy thing to do.

If you want to connect with mixed race peoples for some reason, it is probably best to notice who admits to some mix of heritage and try to talk to them one-on-one to pursue whatever it is you are trying to pursue. People who are heavily invested in categorizing people tend to be toxic and will both insist on cramming their categories down your throat and doing so in the ugliest way possible. They tend to just be judgy people, period.

People who are not so invested in clear cut categories are less likely to use language of the sort that IDs them as mixed heritage -- or they have figured out it is not worth fighting with people over and intentionally do not call a lot of attention to the fact that they don't agree with the predominant ideas or language on such topics. My Cherokee blood doesn't cease to exist just because some people don't want to count it. I can read what I want about such topics for my own edification, think what I want about myself and my heritage, and have private conversations with individuals who will understand why that piece of my heritage is meaningful to me, even without me getting heavily involved in native culture or something.
posted by Michele in California at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


This: e.g. "you didn't grow up on the reserve, so you're not a real Indian" is seriously insulting. As in only someone who hasn't bothered to learn anything about Native Americans would imagine that they as a group (?!) would say that on a regular basis. It's mind-bogglingly reductive.

In defense of the poster, I think that was exactly the point they were trying to make, and not intended to be read in their own voice.
posted by pullayup at 1:58 PM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


I’m a mixed race person, but not of African, Middle Eastern or Indian heritage. I’m somewhere in the middle of the skin color spectrum. I live in urban California, and I think that’s going to lead me to challenge some of the assumptions you’ve based your questions on.

How do mixed-race people (i.e. with multiple ethnic backgrounds) reconcile living in white supremacy?

I don’t spend a lot of time “reconciling” this. My life is not defined by white supremacy or nationalism or privilege. There are liberals (of which I am one) who pay a lot of attention to racial issues and how badly they affect minorities. Frankly, maybe because of where I live, or because I was raised in a Caucasian household, racism is just not that big a deal day to day. Now, if I were black or identifiably Muslim, or if I lived in the South, I think my answer would be tremendously different.

Without being insulting, I think you’re overthinking this. Most (non-black, non-Muslim) minorities or mixed race people don’t walk around worried about acceptance and discrimination and whether they can excel in white society. Again, if you’re Philando Castile or you look like him, your answer might be a lot different.

I’m sure there have been instances of racism in my life. My solution to this in general is to just flat out be better. Work harder, do more research, complete better work and so on. I haven’t “excelled” in any meaningful way. I have an upper middle class job that I think I’m good at. I make enough money that I don’t struggle with survival. That I’m not more “successful” than that has more to do with class, and me not going to Stanford/Yale/Harvard than it does with racism.

I would be more uncomfortable in a room full of very rich people than I would be in a room full of middle class white (or whoever) people.

How do mixed-raced people, with historically competing 'lighter' and 'darker' ethnic backgrounds, find their peace when it comes to the rape, violence and abuse done by the 'lighter' ethnic group to the 'darker' group?

I’m not “competing” with anyone. I don’t spend much time thinking about “rape, violence and abuse.” My family has literally never had that conversation, except possibly in the sense that other groups had and have it worse than we do.

How do mixed-race people cope with how some 'darker' ethnic groups can be just as aggressive and overt as 'whiter' groups in their racist outcasting of 'half-breeds'?... some level of membership in the 'racially pure' group.

This effectively stopped being an issue for me by the time I was a teenager. I can’t spend my time worrying about who has rejected me and why. I mean, maybe I talk too much, or my jokes suck, or I don’t party enough, or I party too much, or whatever. Rejection is just not worth beating yourself over, whether or not it’s racial.

My guess is that no matter what group a mixed-race person finds themselves in, they can become targeted for failing to reflect Eurocentric standards of 'racial purity'.

Again, no one I know thinks of themselves as being "targeted," except for some Muslims I know who get hassled at the airport and occasionally by random dickheads in public, along with when they'll see their families again if they're not allowed back into the country after the 2016 election, and young black men doing pretty much anything, though again, that’s less of an issue in most of California.

"you didn't cook Indian food or watch Bollywood movies growing up, therefore you're not a real Indian"

Again, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this as an adult. I mean, I know it exists. I don’t speak any of the native languages of my multiple races, but nobody throws this up in my face. My guess is that they just think of me as an American. Big deal.

'the disgusting half-breed'.

You’re imagining most people’s reality to be tremendously worse than it is.

I'm asking these questions because I want to improve my skills for connecting with other people of mixed-race heritage who value and enjoy that heritage.

If I met you and you brought this stuff up, it would be TREMENDOUSLY awkward.

I will say this - the most overt racism I can remember over the course of my whole life is happening RIGHT NOW, and it’s coming from one of the two candidates running for President and the 40% of people who support that person. I take that shit personally, and if you support that person, you support that person’s statements and their agenda. THAT I have a problem with.
posted by cnc at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


A lot of this is different for different people in different locations/societies, so do keep that in mind. While your experiences are real, be careful about over generalizing.

I've heard white and black people (and probably others) call a mixed-race person "not really black, because [X]", and so I think I know what you're getting at in that part: that is a somewhat common -- and utterly bullshit -- thing that some multi-ethnic people have to deal with.

In addition it being rude/impolitic/racist, that kind of talk usually involves logical fallacy and other dirty tricks.
From that angle, you might be interested in some of these topics on Wikipedia:
No True Scotsman
If-by-whiskey
Persuasive definition
Loaded language
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm engaged to a multiracial person, so while I can't answer these questions from my own perspective exactly, I can answer them from the point of view of someone who knows one particular multiracial person as well as you can possibly know a person, knows his stories, knows his family, etc etc etc.

Do mixed-race people ever transcend the barriers to become grounded and thrive in their identity?

Yeah, I mean, as much as anyone does, I suppose? I definitely don't get the sense that my partner feels any special sadness or failure or a level of outsiderdom that would trump any of the many other ways it's possible to be alienated from others. Like, he's about as transcendent as you or me, probably?

How do mixed-raced people, with historically competing 'lighter' and 'darker' ethnic backgrounds, find their peace when it comes to the rape, violence and abuse done by the 'lighter' ethnic group to the 'darker' group?

A few problematic threads here. Firstly, the vast majority of multiracial people living in the US today (not sure if maybe you're not talking about American or western/Anglophone culture here?) are not children of rape or violence, they are children of two people who were at the very least sexually attracted to each other. Secondly, not all multiracial people are of a black and white admixture. My partner is black and Chinese-American, so no fucking idea who is the "lighter" vs. "darker" parent or how that's relevant or any sort of historical violence on anyone's part, or what any of that has to do with my partner as an actual human being. My partner's parents were in a long term romantic relationship when he was born. Whatever thing you're implying here simply isn't relevant. Moving through the contemporary world and experiencing life with actual people who exist, you should probably assume that most multiracial people you meet are not from an especially violent or abusive background, or, like, whatever your idea is here.

My partner was mostly raised by his mom, who is Chinese-American, and tends to have a more "American Born Chinese"/children of immigrants outlook on the world. Not sure if that is at all what you're talking about here, because of the problematic way the question was phrased.

How do mixed-race people cope with how some 'darker' ethnic groups can be just as aggressive and overt as 'whiter' groups in their racist outcasting of 'half-breeds'?

Again, I think you're assuming a level of violence, aggression, specific lived oppression, etc. that may or may not apply. From talking with my partner, I get the sense that he's probably more aware than most people of the concept that "everyone's a little bit racist", and that just because you are a person of color, that doesn't exempt you from having biases. But I think any politically enlightened person, or person who has spent time among people of different races, is aware of that.

In talking to him about his family and background, I don't get the sense that he's carried an outsized self-identity as a "half-breed". Obviously this kind of experience and self-identity is highly individual, but that sounds like a Cher song, not a person.

Finally, how do mixed-race people cope or respond to claims by anyone that they are 'inauthentic' in their Indianness or Blackness, on the basis that they are mixed-race?

I don't have a good answer for this because it's not really an observable thing and my partner would probably throw something at me if I posed it to him. However, again, I think you're assuming a level of aggression or rejection that just isn't the day to day experience for all or even most multiracial people.

Not in answer to any particular question you have: maybe you should meet some multiracial people and see for yourself that they're really just normal people and not tragic figures or whatever you've built them up into in your mind.
posted by Sara C. at 4:22 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Check out

Between: Living in the Hyphen
Biracial not Black Damn it
Review of Little White Lie
2015 article on #biraciallookslike

"you didn't grow up on the reserve, so you're not a real Indian"
If you marry out, you stay out. (Background; relevant).

posted by cotton dress sock at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is...a lot of questions. I'm mixed race and I think a lot about it and I still have no idea where to begin answering any of this. You might get better answers in the future if you simplify your question!
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:10 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Modern Theories section of the Wikipedia article on Biracial Identity Formation (which would be a good search term in general for you) has a bunch of citations that might be helpful. It's definitely an area of study.
posted by lazuli at 7:26 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


The "Counseling Individuals of Multiracial Descent" chapter of Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice by Derald Wing Sue and David Sue might also be helpful in answering some of your questions, or refining your thoughts. (I realize you're not planning on counseling these acquaintances, but the text might be helpful in explaining identity development.)
posted by lazuli at 7:34 PM on September 2, 2016


I'm not mixed-race, but my friend who is found this book helpful when it came to exploring her identity: Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural by Claudine C. O'Hearn.
posted by Tamanna at 8:12 PM on September 2, 2016


Begin by asking for others' thoughts and experiences, and then just listen. Do not bring so many explicit assumptions, leading questions, and prefab frames. There is far more diversity of experience in the world than you imagine, both positive and negative. I wouldn't mind talking about my upbringing and my own family, but I would never bother when the interlocutor comes prepped with a set of monologues. Others' refusal to respond in this manner might feed into your assumptions about how rare it is for people to have their own more-or-less comfortable mixed identities.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:32 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


I am aware my questions would not be clear to most people's satisfaction. It was not easy to frame. And it's okay if some posters here need to think I'm too vapid to understand that people don't want to be talked to in real life like how my questions were posed.

To minimize offending people and 'others', I won't speak beyond my personal and family experiences. I'm mixed-raced with a German Christian father and Hindu Indian mother. My father raised us isolated, where the only 'others' we had exposure to growing up were our mixed-raced First Nations cousins and extended family. This is significant for me because I was regularly bullied as an ethnic rarity at my white-majority school; having relatives around who were 'ethnic' meant a lot. It gave me a place of belonging. Looking back now, the level of abuse endured by our First Nations relatives should have been identified as abuse (if not, in some cases, torture) and stopped, but instead it was condoned and tolerated. There's no guesswork in why some of them have died prematurely from alcoholism or addictions today (1/4 uncles dead and 1/2 aunts dead from overdoses; all have addictions; 1/2 cousins and 1/2 uncles have serious diseases from their IV drug use; one of my immediate siblings is an alcoholic and my other siblings has had serious struggles with mental health... as if we've all been broken by "the family" already).

In Indo-Canadian circles the most common response is they just don't talk to me. As in, grown-ass adults who don't hear or see me because I will pollute them somehow. I am not kidding. I am specifically talking about people avoiding having to touch things I have touched, and being 'left behind' by jerks among friends. I interpret this as part of the 'living in white supremacy', because it's ass backwards to me that the holiest priests are white-skinned in the Indo-Canadian cultural circles I've spent time in, yet I'm filthy because my dad was white or because I 'became' white(-ish) through impure means. I do see these people as jerks with their own problems, and continue to wonder where the non-jerks are hiding. Same with the non-Indo-Canadians who want to talk about race and culture, because they can see it's something I might possess, until they realize I'm not 'real' and won't give expected answers.

I definitely feel very lost in how to frame my identity. I don't know who or what I'm looking for, but I do know I feel a pervasive sense of alienation that's getting worse with time. And fwiw, I will express that it was heart-wrenchingly sickening to learn that "Indian Residential School" wasn't just a joke about my family but an actual system that was used on a 'race' of people, for decades... so this kind of thing happens a lot, eh? A. LOT. Even in countries and places where I am told that "we don't see race here" (in Canada, or wherever).

Thank you to those who gave thoughtful replies. It will take me some time to filter through the links people posted, but so far the stories and links to essays and theories have been encouraging. I appreciate that metafilter was a safe enough place to try and ask about this.
posted by human ecologist at 12:44 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is not my experience, so I hope it's okay to tell, but… re: race in Canada; I worked with a biracial POC who had plenty of stories about being judged by the other POC for "not being [race]" enough, including the racial slur that goes with it (think "[race] on the outside, white on the inside"). God knows there were plenty of stories about racial harassment by white people too, though.
posted by Nyx at 3:37 AM on September 3, 2016


A few problematic threads here. Firstly, the vast majority of multiracial people living in the US today (not sure if maybe you're not talking about American or western/Anglophone culture here?) are not children of rape or violence, they are children of two people who were at the very least sexually attracted to each other. Secondly, not all multiracial people are of a black and white admixture. My partner is black and Chinese-American, so no fucking idea who is the "lighter" vs. "darker" parent or how that's relevant or any sort of historical violence on anyone's part, or what any of that has to do with my partner as an actual human being. My partner's parents were in a long term romantic relationship when he was born. Whatever thing you're implying here simply isn't relevant. Moving through the contemporary world and experiencing life with actual people who exist, you should probably assume that most multiracial people you meet are not from an especially violent or abusive background, or, like, whatever your idea is here.

They are clearly talking about the ongoing oppressive violence of racism, in the general sense.

I don't have a good answer for this because it's not really an observable thing and my partner would probably throw something at me if I posed it to him. However, again, I think you're assuming a level of aggression or rejection that just isn't the day to day experience for all or even most multiracial people.


How on earth would you know? Your claimed source for expertise won't even discuss this topic with you.

Not in answer to any particular question you have: maybe you should meet some multiracial people and see for yourself that they're really just normal people and not tragic figures or whatever you've built them up into in your mind.

OP. Is. Multiracial.

You. Are. Not.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:29 AM on September 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think this was an interesting question and I appreciate that asking it has you revealing a lot of vulnerability. Ima try and answer more comprehensively later when I'm on my laptop, but just quickly, I think the situation u describe is pretty complex and that having to deal with white supremacy AND the caste system, culturally rather seperate things (though oddly related) must be difficult.
posted by glasseyes at 5:45 AM on September 3, 2016


OP, like I said, I'm not mixed-race but I do have some experience of the utter fuckwittery that is a lot of the Indian diaspora. It's really not you, it's them. Unfortunately, some of the most insular, xenophobic, and downright racist people of my ethnicity have, for some godforsaken reason, upped sticks and migrated to places like Canada, the US, and the UK, and insist on perpetuating the same bigoted bullshit that a lot of us in the homeland have actually gotten better about. I escaped a lot of it, being Brahmin, but I've heard awful stories of the casteism that still runs rife. I'm very sorry you have to deal with that nonsense.

Also, Indians have a very weird relationship with skin colour. I think it has something to do with our colonial past, but there's this obsession with fair skin, and adverts like this are, sadly, common even today. There is a LOT of internalised colourism/racism among the Indian diaspora; slathering on god knows what in order to become fair (read white) is okay, but god forbid you actually have non-Indian parentage. I want to reiterate; it's not you, it really is them.

As somebody who has had her identity questioned by supposedly 'purer' folks (basically, I grew up speaking English not Tamil and some people think I'm less Indian for it) my response is: fuck 'em. They don't get to define your identity, you do. If it helps, as a full-blooded Tamil Brahmin, I say you are Indian, you are 100% valid, even if you grew up whiter than rice.

Also, re: the weight of being in a racist, white supremacist society: I live in a white-ass town and go to a white-ass school and it's been an adventure, even given how liberal my school is. I realise that this is easier said than done, but... I try not to think about it. It's okay to not spend 100% of your time/energy on the horrors of the past; in fact, please don't, that shit will drive you crazy. What works for me (and I realise I have been very lucky) is my group of woke white friends that I've found over the years, and regular meetings/kvetch sessions with other people like me. Also, journaling. And remembering that things aren't great, but they're getting _better,_ slowly but surely.

Please feel free to MeMail if you need to talk.
posted by Tamanna at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2016


More stories are welcome... for those who feel comfortable to share.

And for those who might want to contemplate on trends in racism, I will add that my mom's family were Girmityas. Learning about that as an adult helped me immensely to better understand some of my mom's behaviors, which have included her total subservience to white-looking people. It also helped me have more compassion for her shortcomings as a parent, which has helped our relationship. My mom herself is generally in exile from the Indo-Canadian community, too far removed because her husband 'choice' and half-breed kids. (it was partly too because my dad was so xenophobic he was quite aggressive in having his kids identify as white -- better than, right? -- and agree with him on his theories of race)

So yeah, understanding the history of violence has been hugely relevant in my particular case of mixed-race heritage. I better understand why my mom did not have skills to challenge the power differentials she had with my dad. I will appreciate, though, that in other families this was not the case when I learn more about them.
posted by human ecologist at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


You might be dealing with more than average crap because of the Holocaust and you being half German. Germany murdered millions of people in WW2 for being "racially impure." When I called home in my thirties to tell my mom I had just been diagnosed with a genetic disorder, she didn't handle it well and we basically don't discuss it.

She will get hysterical and swear I was never sick as a child and crazy stuff like that. She was born in Germany in 1936. People got taken away and never heard from again for being "defective" and she just can't deal. So I mostly don't bring it up. As long as my problems are not framed as a genetic disorder, she is wonderfully compassionate and supportive. The minute I imply she carries bad genes, welp, that's not a good place to go.

My mother escaped East Germany, married an American, moved to the US. She never spoke to some relatives again. My father spent 26.5 years in the army, 18 years of that overseas. He retired far from home. After his mother died, he basically stopped going back to visit.

My maiden name is Irish. My father's face and arms were dark brown from his many years in the infantry. The rest of him was pasty white. He was only 1/16 Cherokee, but some photos of Gary Farmer, a full blooded Iroquois, bear an uncanny resemblance to my father. I never thought my dad looked Native American. I would have accepted Gary Farmer as white because I thought my dad was just a white guy. But, he apparently plays a lot of Native American roles. This sort of blew my mind to learn recent-ish.

My dad was pretty tight lipped. I did know it was viewed as sort of a scandal that someone in the family married a Cherokee woman, but he said nothing about being given crap personally. I think he chose to vote with his feet.

I have arranged my life where social bs matters as little as possible. I do freelance work through a service and that minimizes my dealings with people and their icky prejudices and bullshit hostility, which fairly often comes out in an aggressive "we aren't racist/exclusionary, you are just creating problems and just need to do something different" kind of way.

Assholes gonna asshole. If it weren't your race it would be your economic class or where you went to school or some other bullshit excuse for crapping on you. That isn't to say racism isn't real, it is only to say there are a great many ways to be crappy to people and some folks are just crappy to people. Racism is merely one form of their general crappiness. Your race is something you cannot change about yourself, so it is a particularly good target for disgusting people because it is a "defect" you cannot fix. People who just want to be as toxic and horrible as possible prefer to other you for things you cannot change about yourself. It is a way of saying you will just never be good enough -- because they are just extremely shitty people.

From what I have read, the healthiest and happiest mixed race people embrace their heritage from both sides of the family. I am fortunate to have had fairly enlightened parents for their era. They were far from perfect and my dad used to make racist jokes, but they really were much more decent people than most folks I have met and they were very knowledgeable about a lot of things, so I got exposed to a lot of cultural stuff as a matter of happenstance.

One of the things studies show is that tribal/native peoples know more about the local plant life, animal life, weather etc than other groups. They retain this tendency and pass it on to their kids, even if they move to the big city. This awareness of nature is an important part of their culture.

My father was like that. He never chalked it up to being part Native American. He chalked it up to growing up on a farm and would scoff at the ignorance of "city boys." People in the infantry also learn to camp and give directions in terms of north, south, east and west. But he did very well in the infantry, much better than the "city boys" he scoffed at. His awareness of nature and weather and the landscape was a big advantage in his line of work.

I was never told any of this was my Native American heritage. I had to infer it later based on life experience and things I read. It is a valuable part of my life experience. It matters to me and I believe that thread is there from my Cherokee ancestors and the culture they brought into the family.

So, I see these differences in me from other people, recognize them as a cultural heritage and find value in them. I generally do not say that to other people because other people are so often assholes, insist that I am white and that is all there is to me and would likely claim that white people who are interested in such knowledge can learn it, it has nothing to do with race.

And, you know, fuck em. I can't be bothered to argue about my heritage with assholes. Cuz assholes gonna asshole and I get shit on enough without trying to engage such people.
posted by Michele in California at 10:31 AM on September 3, 2016


I'm glad you updated, and I'm so sorry for what you've had to deal with. That sounds really awful and I can see why "just ignore those jerks" isn't quite adequate here.

I want to emphasize again the importance of finding narratives by other mixed-race people. A funny thing about being the child of two people of different races is that neither parent is totally equipped to teach you about your identity, which is an extra layer of difficulty above what most POC have to deal with under white supremacy. Most of the messages we hear about who we are come from people who really don't know what they're talking about. It becomes much easier to ignore when you have other, positive messages to draw from.

Here is a silly thing that helped me: One of my college professors who taught a class on mixed-race Asian American identity taught that "women are the culture-bearers." In other words, in multiracial families, it's very often the case that the female partner takes on the burden of teaching the children about the male partner's culture, rather than her own. (This is true in my family: My Japanese grandmother had a huge repertoire of dishes from Japanese, Chinese, American, and Hawaiian cuisines, but she raised the kids largely on Chinese food in deference to their Chinese stepfather. Then my Japanese mom, who was herself raised on Chinese food, raised me and my brother on roasts and spaghetti and meatballs, with iceberg lettuce salad and bread in a basket.) Kind of depressing from a feminism/emotional labor standpoint, really, and it may not be true of your family, but when I learned this and observed it to be true of many multiracial families, it was kind of an "aha" moment. I thought, "So even we follow some universal patterns." It was strangely comforting to realize that mixed-race people aren't just one-off freaks who exist outside of society, but have a culture and commonalities all our own.

In addition, I'd encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you define yourself, apart from what other people tell you. An important part of this is the language you use. I'll be honest: When I started to read your original question, I was kind of upset and offended. I didn't immediately realize that you yourself were mixed-race, because all the language at the beginning of your post refers to mixed-race people as "they," and you use words like "half-breed" and "pure/impure" (albeit in quotes). Then I got to the part where you said you wanted to connect with other mixed-race people and all the bad feelings immediately fell away and instead I wanted to help, but as you can see from the comments here, a lot of people missed that part and wondered why you were saying these things about mixed-race people. I totally get that when you talk about being "pure" or "impure" you're summarizing the bigoted opinions of those around you, but I would challenge you to remove those words and concepts entirely from your thinking about this and instead focus on what you think, and to own being mixed-race. Try saying the words, as you have here. You can start online or with one or two friends who get it and just see how it feels to say "I am German and Indian" (or whatever words you feel describe you best).

My experience with this: I stopped referring to myself as "half," tried out "I am Japanese and white" to see how that felt. No one complained. Then I decided that if only one of those things was relevant to the conversation at hand, I'd say "I'm white" or "I'm Japanese American" full stop and see how that went. I felt that if I said "I'm Japanese and white" when only my Japanese background was relevant, I was pre-emptively apologizing or calling myself out for being "only half" before someone else could, and I simply didn't feel like doing that anymore. It felt really good the first few times it went unchallenged. Sometimes when I say "I'm Japanese American" someone says "But aren't you half white?", and I say, well, yes, because I am. "I'm white" tends to get the most pushback, but if someone responds to that with "No you're not," I give them a sassy look and say "Listen, my last name is Smith," and that usually gets a laugh and they drop it. Is it sad that I have to have an established strategy in order to say something true about myself? Yeah, but we all have our survival techniques.

As for finding the non-jerks, this is kind of an off-the-wall suggestion, but if you have the slightest interest in Japanese culture and there is some kind of Japanese community group near you, why not check them out? In my experience, such groups are happy to welcome anyone who's willing to volunteer at cultural festivals or fundraisers, and the Japanese community really is ahead of a lot of others on mixed-race issues. Some people might assume you are part Japanese or ask you about your ethnic background to find out whether you are, but in the group I'm in, there are a whole bunch of people with no Japanese ethnic background who come to our events and it's never been an issue.

I'm actually really impressed that you say you consider yourself to be thriving in embracing both your ethnicities. It took me a long time to get there and I haven't faced half the bullshit you have. I think that attitude will serve you well as you continue exploring all this. Good luck, and I hope you find what you're looking for!
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Just look at Barack Obama
posted by Kwadeng at 2:06 AM on September 5, 2016


I hope i'm not too late. I'm mixed race - black/white (I also see myself as black even though black people do not see me as black...). I'll answer what I can on a personal level as I can't answer across the board. It's very difficult to generalise because 'mixed race' is a massive "group" of people. It's interesting that you want to connect with other mixed race people because I have found myself less able to do so than with other races.

1) How do mixed-raced people, with historically competing 'lighter' and 'darker' ethnic backgrounds, find their peace when it comes to the rape, violence and abuse done by the 'lighter' ethnic group to the 'darker' group?

I had to acknowledge the other day that if my mother was not white, i'd probably have a more distanced relationship with white people. I also live in a multicultural city so everyone mixes with everyone. There's no choice and this means I don't see these instances as 'the white man is taking us down again'. I am aware that others do but that is a view typically held by the older generations who did not/do not mix as much.

2) How do mixed-race people cope with how some 'darker' ethnic groups can be just as aggressive and overt as 'whiter' groups in their racist outcasting of 'half-breeds'? Sometimes the aggressive rejection is even from other mixed-race people who have managed to achieve what you have not: some level of membership in the 'racially pure' group.

Yes this is very hard and it's this racism I have had to deal with the most - mainly from other black women and I deal with this every single day. I have had some grief from mixed race girls too who fit more into 'white' or 'black' culture. I don't fit into either particularly well. I cannot 'pass' for anything. I have no idea of how to 'cope'. At all. I have the understanding that it's because darker skinned women are perceived as less in the media (and by dumb rappers) but it is still difficult to accept having that issue taken out on me. In a sense, it's similar to the issue that Feminism has to deal with. Do you attack your own or do you attack the system that by default gets you to turn on yourself and your 'own kind'?

3) Finally, how do mixed-race people cope or respond to claims by anyone that they are 'inauthentic' in their Indianness or Blackness, on the basis that they are mixed-race? If the response is through silence, what have you seen or experienced in people that helps them to break that silence and live more freely, authentically, and with greater happiness in their lives?

I guess I am definitely guilty of letting myself get put in my place because of the hostility or anger that I can't deal with. I don't have the strength or the know-how. There is no one who is really 'on my side' with this so I just leave it. I've been in group situations that turn nasty and where 'target' is written on my face because an opportunity to vent/shout down has arisen. It's not like I hold it with me, so I am living "authentically" but if I am in a room with, well, anyone else, then my race is suddenly a question mark even to myself. I am interested in the Black Lives Matter movement but I would never get involved because I am mixed race and I don't look black enough. I don't want to deal with more ostracism and eye rolling. That's dealing with colour specifically but if I was dealing with the nationality of my parents, I doubt anyone would say I am not 'X' enough (X being the nationality) even though they'd have more right to. There is more acceptance there. I am, however, suspicious of the white part of my family who would rather 'see' my nationality than my race.

I am glad you asked these questions because although I said I am living authentically above, I now question that. Am I still black when i'm alone? Then again, am I still a woman when i'm alone? That's more of a philosophical question, though.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:48 AM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also found information on Third Culture Kids extremely helpful when I first learned of the concept in my thirties.
posted by Michele in California at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2016


« Older ISO the best blanket or quilt money can buy [on...   |   (streaming) video playlist? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.