The good news: for the first time in American history, there are ongoing public conversations about Multiracial people. They revolve around our existence, our wildly diverse ancestry, our often-perplexing appearances, our cultural influences, and the ways in which we categorize ourselves as we move through our worlds.
The bad news: too often, these public conversations objectify rather than represent us. Our voices are missing. Our input is frequently discouraged, and occasionally we’re tone-policed and/or shut down when we do try to chime in.
The recent Vox First Person series on Multiracial people helps to balance this equation. Part I features six people of diverse combinations sharing their identity journeys. Sadly, the title, “The Loneliness of being Mixed-race in America,” extends the popular “Tragic Mulatto” stereotype to frame our overall experience as dominated by suffering. This harkens back to the single story of Multiracial people as inherently tragic victims—not because of the racism that defines our realities and shapes our environments—but because of the inconvenient audacity of our presence and the fact that we are not white.
Part II in the Vox series, “On Being Ethnically Ambiguous,” movingly contrasts the experiences of a woman with English, Portuguese, and Kanaka Maoli ancestry growing up in Hawaii. Mixed people were so plentiful as to be a simple fact of life in Hawaii. It was a shock to the woman’s system when she faced sudden questions and challenges upon moving to the mainland. Her experience makes the case for rearing Multiracial children in places where their presence isn’t the lone exception to a monoracial rule. It also provides insights into what it’s like for folks with ambiguous appearances to navigate race-obsessed spaces.
The final installment in the series, “Kamala Harris, Multiracial Identity, and the Fantasy of a Post-racial Identity,” analyzes the presence and significance of two Mixed-Black political trailblazers holding the country’s first-and-second-highest political positions: Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama. It deftly examines being Mixed-Black in places of political power, how Harris’ journey might impact public perceptions of Multiracial people, and articulates some of the changing dynamics around our public presence.
These and other public expressions of Multiracial people have the potential to contribute to a healthier understanding of the nuances that enrich and complicate our lives. Thus far, our expressions are often limited to the Black vs. white racial binary that defines and dominates the United States. When we break free of those constrictions to fully embrace and honor the incredible diversity of our backgrounds, journeys, and identities, our truths will no longer be pushed aside. We can move past the limitations of always being viewed through a monoracial lens.
Even when our ancestry positions us neatly along that Black vs. white binary, our lives can’t be considered so narrowly. Our appearance might not fit the slot that folks have assigned our ancestries. The places where we grow up might not align with our DNA. The cultures that shape us in our formative years might not define the rest of our lives. We might identify in ways that contradict or conflict with society’s assumptions and expectations.
While we’ve been around for centuries, we’re just beginning to speak up on our own behalf and tell our own truths. We’re here to give new meaning to the notion of “other” and chip away at the assumptions that greet us at the door. Now that our presence is undeniable and our voices are rising, we have the means to redefine Multiracial reality outside the lines. To rep our truths and challenge the status quo including, but not limited to, systemic racism. Get ready, ‘cause here we come!