How do you define your identity? Is it determined by your family, neighborhood, or name? Is it influenced by your status, choices, or society? Depending on the person, it could be a combination of any of these. I think the bigger question is whether your identity is something you create or something you accept.
I came across a video by Franchesca about the challenges multi-racial people face. People responded to the question “I am a bi-racial person who…” with reflections on self-hatred, inner racism, and confusion. Some noted the feeling of not fitting in and being disappointed for not being exotic. Later, BuzzFeed produced a similar video where people noted the frustration of being misidentified and encouraged all multi-racial people to understand they do not need to fit in a mold that others think they should.
This discussion on identity comes up from time to time with the same issues and conclusions. I want to take this topic further to share with you, regardless if you are multi-racial or not, how much deeper this special identity is.
I am multi-racial. My family is from Liberia, Switzerland, and Ghana. I am a first-generation American. I grew up in a home where both of my parents are not the same color. Looking at my photo, could you guess any part of that? The “mixed” population includes a variety of shades and textures, but the stereotypical freckles, light eyes, and wavy hair seems to be the focus of everyone’s mixed fetish. I agree with those in the video how frustrating and sometimes exhausting it is to explain my heritage. Being questioned about your existence is never pleasant when people assume your lying. I have gone through phases where I kept my heritage a secret and felt lost in the process. Next, I would decide to be open and share with everyone and felt more isolated.
A word of advice to those who are not multi-racial and are trying to be-friend such a person, your knowledge of or exposure to the world does not define our identity. Intrigue and curiosity is welcomed, but do not isolate us for being unique. There is so much we can learn from each other.
Regarding the challenge to identify with all or one side of your heritage, there are a variety of ways this can be solved. A word of encouragement to my fellow multi-racial stars, you have the gift and opportunity to create your identity. This process is not easy. Believe me, it took years of confusion and disappointment for me to get to this point. Since my features do not announce my white heritage and most people approach and interact with me as a black woman, I never questioned whether or not I was black or white.
I do not fit in with my Swiss side…I mean my siblings and I are literally the black sheep of the family. In fact, my Swiss grandmother made a big sacrifice to follow her heart since part of her family disagreed with her choice to marry a black man. I do not fit in with my Liberian or Ghanaian side of the family for different reasons. Just how the shadow of slavery affects black Americans today, the shadow of colonization affects Ghanaians today. I tried to find my place there, but it was nowhere to be found. The Liberia (which was never colonized) my grandmother and mother loved no longer exists. Finding my place there has yet to be determined. I also do not fit in with the black American category. As I mentioned in a previous post about blacks vs Africans, we should be able to relate, but that is not always the reality. When I respond to the question, “where are you from?” with “I am from nowhere and everywhere,” I am not completely joking.
Thus, my identity continues to evolve. I appreciate all sides of my heritage and upbringing because it gives me more freedom. I am too complex for a check box or elevator pitch. I have a better sense of multiple cultures, which makes it easier to learn about other cultures and people. I have a global perspective on life, which enhances my strength and vision to see beyond the boundaries or limits society places on black women. I have a deeper empathy for suffering. I used to aspire to change the world, now I strive to just make a positive impact on everyone I interact with.
How do you define your identity? Let me know in the comments.
Wearing: The Limited blouse; H&M skirt; Aldo sandals
8 thoughts on “Why Multi-Racial Identity Is Too Complex For A Check Box”
How do I define my identity? I’ll let you know when I find a box big enough to fit it in… Excellent piece once again!
Ha! Thank you Jarmar. Stop searching for that box. You should be proud it does not fit. Appreciate your comment.
I TOTALLY identify with this! Although genetically I’m nearly all white, I am a third culture kid and lived with my family in Egypt and Sudan before going to college. My parents still live in Africa, and it feels like home in a lot of ways; I LOVE it there, and I love the people. I was a teenager when we moved there, and I fought and worked hard to learn the language and the culture and to make it home. It has profoundly and completely changed who I am and how I see the world. I struggle with this connection though because I’m white. If I embrace things from African or Middle Eastern cultures (clothing, jewelry, etc.), sometimes people see a white girl appropriating from a culture that isn’t her own. I’m not physically African or Middle Eastern, but my time living in East Africa captured my heart, and it’s a major part of my identity.
For me, identity isn’t just genetics. It’s the cultures that have shaped who I am. For me, that’s American, Middle Eastern and East African (since Sudan and Egypt kind of overlap in both cultures). Especially as our world becomes increasingly diverse, multiracial, and almost nomadic in where we live, I think our categorization will change from being based on just physical traits. At least, I’m really hoping it will. Diversity is more complex than physical traits may suggest.
Thank you Emileigh for sharing your story. I have friends with similar experiences who either moved with family or studied abroad in an African country and became part of the place. I agree with you about the appropriation dilemma. It is a tricky balance where you really can’t please everyone. It depends on the effort people are willing to make. For example, if I met you with a head wrap (saw your recent post. Well done!), I would probably ask about it to figure out your connection to that culture. Do you know the meaning behind the pattern of the fabric or is it something you picked up at Forever 21? As long as you know the history and significance to give credit where it’s due, which I know you do, you don’t have to worry too much about being accused of appropriating. Yes! Identity is definitely not just genetics. There is so much that influences and molds our identity that I also hope people become open to accepting. My parents brought up my siblings and I in an eclectic household (which probably contributed to us never fitting in…which is fine) with influences not only from their home countries but also other interests from all over the world. Thanks again for your comment. Appreciate it.
“Your knowledge of or exposure to the world does not define our identity.” Well said. It bothers me when people try to force multi-racial people to “pick” a side–especially when someone is black and white. The only person who has the right to choose what you identify with is you. It’s easy for someone to throw a label on you when they don’t know about your experiences, and especially about your family life. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this issue.
Thank you Vanessa. That picking-sides argument is frustrating because it shuts down any further dialogue or learning. I agree that throwing labels on people is a cop out. But hey, it’s there loss. I’m glad you found this post useful. Appreciate your comment.
Profound post. It is enlighten to hear the multi-racial issue from the perspective of a multi-racial person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
I’m glad you found this post enlightening. Thank you for your comment Jean.