Updated: Sep 3, 2021
A series on the complexities of being mixed-race (multi/bi-racial)
What are you?
What are you mixed with?
Where are you from?
These questions haunt me and are at the root of a false belief that I do not belong and that I am incomplete. A lot of people do not understand why these questions cause harm. Their implications are the following:
What are you? = You’re not human and unidentifiable. Screams “OTHER”.
What are you mixed with? = You don’t look right. You can’t fully belong to yours or my community.
Where are you from? = You don’t belong here. You’re foreign.
If your response to these is to say, “people surely don’t mean that by asking those questions, they’re just curious”; then pause reading and look up articles on intent versus impact. Although people may genuinely be curious, there is a subconscious thought process that is triggered which is…. I can’t make sense of you and you’re not fitting into a racial box that I am familiar with. People need to understand this so they know how to engage with me accordingly. That’s how powerful the racial construction of our society is.
Let me share a simple example of this from my life.
I was catching the link rail from a university to a park and ride in Tacoma, in my local area. A lady sitting across from me asks me, “Where are you from?”
Since I am used to this question and its implications, I respond with, “Why?”
Her response is, “You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
I respond with, “How so?”
“Well, you know.” Awkward pause. “You have dark hair and just look exotic.”
For those of you that are just getting to know me, I’ve lived in Washington State for most of my life. I was born in the US, and I only speak English. I was wearing a business casual top and bottom that in no way could have been seen as “exotic’. For this individual, my physical features of dark curly hair, brown skin, and almond-shaped eyes were seen as exotic - not from here.
I know there are many fellow BIPOC people that can relate to this. Maybe you’ve had strangers assume you don’t speak English or that you’re born outside of the US. The list can go on forever with the assumptions that people have of people of color based on stereotypes and basically not looking white. These comments slip off the tongue without much thought. Fortunately for the person saying it, there’s not much repercussion. Most often their thinking is not challenged. Unfortunately, those receiving it absorb it into our psyche and body as “I don’t belong” and “I am other”.
I want to clarify that it took me a long journey to even comprehend this phenomenon as racism. Before I really took the time to reflect on my life through race and the messages that I had received about myself and race, I often shrugged these comments off. I would have a tingly notion that it didn’t sit right in my body, but I didn’t investigate that feeling. It did however build up resentment, anger, and sadness within me that resulted in negative beliefs that have resulted in certain behaviors.
The one that creeps in the most is, I don’t belong = I’m not worthy. The behaviors that arise from this are: silence and isolation, sometimes the opposite - overtly being visible and heard, overcompensating through producing (meaning show my value through productivity), and dimming my own light. This is deep deficit thinking that affects so many opportunities in my life. One of the connections that I hope you make is how the impacts of messages like these (aka racism) results in self-hatred. Self-hatred needs self-love to heal it.
I, also, want to draw attention to the complexity of these messages being made to mixed-race individuals from their own families and community. These messages may come as the following:
It’s because you’re hapa (fill in with your culture’s language for half/mixed).
You’re whitewashed or white in the middle (implied with slurs like oreo and banana).
You’re not (fill in the blank with your race).
All of these translate to:
You’re not one of us.
You’re not (fill in the blank with your race) enough.
You don’t belong with us.
And if I don’t belong to my brown community and I don’t belong to my white community, the question becomes….where do I belong? From this mixed-up place, there have been a hundred attempts to change my appearance and behaviors to belong somewhere. (blog to come soon on this). It is not hard to empathize with another human being that is hurting from not feeling loved. Ultimately, belonging gives us this feeling of being loved, of being loveable.
Have you felt that before? That you’re not loved. That you’re not loveable.
And what messages did you need to pull yourself out of that lonely dark place?
Here are some of my favorites:
You are loved. I love you. You are perfectly complete, just the way you are.
This is where you belong.
Your brilliance is needed for us to be …
Here are some of the questions that I prefer:
What would make you feel a part of this team?
How can we create a loving environment so you can show up authentically?
What parts of your identity are important for you and for us to know, so we can honor you?
What is home for you?
Consider these messages and the ones that have worked for you. Use them to amplify life-affirming and loving connection to those around you that are Black and Brown, and are mixed-race. And if you’re a BIPOC ready to go on a self-love journey towards healing the harm of these messages, check out my Rooted-In-Self-Love Workshop.