Where I lost myself: Multiracial identity in a black and white world

Alex Skaggs, Opinion Editor

Until 1967, bans on interracial marriage were still legal and common in the United States. Just a century or two ago, it would be hard to imagine in this country a place where all kinds of cultures and peoples would come to grow up with each other and intermingle.

Tracing its roots back to racism, interracial relationships used to be looked at with disapproval and disgust. As a result, the little number of mixed kids that did come about—especially in the Americas or other colonized lands—were still only seen as lower than the white man.

I’m a Filipino-American, the descendant of immigrants to the U.S. on my mom’s side, yet half white on my father’s side. For years I grew up with my grandparents, growing up in an American environment yet always influenced by bits of my Filipino heritage. I took pride in it, eventually being comfortable enough to say I was Filipino, until recently.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Survey, about 2% of the American population identify as multiracial; as much as 6% could possibly be defined as such. Census data shows that multiracial children are actually one of the quickest growing demographics among all children. But what does that mean in a world captivated between black and white? What does that mean for our identities?

Identity gives us a sense of being. It grounds our experiences and backgrounds. But for multiracial teens identity can be difficult to navigate, especially when dealing with such a vague construct such as race which has no definitive answers. Race can help describe personal experiences for many people, but it still doesn’t connect all the dots for others. Some may feel stuck at the crossroads between race, color, and culture.

As I grew older I began to have a battle with my identity. Constantly I would be asked, “What are you?” When I told them I was Filipino, they either believed me or outright denied the possibility. With white skin, racially ambiguous eyes, dark black hair, a ginger and black beard, and a large nose, I’m a mystery for many people. I was obviously outed by white people as different. But by others, I looked white. I was what some would call “conditionally white-passing.”

However, I never looked at myself as “white.” Nothing about “whiteness” resonated with me. I knew nothing about being German, or even a German-American. Not a clue could be found as to what that meant. Simply, I was stuck, and questioned my claim to be Filipino, or to anything.

Am I “enough” of one race or another? Am I too American to identify with another culture? Does my white skin prevent me from claiming a nationality which is predominately of color? These are all questions some multiracial kids may experience as they grow up. The worst of them comes with the possibility of exclusion from any groups they identify with.

When being around my relatives in Chicago, I was often scared that I would be excluded for my white parentage (Though I would come to learn that my grandmother’s family descended from German-Filipino immigrants to the United States). Being around other Filipino and Asian kids, many of them refused to accept that I was Asian, because I didn’t look like it or I wasn’t Asian “enough.” In predominately white communities, like West Omaha, I’ve felt uncomfortable and judged by everyone I pass. Did I fit anywhere?

Being multiracial is a unique experience from person to person, but many face similar obstacles when coming to term with their identity. Particularly, the perspectives of other people may be demeaning.

For multiracial kids like me, we’re not always open books. We’ve grown up in different environments. We’ve had all sorts of different experiences. Our identity is a very personal aspect of our lives and making assumptions can be pure erasure.

Of course, there are people who inappropriately try to claim the experiences and cultures of another people (like white people who have some ambiguous native American heritage trying to claim so), but that is definitely not the case for multiracial people.

Being inclusive needs to be about being open towards others’ experiences, and with a rapidly growing multiracial population, we need that inclusivity more than ever.