I’m Not Confused: Identifying as Mixed Race

These days it has become more common to find mixed roots people who identify as biracial or multiracial. The days of ‘passing’ are a part of American history and unimaginable to most people today. What does this mean culturally and for multiracial people personally? As someone who has always identified as biracial, I wonder about this often. How do we reconcile our individual identities with the realities of society and the way mixed racial identities are perceived? Is that even possible?


A 2015 literature review published in Current Directions in Psychological Science explores the psychology of multiracial identity. One of the findings is that multiracial people can have higher self-esteem if they are raised with an understanding of all of their racial heritage and identify with both parents. When they are asked to choose only one race, they experience a decrease in self-esteem.


Personally, I can identify with those findings. Being asked to choose one race not only doesn’t make sense to me, but is a painful experience because it would mean a part of me is missing, or I am actively rejecting my white mother. I believe it is especially damaging for young people to be told or encouraged to identify with only one part of their background. This is the time when we are forming our sense of selves and starting to figure out who we are. For youth of any race, self-esteem is fragile or nonexistent. Therefore, outside pressures have more influence given this impressionability. When it comes to being mixed race, even adults can have a hard time placing themselves in the world and often default to the path of least resistance, whatever that may be in their environment.


Despite some benefits, having a strong mixed race identity comes with its challenges. As a mixed race family and individual, intolerance can come from all sides. Intolerance from white people is damaging and has the power of institutions behind it, but I’ve found intolerance from black people to be hurtful in a more personal way. All people of color endure racism from the race in power at some point or another. So if I’m rejected by a fellow person of color based on my racial identity where does that leave me? It can be a lonely place to identify as mixed race in a world where external and internalized racism creates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.


I don’t think any of this is new. The difference could be that now we have the freedom to identify however we want so the issues that always existed are simply out in the open for us all to grapple with. We no longer have to choose one side (though the pressure is still there) and this freedom comes with a need for dialogue and understanding. That’s a challenge that multiracial people face in our culture today. How can we reconcile- within ourselves and others- the divisiveness of racism with our right to accept and love the whole of our identity?


Bio PicAisha Springer is based in Baltimore. Her writing primarily focuses on issues of race, feminism, and personal essay. She is a Contributing Writer for Hashtag Feminism, a blog examining feminist topics through a media lens, has written book reviews for STAND, the ACLU magazine, and was a 2015 Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow for the United Nations Association (UNA-USA). During the day, she works full-time at a civil rights nonprofit.

Aisha has a Master of Public Administration from American University and a B.A. in Spanish and International Affairs from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.



“I wish I had white skin,” my three year-old daughter said, swinging breezily at the park.

Gulp. “Why do you say that, Sweetheart?” I asked, outwardly calm but inwardly exclaiming, Shit! What do I do with this?

“Because all of the friends at school have white skin.” Very matter-of-factly.


I think about race a lot, both professionally and personally, and perhaps more than the average person. I work as a professor teaching race-related literature classes and grew up as a “brown-skinned white girl,” as France Winddance Twine has called mixed race girls raised in white households and predominantly white communities. I remember as a preschooler myself in the 1970s telling my teacher that I wished I had long, blonde hair (and presumably pale skin) and, though I’m embarrassed to admit this deep-seated desire I held at the time, pastel underwear. So I wasn’t entirely surprised that my daughter, the beautifully brown-skinned child of her mixed race father and I, would develop feelings similar to those I’d had as a child, given the predominantly white school she attended.

But so soon? And how did she internalize the idea that dark skin is undesirable when she hasn’t been a TV watcher and has been celebrated with Doc McStuffins and brown baby dolls?

Fast forward to five:

“I love my brown skin,” she tells her gymnastics teacher one day, but on another day this boisterous girl turns timid around her brown paternal grandfather and great grandmother. Or she hides behind her father’s back when she meets other brown skinned kids at the park. He tells me she seems afraid of black people and that she needs to know she “comes from this,” as well as from whiteness.

I’m feeling defensive, like my choice to live in the town I chose and have my daughter attend a Catholic school is being called into question because it effectively surrounds her with whiteness. And the cultural critic in me is nagging behind this more visceral maternal response. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, ‘She needs to know she comes from this’?” Not until later, when my maternal angst is temporarily calmed, can I tease out the implications of this remark. No, I don’t want to raise my daughter to believe she “comes from blackness and whiteness” as if they are some geographical location we can visit in time and space, as if they are a location where all of this cultural coding and conditioning just is and therefore makes sense, as if this ephemeral blackness and whiteness she “contains” could be pinned down to the pseudo-science of racialized blood or moral character.

What I want her to know is that she comes from people. These people love her and she needn’t be afraid of them because of the various colors of their skin. By extension, she needn’t fear people she meets in the world simply because of their skin; if there are people to fear in the world—and there certainly are—it’s because of their actions, not their appearance.

When I talked to her about “black people” after talking to her father, she stopped me. “Black people?” she asked, and I knew she was imagining someone the color of her tennis shoes or the car ahead of us. Having preferred more literalness with descriptions of people, I’ve always talked to my daughter about our brown skin and others with brown skin; even white people aren’t the color of notebook paper but more variations of sand and tan. I’ve challenged her when she describes the peach colored crayon as “skin color,” and I’ve asked her to hand me a skin colored crayon, holding out my hand to indicate I mean a certain shade of brown. I point out the people she considers having “white skin” don’t look like that peach-colored crayon or summer day clouds.

To her question, I replied, “I think that’s a confusing term, too, but that’s a term used for people who look like your Grappa and even your dad and me.” Although many people find my daughter hard to peg, usually asking if she’s from India, I’m sure there will be times when she’ll be called black as well.

We know racialized terms are used to classify people; unfortunately, these terms are also used to define and often limit people. We know white power and privilege exist. We know racism exists. We know unspeakable things have been done in the name of these realities. We know, too, that black triumph against these atrocities also exists. Black people have done amazing things throughout history. So have white people. Black people have also done some terrible things, as white people have, and in these statements, I’m not forgetting the power that’s coextensive with whiteness in the United States and elsewhere. Still, these terrible acts that have been (and continue to be) done are the acts of people, performed in the name and game of race, even when their ideologies become institutionalized to the point that we forget their original presence at the root of injustice.

I would rather my daughter come to the realization that race is an imperfect and often detrimental way of talking about perceived differences, whether these are biological (like skin color) or socio-cultural (like language use) and that these differences don’t map neatly onto so-called racial lines. Nor can these differences be equated with anything inherent, including a person’s worth, potential, intelligence, character, behavior, or proclivity for violence and therefore worthiness of our fear.

So the conversation will continue. I don’t want V. to be afraid of her family or to internalize this culture’s racism, which is certainly what’s happening when she shies away from other brown skinned kids on the playground or her own grandfather when she hasn’t seen him in a year. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that she’s somehow diminished because of her skin or, conversely, more special because of it. Given the sometimes subtle yet pervasive negative associations our culture makes with dark skin, and given the predominantly white community in which I’m raising my daughter, I want to normalize skin color difference, to help her see skin’s “meaning” as equivalent to that of hair or eye color, hair texture or eye shape—in other words, in itself meaningless though laden with historical baggage she needn’t help tote.

This past Christmas, V. was visited by an “Elf on the Shelf,” and, significantly, hers was brown with a short pixie cut that favored her own. When she first noticed it sitting on the bookshelf, V. morphed into a human pogo-stick, bouncing up and down like our floor was a trampoline: “I got my very own elf!!! And she looks like me!!!” A few days later, we found The Gabby Douglas Story on Netflix; since V. enjoys gymnastics and I’m pointing to positive images of black people, we watched it. Early in the movie, she noticed the family.

“They look like me, ” she remarked, smiling.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “they look like us.”

I’m comforted at this stage to know she’s seeing these affirmations of brownness and that, by extension, she can feel affirmed not just in our home but hopefully in the world as well.

Still, I wonder whose responsibility is it to affirm children’s worth? Surely the parents are primarily influential in this regard, but are we alone in valuing our children? What role do schools play? What role does culture? I’m not trying to reinforce the current cultural climate of over-affirming children to the point of narcissism, but children do deserve to have their worth and potential affirmed and encouraged, respectively. Given my daughter’s sometimes negative responses to her skin, I’d say schools and culture are clearly influential. This influence should not be taken lightly but consciously crafted so that socially we can move away from images and ideologies that suggest singular notions of beauty or worth. In so doing, we can move toward a time when individuals such as my daughter won’t look at their skin in order to define themselves or determine their value in the world.

By: Guest Blogger Tru Leverette, PhD


[rescue_column size=”one-third” position=”first”]adrap_logo [/rescue_column]Tru Leverette works as an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Florida where she teaches African-American literature and serves as director of African-American/African Diaspora Studies. Her research interests broadly include race and gender in literature and culture, and she focuses specifically on critical mixed race studies. Her most recent work has been published in Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora and the edited collections Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speaking Out and The Search for Wholeness and Diaspora Literacy in Contemporary African-American Literature. She served as a Fulbright Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, during the Winter 2013 term.

The Politics of Multi-Racial Identity – Part 2 of 4

My childhood area of New York bordered the remnants of the Puerto Rican Loisaida, and edges of Chinatown. As a result, our class was a mix of working class Asians and Latinos, along with Italians and African Americans. My kindergarten class was a reflection of this composition, which would have made any proponent of diversity happy. Our cognition of race at this point was limited to what we interacted with in reality. We could perceive a correlation of skin color to racial identity—lighter individuals being white, and darker individuals being black, with Asians and Latinos having their own looks—and this correlation was hammered home by interactions with the families of students. If one’s identity was not made immediately clear by their body, the sign to be read was the body of the person who was generally responsible for the student.

This is where the fluidity of my own racial identity began. In my mind (and the minds of my five year old peers) I was white. My skin color might have identified me as Latino, but my mother was a working class, Western European woman and that identity became my own. Indeed, my first memory of directly engaging race was mentioning to my mother something about how I was white. To which she responded that my impression was a half-truth; I was part white, but my dad was also Jamaican and Chinese.

This was not the biggest surprise in my mind. I was cognizant of a difference between my mother and myself, but this difference was brought out by social interactions. What enforced the conclusion of my whiteness in the classroom was the presence of my mother, a white woman. However, this was not enough for all people outside the classroom and it was the interactions with these people that made me suspect there was more to my identity.  A prime example: there was a park near our apartment in which I regularly played. While the children played on the jungle gym, or by the sprinklers, our parents would gather and have the sorts of conversations adults have. Years later, my mom informed me about the subject of one such conversation: another white mother had seen me with my mother, and was not deceived. Thus, once I was out of earshot, she asked, “Where did you get him from?” This woman thought that my mother had a contact with a Latin American adoption agency.

It was not a moment of malicious racism, and the woman became apologetic upon realizing that we were indeed biologically related, but it did reflect a number of normative assumptions she had made and was comfortable with sharing in public. Her question did not entertain the notion that a biological relation was possible—it made the normative assumption as one of adoptive kinship. This is reflective of a historical consciousness in which the world makes more sense maintaining the strict lines that bind our conceptual categories of race to empirics, rather than suggesting that the lines between them could change.

Of course, it is difficult to say whether biological relations ought to be presumed as normative ones for society, but what I wish to highlight is the selective standard by which this question of normativity is raised. It was not any other relation between child and parent that was question—it was my mother and myself. This is a question continually raised by people who think they are clever: “How do you know what you are if you never knew your dad?” The separation of empirical verification and conceptual trust is one that exists in every parental relationship. For all any of these people know, their parents had lied about being their parents, and were actually ex-KGB operatives. These explanations are rejected because they seem more complex and difficult to maintain. However, when it comes to multi-racial identity, everything that does not have immediate empirical verification, is available for strict scrutiny.

These forms of “benign” racism were equally prominent within my peer group. In fact, by 2nd grade, my peers had become incredibly good at creating groups based on ethnicity, and policing those lines. Throughout my interaction with Asian friends, for example this was a common response I would receive when they heard I was Chinese: “No you’re not. You don’t look it!” This was another simple negation, one that seems benign, as it came from seven year olds with little world experience. We would expect this of children in the same way we might expect a child to disbelieve in purple potatoes until presented with one. But people are not potatoes, and this was indicative of a larger problem—namely the inability to differentiate between races beyond empirics. These early experiences with empirical validation of race would later be the source of my peers’ conceptual ideas of race. This wasn’t a failure of the individual, but one in which the American state itself has been incapable of understanding racial lines, both conceptually and empirically, as moving targets.

When a student learns history in elementary school, the typical revisionist charge is this history is the “old dead white dude” variant of history. My only contribution to this discussion is that even in the most virulent threads of historical fantasy, in which the Civil War was one of “Northern Aggression” there is some acknowledgment that other races existed, if only to be subservient to the white one. Yet, both revisionists and traditionalists police these very lines that we learned as children: races do not mix. Even the more progressive histories, based on popular historians like Howard Zinn, still spend very little time pointing out that Multi Racial identities exist[1]. And when this absence of mention is combined with the tradition of separation, it is no surprise that children cannot conceptualize Multi Racial identity as something possible. My identity was practically a unicorn—non-existent.

Part of this erasure is a refusal to engage with the reality in which we exist, and the history behind it. In middle school, our humanities curriculum was well developed, with emphasis on primary sources, and even a trip to the NY Supreme Court to argue the case for slave reparations. But there was always a sense that we were playing with dead ideologies—this court case was partially imaginary, in the sense that none of us were forced to consider race as an element of the present. I remember some peers being very surprised to hear that racism still existed as a politically powerful force, as though racism ended with Brown vs. Board of Ed. The failure of our humanities education was the inability to link this history with the social structures of the present[2].

This connection was made for seldom few of us as children, but I would suggest that the living experience of dealing with racial discrimination, combined with the historical knowledge of the past (and here, parents become teachers as well—for example, people who fought for civil rights) means that non-white children make this connection much more quickly. There are a variety of studies that show white students tend to be less aware of race as a profoundly influential factor in the possibility of advancement. By denying these connections, or at least failing to address them, the later work of “diversity” becomes exponentially harder—something I will return to in a later post.

My first engagements in which my peers became actively aware of the political stakes for race-thinking, and the ideologies it spawns was in high school. This began a long journey, one in which I had to begin navigating how I wanted to identify, and as what others wanted me to identify. I will go more into detail about this process later, but I will close with the basic distinction between my early childhood days, and my life as a teenager.

As a child, my identity as Multi Racial appeared to have few stakes involved. My mom, as a sign, meant passing was imposed upon me, and while moments of tension surfaced when this sign was challenged, they meant little in the grander scheme of my own opportunities. Yet, it wasn’t as simple as a conscious decision to act and appear white at all times. I still interacted with my peers, expecting them to accept my racial identity as empirically valid, regardless of the conceptual construction of my educational trajectory as white.

At a high school where the distance between my empirical and conceptual identities began to grow wider, the stakes became raised. No longer was the question whether I actually was Jamaican, or Chinese, but whether I had the right to claim that identity as my own. My peers became less concerned with the empirical, and more concerned with the conceptual.


[1] Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has become the standard form of popular marginalized histories: http://www.thegoyslife.com/Documents/Books/A%20People’s%20History%20of%20the%20United%20States-%20Howard%20Zinn.pdf .

[2] The literary scholar Gayatri Spivak has some powerful words on the role of the humanities in education within this lecture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZHH4ALRFHw .


By: July 2014 Guest Blogger- Marley-Vincent Lindsey


Marley-Vincent Lindsey is a freelance writer and independent researcher located in New York. He recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in history and is primarily interested in 16th century Colonial Spain, the influence of Christianity on colonial institutions, subaltern studies and postcolonial theory and the relationship between digital media and history. He will be presenting at the Sixth Annual  Conference on Power and Struggle hosted by the University of Alabama, and is publishing a paper entitled “The Politics of Pokémon: Socialized Gaming, Religious Themes and the Construction of Communal Narratives” in the forthcoming volume of Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. When he’s not on the academic grind, he’s probably playing Starcraft and other related strategy games, skating or thinking about contingency plans for the zombie apocalypse. He can be contacted via email (mvlindsey92@gmail.com) or through his notebook-blog (mvlindsey.wordpress.com). He also really likes cats.


(due to an abundance of spam, we’ve had to turn off comments here, but please head over to our Facebook page – we’d love to hear and share your thoughts there! facebook.com/MixedRootsStories)

One Drop of Love at Choate Rosemary Hall

I had the immense pleasure of performing One Drop of Love for over 300 students at Choate Rosemary Hall last weekend in Connecticut. Here is one of my favorite quotes from one of the students, and a link to the full review:
I’ve seen a lot of white struggle stories, and a lot of black struggle stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mixed struggle story. Zemia Edmondson ’16. http://thenews.choate.edu/article/getting-race-y-pmac#sthash.VGQFeIAj.dpuf

Science Fiction and Multiraciality: From Octavia Butler to Harry Potter

Did you miss the annual What Are You? discussion at the Brooklyn Historical Society?

Well don’t miss their next event: Science Fiction and Multiraciality: From Octavia Butler to Harry Potter

WHEN: Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 2:00pm

They will be exploring how science fiction narratives investigate questions about identity, racism, and fear!

It is sure to be an interesting, fun and lively discussion. You are even encouraged to dress up as your favorite sci-fi character!

This event is FREE! If you are on the East Coast…join the discussion! It will be held at:

Great Hall, Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Many Wonderful Quotes to Ponder: Coming Out as Biracial

From medium.com/human-parts/c25d6ae8f2af

From medium.com/human-parts/c25d6ae8f2af

We’re very moved by this new blogpost written by Stephanie Georgopulos (Twitter handle: @omgstephlol)

Some quotes to pique your interest in clicking the link below and joining the conversation:

“Even with my white skin, I didn’t know the white experience entirely. I didn’t know it because when people use that poisonous n-word, I instantly think of my mother—and how people have used that word to hurt her simply for lack of time and effort. I think about the things my parents sacrificed to be together, things bigger than letters can spell…When #shitblackmomssay trended on Twitter, I laughed. I was on the inside of something, for once.

“[Being biracial is] witnessing one of the most exciting conversations about race since the civil rights movement, and wondering whether you’re the white voice that should shut up and listen, or the black voice that should speak out, or the mixed voice that should ???.”

Click here for the rest of this insightful post: https://medium.com/human-parts/c25d6ae8f2af

From medium.com/human-parts/c25d6ae8f2af