Image, a crowd of multiple folks, by Malcolm Garrett.
This blog post is definitely late to the news. As I have indicated in my post about owning up to my passing privilege, I am still new to social justice compared to many others. Just because I did research on one corner of it years ago, and was a secretary for a student organization that advocated for it, does not mean I was as much in as I am now. Only this past year or two have I really fully owned to working on social justice, and I have a lot of catching up to do yet. Still, I need to do, as many are wont to do with their own blog: throw in my little bit, though my two cents is hardly worth much in the grand picture. I am going to talk about multiracial experiences a bit, which should not be taken as me downplaying my privileges from ethnic ambiguity. That is certainly not the aim here.
Multiracial people: the title of this post is definitely not about you. As Jonathan Fisk puts it, own your ethnic identities and hold dearly (while acknowledging your privileges, if they apply). I feel this is how we can dismantle White Supremacy, by refusing to fully assimilate. For all of you who have lived in an interracial family, been close to an immigrant person-of-color (POC) mother or grandmother, or been picked on at school with racist remarks, you lived the experience in the United States. Some of you lived it even deeper than I have. Heck, anyone who had put in the effort to do the genealogy and gained recognition from a tribe or family, I am not one to tell you anything. Your community accepts you. Each experience will be different, but you for any of the aforementioned reasons had to check a box on the census other than just White. Some of you likely had to check other boxes but White, and this post is definitely not focused on you. I cannot speak from anything but a White-POC multiracial experience in the end. So, much of what I have to say targets that category more than anything.
So, who is this post directed toward?
You have it. It is directed to the people in a recent Psychology Today article, White folks who have the audacity to claim Multiracial Identity based on a family story or a DNA test alone. Those old white men who have the nerve to sue the government because they were “denied benefits,” I am talking about them. People like them. Telling the results of a DNA test or a family history is one thing, claiming multiracialism based on just this is another. Elizabeth Warren did this, too, a while ago, earning her more than rightful anger from the Native communities. It turns out, she clearly was not the only one. As pointed out in the Psychology Today article, Multiracial Identity is a combination of family tree and, upbringing. And personal, experienced history. Relying on DNA tests for POC racial/ethnic identity does nothing more than reinforce and perpetuate colonial ideas of race, to top. White people, I ask the good in you all that you strive to have: please do not claim to be multiracial based on a DNA test or a family story of an ancestor you never met. If you have not at least had found a non-White family and been accepted with them, just do not. Just please.
By doing this, even as an attempt to distance yourself from all the awful history of White America, you are shutting out the people who actually have to live the experience of being multiracial. Their voices are stifled, and White Supremacy wins. Because of this, and because of people flat-out lying about their family history (like Rachel Dolezal), you make multiracial people’s lives harder. Communities are sometimes more reluctant to accept them, and I do not fault them one bit over it. White people treating POC identity in all its forms as a trend are a large part of the issue.
Nothing made me more annoyed with Reddit than seeing someone legitimately asking about multiracial identity due to having 1/8th POC blood be met with “encouragement,” all because of Rachel Dolezal’s shenanigans. If the person who asked the question has the family connections for claiming it, I definitely will not judge as a Eurasian. Nonetheless, the use of Dolezal as an argument is frustrating for people who sometimes deal with feeling like an imposter for simply existing. Multiracialism is not something you can wear and take off as you please.
Yeah, I wish I were fibbing. Some White people used Rachel Dolezal as an example of someone claiming a POC/Multiracial Identity and supported it, not knowing why this was problematic. Echoing what my friends from the Black community already stated in our talks (personal communications, February, 2019): she had absolutely no connection, not even by the standards of the oppressive but still socially enforced “one-drop rule.” No baggage from that like many multiracial children have. Nor did she try to be transparent from the start and work with the community itself to gain her prestige (as Eminem did with the Rap/R&B community). She did not have to deal with the community’s challenges in some form or another, not even from a journalist-going-undercover perspective. Seeing this nonchalance toward Multiracial Identity is a slap to the face to people who lived it, no matter where they are with blood-quantum systems (1/2, 1/4, etc; not Elizabeth Warren).
Again, Multiracialism is not a trend, especially the more ethnically ambiguous appearing one is, or clearly not pure White a person is. I do not care that Kim Kardashian had exploited her ethnic ambiguity to her advantage. We all know if it were not for her wealthy mother and her resources from rich White friends, her career would, as Savannah Muñoz puts it, “have started and ended” as “that ‘Armenian girl…'” And, as Niloufari Haidari points out, the fact she had made a career exclusively on exploiting the fashion trends of ethnic minorities (deliberately, and intentionally), especially of Black people, has given her props in a White Supremacy world. It is the one way people without full-on white privilege end up earning some more. Haidari eloquently quotes James Baldwin, “White is not a skin color, it is an attitude.” He is absolutely right. This has historically been how groups not originally considered White have earned privileges for being “honorary Whites” or even fully assimilating into the blob of Whiteness.
Muñoz posits that Kim Kardashian’s connection to privilege and power keeps her safe and secure from racism. I would in addition to this point, say it also keeps her safe from baggage that few multiracial people are free from ever, even considering White-POC multiracials benefit more from White Supremacy than other multiracials. Her degree of white-passing privilege would have been significantly lower if not for her connections. As Haidari also suggests, people used to ridicule her for some of her features when younger, features only POC people are heavily criticized over (e.g., body hair), before she went through body alterations to approximate her closer to colonial ideas of beauty (e.g., the “fair lady,” or “snow white girl”). She can wear darker skin or take it off overnight, unlike many other multiracial people.
Multiracialism, contrary to what many believe, will not save the United States from racism (though I am not one to discourage interracial families – on the contrary). So anyone still fetishizing multiracial children, please cease right now. The influences of the one-drop rule are still prevalent out there. As an Anonymous participant in our local social justice programs succinctly points out, Mariah Carey the moment people discovered her POC relatives very much grouped her with them (personal communications, February, 2019). NPR’s Codeswitch podcast on multiracial Americans points out that anyone who also chooses to approximate closer to their POC family takes on some of the baggage of their POC communities. This is even when given some privileges from passing or not appearing the narrative the dominant culture gives.
As noted in the same podcast, Latin American countries have prided themselves in having many multiracial people, but White Supremacy is still alive there. When the European colonizers left, the same systems of discrimination persist, often in the form of prizing and valuing lighter skinned people, some places oppressing their more indigenous kin. This adds another complication to multiracialism: dealing with how Colorism continues White Supremacy globally, while also creating another hierarchy of power. Multiracial people of White-POC heritage, in addition to dealing with varying degrees of oppression of their own, also have to confront their part in perpetuating these power dynamics for possessing passing-privilege in its myriad forms. This is something I intend to talk more about in a future post, as I am among these Multiracial people.
Anyone who thinks about claiming Multiracial Identity based on a DNA test or family story only: you have not needed to deal with any of these complications. No one questions your ethnicity, and when they do, you do not have to decide on the choice to lie about it or not. You do not feel Racial Imposter Syndrome every time you tell the truth, either. Please do not claim something you or your closest blood relatives did not have to live. Some of us deal with enough fears of being perceived as an imposter without your less than helpful contributions.