America’s ‘Postracial’ Fantasy
The New York Times Magazine
Illustration by Javier Jaén
For millions of mixed-race people, identity fits more than one box, but we still see one another in black and white.
On Father’s Day, my dad and I had brunch with some close friends of mine. The conversation soon turned to their two sons: their likes, their dislikes, their habit of disrupting classmates during nap time at nursery school. At one point, as I ran my hand through one of the boys’ silky brown hair, I asked whether they consider their kids biracial. (The father is white; the mother is South Asian.) Before they could respond, the children’s paternal grandmother, in town for a visit, replied as if the answer were the most obvious thing in the world: “They’re white.”
I was taken aback, but I also realized she had a point: The two boys, who have big brown eyes and just a blush of olive in their skin, are already — and will probably continue to be — regarded as white first, South Asian a distant second. Nothing in their appearance would suggest otherwise, and who’s to say whether, once they realize that people see them as white, they will feel the need to set the record straight? Most people prefer the straightforward to the complex — especially when it when it comes to conversations about race.
A Pew Research Center study released in June, “Multiracial in America,” reports that “biracial adults who are white and Asian say they have more in common with whites than they do with Asians” and “are more likely to say they feel accepted by whites than by Asians.” While 76 percent of all mixed-race Americans claim that their backgrounds have made “no difference” in their lives, the data and anecdotes included in the study nevertheless underscore how, for a fair number of us, words like “multiracial” and “biracial” are awkward and inadequate, denoting identities that are fluid for some and fixed for others…
…My interactions with the world also underscored that biracial children are not in any way created equal — others’ interpretations of us are informed by assumptions based on appearance. Few black-white biracial Americans, compared with multiracial Asian-whites, have the privilege of easily “passing“: Our blackness defines us and marks us in a way that mixed-race parentage in others does not. As the Pew survey explains, children of Native American-white parents make up over half of the country’s multiracial population and, like Asian-white children, are usually thought of as white. The survey also reports that although the number of black-white biracial Americans more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, 69 percent of them say that most others see them solely as black; “for multiracial adults with a black background,” Pew notes, “experiences with discrimination closely mirror those of single-race blacks.”..
Read the entire article here.