Mixed emotions: The multiracial student experience at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley News
University of California, Berkeley
Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter
BERKELEY – “What are you?”
That’s the question Robert Allen, adjunct professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, writes on the chalkboard when students first file in for his “People of Mixed Racial Descent” class. It’s also the question that complete strangers have asked Ai-Ling Malone, a third-year business administration and economics major, all her life; Ai-Ling, whose mom is Chinese and whose dad is African-American, says it has never bothered her. Josh Fisher (Chinese and white), an environmental sciences Ph.D. student, almost never hears it. Third-year industrial engineering major Rey Andrew Perocho Doctora (Filipino and Chinese/Japanese) mostly hears it only from Asian people: “I have Chinese eyes but my skin is dark, so they find it hard to figure me out.”…
…At UC Berkeley, an eye-opening 22.9 percent of all respondents identified themselves as “multi-racial or multi-ethnic” on the 2004 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey. Across the UC system, the average was 25.8 percent. Thanks to the growing numbers of mixed young people, a journey that often begins in college as a personal quest for identity is starting to gather force as a political movement.
It’s a movement still in its infancy, however. The “What are you?” question aside, “mixed” students like Ai-Ling, Josh, Rey, and Amina are struggling with the same question – “Who am I?” – as their monoracial classmates. The difference is, they can face racism on two fronts: both from white-dominated society and, more upsettingly, from their own racial peer groups, for whom they are not “black enough” or “Asian enough.”…
…Much of the academic research on the mixed-race community began at Berkeley. The “People of Mixed Racial Descent” class was the first of its kind in the nation. It was started in 1980 by Terry Wilson, a Berkeley professor of Native American Studies and the son of a Potawatomi Indian father and a white mother. Several of the course’s early teachers, like Ph.D. student Cynthia Nakashima, have gone on to write landmark texts about the multiracial experience.
The class is even more heavily subscribed now. “For many of the students it’s the first chance they’ve had to talk about their experience in a supportive environment,” says Allen. When he teaches the class – alternating with African-American Studies chair Stephen Small – he emphasizes the artificiality of the idea of race, reminding students that it has no scientific basis. In 1998 the Anthropological Association of America actually released a formal statement to that effect: “Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94 percent, lies within so-called racial groups.This means that there is greater variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.”…
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