This, That, Both, Neither: The Badging Of Biracial Identity In Young Adult Realism

This, That, Both, Neither: The Badging Of Biracial Identity In Young Adult Realism

The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults
The official research journal of the Young Adult Library Services Association

Sarah Hannah Gómez, Graduate Student
School of Library and Information Science
Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts

Editor’s Note: “This, That, Both, Neither” was accepted for the peer reviewed paper session at YALSA’s third annual Young Adult Literature Symposium held November 2-4, 2012 in St. Louis. The theme of the conference was “Hit me with the next big thing.”

Only in the lifetime of the Millennial generation has it become legally acceptable to mark more than one race on a federal form. In the 2010 Census, 2.9 percent of respondents indicated that they were two or more races, with even more assigning themselves other designations that speak to the many types of multiracial identities common today. As this population grows in real life, it also flourishes in young adult literature, where ever more protagonists identify with more than one racial or ethnic group and must decide how to assert themselves and what to call themselves. This paper explores some of these novels and tracks each character’s progress towards creating a “badge” of identity.


Every year when I was a student, my school district held awards ceremonies to honor distinguished students of color from all grade levels. There was an African American ceremony, a Hispanic ceremony, and presumably an Asian American and Native American one as well. High-achieving students were invited to their respective ceremonies as well as any students of color, although I’m not entirely sure. I didn’t even know the awards existed until seventh grade, when two girls in my homeroom asked me why I hadn’t been at the African American ceremony the evening before.

I hadn’t been invited.

“Oh.” It hit me. “The district has me down as white.”

If you’d been looking at me when I said that, you would be confused. I don’t exactly look like a character in a Nella Larsen novel. But it wasn’t a lie. I am white. I’m also black. And I’m adopted, so I also share a second mixed identity with my sister, one in which we are ethnically Jewish and Latina.

My mother knew that her children were mixed, and she wanted us to have the advantage of going to a diverse magnet elementary school, so when we started kindergarten, she checked the box marked “white.” This was the late 1980s and early 1990s, when you were only allowed to be one race. And so, without having to lie, my mother helped me and my sister pass as white—at least on paper…

…I share this story not because I’m writing my autobiography, but because this is an experience shared by other mixed-race individuals, an increasingly larger part of the young American population. These teens, I believe, are the future of young adult (YA) literature. For fifteen years now, Americans have been able to officially identify as mixed. As people who identify as mixed-race begin to publish novels that tell their stories, it seems natural that their fictional worlds will represent the worlds they see around them. As Michele Elam notes, “the census box represents the new nonviolent resistance, a finger in the eye of the racial status quo,”  and we all know YA literature to be about testing boundaries and making bold statements…

Read the entire article here.

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