Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

by Laura Mandanas and Carmen

Feature image via


I’ve been to A-Camp four times — and each time, I came to talk about race and confessed quietly to someone on the panel that I wished I wasn’t there to do so. Over time, I began to take a backseat role in our now-regular QPOC panel; I served as big-haired, loud-mouthed moderator at A-Camp in May 2012, but barely contributed beyond handing out supplies last October; when we decided the format, I began to step back so someone else could make the final call. None of these things were caused by low confidence, or a fear of public speaking, or an inferiority complex — all of them were about my story, and my skin, and my inability to find a way to belong in spaces for people of color without first justifying and laboriously explaining both.

Once, when I was done telling my story at the Queer Women of Color panel at A-Camp, someone raised their hand and objected to it. “I didn’t have to ‘come out’ as a person of color, and didn’t choose to, either.” The subtext was clear: my experience is not her experience, her experience is not my experience, and because of that one of us doesn’t belong. There was no question of who didn’t belong. There was only my guilt in the air.

Being biracial can often mean being invisible. My body is a battleground of two nations, constantly vying to be defining parts of my story. I am simultaneously my mother’s child and my father’s biological heir, and balancing the two can feel impossible. I do not want to be the sum of my parts — I want to be part of something. I long to belong — to feel less alone, to be understood, to stop stuttering out my story whenever I attempt to be a part of my own movements — but I’m held back by the experiences I’ve had over my life that invalidated my ethnic identity.

Being biracial can also mean being unwelcome. It can be a marker of intrusion when I set out to represent the needs and interests of Latinas in my work; it can be a red flag to my neighbors when they see me walking up and down my own street. I often find myself puzzling over how I’m being read. When that girl hit on me on OKCupid, and then I saw that she was Irish and “preferred to date in her own race,” was she aware of my own last name? When I head home from the metro, do folks think of me as the gentrifying force or the resistance? More often than my own sense of belonging, I am concerned with how others in my own community are perceiving me: do they look at me and see an outsider, or do they look at me and see themselves? I long to be recognized. I am a passing glimpse when I want to be in focus.

It can be hard to talk about the complexity of visibility within a broad community of queer people and women of color or even within biracial and mixed race communities, where undoubtedly many folks will not identify with these experiences. It can be hard to talk about the complexity of visibility when “passing” is thrown like hisses at a dinner party, with no consideration to how it feels to “pass” — how it feels to be misidentified, mismarked, misjudged, misperceived, mislabeled, misunderstood. In a world where race relations are so often forcibly boiled down to black and white, it can be hard to raise my voice to start discussions about my unique experiences when broader forms of discrimination are hurting people in my community every day.

The bottom line, however, is that race isn’t necessarily read on the body. Ethnicity is no longer always apparent in your skin. In a world that’s becoming remarkably multiracial, we still lack the ability to have these conversations in a way that fosters self-identification and self-perception as markers.

I’m going back one more time to talk about race. This time, I’m speaking loudly.


As a multiracial, bisexual, femme woman who works in engineering, it’s exceptionally rare for strangers to take a look at me and get my identity. I don’t know what they’re expecting, exactly, but I am never it.

In snap judgments about race, my experience is that people usually focus on whatever they perceive as most different from themselves. When Asian people see me and my siblings, they usually remark on how white we look. When white people see us, they often take on absurd, acrobatic leaps in conversation to let us know that they’ve picked up on our non-whiteness — even if they don’t know exactly what flavor of non-whiteness that is.

Possibly because of my ambiguous appearance, I’m fortunate not to have encountered many overt expressions of racism. Most often, I encounter racism of a subtler variety, with endless repetition of stereotypes, “ironic” half-jokes, and casual reinforcement of otherness. Depending on how I’ve been read, I’m sometimes the target, and sometimes only an expected agent of approval. Being biracial is part of my identity, but it isn’t a thing I consciously choose to think about on a daily basis; it comes to the forefront when other people put it there. I’m a deer in the headlights or I’m invisible; nothing takes place on my terms. Passing privilege is a huge step up from blatant racism, of course, but it’s still half a step down from that thing that white people get: freedom not to think about or engage with race at all, unless they decide they want to.

When I first heard the term “person of color,” I had to look up whether it included Asians (whose unique issues are sometimes at odds with other racial minorities in the US). The internet told me yes. I then tried to look up whether the term included me. I still haven’t found the answer. I’m still looking for the words. (I like the term “racialized” because it speaks to my experience of a thing in flux based on other people’s perceptions. But it doesn’t feel appropriate for all situations where “POC” is used, so I don’t know.)

Last year I went to A-Camp’s POC panel and spoke up only once: when a Filipina in my discussion group voiced her disappointment that there weren’t any Asians to be seen. I told her I that was Filipina too, that I’d spotted her from across the room on the very first day of camp. We hugged, I sat back down, and didn’t say another word for the next hour. I don’t blame her for not recognizing me — it happens all the time — but if a Filipina sitting five feet away from me couldn’t see me, what chance was there that anyone else in that room would? Would I be read as yet another self-important white person inappropriately hijacking the conversation to make it all about me? Or even if I was read as mixed, were my experiences relevant to this space? I wasn’t sure. I stayed quiet.

To be very honest, I’ve never been in a space where I’ve felt like I could talk openly about my experiences as a mixed race person. I feel nervous about running a panel on this. I feel even more nervous about committing these words to a semi-permanent state on the internet, where strangers can pick my sentences apart and not have to look at my face when they deliver their criticism. But if I feel this way, there are probably others who feel similarly.

This space is for us. Let’s talk.

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  1. I’ve made a habit of watching the POC panel videos post-camp for just these reasons. I’m pretty much a white person unless you see me with my mother, and we haven’t spoken in eight years.

  2. I’m not biracial, so my comment isn’t coming from that place, but I just wanted to thank you guys for being vulnerable and sharing and acknowledge that it is reverberating, even for people on the outside.


    Thank you so much for writing this! I am passing it along to all my queer mixed lovelies immediately.

  4. Okay. Now that I’ve recovered from my initial shock, can I also point out this:

    “To be very honest, I’ve never been in a space where I’ve felt like I could talk openly about my experiences as a mixed race person.”

    This is SO IMPORTANT! In only the past year, have I been graced with the great fortune of being involved in a documentary project that focuses on the experiences of mixed race women. And jn doing so have found “my people” so to speak. Most of us have different “backgrounds” so to speak, but we all share the experience of mixed-ness.

    Having spent time with these women, it has become so apparent to me how much the mixed race experience can interrupt common assumptions about what it means to be a POC.

    Questions like, what it means to be a POC with a white parent, or the politics of “passing” are crucial to our experiences. And then what happens when you add gender and queerness to the “mix”?

    Again, I am so glad that you’ve chosen to have this discussion here. I just hope it continues. <3

    • I love this entire thread!!!! Im a queer mixed lady, so this is my life. But I also am a grad student, studying mixed people. One of my biggest questions in my research is trying to figure out if there is a collective identity for mixed people or are the experiences so varied that we don’t share common experiences.
      I need to know more about this documentary! When does it come out and can I be one of your “people” too?

    • Thank you for this! I also have done work with mixed race people (in Louisiana, primarily), and it is empowering to see “how much the mixed race experience can interrupt common assumptions about what it means to be a POC.” I have been trying to articulate this and you’ve done a beautiful job. Thank you! I am wondering how we can keep the discussion going, particularly one that is empowering and generative.

  5. “Passing privilege is a huge step up from blatant racism, of course, but it’s still half a step down from that thing that white people get: freedom not to think about or engage with race at all, unless they decide they want to.”

    A big and frustrating thing to explain, yet you’ve done it simply. Wherever I go, I’m uncertain how I will be read and what that means for how others will treat me. In any community, I feel vaguely “other,” always on guard for signs that I’m not fitting in. But because I often do pass — as white or not — I always carry the worry that that otherness is entirely in my own head. When talking about racism, many people complain of being told they’re “being too sensitive.” That problems can’t possibly be as bad as they’re making them out to be. Yet I’ve probably told myself that more than anyone else ever has.

  6. THANK YOU for this conversation guys. I find I have the opposite experience to Laura, where I am read by most people as ‘Asian’ (generally generic Asian, people don’t usually even attempt to guess of what variety) but come from an incredibly integrated, mixed-race and fourth generation resident background. I don’t feel like my ethnicity affects my lived experience, it’s other people’s perceptions of my ethnicity that does–my family background is typically New Zealand Pakeha with the addition of dumplings but people assume that someone in my family will be an immigrant, due to my appearance.
    Given all this, it’s really hard to know how I fit into POC narratives–my experience of ‘race’ seems to come solely from my treatment by others (the microaggressions and ‘ironic’ jokes and general othering Laura is talking about) rather than anything intrinsic to my family life, history or background.
    I’m a firm believer that in the next fifty years we’re going to be seeing more and more mixed-race babies popping up as people stop seeing interracial relationships as abnormal. We’re what the world will look like in a couple of centuries. So it’s good to start talking about it all now…

    • Agreed. It also worries me that some people seem to assume that the future will bring forth all the miraculous beige babies that will solve racism.

  7. Thank you for posting this, it’s an interesting topic. Do you gentle beings ever get the, your name doesn’t match how I expected you to look? I have many times gotten, “Oh, I was expecting some more Middle Eastern looking.” I am Caucasian, family is from Iran. I look less like the stereotype people think of Middle Easterners & more like typical Caucasian being from the area.

    • Yes? But in my family Ling is a shortened Norwegian thing my grampa contributed. So there’s that.

    • Yes! My last name is Finnish (as is my father’s family) but I’m short and dark-haired with tan skin. Usually when I get the “Where’s your name from?” question, it’s quickly followed by “But you look Hispanic or something!”

  8. (As a fellow half-Filipina – high five!!!)*

    But also: I am so glad we are talking about this, because my questions pretty much reached a breaking point this year, and this conversation has been missing. Who can I claim as my people? Who will claim me? Is “my people” even a thing? How can I both negotiate degrees of privilege and be part of communities I (tenuously, apprehensively) identify with and desire? When do I speak, when do I shut up? What, exactly, is “of color”? How much is identity externally defined (ex: experiencing racism, being racialized) and how much is internal? What the heck is legitimacy?? How am I actually perceived? Is there a place for these questions or do we have bigger things to worry about?

    I know I’m still totally figuring it out, but anyway, I’m glad we’re talking.

    *PS: I feel like the Filipina half comes with its own issues as well, besides even the larger mixed and “of color” issue here: invisibility (despite the history of the US in the Philippines); being Asian but also brown; not being the Asian that people (at least on the East Coast, I find) mean when they say “Asian” (they mean East Asian)… ugh.

    • Re: your PS – my wife is half-Filipina as well, and she actually identifies as Hispanic before Asian most of the time because there’s so much Spanish cultural and linguistic influence in the Philippines and she’s frequently read as being from Latin America. She’s also a Spanish teacher and more people in her family speak Spanish than Tagalog, so her personal experience of Filipino culture (in the US) is very Hispanic-oriented.

  9. Thisss. I indentify with this SO MUCH. I’m a bisexual person of colour who passes for a heterosexual white girl.

    I’m half Indian, half Anglo Australian (“white”). I’m bisexual. I’m therefore basically invisible.

    Some people who meet me initially assume I’m Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. I often pass for “white” but total strangers still ask “what’s your background?”
    The sad thing is that, right now, thanks to xenophobia being used as a political tool to turn public opinion against Australia accepting refugees, I always find myself quickly having to justify my Indian mother’s “Australianess”. The level of racism in Australia seems to have increased in recent times. I find myself telling them “but my mum grew up here, she’s been here since she was 8, she has a full Aussie accent and a law degree, she’s from north India so her skin is quite light.” People also ask why my skin is so fair, because they 1. assume all Indians are dark and 2. a part-Indian person would be dark. White people often seem a little frusrated that I ‘pass’ so well as white: once they learn I’m half Indian, they seek to “other” me, since they can’t mentally reconcile the notion of a “coloured” person looking not too different from themselves.

    Likewise, people always assume I’m straight when they meet me (lesbians included, even when they meet me AT an LGBT event). Ironically, I’ve been with far more women than men. This probably comes down to my stereoypically ‘feminine’ appearance, since I also get called as a ‘femme’ despite not actually identify as such.

    My racial and sexual invisibility bothers me a lot but I know there’s not much I can do about it. Part of the reason it bothers me is that 99% of it stems from my appearance. I hate people “judging a book by its cover” and the constant mislabeling of myself is a sad reminder that most people still do exactly that.

  10. Thank you so much for posting this. I can really, truly relate. I’m a biracial (half Chinese) bisexual femme so I’m never in a group that understands my identity. Gosh, the microagressions I get from people is crazy. It’s frustrating. People make crass comments about my appearance or my ethnicity all the time without realizing it is racist.

    This article is my life.

  11. Thank you so much for posting this.

    My experience is slightly different because I’m the child of two mixed people (different mixes) who are both able to pass as and (for interesting and complicated reasons having to do with family secrets and racial oppression and trauma in previous generations) identify as white. So I almost feel like I don’t have the right to claim the non-white parts of my background, when my parents don’t even do that. And yet…those parts are still there. And I want to respect them, to let them be a part of me. They’re surely as much a part of me as the white parts. But racial privilege is also a part of my experience. I’ve taken to calling myself “multiracial white” at times, trying to acknowledge both the different parts of my identity and the privilege in my experience. It’s a strange and tricky balance and I’m still not convinced that I’ve gotten it right.

    When I went to Creating Change 2013 and went to the Racial Justice Institute, there was a breakout session for multiracial folks. The previous breakout sessions had been white and POC, and the people in the multiracial group were split between people who had been in the white session and people who had been in the POC session (and of course, there were multiracial folks with no white ancestry, like those who are black/Native). It was one of the only spaces I’ve been in where I felt like people really related to what I was saying about this.

  12. I feel this so hard. I grew up in Hawaii and my dad’s side of the family is Japanese, so that culture played a huge role in my values and upbringing. It was a shock to move to the East Coast and discover that most people read me as white, or worse, accused me of appropriating my own culture.

    Over the years I’ve come to see it as a mixed blessing – obviously, existing in a middle space presents unique challenges, but it also presents an opportunity to speak up for racial equality on behalf of those who would risk greater harm doing so because of their appearance.

    • Sorry for the slight tangent (and I don’t mean to imply that this is necessarily your experience), but this is exactly what bugs me about some aspects of the whole cultural appropriation conversation – when people ignore context on whether or not a particular action is offensive on its own and just start policing people on what they can or can’t wear/do/etc. based on solely on their perceived race, it often puts mixed people in the weird position of having to prove their ‘race credentials,’ which seems incredibly backwards for a dialogue that supposed to be pushing increased sensitivity. I could never pass for white, but my sister often does, and it weirds me out that some people would set different standards for us or question her background but not mine, especially since she’s the one that speaks Thai and lived in Kenya, and I’m the one that learned French and lived in New England.

    • I’m sorry you got accused of appropriating your own culture. People are sometimes quick to accuse without applying critical thinking.
      As far as avoiding situations like that, I’ve found it helpful to hang out with people who have other interests than politics. Although, I live on the west coast, am half white half latin, and I look white. So, I’m not in the exact same situation you are. I do hope you find nicer people to talk too on the East Coast. :)

  13. “I long to belong — to feel less alone, to be understood, to stop stuttering out my story whenever I attempt to be a part of my own movements — but I’m held back by the experiences I’ve had over my life that invalidated my ethnic identity.”

    THIS. So much of this.

    Thank you both ever so much for this amazing piece, that rings true for me enormously. Being half-Dutch (white), and half-Sudanese (from the North, so fairly Middle-Eastern looking), but being raised by a white parent, with my childhood scattered in homes over some 7 countries – trying to identify as anything at all has been an on going struggle.

    As it’s a topic that I have a lot of feels about, I once wrote this, should it tickle your fancy:

    • holy cow woman! that is an amazing article, you hit so many nails on the head. thank you <3 <3

  14. A lot of this really resonated with me. The idea of passing and being ‘seen’ by others for what I am in particular. Somehow it validates me more than my own sense of self does (particularly in regard to my own queerness). When I first came out I was hoping for people to tell me that they knew- that they recognised me.

    In terms of ethnicity- I have a Jewish Mum/Not Jewish Dad- in Jewish law that makes me Jewish and I identify quite strongly as such but because we weren’t raised in the religion we’re only Jew-ish. I’m always on the outside looking in to a culture that’s only partly mine, I never quite belong, I don’t know the right words, I have to out myself to people and explain how I am without. There is a really sad privilege in that.

    • Hey there my mixed Jewish sistah!!!

      My mom is a Jewish immigrant, my dad an anglo Canadian. I pass for anglo (I am very pale, have red hair, and have my dad’s anglo last name, everyone decides that I am Irish, even though I am not (nor is my dad)), I identify as Jewish, neither side ever wanted me (which can really f a kid up).

      It has been a huge and difficult struggle for me. Passing has always felt like a curse, because I have always wanted to belong with the people that I identify with. But then ‘passing’ is all my mom ever wanted for me (as a holocaust survivor).
      I am learning to try to indulge in my family’s own culture, and embrace that, rather than trying to figure out what it means to be Jewish to other people and be that. It is hard, I still have that nagging question “what does it mean, and am i it?”
      Long distance hugs! It’s nice to know that there are more of ‘me’ out there (other than my brother).

      • There are definitely more out there! I’m basically all white, but white Jewish – so not biracial, but I can identify with the complicated Jewishness. Russian Jewish on one side, distantly Danish Jewish on the other. I have an anglo-Jewish last name that only occasionally does the outing for me. And I identify as semi-chosen (hah) because neither of my parents are religious and only one set of grandparents is. I am definitely not religious, but I feel like Judaism is part of my heritage and I like it a lot; my mom doesn’t get it at all. “Why do you care, you’re not Jewish? It’s not your tradition.” But, like, it IS a little my tradition; I always loved celebrating Jewish holidays with my grandparents. And while I’ll probably never be religious, why am I not allowed to incorporate some of the Jewish holiday traditions into my life? My family celebrates Christmas and Easter and we’re not Christian, so why can’t I have a menorah and make vegan matzoh brei? I don’t look stereotypically “Jewish,” but does that have to mean I’m totally excluded?

        So maybe I do have a lot of passing privilege. But like Hattie, at least on this topic, I understand this feeling of being outside looking in, and having to out yourself on your “otherness.” I have to do that with being queer, too, since I’m married to a man. Being othered for being biracial sucks I’m sure, and I can’t say “oh poor me this is worse” because I highly doubt it is (I HAVE been othered for race while living abroad, but not systematically and for all my life like people here have been). But having to intentionally other yourself is its own kind of suckiness.

  15. Thank god for this article. I am hugely insecure about being multi-racial. Both my parents are also mixed race, my mom white passing, my father very much not so. I am somewhere in-between, appearance-wise, making “What are you?” a common question I grew up with, like my race was supposed to define me. I didn’t fit into a clear box, and that seemed to make people uncomfortable.

    I’ve grown very uncomfortable with the binary nature of race, and at the same time, very uncomfortable with not fitting into that binary. I don’t “pass” as white really, but I don’t exactly read as definitely a POC either and as such I have always felt rather out of place. I want to fit in to a box, but at the same time, I’m mad that there is pressure for me to fit into a box like this at all, because I shouldn’t have to. It’s complicated I suppose. I don’t know.

    • Much love to you, Amber! I hope that you can transform that huge insecurity into powerful self-love, unstoppable self-empowerment, and critical understanding of your ability to change the conversation within yourself, in a positive way. I for one feel it’s very important especially for mixed race people to challenge the racial binary (in the same way gender nonconforming people are challenging the gender binary) and to resist the pressure to ‘fit into a box.’ You create the box for yourself, and surround yourself with people who honor that box. And for those who do not, you choose how to deal with them. Remember there are so many of us out here with you!

  16. Thank you so much for opening up the discussion about something that is often ignored. As a white, Latina, feminine, bisexual, I experience invisibility everyday. I’ve been told I don’t act Latina enough or queer enough (what does that even mean?). I also wondered, like Laura, what POC actually means. Does the term include anyone who is a minority even if they’re not “of color?” Can I call myself this if culturally I identify as Latina but externally I am perceived as white and thus partake in the privilege that comes with this? Then again, is wanting visibility in regards to our identities, a way of needing validation from others? Shouldn’t it be enough to be confident in ourselves and who we are? I don’t think there are any easy answers. I do sometimes enjoy defying people’s expectations of what a “type” of person is supposed to look like or act like. I think it challenges their narrow-minded views and hopefully forces them to learn from the experience and not judge anyone based on their appearance.

    • I can’t relate to the multiple-origins background, but I can so relate to the “not queer enough” thing.

      I have had all sorts of people, from simple acquaintances to very close friends, tell me that “they just don’t see me” as queer. I’ve been dating the same person for the past 6 years, and he happens to be male, so anyone who’s come into my life in the past 6 years has only ever known me as “straight”. I can’t blame them for seeing me that way, however their reaction to my queerness is rarely that of “Oh I didn’t know.” but more of a “Well, that sounds super off.”

      Sometimes, it even feels like they are telling me to “quit it”?!

      “I totally don’t see it. I mean don’t take it personnal, I’m sure you know yourself better than I do, but I mean… You know, sometimes, you can totally tell how someone is gay from instinct? Or from their looks? You really don’t have that. Why is it necessary for you to insist on this queer thing?”


  17. It’s so lovely to see all these people who have had similar experiences to me, because I know I’m not alone… but at the same time, I’m sorry y’all had to experience this because it’s really frustrating. My mother is white, American, and Christian; my father is mixed race, Mexican-American, and Jewish. I’m not sure what all that makes me, other than a confusion to people trying to reconcile my very “ethnic” name with my pale skin and unaccented English.

    Two days ago I was excitedly telling a friend that I got the summer job I wanted at the Smithsonian Latino Center, and she asked me “I know you’re Latina, but how much do you identify that way? I mean, I don’t really see it at school…”

    How do you even answer something like that?

  18. It says so much about our cultures when we speak of mixed-race. We don’t speak of mixed-height, or mixed IQ, or, or…
    We are all unique mixed wonders – love to all of you!

    • I think maybe you don’t realize how much your white privilege is showing and how completely you missed the whole point of this article and all the comments and race in society etc etc etc.

      • Woya, maybe Snaelle is referring to who we can be besides the sum of our parts. That is how I took it.
        Yes, her comment is in contrast to the conversation, but so what? It was an inclusive comment.

        Anyone of any racial background could have made her comment, and she may have made the comment from a perspective of viewing people as whole in and of themselves, rather than the focus of the conversation, which is an exploration of the parts of mixed race, and inclusion. What she said was inclusive. What you are doing is exclusive. Neither is right or wrong. Privelege ,inclusion and exclusion goes both ways.

        • It came off to me heavily of “color blindness,” which is a very white, silencing sort of view.
          If it was meant differently, than I believe it should’ve been phrased differently.
          But you really cannot compare height/intelligence to race. That’s just straight up ignorant.

        • Woya said

          “It came off to me heavily of “color blindness,” which is a very white, silencing sort of view.

          I agree. But I wonder what her intent is.

          If it was meant differently, than I believe it should’ve been phrased differently.

          I agree. What she meant to say could have been qualified a bit more.

          But you really cannot compare height/intelligence to race. That’s just straight up ignorant.

          Amen. That is dumb.

          The only reason I question Snaelle’s intent behind her comment is that I believe she is being inclusive, but I hope that she isn’t being disrespectful of the conversation. This is a conversation about being mixed race, and to deny that the mixed race reality exists alongside every other reality is condescending and ignorant.

          If she is coming to this discussion from a spiritual point of view which I suspect she may be, (she may not be, either) then I take her words as being inclusive. It is still dumb to deny anyone’s existence and reality, and she could have communicated it better like you said, too.

        • I only just discovered that I can see replies easily…so here is my extremely late clarification.
          I’m very sorry that my comment didn’t come out the way I intended, I obviously phrased it very badly. I meant that our language having terms, words for certain realities/ experiences/things but not others, is a clear demonstration that our society has prejudices.
          I’m hoping that makes more sense? I certainly did not wish to say that these conversations should not be happening – they very obviously are necessary and important and will continue to be so whilst privilege and oppression exist – I am very grateful for these discussions.
          Thank you both for your responses***

  19. I get inordinately happy every time I run into a conversation about race that acknowledges the existence of mixed-raced people and their experiences. ^.^

    I’m an ambiguously-brown-looking person with multiple non-white backgrounds who speaks 3 languages that have absolutely nothing to do with said backgrounds, so even though I don’t experience the passing issue, I get a lot of the ‘we have no idea what to label you as and it’s making us uncomfortable, please choose a maximum of two non-white identities, make a pie chart of your ethnic make-up, or tell us what you’re most of so we can at least assign you a most-relevant-continent box and the appropriate stereotypes and expectations, kthxbai’ hints.

    Here’s the important question though – in what gang would we get to hang out with in OITNB??

    • On the one hand, I’m actually excited I sorta got a canon answer to this question. On the other hand, omg, she’s Soso annoying.

  20. Thiiiiiiiiis.
    I’ve found that white people are for more likely to ignore my multiracialness than POCs. Everything’s black and white (no pun intended…maybe) in the eyes of white people.
    I’ve definitely struggled with finding my place. I go back and forth about how I feel about myself and how I characterize myself. I think it’s particularly difficult to navigate life as a fair-skinned mixed Native person, because everyone lumps you in with THOSE black (“I have high cheekbones because I’m part Blackfoot”) and white people (“Um, I’m not ‘white’, I’m German, Scotch-Irish, French, and Choctaw”) based on family legends or facial features they think that Native people have. So when I call someone out on their racism/ignorance on Native issues, they don’t take me seriously or tell me that they don’t find it offensive and they’re part Indian. So that’s fun.
    Claiming my Mexicanness is soooo much more straightforward.
    My person is mixed (Vietnamese/white) and it’s great to have someone to have these conversations with. She’s much more readable as “other” and her mother is an immigrant so our experiences are very different, but there are still so many similarities. I’m really interested to see how our children will identify and how they’ll navigate life.

    • Oh, also, whether or not to refer to myself as a person of color is SUCH A STRUGGLE. Basically it ends up playing out for me as, I don’t really call myself that when amongst non-passing people of color, but I do among white people. Same for talking about racial issues. I’ll step back for non-passing people of color, but I will speak over white people every day of the week.

      • Feel free to speak over us in these issues since it’s obviously not our area of expertise, but please know (and I’m sure you were just generalizing) that not all white people see race as a binomial system with only two choices. I certainly don’t speak for everybody, but I don’t see it that way.

    • Thank you for this, Woya! I have a very similar background to yours, and I am a Vietnamese Buddhist, so I’m sending you positivity and love.

  21. THIS. This captures my experience as a biracial person so, so well. You’ve both put into words all these feelings that I have trouble explaining.

  22. I wish I could reply to you both in person. My friend shared this with me and I was pretty much yelling every now and then and sending her quotes that stood out to me because they are me. I just I don’t know I want to respond to them because I relate to them sooooo much it hurts

    “I am simultaneously my mother’s child and my father’s biological heir, and balancing the two can feel impossible.”
    i only know one side of my family, the mixed Mexican side but have been told i’m white over and over but have never understood how i can be that singular identity or how i am supposed to play that role. it’s taken so much psychological work to accept that i am mixed and that my story matters.

    “When I head home from the metro, do folks think of me as the gentrifying force or the resistance? ”
    omgggggggg i am always aware of how people see me when i’m home where i grew up for 20 years. and now that i’m in college and don’t come home that often i begin to actually feel that i am who people probably assume me to be

    “Passing privilege is a huge step up from blatant racism, of course, but it’s still half a step down from that thing that white people get: freedom not to think about or engage with race at all, unless they decide they want to.”
    yesssssssss and i always stop from pointing this out because the white privilege i have in being capable of passing always buries me in guilt and it fucking hurts and builds up but race and racial perceptions always come to my mind

    I also identify as queer and there’s parallels with that identity and being mixed where I’m unsure if I should just make ten shirts that lay out my identities because I do not want to pass, I can’t take it anymore, I don’t want to have identities painted on me where I can see in people’s expressions how they are categorizing me.

    But yes, thank you so much for your stories and putting this out there. I have slowly exposed myself to more mixed writing and mixed spaces but this post hit closest to home.

  23. This is a beautiful piece :)
    As a super-white-assed girl, I do admit I’m often tempted to ask people with darker skin or very blond hair “what cool genes is it you have?”

    It usually comes from the fact that I find people beautiful. Once, I couldn’t help but ask a very friendly asian salesperson with super dark skin where she “was from”. She said she was born in Laos… but I immediately realised she might as well have been born here in Canada, in which case I’d have felt like an absolute idiot even asking. Nowadays, if I’m curious about someone’s origins, I usually ask : “I think you’re pretty, can I ask you what kind of ancestry you have?”

    I figure it is way more polite, but then again I may just be more polite, yet still part of the problem!

    If anyone can enlighten me about this, I would be grateful. I love running into people with different origins, and I love talking about culture and traditions, but I would definitely prefer to avoid pressing someone’s wrong buttons. I don’t want to sound like I’m just curious about their “wonderful exotic side” either. It’s just that some of my favourite conversations often involve people telling me about their traveling experiences, or living abroad.

    I’m pretty sure that everyone reacts differently to being questionned about their heritage, but I’d like some opinions.


    • Do. Not. Ask.

      If it’s relevant to a conversation you’re already having with that person, you’ll find out.

      • Okay I have 8 opinions right here that are very clear, thank you!

        I was genuinely interested in an answer, hence my question above, and even though it was obvious at the time of posting that the very question had a high ridiculous potential, it is not easy to just google stuff like “should I ask POC what their ancestry is as a way to get to know them better” and expect to find exhaustive, valuable, enlightening replies.

        I usually do my research in my corner, but some stuff just has to come from people wether they tell you in a pleasant fashion or not. So thanks. Live and learn.

  24. I’m really excited by how many other biracial bisexual/queer ladies have commented. I really felt like I was the only one. My parents also follow different religions so feeling like I am lacking community and support has been a staple of my life.

    It’s a weird thing to say that I’m happy that there are people who understand how invisible I’ve felt, because I wish we could all feel like we belonged somewhere. But I’m really glad that we can all feel like we belong here.

  25. Hi first time comment- thank you for writing this article! This sort of discussion is very rarely conducted off-line, since where I live being mixed-race is some what rare.
    I saw a few comments by “white-passing” people, being accused of appropriating their own cultures. As a half-Japanese (femme?) in the engineering industry I am acutely aware of this feeling. So I thought I’d leave my 2 cents worth.
    What I find the most frustrating is when people see me as a friendly outlet for their appropriation. I have quite a few acquaintances who will speak to me in Broken japanese, talk about sushi, and ask me about anime non-stop every time I see them. I am made to feel more like an ambassador than an individual. Has anyone had these sort of interactions as well?
    On the other hand I have a distinct and empty feeling of other-ness as people on this forum have described. In the Japanese community, I will always get the double glance and the forks at restaurants.
    For me navigating my birracial identity has been more difficult than navigating my queerness. They are interlinked and complex, and I think creating a space like this is a great way explore our own identities.

  26. Thankyou Carmen and Laura. This is such a great discussion and I look forward to listening and learning a lot.

  27. I’m glad that other Jewish people commented here – I’m never sure how we fit in conversations of race, POC, and whiteness. I have a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. My mother grew up not seeing herself as white, because her family (Eastern European Jews newly immigrated to the US) was never treated as white and so they did not consider themselves to be. “Passing” as white was so important to avoid discrimination and prejudice that my mother was one of many Jewish girls to get rhinoplasty when she was young to not have an “ethnic” nose. I was raised to identify as Jewish ethnically, and not white. When I was young I remember telling people I wasn’t white and being laughed at, basically. Eventually I gave up the idea that I could be anything but white – I absolutely look completely white and without a doubt have white privilege.

    I feel like any time this comes up somewhere, there’s always someone who says that (Ashkenazi) Jews are white, end of discussion. I don’t want to intrude in POC spaces if I don’t belong, but I feel like the answer isn’t that simple.

    • I completely sympathize with the idea that you don’t want to intrude, but the answer isn’t that simple. I think the beginnings of a more complicated answer are over here:

      I easily identify with the way this conversation brings up memories of getting hurt on the sharp edges of whiteness and awareness of passing.If these and the questions that come with are important enough, they deserve their own space where they won’t interrupt others’ safe spaces.

      • Woooops – I wish I could take my previous comment back. I got conversations mixed up, so it is irrelevant. But thank you for sharing, and I still totally sympathize with “don’t want to intrude . . . but the answer isn’t that simple.” So I’m glad we have this conversation going.

    • I think it would be very inappropriate for white Jews to be in PoC spaces. While anti-Semitism is a thing and certainly Jews have historically experienced crazy amounts of discrimination, I don’t believe that their current experience is the same as the experiences of people of color or should be included within the same conversations.
      Rashida Jones and her sister, Kidada, have spoken quite a bit about being of color within Jewish spaces and how that impacted them, as have Drake, Lisa Bonet, and Lenny Kravitz. Those experiences seem to back up my feelings on the subject.

  28. Thank you a thousand times for this article, and for all of the comments posted below. I was just having a conversation with a new friend about this issue. Particularly, being a mixed race person, not consciously raised as a person of color, both of my parents being mixed race and their parents before them, and wondering where I fit under the very vague ‘People of Color’ umbrella. I would love to see or create an opportunity for community building, positive change, dialogue, and support for mixed race queer self-identifying women. I have been yearning for this. Thank you again!

  29. I nearly cried, to be perfectly honest. I am half german, a little over a third native american, and I have a bit of norwegian in me as well. Needless to say, my “coloredness” is overpowered and I’m mainly seen as white, having pale and easily sunburned skin.

    When I try to speak about my background in toxic places like tumblr, I’m imediately attacked and laughed at. I’m called “whitey”. I’m told to hang myself for “cultural appropriation”. I’m told that my skin makes me gross and ugly. I get people asking me to PROVE that I’m multiracial. It’s terrifying to me sometimes that I’m told that my queerness is a saving grace, like looking like my family somehow makes me a monster.

    These Voldemorts of the world are just as terrible as their white counterparts. No one should have to prove their lineage just to speak. No one skin color should make you more of a civilised human being than another. None of us are dogs, and forcing us to carry around a validating pedigree is gross and demeaning.

  30. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels a little out of place being mixed race. I’m half Vietnamese and the other half a mix of various European blood (America: the melting pot of culture).
    Like you said, I was always perturbed by the constant comments on how white I am compared to everyone else when with Asians, and how different my skin is compared to everyone else when I’m with white people. It makes me feel uncomfortable partly because just because of how I look, people start to assume things.
    Things like I don’t know anything about Vietnamese culture, even though I’ve lived in it my entire life. Even though I’ve lived in Vietnam.
    I am more Asian looking than my brother who looks pretty much like your average white kid. I wonder how he feels about being mixed, since he was discriminated against in Vietnam when I wasn’t there (some people assumed he was French, and without me there to give him any visual link to our Vietnamese heritage… Troublesome things happened.)
    While in school, people accused me of “cultural appropriation” for simply being who I was. For being one of my halves that I LOVE. (Personally I think cultural appropriation is entitled bullshit. It isnt as prevalent as some of these people think and are getting mad about.)
    It makes me feel extremely sad that my peers would deny me my heritage under this premise. Deny me something I grew up in because of their backwards racism.
    They say, “You’re not Asian.”
    I never claimed I was (other people say that I am when I talk about my Vietnamese side).
    But I’ve come to think, I noticed, that I am Asian, and there isn’t anybody who can tell me I’m not.
    Nobody can tell me I’m not white either. I’m both.
    I know the entirety of being both.
    I know the stereotypes on both sides, whether coming from the Vietnamese or my light skinned classmates.
    In my experience, the white kids have always been the least understanding.
    With my Vietnamese friends the first time we meet, they say, oh are you Vietnamese? And their parents may comment on my skin, spouting how I must look like my mother (I look like neither, but since they are divorced, everyone on both sides assume I look like the other parent XD) But then that’s the end of it. Well, sometimes when we go out for dinner they ask if I’d tried one food or another that is commonly eaten and I just laugh because I know that’s really their way of making me eat more.
    But other kids ask questions (that’s cool, I like that people are interested). They doubt me (I don’t have “squinty eyes”. Umm.. That’s more Korean.)
    Then they deny me my background in their eyes.
    This is infuriating. It’s also almost always the “most politically correct” bunch.

    Point is, being mixed is part of my identity. Both cultures are part of my identity, and after a while I’ve come to except it.
    I own it. And while we’re gonna have to deal with a bunch of bigots not understanding that, I feel so lucky when that I came from both sides.
    Sorry for the long comment. Sometimes I feel particularly alone in my experience, so it feels good to share.

  31. How do I always miss the good stuff around here.

    I’m sort of glad though, because it means I got to read this one year later. One year later, and not only did A-Camp have a speakeasy POC panel, but a POC dance party AND a mixed-race panel! A great mixed-race panel! With a bunch of people who all felt this and understood!

    Personally, my problem is I feel other basically everywhere, 24/7. I pass as white but I’m part Native Hawaiian and Chinese and grew up in Hawaii, so I don’t really fit on the mainland. I’m able to tan just enough and never have my eyes open wide enough for photographs to stick out there, but not be dark enough to fit in at home. I’m not a target for explicit violent racism which is great, but when home dismisses you as a tourist/interloper and gives you side eye for trying to casually throw down your race credentials and trying to belong, well. That doesn’t feel great either.

  32. My fiancé (Indian but raised in America) and I (white) are planning to have kids and I’m on here to read about what my kids might be going through someday, as well as just to learn more in general about the experiences of people of mixed race.

    My question to anyone willing to answer is this: What did your parents do well in raising you, as it relates to your mixed heritage? Is there anything you wish they’d done differently?

    I know even if you have the best parents in the world you can’t stop the outside world from being what it is but I thought I might gain a little insight so I can understand and support them better.

    Thank you.

  33. Thank you for writing this!!! I so so feel this too. Because I’m half-white, I’m constantly aware of my passing privilege and feel the need to check my privilege in discussions about race with POC and feel like ‘I don’t really have anything to complain about’. Also I’m never sure if I fit in the category of POC as I’ve always just seen myself as me, or in forms as ‘Mixed – Other’. Also it’s other people’s questions makes me not really feel like I fit either side of my parent’s backgrounds properly and YES passing does make you feel misunderstood sometimes, like you have to explain yourself and background to lend credence to your opinion!! It’s quite tiring sometimes. It’s really refreshing to hear other mixed race people echoe these same thoughts and feelings I have and I hope we can start a different, more nuanced discussion of race.

  34. This is a very old article, but I stumbled upon in my late night thinking. I’m 1/4 Nigerian and the rest is a vague mixture of white and native. My mother, who is 1/2 black, has pretty much been perceived as black and just black for her whole life. This is, of course, as far as I can tell. A lot of people are half black and still are seen as completely black for the most part. Like Obama. Or Zendaya. Their mixed race identity is nearly completely erased just by people’s perception. Being 1/4 black, my experience has been different. I’m always aware that I am other, and I’m pretty certain people usually pick that up too. When I was younger, I lived on a reservation. In school, I was teased and taunted for being white. The interesting part of that was that the girl who was taunting me was as white as I was, her being a quarter native. She just saw me as separate than her and she wanted to make that known. That same year, my step brother, who is white, introduced me to his friend as his sister. The kid’s response was “She can’t be your sister. She’s black.” since then, I’ve been troubled by my identity. I’d like to say I identify as mixed, but that’d be ignoring the constant want to fit in with one group. I’ve found that seeking advice from other poc isn’t very helpful. They aren’t mixed, and they don’t share my experience. I, frankly, hardly know how to feel. I don’t openly (other otherwise) identify as white, and I know if I did, people wouldn’t believe that (from experience.) But I still feel like I’m out of place when I talk about racism. Unrelated to that, but some times I feel like I’m appropriating my own culture. The culture I was pretty much solely raised in, with having a single mother. I feel like I’m just a misguided white kid who is pretending to be black. But no one I know sees me as white. It’s an internal conflict.

  35. Thank you so much for this great article! Your wording is concise and understandable, yet so profound to me. I’m half white and “half Cuban”, which I put in quotes because Cuban isn’t a race, but it’s an easier descriptor. My dad is a Cuban immigrant to the US, and his ancestry is a mixture of African, Spanish, and Chinese.
    As a little kid, I always thought of myself as white. Later on, when I became more attuned to racial tensions and identity, I realized that it wasn’t that simple. I think it’s pretty interesting to hear how everyone describes themselves in terms of race and ethnicity. My brother calls himself a “white Hispanic”, but I just call myself “mixed race.”

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