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  • Nicole Doyley

What ARE You?

What ARE you? Mixed-race people get asked that question more than anyone else.  As humans, we find it unsettling when we can’t immediately categorize someone because categories help us to know how to proceed.


It used to be that mixed people identified as the race they most resembled. Their phenotype, or physical characteristics, determined their identity. If they were Black and white, for example, and had brown skin, they were Black.


This developed because of something established in the 1920’s called the One Drop Rule, that is if you had just one “drop” of Black ancestry, you had to identify as Black, and this racial identity determined your place in the world. Whether you got the job, were allowed in the swimming pool, could move into a neighborhood, could attend a school, or could marry a white person – all of this depended on your race and your race was determined based on sometimes very tiny things like a slight kink in your hair, or that someone in your community told the census takers that your great grandma was Black.


Today, some parents of mixed kids still inadvertently follow the One Drop Rule. If their kids look more Black or Brown than white, they raise them to be Black or Brown because that’s how they will be treated. If they have brown skin, they may be profiled, and their parents wisely want them to be prepared for that.


Yet many mixed-race people, including myself, have rejected The One Drop Rule. We are claiming both parts of our heritage, whether it shows up in our skin or not, and studies show that this is the better way. Mixed kids struggle when they feel like they have to choose one side, because this feels like they’re choosing one parent over another and that is unsettling. It’s healthier for them to say, “I’m Black and white” or “I’m white and Korean” - no matter how they look.


In this way, mixed people are choosing to be leaders; we are deciding our identity rather than allowing the perceptions of others to decide it for us. It takes courage to do this, because there are gatekeepers of every culture and these gatekeepers try to decide who is Black enough or Hispanic enough or white enough or Asian enough to allow in. But mixed people have to have the confidence to fling wide the doors and walk in, to bring ALL of who they are into a space knowing they belong there, to have the attitude, This is part of my identity, whether you can see it in my skin (or language skills, or eye shape) or not.  And for transracially adopted kids it means saying, This is my heritage and my identity whether my parents look like it or not.


If you have mixed kids, or transracially adopted kids, teach them to cultivate this mindset: that they should claim and take pride in every part of their heritage, no matter what you or they look like.









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