Self Identifying as Biracial with American-colored Glasses

If you're mixed, sometimes other people might not know what you are, racially. They wonder. And the wondering drives them so crazy that the first words they ever speak to you might be, "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" or "Are you mulatto?" The rudeness of the question is proof that their brains are going crazy with curiosity. Humans like to categorize.

Many mixed people try to cut back on the craziness by self identifying as soon as reasonably possible. That isn't always soon enough to prevent the intrusive questions but we do what we can.

However, some biracial people won't self identify for days, weeks, months or ever. A friend recently told me about the teacher of a class she was taking. The class was in the African-American studies program. My friends says the teacher looked Jewish. Some of the Black students were upset that a Jewish woman was teaching them about the Black experience. Half way through the semester, the teacher casually mentioned that she is biracial - Black and White. "Why didn't she say so sooner?" my friend asked. "It was irresponsible."

I wasn't there, so I can't speak to the need for the teacher to have explained her race. Ordinarily, it would be considered odd for a teacher to walk into a class and declare his or her race, creed or sexual preference. In many cases, I know the students would love that. In America, we've got race on the brain. There are times when we don't just want others to identify themselves. We need it.

However, we're a lot less likely to get it from at least one group of biracial folks: foreigners. In other countries, race is not as big a deal as it is here. People care more about religion, economics, heritage, etc. Race is the next level down. A sub-category or a rarity.

For example if you're mixed and from Canada, it might be more important to identify as French-Canadian. The bond of language, location and culture is stronger than color. If you're from Ireland, up until recently, it was much more important to self identify by religion. Being Protestant or Catholic made all the difference in how you were treated and what communities you could be a part of. Think about Bosnia. A few years back, the background of your White parent could have meant life or death. The existence of a Black parent might have meant nothing.

Looking at the global picture without our American-colored glasses helps explain why some biracial folks aren't thinking they need to self identify. At least not from a color perspective.

Losing that color-centric perspective will be part of our journey toward truly being "post-racial." But humans like to categorize. So, if we aren't deciding "you're not like me" based on color, it may be something else - money, weight, politics. For now, I'll keep self identifying when it fits naturally into the conversation, but I'm not buying (or encouraging) a Holocaust-style armband that declares me a "Mixed Chick." You may be curious but life is full of disappointments. You'll get over it. And maybe you'll even learn something along the way.