“What are you?”
“But where are you really from?”
“Why can’t you speak tons of languages?”
“Can I touch your hair?”
“You’re so exotic.”
“If you’re from *insert country* why are you white?”
If any — or all — of these questions tend to dominate your daily social interactions with people, you may be amongst the lucky three percent of the University of Wisconsin student body classified under the term biracial.*
But what does it really mean to be biracial? It’s important to recognize there are two different ways to interpret this unique race.
1. By DNA, you are somebody with biological parents who belong to two distinct races.
2. You are somebody who socially and culturally identifies themselves with two (or more) distinct races. These two forms of identification may or may not be mutually exclusive, depending on your personal experience and upbringing. For example, although you may be both black and white by DNA, you may socially identify yourself as primarily black.
Students explore concept of identity in intersectionality workshopUniversity of Wisconsin students, faculty and community members explored the definition of intersectionality at a workshop in the Multicultural Center Read…
You’ve heard the terms — blasian, light skin, wasian, half-baked, chex mix, chocolate-vanilla swirl — the list of nicknames given to the biracial community is endless. When taken light-heartedly, congrats, you are indeed exceptionally witty and creative to come up with these labels.
Unfortunately, our personal struggles with social and racial identity are often overshadowed by what society perceives as our so-called cool “exotic-ness.”
Although the population of multiracial Americans is rapidly multiplying and becoming more accepted in current American society (especially on the West Coast), we are still seen as minorities in the Midwest. The majority of students at UW have most likely not experienced personal difficulty with racial identity in their lives. And for incoming freshman who grew up in homogenous communities, this concept may be completely strange and unthought of.
In a community that lacks diversity and is relatively segregated by race, social circles may seem to have impermeable borders. Biracial students, on the other hand, pretty much have an inborn”passport” or “all-access pass” to each of their relative racial groups. Looking in from the outside, this may seem like an advantage. However, this quality compounds our struggle for social acceptance and inclusion.
A student of two or more races may constantly be stuck in a racial dilemma. Am I white? Am I asian? Technically we can fit into both categories, but we will never truly fit in because we aren’t fully either.
Naturally, as a biracial U.S. dual citizen who has been raised equally by two distinct social and cultural practices, I find myself especially curious and passionate about multiculturalism and diversity. I tend to emphasize strongly with other races and consider myself socially nomadic — constantly weaving through different social groups. And due to my personal struggle with balancing two distinct racial identities, I feel the need to congregate the racial segregation amongst my social orbit.
Social activist discusses intersection of black millennial identity, black churchSocial activist Rahiel Tesfamariam gave an impassioned speech at University of Wisconsin Thursday asking black Christian churches to reimagine the Read…
So how does the lack of diversity at UW affect biracial students?
At UW, the Our Wisconsin workshop was developed to improve campus climate, by dissolving any social barriers regarding student background and identity; to gradually hone a community where all students feel safe, included and welcomed. During the workshop, a particular conversation that stood out to me was the “joker” concept. In a deck of cards, the joker may be considered a metaphor for the outlier, the alien or the undefined. The joker is a chameleon — it can simultaneously fit in everywhere and nowhere.
As somebody who identifies herself as both a minority (Asian) and majority (white) race in America, it becomes difficult to adjust to a majority white and segregated campus. While it would be easy to adapt to and associate myself with the majority, doing so would feel like a disservice to my Asian heritage. The distinct and relatively impermeable social groups on campus make it difficult to balance my two identities, which before I considered as one entity.
Biracialism, altogether, is not just about personal heritage and experience -it is about the coexistence of different cultures, ideas, values and practices. And I truly believe this outlook has the potential to become a driving asset for monumental change on our campus climate.
Ayaka Thorson ([email protected]) is a freshman who is currently undecided.
*Writer’s note: biracial and multiracial are considered synonymous in this article.