Mixed People, You Deserve to Take Up Space

Yesterday, the 2020 Census redistricting data was released, along with demographic data about the nation. The share of the population that was “two or more races” grew faster than any other group.

The share of the nation that identified as “two or more races” or “multiracial” was 9 million people in 2010 and is now 33.8 million!

This is a 276% increase, and comes despite the fact that some groups such as Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) are still categorized as White by the Census, meaning even more people could be considered multicultural at least. The increase is due to genuine population growth but also a change in census methodology. To me, both are good — mixed people are more populous and more visible.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

When I was growing up, I felt both hyper-visible and invisible. I felt like I had no face — and you can imagine that if someone really walked around without a face, tons of people would stare at them. Except I did have a face, some invisible face no one could see.

That’s what it was like. I had facelessness.

People would stare at me a lot — even in the US, depending on where I was. It felt like I couldn’t have a normal conversation after meeting a new person until I addressed the “what are you” question, whether someone asked directly or because it felt like it was percolating behind their eyes. Sometimes people would react with utter incredulity, as though they could not believe all human beings are actually part of the same species and capable of reproduction, and wanted to know how my parents met and all the details of my early childhood and would ask very inappropriate questions, like “are your parents still together?” I have responded that I am literally ‘other’ to demographic questions on forms. I cannot overstate how alone and frustrated I felt as a child and adolescent. Because of course, most mixed people have mono-racial parents and relatives. You have to figure out this one part of your life entirely on your own.

Now, people keep telling me that I look like “that tennis player” (Naomi Osaka). I’ll take it. After all, Naomi is a pretty cool person to be compared to, I guess, and I feel relieved people at least understand the concept of being mixed now. It actually feels good to at least be recognized, for people to not be surprised by my existence. And even when they still are, I’ve worked through my identity issues enough to be able to laugh things off and joke about it.

It feels like recently, mixed and multi-ethnic people have gained more visibility in the broader culture. An episode of the Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, about a woman who emerges to the surface after living underground for years, has the line “Yeah, it’s real popular now, like taking pictures of your food or being biracial.” I too feel like suddenly I woke up one morning to scroll through gorgeous ambiguous-looking models on Instagram. I also discovered that wider hips and larger butts became more mainstream attractive, when I used wear long flowy shirts to hide the features I thought made me ‘fat and ugly’. I have to admit that these changes may have eased my journey to self-acceptance somewhat, but at the same time I felt whiplash. The “trend” nature of it all felt manufactured, insincere. Even if they had slightly curvier lower bodies, thin, partially white mixed people seemed far more represented than people like me, not thin and not at all white. Mixed people are by definition diverse, whereas other monoracial or monoethnic groups are by definition homogenous. Perhaps little else binds mixed people together except traumatic experiences, whereas other groups have rich cultures and histories. It is difficult to find mixed history, in part because it quickly dissolves. Humans are of course constantly mixing, but it often was two or more groups mixing enough to be indistinguishable from each other, and then their members merging into one new singular category, the way that English has both Latin and Germanic roots.

In the modern world, there are many mixed people from groups that will never merge, because inventions like planes and globalization have meant that more people are living and working in regions very far from where they were born than ever before.

Part of the suffering I experienced as an adolescent, the feeling of facelessness, was a lot about feeling like I did not have any language to describe what was happening to me. Rather than wait for an academic to coin some terms, I decided to name my conditions myself, in an essay called “Mixed People, You Matter”. Now that it feels like the world (or at least America, and the world via American media) is finally facing the reality of mixed people of all kinds, it also feels like there is still resistance to our existence, our presence. A lot of the experience I’ve described have felt like the “minor feelings” that Cathy Park Hong talks about in her book of the same name. Since Hong describes the condition of being Asian American much like being invisible, mixedness feels something like that too. It’s a similar pattern of rejection by both (or multiple) groups that you belong to. The “we” and “our” I use when I talk about myself as part of a group of mixed people feels similarly tenuous and uncertain as the “we” of Asian Americans.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CR4Y20WjYoA/

What I’m trying to say with all these words is that I am still figuring this out. I have had to teach myself how to move through the world as an Ethiopian and Chinese woman. No one has ever been there to show me how to do it. And I am certain many other mixed people feel the same way. We are still figuring it out, as the world is figuring out how to respond. We are changing — becoming literally greater in numbers, more represented, and weirdly, simply older. The modern conditions that facilitate more people from vastly different parts of the globe reproducing have now existed longer.

What I have noticed, and what brought me here today to write this, is that we need space to figure this out. I have worked through a lot already, but a revelation I had recently was both disturbing and somewhat inspiring: the fact that I had so few examples of middle-aged and elderly mixed people, most especially non-white or less culturally American. I really did not know what that looked like. I will figure out how to be something that I feel like does not exist, or at least has very low visibility. I will become that person, a visible mixed parent or mixed octogenarian.

We need time, space, kindness, nuance — the last two being in particularly short supply on the internet. Mixed people, you deserve to have a space for yourself. A space where you can escape the oppression you face. A space where you don’t have to prove yourself to people suspicious that you are a trojan horse for self-hatred, colorism, or white supremacy. We can acknowledge that there are good, or at least understandable, reasons that some oppressed monoracial groups might be suspicious of mixed people. And we can also acknowledge that this is not helpful to the self actualization of mixed people. And we can acknowledge that being called an outsider, when you feel you have grown up inside, is traumatic. And what I am saying is that the solution is not an argument that takes the form of 30 Twitter replies, but rather, simply, for mixed people to take up a space of their own. That is something that we are constantly lacking.

For me, my mixed spaces are chiefly online, communities like “Subtle Mixed Traits” on Facebook and “Subtle Mixed Black People Traits”, a subgroup. The groups have silly internet names that make it difficult for me to express the importance that they have in my life. Pre-pandemic, I even held in-person meetups from this group. Though it was still mostly online, private, non-anonymous groups have a unique ability to start to develop inside jokes and subcultures, things that make it feel a bit more substantive, like an actual community. It felt like we even had some cultural holidays — the anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision, for example. It was incredibly healing to be able to talk about issues I faced as a mixed person, without judgement or suspicion or invalidation, with understanding instead of confusion. It might be true that the only thing that holds mixed people together are traumatic experiences — but there is pretty much no one else in the world that I could have processed them with. The ability to joke about it, too — and for once, have mixedness, rather than other cultural knowledge, tied to getting the joke — was a unique experience. Being active in these groups was an important step forward in my self image and self actualization.

Yes, they are still ‘just’ Facebook groups, and perhaps there is something missing compared to belonging to an IRL community. I tried to create that to an extent with the in-person meetups, but also, I have literally nothing else, no other options. I have yet to find other spaces in which I can be mixed, and talk about the huge ways that trait affects my life. Honestly, I am not sure I would have been able to process all my racialized trauma positively even with a therapist. After a while of being active in these Facebook groups, it felt like I could finally move on with my life. I could face people with the conviction that I was a valuable human being, that like everyone I had an important cultural history but it didn’t have to entirely define me. I can see the things that used to bother me for what they are — ignorance, curiosity, close-mindedness, fear, and sometimes genuine racism. But I can’t control other people; I can only control myself, and know myself — and just store a ridiculous incident to report to my community later, where we might laugh about it. I don’t mean that laughing about these things, some of which are genuine microaggressions or just plain aggressions, is necessarily “right”, but I do know that it helps me, in my individual life, to cope.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CMKozlEAcfJ/

I understand that these specific Facebook groups probably don’t work for everyone, but I know there’s likely other online communities, and I’m incredibly encouraged by what I saw starting to happen offline, too, at least pre-pandemic. There started to be mixed students groups formed at universities, including my alma mater. There were some mixed publications started, like Mixed Asian Media and The Blasian Project. The fact that there was representation for specific subgroups was important too. It allowed people to delve even deeper into whatever they faced.

Perhaps this blog post is entirely unnecessary because mixed people now already know how to find their own spaces, and how to take up space. But just in case, I wanted to repeat this message. Mixed people, you matter. You do not need to collapse yourself into some kind of Schroedinger’s racial category. You deserve spaces of your own. You deserve to take up space, as your full self.

I’m sure we will continue to occupy more and more of it.

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MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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Selam G.

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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