By Asia Chance
I remember being told as a child to hold my identity close because the world would try to take it from me. I remember being a child and finding that claim ridiculous. But as I write this article, I remember that statement and realize my family had been right. I am a multiracial and multiethnic child – both of my parents are black and mixed. Their predominant race is black regardless of their other halves; as for me, I pass for black very well even with my other identities thrown in the mix.
Growing up, I remember thinking that because only one of my identities showed that the other did not matter. This tormented me as a child because I felt selfish for holding onto my own heritages at the same time foolish for trying to balance everything. I was a child. When I looked to my parents as they raised me, I realized they had just as much of a clue as I had. My parents barely knew how to handle being black and mixed themselves, my mother downplayed her South Asian heritage and my father rarely seemed to tell others about his German heritage outside of close friends and family. It was also a taboo subject for him, he would close up immediately in public and that sort of silence confused me as a child.
I can clearly recall how in North Carolina while I was growing up, it was frustrating to be both black and mixed. I am of German descent and Cambodian descent. I am of Navajo [a Native American tribe of the Southwest region] descent. I am also black. These identities all make up my identity but growing up as a multiracial and multiethnic child was hard. My identity was picked apart by nearly everyone I met, whether intentionally or not, cruelly or with honest-to-God innocent intentions. I have been told I was pretty “because I was mixed” or that I could not possibly be “all of those identities at once.”
I have heard various comments about my identity, usually from White friends who had probably meant well and from friends in the Black community who thought I was using my other identities as a reason to call myself “special” and appeal to my White friends. Growing up in North Carolina as a multiracial child was frustrating. I was also trapped in trying to find my niche in society or among friends. It was not easy.
My White friends found me “exotic” and asked nonsensical (and racist) questions. Did my mother eat with chopsticks if she was really Asian? (No, she doesn’t.) Why don’t I look Asian? (There are many Asian identities, sorry that I don’t look like a stereotypical Asian.) Why don’t my eyes cross if I was really Asian? (Genetics is one answer, I just have very big round eyes.) Do I speak Cambodian? (No, I do not. Cambodian is not a real language, you must mean ‘Khmer’ and my fluency is child-level. I do not really practice much.) Why don’t I look German? (The amount of times I have gotten this question is ridiculous and I have since refused to answer it anymore.) Is a Navajo Indian like a Cherokee Indian? (No, they are not. They are entirely different tribes in two different areas with separate histories and distinctions. Also please stop calling us ‘Indians’ – we are not Indians, we are Native Americans.)
But the biggest stab at my identity came from the Black community. Now, at face-value, I pass for black. While some of my features can be attributed to my mixed bloodline, my skin color is dark. And in the Black community, as I found out while growing up, by calling myself mixed – some people felt as though I was rejecting my Black identity. I was told time and time again that I was to put being Black first and my other identities in backseat. I was told I was a liar and just trying to make myself seem better than other Black people. I was told I was ashamed to be Black.
In no way, shape or form, have I ever denied my Black identity. It is simply my predominant racial identity. By calling myself mixed, I do not drop my Black identity. Hence my title as a Black and mixed individual. I have never rejected any of my identities. I fully embrace all of my identities. I refuse to drop one identity or sacrifice any of them in order to “fully embrace” another. How could I fully embrace my identities by rejecting one of them? That defeats the purpose.
I never rejected my Black identity by being or admitting to being mixed. My mixed identity is a big part of my whole identity. I love my Black identity. I love my Asian identity. I love my Native American identity. I love my German identity. I do not reject my labels. I do not erase those labels. I fully embrace them. I hold every label with pride and confidence. Lastly, I will defend every part of my identity because I am defending myself.
Moral of this story: Respect each and every identity, whether it is mixed or not. Do not assume a person’s identity just because of their predominant race. Assumptions made off of face-value are shallow and not meant to entirely tell anyone’s story.