I sat down at the doctor’s office and the receptionist handed me a sheet of paper. She needed general information for her files. I started to fill in answers and stopped at this question: “What Race/Ethnicity are you?” I stared at the form.
Which one was I supposed to choose? I didn’t fit into any of these labels. I didn’t identify with my white/caucasian heritage, I identified with my Puerto Rican heritage.
I come from a biracial family; my mother is Puerto Rican and my father is a Caucasian American. Growing up biracial is a lot more complex than people think. Being biracial/multiracial means growing up in two or more different cultures that may or may not conflict. Depending on how one is raised, one might not even know what being biracial/multiracial is. This was my case. But as I grew older, I realized that I had to choose one identity for the sake of not confusing the public.
Because society sees the answers as black or white, never gray.
Biracial identity. I’ve grown up unintentionally blind to this term. It wasn’t until I hit college that other students started identifying me as what they saw, not what I actually was. I was called “white chick,” “Mexican,” and “American” (with undertones implying white American). It was always an argument, others claiming I’m wrong about my own race. That’s when I solidified that I was truly different from my full-blooded peers.
Being biracial or multiracial is such a foggy subject. Because attention is spent more on how to treat different monoracial groups, anyone in the middle is hidden. There are more and more people that are mixed because of the racial diversity in the United States. This is a topic worth learning about because comments are not being carefully made and mixed individuals are getting more confused about what they are.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.6 percent of adults in the United States are multiracial as of July 1, 2016. This number varies because racial identity can be fluid and many people describe what they are differently; they rarely stick to one answer. This is because the way they see themselves can change over the years; even in different situations. There are separate sections labelled Hispanic or Latino and other sections that are labelled, for example, “White alone.” It’s hard to say the actual number of mixed individuals because some may answer based on what they identify with instead of biracial/multiracial.
An article written on The Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy by Astrea Greig, a doctor in psychology, identifies different microaggressions multiracial people run into:
1. Not being allowed to identify as multiracial.
2. Mistaking the identity of a multiracial person and assume them to be monoracial.
3. Completely rejecting the multiracial person’s reality.
4. Looking at their experiences and identities as if they’re abnormal or wrong.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it truly cuts deep for anyone of mixed race. NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast talked about something they called the “Racial Imposter Syndrome,” in which someone with mixed race feels as though they’re “faking” their race. This is only because they identify with one race over the other. NPR had a caller that perfectly described the struggle of being multiracial: she described that being mixed is like “stumbling around in a forest in the dark.”
On one hand, being multiracial/biracial can be beneficial such as almost “switching” personalities. It’s difficult to merge two cultures into one, so personalities may vary depending on which race one person is with.
So how in the world are you supposed to treat someone who is biracial/multiracial?
The answer is to respect the person like you’d respect anyone else.
If we tell you what we identify with, do not argue with us. Have an open mind and realize it isn’t a matter of being right or wrong; it’s about respecting a person’s reality. It just makes it harder, more confusing and more upsetting to a biracial/multiracial person if you argue with how they define themselves; especially because we are already lost and confused.
The United States is doing a better job to accommodate biracial/multiracial people by sometimes providing the option to check more than one box on surveys and or official paperwork. But that is not enough. The public needs to know how to treat individuals of mixed race.
And now back to the question I’m struggling to answer: “What Race/Ethnicity are you?”
I looked at the sheet of paper the receptionist handed me. Just like every biracial/multiracial, I’m being forced to choose what I am based on set categories. Sometimes I put “other” or “prefer not to say” because I’m tired of trying to figure out what I am. Sometimes I check Hispanic/Latino because I identify as Puerto Rican. Sometimes I put White/Caucasian because I was technically born in the States, even though that’s only describing half of me.
I squeezed the pen as I reluctantly circled option A.