Being biracial in today’s society brings a certain amount of responsibility. The society of today expects you to be able to fit neatly into a certain box. But what happens if you can’t? What happens if you find that you can fit into both boxes, but at the same time, neither one?
When that happens, a certain conflict rises within the biracial individual. Imagine a person who has a white mother and a black father, making him half and half. Who is he? What is he? Is he black because his complexion is dark brown, like his father? Is he white because he was raised by mother?Society would naturally want to identify him as ‘black’ because it is easy and simple. And let’s face it, society likes things that are easy and simple.
But sometimes choosing something that is both easy and simple might not be the right thing to do. Imagine that very same person choosing to identify as black because that’s what society says he is. Even though he does not know what that means, never having known his father. Even though he was raised by his white mother and grew up knowing and loving his relatives from that side of the family. So, should he continue to identify as black because of society? Or should he identify as white? Or, should he identify as biracial?
I am bringing up this hypothetical example because I don’t believe that it is right to label someone based on the color of their skin or their appearance. I believe that what a person chooses to identify as is solely his or her responsibility. No one else’s.
And yet, too often, many of us in going about our daily lives will see someone and we automatically cast them as ‘belonging’ to a certain race. Is that right? Is it right to quickly judge someone? And then, once you do, there are a certain amount of misconceptions and stereotypes that arise. Sometimes we focus too much on the outer appearance that we hardly give consideration for what’s on the inside, on the core. And yet, we still choose to label because it is what is easy and simple. But as we know, what is easy and simple is not always right.
As someone who identifies as biracial, this is a matter that is ultimately very close to my heart. Having grown up with two parents, a white American father and a South Korean mother, this issue is something that I have always carried inside me. I have always had this conflict inside me. The constant questions about who I was that were undoubtedly fueled even harder by society wanting to put me in one box.
But, I can be pretty stubborn so I resisted. I refused to let society label me. I refuse to answer strangers’ questions such as ‘where are you from?’ or ‘what are you?’ As far as I’m concerned, I consider those questions incredibly disrespectful and impolite. By asking those questions, they are simply asking me to choose between those two sides. By asking those questions, all they see is my outer appearance and nothing more.
It is certainly interesting that it is only when we start maturing into adults do we start to question who we are and where we fit into society. In the context of the biracial experience, I did not identify myself, or even my parents, as belonging to a particular race. To me, they were just my mother and my father.
But as I entered middle school and then high school, I was forced to question this more heavily, primarily because of what my peers, my teachers and even what strangers have said. Do you know what it feels like to have someone look at you as if you are exotic and strange and different and even unamerican? Do you know what it feels like to have strangers look at you with one of your parents and think that you must be adopted or how could you be their child? Or do you know what it feels like to have your neighbor think that you are a spouse of your opposite sex parent simply because of the differing skin color?
Well, I have and it’s not fun. It’s actually even downright hurtful. The natural human tendency is for us to belong to something, to anything. And when we are told from a young age that we don’t quite belong, it wakens all sorts of issues that are probably better off lying dormant within you.
Because of that, I have had to ask myself questions that your ordinary adolescent or young adult wouldn’t normally ask. I have had to wonder would things be different if my parents were the same race? Yes, things would be different.
But if my parents were the same race, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow up bilingual – English & Korean – and even bicultural. I wouldn’t have grown up eating scrambled eggs and toast and grits for breakfast and then kimchi for lunch and dinner. I would have had a totally different perspective on life. And if I hadn’t been biracial, I probably would have made the very same judgments that people have made about me.
I can’t change who I am. Nor do I want to. The only thing that I can do is to move forward, proud and confident about who I am and how I came to be the person I am. I have both my mother and my father, as well as two very strong cultural backgrounds, to thank for that. And for that, I should be grateful.
By embracing both cultures and heritages, I ultimately fight against all the labels and judgments that I feel are aimed at me. By focusing inward, I become the person that I was meant to be all along. Yes, I am biracial. But I am more than that. And that is what makes all the difference.
(Thoughts? Please comment below!)