We need a broader definition of a multiracial experience
Generally speaking, discussion of the mixed race experience seems to be mainly driven by the difficulty of “fitting in” or having a sense of “racial imposter syndrome.” The struggles of racial imposter syndrome coming from being mixed race definitely resonate with me as a half-Asian person, and the emotional turmoil that comes from trying to belong is a valid concern. However, we need to talk about how the predominant view of mixed-race people centers on whiteness and how this narrow-minded perception of mixed-race people hurts everyone.
From Zendaya to Phillipa Soo, the media sets the mainstream standard of a mixed-race person as someone who is half-white or white-passing. We see this in how Emma Stone was chosen to play a multiracial character in Aloha and how the most visible mixed-race actors in Hollywood are half-white. By having the default for multiracial representation be “half-white,” society perpetuates the myth that mixed-race individuals are “whitened” versions of an ethnic background. This perception of multiracial people not only erases non-white mixed-race identities, but also reinforces the standard of measuring the desirability of POC by proximity to whiteness. I see this effect clearly in how others discuss my physical appearance as a half-white Asian.
My first boyfriend at Carnegie Mellon used to trace the features of my face and try to distinguish the “Asian” features from the “European” features. We would lie on the bed, side by side, and his fingers would feel up my face. His index finger streaked down the bridge of my “European” nose, while he debated over whether my almond-shaped eyes were “more Asian” or the double eyelids made them look “more European.” He concluded that my lips were “kind of Asian” after comparing the fullness of my lips to his. I would hear him call my hair “Asian” as his fingers combed through the thin, dark strands.
I looked back on this memory as a weird quirk of an ex-lover. Until I told my friends about this strange memory, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my ex’s obsession with deconstructing my physical appearance in this manner. This was normal to me. I was used to Chinese aunties, family friends, and of course random strangers making unsolicited remarks about my racially ambiguous appearance. However, only by listening to how my monoracial friends struggled with self-hatred from Eurocentric beauty standards did I realize that people’s fascination with my racially ambiguous appearance was significantly problematic. Being called the “pretty Asian” meant that I was only pretty because I was mixed with white. When people commented on the beauty of my “exotic appearance,” they implicitly snubbed the beauty of non-white Asian women.
For my fellow part-white people of color, the takeaway is not that you don’t deserve to feel beautiful or talk about your mixed-race problems. Rather, my purpose in writing this piece is to offer a perspective of how we benefit from whiteness and the importance of shifting away from conversations about multiracial identity that emphasize whiteness. If we truly want to belong in spaces of color, we need to recognize how our whiteness affects others and learn to leave space for non-white multiracial individuals to discuss their mixed-race experience.