Quite a Bit More Than Black and White

It all started with a walk in the park. My dad, walking hand-in-hand with my four-year-old brother on one side and my six year-old self on the other, stopped for a moment to converse with a neighbor. All was well until the neighbor looked at my brother and I and said extremely loudly and slowly, enunciating each word as if we were deaf, “Hell-oooo. And how are you to-dayyyy?” We didn’t reply because we were too shy, and in response he addressed my dad with, “So when did you adopt these kids? Do you speak to them in Chinese at home?”

And so began the segment of my life that I’ve titled “Multiracial Problems.” I’m half-Japanese on my mom’s side and quarter German and quarter Norwegian on my dad’s side, but according to society, I can’t embody my multiple ethnicities equally. I have to choose whether to represent my Asian half or my Caucasian half. Why? Because even now, even though we live in a time that’s supposedly modern and innovative, we’ve been taught to think in black and white.

I’m not trying to say that the U.S. hasn’t made progress in terms of acceptance, because we have. All those exclusion laws that were made back when Chinese laborers migrated to California to work on the railroads have been abolished, and desegregation of public facilities during the Civil Rights movement has been enforced. Legally, we’ve become a country that prides itself on its diversity. We are the melting pot, after all. And even the fact that us multiracial children exist shows how accepting the US is of other cultures. According to the 2010 Census, the multiracial population in America has grown faster than the single-race population, especially in the southern region. When you look at the numbers and statistics, America is definitely the land of the free.

But in so many ways, it’s not.

In a primarily Caucasian-dominated high school, I was considered Asian. I studied hard, got good grades and hung out with Asian people, so whenever I didn’t do well on a test or skipped the occasional class, the response was always, “But you’re Asian!”

And now at UC Irvine, AKA the “University of Chinese Immigrants,” I’m white. I only speak English and, coming into college, I’d never had pho or boba, and some of my Asian friends would isolate me in conversations using “You’re white, so you wouldn’t understand” as their excuse. But why do we have to choose just one? Why do we constantly approach things with an “either or” attitude?

In some situations, it’s inevitable that certain ethnicities will be highlighted, but that doesn’t mean our other ethnicities should be left in the dark. Citing English as my first and only language doesn’t make me any less Asian, and complying with Japanese customs like taking my shoes off at the door doesn’t make me any less Caucasian.

Yeah, the number of multiracial children in the world has gone up significantly. Yes, “multiracial” is now a box you can mark on college applications and state tests. We’ve made so much progress.

That doesn’t mean everything is okay. I’m a multiracial person living in a black and white world, and the problem with that is that no one will be able to understand this internal conflict other than other multiracial people. Stereotypes, these casual comments and this feeling that I can’t be completely myself will never go away, because I can’t make my ethnicities go away. I’m Japanese. I’m German. I’m Norwegian. And unless someone invents some sort of race-changing machine in the future (God forbid), I’m going to stay like this forever, and single-race people are going to stay one race forever. We’ll never be able to fully understand one another. It feels like such a static state.

So one question remains: if we can’t solve this, what can we do? It’s up to us multiracial people, the ones who are experiencing this black and white type of tolerance. What we multiracial people can do is to stop victimizing ourselves and try our best to make all of our ethnicities known. If you can only check one box in the “specify race” section, don’t be afraid to check “other.” If someone uses the “but you’re only half” excuse in order to justify their racist stance, speak up for yourself, because being 50 percent of one race doesn’t make the racism of that comment 50 percent less offensive.

Now, this is all from the perspective of just one multiracial person, so I can’t say I speak for everyone. There may be those of mixed descent who do not feel this way, because we’ve all had different experiences growing up. But my experience is that people who are 100 percent one race can’t understand this specific struggle for identity because genetics say so. But we can help them try.

Taylor Weik is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at tweik@uci.edu.