“Most mixed-race people associate with one race over the other.”
The first time I heard this, my mind jumped to every mixed-race person I knew. Specifically, half-white, half-something-else people. Barack Obama. Henry Golding. Jo Koy.
Yes, I suppose I can name ‘one race’ for each person even though they are mixed. Obama is the first black president. Henry Golding starred in Crazy Rich Asians. Jo Koy jokes about Asian accents and regularly impersonates his Filipina mother.
Sure, it looks like they express one racial background over the other.
My friends who identify as mixed-race also reflect this. One speaks the language of her father but not her mother. Another calls herself black unless asked to specify just how black. And despite being half-white, my brother built a brand based on the Korean goblin dokkaebi, and listens to Asian American rappers like Dumbfoundead and Year of the Ox.
But then, I think about myself. Sure, I blog about being that sort of Asian girl (as opposed to being that sort of white girl) and about what “American” means to me as a third-generation Korean American.
But did I choose that? Did I decide one day to identify as more Asian than white?
Being mixed means hearing from other people just how Asian and how white I am.
When I kick off my shoes at the door, my friend says, “Are you doing that because you’re Asian?” When I admit I’ve never eaten eel, I’m deemed white. When I kneel on the floor instead of sitting cross-legged: Asian. When I burn at the beach: white. When I eat bulgogi: Asian.
I have been told that I don’t have an ‘Asian nose’ but that my cheekbones are Asian even though my eyes aren’t Asian although I do have an Asian body type.
These aren’t my observations. These are made by other people. And I don’t mind! But it points to a desire to place me in one race over the other. Like how my friend asked me at a party: “Which ethnicity is your hair from?”
Vox reporter Sarah E. Gaither writes, “Americans find it cognitively demanding to interact with mixed-race people. This constant either/or thinking about race tends to put people into fixed boxes. Perhaps that’s why the word ‘biracial’ is so difficult for people to use—it disrupts that way of thinking.”*
I’ve heard from many people that Obama decided to identify as black. But in an interview with 60 Minutes, he says, “I’m not sure I decided it…I think, you know, if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American.”
So did I choose to express my Asianness over my whiteness? No, it was chosen for me. People nod along when I call myself a person of color. When I say, “I’m white,” eyebrows go crooked.
Saying that I prefer to identify as more Asian than white is like saying that I prefer to thread my eyebrows for beauty.
That preference was influenced by societal pressures.
Not evil pressures, necessarily. (Hey, I’d brag about being the first Asian president.) But it’s not always a choice. It wasn’t for me and it’s not for all mixed-race people. How I express my ethnicity is a direct response to how others have treated my ethnicity.
*Sarah E. Gaither, I study biracial identity in America. Here’s why the royal baby is a big deal, Vox, May 7, 2019.