Racism and Discrimination Analysis
How it works
Mixed race, multiracial, biracial, multi ethnic, polyethnic, half and half, queer, straight, upper class, middle class, poor, rich; whatever terms one uses it all boils down to not only how one sees themselves but how society sees and labels them. The way a person labels and identifies themselves not only helps to build one’s identity, personality and personal life but it can also dictate the people one will interact with and be exposed to and how they will be treated in society. Depending on one’s physical traits, including but not limited to facial structure and skin tone, one might not be considered mixed or seen as a person of color despite identifying as so. A persons outer appearance may not allow for society to understand that a person is not straight or does not define themselves within the gender binary. All of this can create issues when it comes to a person’s identity, and the way society sees and treats them. Not only do skin tone and physical features affect the way society places and treats a person but gender, class and sexual orientation effect this as well. In this paper I will discuss my experience as a queer woman of mixed race and use outside evidence to define the term mixed race as I understand it, as well as how society understands it. I will also be discussing how intersectionality plays a role in the term mixed race and as a whole. I will also address white passing and how this label can cause fractures in one’s mixed race identity and what effects this can have on a person. Through this discourse I hope to not educate others but to also educate myself on what being a mixed race, white passing, queer, woman means to me and how those things effect identity and life.
In order to begin addressing the ideas and meaning of things like mixed race and intersectionality I must first define those term and the term race itself. According to Naomi Zack “by the second half of the nineteenth century, race came to mean a distinct biological group of human beings who were not all members of the same family but shared inherited physical and cultural traits that were different from those shared within other races. To this day, as a factual basis for individual and group identification, race means in heritable physical characteristics only.” (Zack, pg. 7-8). If one were to simply look up the term race in the dictionary one would find definitions such as “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock, a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics, and a category of human kind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). From these definitions one can begin to understand what race and mixed race may mean in a biological sense, but unfortunately it has also been proven that race is not biological. There is no gene or genetic marker for race, so defining the term race on a more social level looks a little different and tends to be more accurate. Socially race does not always mean the same thing as does when defined biologically. Socially, race is more closely defined by mannerisms, culture and ways of life, often coupled with one’s physical appearance. Someone can be told that they are “acting black” as a means of racism where the term black is meant to be a bad thing.
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How it works
When looking up the definition for the term mixed race one would find a very simple one-line answer, “denoting or relating to people whose parents or ancestors are from different ethnic backgrounds.” (Collins English Dictionary). All of these simple definitions can be helpful in beginning to understand race and identity based on race, but it lived experiences that truly define what racial identity is like and do not even begin to cover the meaning of mixed race. From an outside perspective these definitions may seem sufficient but to those who are labeled and identify as mixed race this is not quite enough. Not only are these definitions not enough to completely define race and mixed race but it also does not explain race as it is understood by the public. “If you ask adult Americans what race is, you might be told that races are different breeds of human being and that here are three of them: Negro, Caucasian and Mongoloid, or black, white and Asian.” (Zack, pg. 8.). Now this begins to show what the average person thinks race is but there is already a problem, this definition does not include the category Hispanic. This is generally because this category did not even appear on the U.S. census until 1980.
Until that point biracial people were forced to identify as other. People of mixed race are boiled down to other or simply a mix of two people, but they are much more than that. One of the biggest discrepancies with these expectations of race is that “there is a greater physical variation within the races than between races.” (Zack, pg.10). Zack addresses this saying “generally, people rely on the race of their close family members as a source of their own racial identity. And they rely on physical appearance for classifying others. This asymmetry between subjective and external racial identity is problematic when the two do not coincide. We expect people of our own and different races to conform to these images and most of the time they seem to do so. However, the images or stereotypes of racial appearance have varied historically and geographically in the United States, and they do not work for classifying people who do not look “typical”.” (Zack, pg. 10-11). Non typical looking people of color generally includes those who are mixed race. These people, like myself, my appear white or non-ethnic when in reality most of their identity is based on identifying with a certain ethnicity or race. In reality mixed race people are built on strong cultures and heritages, they are generally marginalized is other ways beyond their skin tone and despite all this they are able to find true identities while connecting with family and friends.
Growing up I was always acutely aware of the differences in not only my appearance but in the appearance of my parents as well. One of the first things I began to notice as a child was the difference in skin tone that my parents had. I was also very aware of the fact that my skin tone fell somewhere between my father’s white freckled skin, and my mother’s deep brown. I knew from the start that I was mixed. As it stands every human is technically a mix of both their mother and their father, but it is only those with parents of different skin tones that are considered to be mixed. My dark golden complexion in the summer was often replaced by a light tan in the winter. This along with my brown eyes and blonde hair presented me to the public as white. But ever since I can remember I have called myself Hispanic and Mexican. As a child I looked at my mother and the history, strength and power she carried in her skin and felt connected to a culture that I would love and carry with me forever. At home I was mixed, my mother would refer to me as being mestiza and I would beam with pride knowing the identity I had come to love and identify with was one my family was also proud of. The same could not always be said for the world outside my home. In elementary school I had short hair and was one of the whitest children there, and despite being Hispanic and a young girl like many of my peers who attended school with me I was always seen as someone who was different. I was routinely told that I was white and would have to defend the heritage that I knew was mine. I was teased over my appearance and constantly asked whether I was a girl or a boy. I was told there was no way I could Mexican or even Hispanic, I was spit on, I was teased and I often felt different from those around me because my skin was not quite dark enough, my hair was too short and I did not always dress in a gender identifying way. Unfortunately, when it comes to this kind of behavior discrimination and harassment are not so easily spotted, for many people of a minority microaggressions are a huge part of their everyday life.
Microaggressions are defined as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Derald Wing Sue discusses microaggressions in his piece Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation saying that “racial microaggressions are most similar to aversive racism in that they generally occur below the level of awareness of well-intentioned people, but researchers of microaggressions focus primarily on describing the dynamic interplay between perpetrator and recipient, classifying everyday manifestations, deconstructing hidden messages, and exploring internal and external consequences.” (Sue, pg. 9). Microaggressions can be one of the hardest things to combat because many times they go completely unnoticed by those around the victim and are sometimes are to prove.
Microaggressions can occur between any two people and anywhere. Recent work has been done improve work place harassment which often includes microaggressions against people of color. As I have grown, I have happily realized that my skin tone does not make me any less Hispanic and that the harassment I endure as a queer, mixed race, women is something I can handle and continue to fight. I am Hispanic because of the culture I have been taught, the people I love and associate with and because I claim that part of my ancestry. I whole heartedly claim Mexican culture and heritage as my own even if I do not look the part because in the end what does a “Mexican” really look like?
Not only do the physical traits a person has change the way their life unfolds but so does their sexual orientation, gender and social class. One of the biggest parts of oppression is the fact that in most cases it is not just one part of a person’s life that causes disadvantages but multiple things, this is known as intersectionality. When simply looked up intersectionality I defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In layman’s term intersectionality is when a person has two or more parts of who they are that are actively discriminated against. Intersectionality can make a hard life even harder; being a part of multiple minorities means less resources, greater discrimination, violence and even less hope for the future. Growing up I was harassed for being too light, I was constantly misgendered and struggled with my sexuality. As I grew up, I began to understand why people looked at others in funny ways, why snide remarks were made even though there was nothing noticeably different about the person. Being mixed race is intersectional in itself, but we do not experience marginalization separately. One does not experience misogyny and racism separately they are experienced at the same time and often feed into each other.
Another term that not only affects racial identity, but sexual and gender identity is the idea of passing. To pass means that in the eyes of the public you look exactly how the stereotype of that race, gender or sexuality is supposed to look according to the societal norms that are in place. This definition of passing is not something one can simply look up in the dictionary and find and yet it is something that effects millions of people all over the world for most or all of their lives. For many people, to be passing is not just about being comfortable and able to walk among strangers without weird looks or comments it is also a matter of safety. Unfortunately, most of the public fears that which they do not understand, and this fear often causes people to lash out in harmful and violent ways. Not all passing is the same, for some passing means changing one’s appearance enough and in a mainstream way in order to be viewed how ones is wanted.
As a child I identified as a girl but did not always adhere to the societal norms that were expected of a girl. I had short hair, I was tall for my age, and for a while I was heavy which meant I often wore clothes that were loose and baggy. None of these things are what society expects from a typical ten-year-old girl. I routinely had other children comment on my appearance, asking whether I was a boy or a girl. Now that I am older, I realize that it was curiosity not spite that brought about these questions but as a young girl I was devastated by them. I could not understand why I was not being seen as what I knew I was. At the time I was not able to realize that these children were confused, confused because another child was not fully absorbed into the societal norms that were expected of her. Passing can be a very big deal for a lot of people for a variety of reasons and can affect the outcomes of one’s life in drastic ways. As a person it is important to remember that there is no way to tell what a person wants or needs just by looking at them, the only way to be sure of something is to simply ask. Misgendering or racially identifying someone can be uncomfortable and harmful for both parties and the only way to prevent this is to be proactive and aware.
One type of passing that is often used to describe people of mixed race is white passing. Although I am able to claim who I am verbally my complexion puts me into a category known as white or racial passing. This means, especially in my case, that a person of color has a skin tone that is light enough to be seen as Anglo. This creates issues because although one may identify as a person of color, they are not seen or treated as such. White passing like passing effects one’s identity and the way they are seen by others in society. White passing can be especially upsetting because, despite what one has felt and known their entire lives, and despite what one tells people, they are given a new label and ethnicity that they are forced to carry around at all times. It is a label you do not agree with, that you never wanted and that you cannot get rid of. The label of white. This label will be thrust upon a person from a young age as the children around them begin asking questions like “why don’t you look like your mom?” “why do you call yourself Hispanic when your skin is white?” These innocent questions begin the cycle of uncertainty within one’s self that never seems to end. “Am I white?” “Can I really call myself Hispanic?” “Would it be easier to just give in and say I am white?” These thoughts can bring a person to completely doubt their race, and the way they identify, even if they spend their whole lives feeling certain that they knew who they were. This distress can cause breaks and fractures in one’s identity. It can a make person upset when asked about their race and ethnicity because they no longer know what answer to give. A person can become stagnant in their life and growth because they are no longer sure of who they are, how they should see themselves or how others see them.
White passing also creates problems socially and within the legal system Linda Alcoff discusses many court cases where “contrary to what one might imagine, it has not always or even generally been to the advantage of Asian Americans and Latinos to be legally classified as white.” (Alcoff, pg. 250). The example she uses in this case is that of Hernandez v. Texas which “involved a Mexican American man convicted of murder by an all-white jury and sentenced to life imprisonment. His lawyer appealed the conviction by arguing that the absence of Mexican Americans on the jury was discriminatory. Unfortunately, in the Hernandez case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Mexicans were white people of Spanish descent and therefore that there was no discrimination in the all-white makeup of the jury.” (Alcoff, pg. 250). This is just one of the many examples where racial/white passing was detrimental to that person’s wellbeing. Not only are people being told they are not a part of their own race but in doing this they are twisting the law to hurt those people.
Along with white passing comes white privilege, whether one recognizes it or not. Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege “as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.” (McIntosh, pg. 1). Being a person of mixed race who fully identifies as person of color, but is seen as white, must realize they too have white privilege and adjust their behaviors and lives accordingly. For many, acknowledging that they too benefit from white privilege can be hard. Acknowledging that you gain from a system that you have always felt was against you and those you love can be distressing, but it is important to come to terms with. One can spend the first twenty years of their life building a relationship with a culture, heritage, and people that defines who they are and in a matter of seconds someone can disrupt and damage that identity. But, if one can come to terms with the label’s society puts on them, hold on to the labels they have given themselves, and accept the privileges they may have, they will not only be able to build a stable identity but will also be able to help those they care about who are not white passing and do not benefit from white privilege.
Being different from those around you can be incredibly difficult. Being mixed race, queer, and female as well as white passing can bring about challenges in a person’s life that many have to deal with. Growing up can be hard when the identity you have connected with from birth is questioned and pushed aside while a new label or assumption is put in its place. labels that follows a person forever, ones that are not even meant for the person is describing but for the strangers around them, strangers who are unable or unwilling to understand what it is to be mixed race, to be different. People who are unable to push an ancient system aside in order to fully understand those around them. People who put their comfortability well above the needs of anyone else around them despite the distress and devastation their views can have on someone. But despite all of these things many people, including myself continue identify as mixed race, as queer, as female and take pride in that identification. It is not always an easy thing to claim an identity that you know will not always be accepted or welcome and but when it comes to identity feeling whole and fulfilled is the only thing that matters.
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Racism and Discrimination Analysis. (2021, Jun 16). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/racism-and-discrimination-analysis/
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