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essays about mixed race

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The loneliness of being mixed race in America

“I had to figure out the language to describe myself”: 6 mixed-race people on shifting how they identify.

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This is part one of Vox First Person’s exploration of multiracial identity in America. Read part two here and part three here .

In 1993, the cover of Time bore a digitally rendered face, a supposed “mix of several races” that created a lightly tinted brown-skinned woman. “The New Face of America,” the headline proclaimed, heralded a future where interracial marriages held the promise of a raceless society of beige-colored people.

essays about mixed race

Almost 30 years later, the United States is getting ready to inaugurate its first female vice president, who is of Black and South Asian descent; the nation has already sworn in its first multiracial and Black president, Barack Obama. By 2013, 10 percent of all babies had parents who were different races from each other, and the number is only growing : In a 2015 Pew study, nearly half of all multiracial Americans were under 18 years old.

Demographically at least, Time’s cover story seems to have gotten it right. But inherent to their vision was a kind of multiracial utopia free of racial strife. This is a popular modern understanding of mixed-race identity. But multiracial people have long been targets of fear and confusion, from suspicions of mixed people “passing” as white under the Jim Crow system to accusations of not embracing one’s “race” enough — something Kamala Harris experienced on multiple sides this past election. Research has shown that, even today, monoracial people experience mixed people as more “cognitively demanding” than fellow monoracial people.

As the mixed population grows in size, it will likely continue to serve as projections for people to sort through America’s complex race relations. But what about the experiences of those who are actually multiracial? Studies illustrate a group of people who struggle with questions of identity and where to fit in, often feeling external pressures to “choose” a side. There’s evidence that mixed-race people have higher rates of mental health issues and substance abuse , too.

As Black Lives Matter protests swept the country in 2020, the issue of race came to the forefront of the national conversation. Everywhere, Americans engaged in deep discussions around the experience of Black and other non-white people in our country, including how race impacts the daily lives of all Americans in unequal ways.

Last year, Vox asked people of mixed descent to tell us how they felt about race and if the language about their identities had shifted over time. Among the 70 responses submitted, we read stories of people with vastly different experiences depending on their racial makeup, how their parents raised them, where they lived and where they wound up living, and, perhaps most importantly, how they look. But over and over again, we heard from respondents that they frequently felt isolated, confused about their identity, and frustrated when others attempted to dole them out into specific boxes.

Here are six selected stories, edited for concision and length.

Michael Lahanas-Calderón, 24, based in Berkeley, California

I’ve found terms to identify myself that feel somewhat comfortable but also somewhat unsatisfying. I don’t really know how to account for my mother’s background, which at best could be described as mestizo Colombian. Using the term “person of color” to account for it feels strange, just given what I see when I look in the mirror. But I also feel a kind of obligation not to let the complex mix of identities I inherited from my mother disappear into the whiteness inherited from my father. I don’t really know where that leaves me, to be honest, beyond using broader terms like Latino, Colombian-American, white-passing, mixed, or multiracial.

essays about mixed race

Race didn’t come up a lot when I was growing up in suburban Ohio. Obviously, there was a Latino population there, but it wasn’t really a huge part of my life, beyond my mother in our home. It wasn’t like the way that Miami has the strong Cuban-American community. It was almost more an issue of whiteness and skin color being associated with some of those terms, which sort of changed the dynamic depending on the environment because I’m white-passing even with like a tan.

My mom went to great lengths to make sure that I could succeed in the US. When I was still quite little, my Spanish skills were actually developing at a better pace than my English ones. That is, until someone suggested to her that if my English skills didn’t improve, I would be at risk of falling behind the other kids and need speech therapy. This really spurred her to take serious action. She read countless books to me every night in English until I was a bookworm who sounded as Midwestern as the rest of my neighbors. To this day, out of all the things she remembers about my academic career, my high marks on English tests are some of the ones she’s proudest of. But I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of my mother to teach me about her and my identity, homeland, and culture, too. She always taught me to be fiercely proud of my blended heritage, and to never be afraid to share it with others.

At times it was pretty easy how well I had adjusted to suburban Ohio. I didn’t really think about the consequences of it until I was a little bit older, because it just got easier to not show that heritage. The shift away from that started in college, which was a much more progressive environment. I was sort of encouraged to explore that identity. We had a Latinx affinity group on campus and I think at times it was a little bit difficult for me to relate to others in the group. They were always welcoming, and it wasn’t that I didn’t feel included, but I think it was more that their experiences were so different from mine. The experience of being a Salvadoran American who is brown and grew up in, say, San Francisco with a pretty solid Latino community around them felt so wildly different from a white-passing, half-Colombian, half-American person growing up in suburban Ohio. We didn’t really have a lot in common beyond the shared language.

It’s always been important to me to recognize both parts of my heritage. But I suppose the only one that really felt like it needed exploring was my Colombian side, because I was always within the dominant side of mainstream American culture. I think that at times it almost felt easier, like everyone encourages you to kind of fall into that mainstream culture and assimilate. If you don’t have that kind of connection to a first-gen or community of immigrants who are actually actively forming a social group, it’s very easy to let one side of your heritage — the one that’s not the dominant culture — slip away. It’s kind of one of my regrets, to be honest, and I’ve made an effort as I’ve gotten older to embrace that again.

Abbey White, 29, based in Brooklyn, New York

Right now, and this may change, I identify as a mixed-race Black person. But initially, I identified as bi-racial. I felt like growing up in the environment that I was in, in Cleveland, it was very clear to me that I was Black and I was mixed, but when I moved to New York, that dramatically changed. I got a lot of people not really being able to recognize me on sight. I’ve had to deal with an ethnic ambiguity that I never had to deal with before. So I had to figure out the language that I wanted to use to describe myself.

I think part of that stems from the fact that when I grew up, my dad, who is Black, wasn’t really in my life, so a lot of my Black identity came from the Black people that my mother worked with and the neighborhood that I lived in. But also, my family was so white and, frankly, for as much as I love my mother, racist. My grandfather would not be in the same room with her the entire nine months she was pregnant. He couldn’t even hold me for the first couple months of my life.

essays about mixed race

I sort of remember realizing my race when I was late elementary school age and I had gotten in trouble at my grandmother’s house. And I remember putting, like, baby powder on my skin and like trying to convince myself for whatever reason that I would not be as in trouble if I looked more like my mom.

I also felt this struggle to feel connected with Black people when I was growing up. I felt often like a conditional Black person, and I think there are some mixed-race Black folks that have a lot of anger about that. When I was younger, I did. But I’ve also come to understand that the idea of being “authentically” Black is literally a response to things like the one drop rule and this white supremacist idea of how we define race and mixed race, and Black identity being tied to sexual violence. So this reclamation of what it means to be Black is a byproduct of racism.

There are also privileges I have that other non-mixed Black people don’t. I am lighter-skinned. I might not be white-passing, but I can pass as something else. Because for some people, I’m “racially ambiguous,” what has happened is I have found myself in situations with white people who feel very comfortable saying things that are not okay. It’s this sort of, “you’re not like other girls.” Like my grandfather wouldn’t even be in the same room with my mom, but then once I came into this world and they realized, “oh, she’s a baby and race has nothing to do with this,” it wasn’t, “we see Black people as human beings and we respect them.” It became: “You’re our Black child. And you’re the exception to the rule. ”

It’s weird being in places with people who try to make you the exception to the rule, and it makes me want to double down. Because I’m not an exception. I think that that has really made me embrace this idea of I am Black. I’m mixed, but I’m Black.

Josh S., 24, based in Brooklyn, New York

I identify as multiracial. There hasn’t really been another term that’s resonated with me in the same way. I like breaking it down a little — my family is white, and then on my dad’s side, I have family in Japan. I think the change in identity from when I was younger is that I actually have the language to describe who I am, which I lacked back then. I only knew that I wasn’t wholly white, but that it was thrown into pretty sharp contrast because I grew up in a town that was like 99 percent white.

essays about mixed race

Being thought of as Asian was definitely foisted onto me. Because I did relatively well in school, there was a lot of like, “Oh, the Asian got a good math score.” There was something that felt off about that. Later I realized that, well, my race has absolutely nothing to do with how I perform in school. They were creating this entire persona and this cruel game out of where my grandmother came from. Toward the end of high school, there was just this resentment of that part of myself. Not necessarily that I wanted to stop being mixed race, but that I just kind of wanted being treated differently to go away.

Going to college in Washington, DC, gave me that opportunity. Hardly anyone could tell that I was like anything but white. And so for a couple of years there, I got to experience the world without micro-aggressions and the casual racism that I had growing up. I was just able to coast by on whiteness, which was, coming from where I was, a bit of a relief. Of course, this was an environment that I didn’t fit into for a number of other reasons, even if I could present and act white. There was a substantial difference from my rural, more middle-class upbringing as opposed to the white wealthy upbringing many of my peers had. Even being white, it was a different kind of white.

I think after a couple of years of wrestling with, “I’m never going to be white enough or rich enough to fit in with this,” brought me back to trying to reflect more on my grandma and her heritage and my father’s experience. My father identifies as a person of color, but his response to it, especially as he had children, was to sort of push it to the side. For all intents and purposes, my brother and I were raised with no connection to being Japanese, and he didn’t really do anything to encourage it. His experience growing up in rural Minnesota being called every racial slur under the sun, I think there’s trauma there. I think my parents operated to try and raise us to have a better and easier life.

How I identify, and being non-binary, it’s something I’m grappling with constantly. This isn’t to say that my experience is harder than other people’s. But there is that constant vigilance to not, you know, slip into comfortable. As a masculine, white-passing person, life would probably go by fine for me. It’s having that self-awareness and continuously working on the awareness to keep pushing against white supremacy and patriarchy wherever it shows up.

Thema Reed, 27, based in Austin, Texas

I consider myself to be Chicana and Black. On my dad’s side, I’m what a lot of New Mexican people would call Hispanic, which is a pretty generic term. And then my mom is a Black woman who was adopted and raised by a white woman when she was 14. She is still really connected to her Black roots, and we have a big Black family that we’re so very connected to. But there’s kind of a few different layers in there.

essays about mixed race

I’ve always identified as both, but I definitely felt a lot of pressure to identify or present myself in different ways throughout my life. I’ve heard some Black people say, “Well, mixed people aren’t actually Black.” And I think that a lot of that comes from a feeling that mixed people can maybe turn off their Blackness sometimes or that mixed people have features that may give them privileges. I would also hear things like, “Oh, well, it’s a shame that Thema is not more light-skinned.” It’s like, I’m not Black enough, but I’m simultaneously too Black, you know?

At the same time, people who maybe aren’t Black or who aren’t mixed look at me as a Black woman. It is hard for me to get people to understand that just because I don’t look Chicana doesn’t mean that I’m not. In New Mexico, Chicana culture is such a big thing there, I think that most people in New Mexico identify with it to some extent. So I didn’t face as much judgment for not being “Chicana enough” as I did until I moved away.

When I was in college, I went to Howard, and that really changed the way that I was able to identify with the Black part of me. I had never been in a place where there were so many Black people that looked so many different ways. There were so many mixes, and with so many different countries, so many different socioeconomic backgrounds. I really felt really accepted and loved for the first time.

I think I kind of really grew up as a chameleon and I learned how to code switch and communicate with a lot of different people when I was really young. I think that there’s something special about that. But I think it does come with a cost. I really experienced it from both sides — I’ve experienced colorism, I’ve experienced people saying, “Well, you’re not Black and you’re not Mexican enough.” I feel really strongly connected to both, but at the same time, sometimes I feel like I belong to neither.

Jaymes Hanna, 35, based in Washington, DC

I am a mix of Brazilian and Lebanese descent. I think my identity is very much like a Venn diagram, where I keep moving around those various circles and the overlap keeps changing all the time. The one thing I have kept constant is some sense of mixedness. If I have to put myself in a commonly recognized box, it would be Latino.

essays about mixed race

I grew up in inner-city Philly, in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood. I very much connected to those communities and those cultures and tried to do everything to highlight my Latino-ness — from clothes to manner of speech. My father being Lebanese, I think he experienced some prejudices when he moved to the country, given the long history with our region, and was never eager for me to play up that part of my heritage and culture. So growing up in a predominantly Brazilian household, it was just easier to move forward with that, which is another reason why I think I’ve identified as Latino more predominantly.

As I got older and progressed into the engineering world, I sort of shifted. That was probably the first time I was in a very white-dominant setting. I did a lot of stuff to play my Latinoness down until I left for the social impact field where I thought I could sort of reconnect with the Latino pieces of me .

Even now, there’s elements of my identity that don’t get represented so clearly to someone who sees me as an early- to mid-career professional, especially if they’re white. I do get, “Oh, you’re not bad!” especially if I talk about being Latino, growing up in that neighborhood and going to an inner-city public school where I’m treated a certain kind of way by teachers and the powers that be. It’s always frustrating or disappointing because when I hear that, that very much means to me that you don’t see me. Like you want to be comfortable with me in a certain box. You’re not interested in the actual things that have shaped me to be who I am today.

I’ve been called ethnically ambiguous by more than one person. It makes me feel like a blank slate sometimes. But in some ways, it is kind of cool because I feel like if someone’s trying to identify with you or call you one of them, that creates openness to actually connect with people.

Kristina, 43, based in Los Angeles, California

I identify proudly as a multiracial woman and as a woman of color. This is because the world sees me as a woman of color. I’ve never been perceived as a white woman.

I only recently became confident that I could just, in some circumstances, say “I’m Filipino.” I don’t always have to qualify the basis of my identity to everybody. That is very new for me because people always felt the need to say, “You’re only half,” or remind me that I’m also white . But as I’ve gotten older, and just with more recent conversations about race, I’ve come to realize that I don’t care anymore. I am Filipino, I am white. I don’t always have to say all of my mixed percentages to everybody.

essays about mixed race

When I was younger, I would always qualify everything by saying, “I am half white.” I didn’t want people to think I was trying to co-opt any identities or infringe on anyone’s spaces. In college, friends would take me to Filipino student group meetings, and I just always felt like an imposter, like I didn’t have a right to be there. I don’t know if that’s true or not to this day. I still don’t quite know my place sometimes. I just know I feel at home in the Filipino community with my Filipino family.

At the same time, I didn’t want to feel like that was denying my mom. Even though I don’t identify as a white person, I was raised by a white mom who has a beautiful history and life too. So I don’t like to discount that.

I sort of loathe the inevitable reductive discussions that pop up whenever a multiracial person comes up, whether that’s Kamala Harris or Bruno Mars . I just wish the world knew they don’t get to tell multiracial people how we identify. Each of our own experiences is incredibly unique, depending on who we are raised by, where we were raised, how we look.

I also wish people would stop portraying mixed people as so tragic. I grew up in the ’90s and every discussion about it was about how we were so tortured. It almost seemed like they were putting it out there as a cautionary tale about having multiracial children. But for me, most of the “negative” aspects of being mixed were external, not internal. I absolutely would not change being mixed for the world.

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Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Shapeshifting: Discovering the “We” in Mixed-Race Experiences

essays about mixed race

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been longing for your whole life until you experience it. As a mixed-race woman, I never knew how much it would mean for me to finally sit in a room full of other multiracial women until, at age 45, I taught a creative writing class called  Shapeshifting: Reading and Writing the Mixed-Race Experience . I was nervous because I’d never attended something like this myself. And yet, sometimes when it becomes clear that you need something that doesn’t already exist, you have to create it yourself.

I once considered myself to be a shy person, afraid to speak in public. However, my close friends knew me differently, and at my core I knew myself differently too. While I remained quiet in high school, college, and beyond, in intimate spaces I could be bold and funny. When I was younger, I used to think that my insecurities came from my youth or my gender. But the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve also come to question how much of my conditioning— to feel quiet, silent, and invisible—has come from my mixed-race heritage?

I am an Asian American woman. I am also mixed race—my father is White and my mother is Chinese. And I have many questions. 

What does it feel like to grow up and never see reflections of yourself or your family in the shows you watch or the books you read, or to rarely see yourself in positions of power? 

For mixed-race people, especially those of us who have one White parent, the answers to questions of identity can be confusing to sort out.

What does it feel like to sense you don’t exist in the outside world, or to never have been given a language—a book of history, a collection of stories, the perspective of an elder—to help name the lineage you are a part of, who you are in relationship to America’s history of racism, or who you are within the rules about who is Black or Asian or Native American or Latinx or White? 

How much blood does one need to be able to claim an identity? One half, one quarter, one eighth, one sixteenth, one drop?

Learning more about the history of our nation’s formation has taught me that the answers to questions of identity depends on how much White people have wanted to leverage their control over others’ bodies or lands, and how beneficial it was to claim you as their own. Each racial and ethnic community has a unique relationship to history’s shaping of mixed-race identities, and our absorption into or exclusion from Whiteness depends on the shifting of the White supremacy culture’s needs. Asian Americans, for example, were held up as “model minorities” to prove America’s great myth of meritocracy and used as a wedge against Black people: ‘see, anyone can succeed here if they just try.’ But we have also been expelled from this country, put in concentration camps, perpetually seen as foreign, or dangerous, and most recently, blamed for the spread of a deadly virus.

For mixed-race people, especially those of us who have one White parent, the answers to questions of identity can be confusing to sort out. Many of us who grew up in majority-White communities, have unconsciously been taught to aspire to Whiteness. Conversely, others have been encouraged to deny all ties to Whiteness—or we choose to lean in that direction ourselves once we realize how much we’ve been conditioned to see ourselves as inferior or lacking by the standards of White supremacy culture. But whether we are denying our “color” or denying our “Whiteness,” these false binaries can in turn lead us to internalize the notion that part of us is damaged, inferior, or too shameful to be spoken about. They can make us feel like we have to be shapeshifters to be accepted or belong.

I grew up attending an integrated—yet also highly segregated—high school in Seattle, during the era of  Rodney King , and in an environment that taught me to see conversations around race through the binary of Black and White. As a mixed-race Asian girl, I had already learned by then to assimilate and identify with my White peers. It wasn’t until I started college that I realized how much I needed to reclaim my mother tongue of Chinese, a language I grew up speaking with my mother and grandmother as a young child but grew distanced from as an adult. Leaving college, then traveling and living in China for more than three years helped me to reclaim that part of me—as much as it also taught me that the Chinese saw me as a Westerner, as well as how American I truly was. 

Most mixed-race people never know what it means to be part of a community where we can feel relaxed or have a sense of belonging when it comes to race.

Back in the U.S., I continued to interrogate my racial identity, but now, once again through an American lens. Here, I am seen by most people as Asian. Here, the terms of how many saw me had changed again—my “otherness” set up against Whiteness, as opposed to against “Chineseness.” Here, it became increasingly crucial for me to drill deeper into my own silence and complicity when it comes to anti-Blackness, implicit bias, and inherited wealth. Attending racial equity trainings, I grew familiar with the practice of dividing the room into two caucusing groups—one for people of color, and one for White people. 

By now, I clearly knew I was not White, but I still did not feel comfortable taking up space discussing my identity issues or light-skinned privilege in a group dedicated to people of color. And yet, I also knew that I too had experienced racial pain. I realized that to overcome my own silence around others’ oppression, I needed to give voice to mine too. 

Ever since college, I have written privately about my racial in-betweenness, but after returning from China and eventually attending trainings, I developed more of a contextual lens; I learned to see where my struggles aligned with other people of color, and where they diverged. Recently, as a creative writing teacher, I have begun to offer spaces for other mixed-race folks to write about their experiences. I needed to express things privately  and  I needed share in community, because I realized that shame can only live in silence. Once we voice something in a safe space and we feel witnessed and heard, shame can start to dissipate. 

Most mixed-race people never know what it means to be part of a community where we can feel relaxed or have a sense of belonging when it comes to race. Even in our own families, we often look different from our parents or relatives. We perch at the edge of other communities who may tentatively welcome us, but deep down we suspect we don’t fully belong. We have grown up with so many reminders of how our experiences mark us as outsiders, that we have started to distrust ourselves too. 

I’m here to tell you, after 25 years of writing and interrogating my own roots and identity, that it doesn’t have to be this way. But where do we begin, especially if we barely know any other mixed-race people? 

We can start by reading others’ stories. There aren’t enough of them out there, but that is changing. And we can also begin, at any stage of life, to write our own accounts. In this way, we can begin to name how our experiences are similar to others, for example, how certain traits that we have internalized as our own private maladies may actually stem from larger systemic structures. Furthermore, we can name where our experiences diverge, where our intersectional identities and relative privileges result in our unique stories. We can join affinity groups online, we can find therapists who mirror our origins, we can open up about our deepest vulnerabilities and fears. We can learn to recognize how sometimes shapeshifting harms us, and other times it opens pathways to new conversations. We can begin, one small step at a time, to claim our voice and story as important, and an essential part of contributing to the conversation as we name the dual myth and reality of race. 


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‘It has given people a sense of belonging’: photographer Tenee Attoh on her photography project.

The mixed-race experience: 'There are times I feel like the odd one out'

A series of portraits of mixed-race people from around the world has cast new light on how we see ourselves

L ast year the photographer Tenee Attoh began taking portraits of multiracial friends and acquaintances against a mottled black background at the Bussey Building in Peckham, southeast London. Attoh is half-Dutch on her mother’s side, half-Ghanaian on her father’s, and identifies as mixed-race. Born in the UK, she spent most of the first 23 years of her life in Accra and Amsterdam, shuttling between cities and cultures, an experience she found enlightening but problematic. “On the one hand it allows you to develop a different understanding of the world,” she says of her duality. “But there’s still a lot of ignorance in society. People perceive you as either black or white, and you’re not – you’re mixed.”

Working in London, Attoh heard similar stories from other mixed-race people, and soon she began publishing her images online (at and on Instagram) alongside small texts that allowed her subjects to share personal thoughts on identity, race and self, something they couldn’t do elsewhere. Following the death of her mother, to whom the series is dedicated, the project helped Attoh dissect her own multiracial experience – what it means to be connected to two worlds at once, and how society perceives that condition – but it has also sparked an open forum on diversity. “It’s not a topic people usually talk about,” Attoh says. “So the website has become a platform for people with mixed heritage. It’s given a lot of them a sense of belonging.”

When she was starting out, friends and family corralled subjects for Attoh to shoot. (She is indebted to her family, she says, for the work they’ve contributed for free: the space in which the portraits are taken is co-run by her son; the 90 or so hour-long interviews were transcribed by her daughter-in-law, often late at night.) Now subjects, keen to share their personal histories, approach Attoh directly, and she notices themes reoccurring. Many subjects celebrate the benefit of being able to flit between cultures while embracing both. Others talk of the strain inherent in not being of one place – of being from neither here nor there, tugged between one identity and another. Some find it easy, others less so.

Attoh has now taken more than 90 images, a selection of which are published here. Those photographed represent great portions of the world – Japan, Jamaica, Malaysia, Sweden, Iran, China, South Africa – but also provide a portrait of contemporary Britain. In the 2011 census 1.25 million people identified as mixed race, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group in the UK. “A mixed-race girl just married a prince!” says Attoh. But discrimination persists. “It’s 2018, and mixed-race people are still asked the question, ‘Where are you really from?’”

Later this year Attoh will organise an exhibition of the photos she’s made so far. In the meantime she’ll turn her lens on subjects in Holland, to examine differences in the mixed-race experience. But mostly her project is meant to raise public awareness. “I’m hoping it will become a platform for wider discussion,” Attoh says. “To help people understand these different points of view, these different experiences.”

Liz Loginova, North Korean/Russian

‘When I was younger I didn’t want to be Asian at all, but it doesn’t bother me now’: Liz Loginova, North Korean/Russian.

I grew up in Moscow until I was about nine and then we moved to the UK. I feel Russian, really. I speak Russian at home. Culturally I don’t have any real Korean connections; if anything, I feel more British than North Korean. When I was younger I didn’t want to be Asian at all; I was embarrassed by it. It doesn’t bother me now, but then I alternated between thinking it was something interesting about myself and hating the fact that I looked different. I really wanted to have lighter hair.

Fintan O’Haire, Indian Jamaican/Irish

‘I try to maintain a balance’: Fintan O’Haire.

I’m Irish on my dad’s side, mixed Jamaican and Indian on my mum’s. There are times I feel like the odd one out, especially at family functions. You’ll see a sea of white faces, and then there’s me and my brother. It can be isolating; there aren’t many people I can relate to. In my adult years I’ve learned to appreciate where I come from. I can’t tell people I’m one race because I’d be disrespecting the other. I try to maintain the balance.

Marie Creasey, Colombian/British

‘When I was little I was very dark’: Marie Creasey.

I was born and raised in San Francisco. My mother is Colombian and my dad is mixed Scottish and English. They met on a blind date; 14 days later they were married. When I was little I was very dark, but when I turned seven I became very fair. There was an awkward time when people thought my mum was my nanny. Because I was so light-skinned I would embrace being English rather than being Colombian. My son is a blond-haired, blue-eyed child, but I want him to know he is mixed Colombian.

Robert Sae-Heng, Mexican/Thai

‘In Mexico they’d never really seen an Oriental person before’: Robert Sae-Heng.

I was born in London but lived in Mexico until I was eight because of my disability – I was born deaf. I went to live with my grandmother in a small village. We had a pet donkey called Jesús. We also had chickens, pigs, goats, you name it. It was a great childhood. But in school in Mexico, I was always seen as being different. In Mexico people call each other by nicknames. My family’s nickname was ‘Japonicitos’ – Japanese. In Mexico they’d never really seen an Oriental person before, apart from what they’d seen on TV, on Dragon Ball Z.

Jade Duncan-Knight, British Irish/Indian Jamaican

‘Sometimes the middle ground felt like a lonely place’: Jade Duncan-Knight.

I’ve spent my whole life in England so I’ve always identified as British. My mother is half-Jamaican and half-Indian; my dad is half-English and half-Irish. I appreciated visiting people on both sides of the family; each time I could learn and experience different and unique things about the cultures I was connected to: food, music, traditions, stories. It was interesting to hear from those who spoke patois, while others spoke with London accents. Though sometimes the middle ground felt like a lonely place.

Raymond Antrobus, British/Jamaican

‘It’s a hell of a thing to navigate’: Raymond Antrobus.

I’m a teacher, I spend a lot of time with younger people, and I’m hearing so many younger mixed-race people interrogating what they call their ‘privilege theory’. What are their privileges as a light-skinned person? How does their status relate to that of their darker-skinned friends, or people who look more African or more European? It’s a hell of a thing to navigate, and I think there’s a pressure on younger people to understand it. But your identity can be about many things. It doesn’t have to be just about race. It could be about being a parent, a cyclist, a musician.

Paksie Vernon, British/Lesotho

‘Until the age of 13 I thought of myself as white’: Paksie Vernon.

Dad and Mum met in Lesotho. Dad worked for NGOs. I was born in Wales, but I didn’t live in the UK until I was 13. When we were young we lived in many countries: Ghana, Uganda, Mali, Kenya. I loved the food in Ghana. Even for a mixed-race person I’m quite fair, so until I was 13 I thought of myself as white (every African country has a word for ‘white person’.) When I came to the UK I was told I was black. It highlighted a lot about race: how so much of your identity is what other people put on you.

Nina Camara, Guinean/Slovak

‘London is so diverse; you don’t get labelled’: Nina Camara.

I was born and brought up in a small town in Slovakia. It’s not mixed at all: around 95% white. Race wasn’t really an issue, but I did come across people who would shout at me on the street, things like ‘black girl’, which I found very unpleasant. I became guarded. I came to the UK because I wanted to experience something different, to be treated like a normal human being. That’s what I like about London: it’s so diverse, you don’t get labelled. The culture I grew up in doesn’t really reflect who I am. When someone thinks of Slovaks, they don’t picture faces like mine.

Dean Atta, Greek Cypriot/Jamaican

‘I stand in solidarity with all black people’: Dean Atta.

My mum’s family are from Cyprus. My dad’s family are Jamaican, with African heritage. But I grew up in northwest London. When I was the president of the African Caribbean Society at university, one of my friends who ran the society with me told me I wasn’t really black because I had a white mum. I think from that point onwards I’ve always referred to myself as black – very intentionally. I stand in solidarity with all black people. I don’t think being mixed makes me any less black. Whiteness is set up to exclude all those who are not white.

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Chapter 3: the multiracial identity gap.

The Multiracial “Identity Gap”

How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity, the survey finds. For many mixed-race Americans, these powerful influences may be as important as racial background in shaping their racial identity.

When asked why they don’t identify as multiracial, about half (47%) say it is because they look like one race. An identical proportion say they were raised as one race, while about four-in-ten (39%) say they closely identify with a single race. And about a third (34%) say they never knew the family member or ancestor who was a different race. (Individuals were allowed to select multiple reasons.)

This multiracial “identity gap” plays out in distinctly different ways in different mixed-race groups.

A quarter of biracial adults with a white and American Indian background say they consider themselves multiracial, for example.

By contrast, seven-in-ten white and Asian biracial adults and 61% of those with a white and black background say they identify as multiracial. Multiracial adults with a white, black and American Indian racial background (50%) or a black and American Indian biracial background (33%) fall between these groups in terms of the share who say they identify as multiracial. Among Hispanics who count two or more races in their background, about six-in-ten (62%) say they consider themselves to be multiracial.

The survey also finds that the way in which people describe their own racial background doesn’t always match the way they believe others see them. About nine-in-ten white and American Indian biracial adults (88%) believe that a stranger passing them on the street would say they were single-race white; only 2% say they would be seen as multiracial and 7% as American Indian only.

By contrast, six-in-ten Americans with a white and black background (61%) believe they are seen as black; only 19% say they would be seen as multiracial (an additional 7% say they would be perceived as white only). Among white and Asian biracial adults, 42% say others would perceive them as white and 23% think others see them as Asian. Two-in-ten say they would be seen as multiracial.

Measuring multiracial identity is complicated for other reasons. Many mixed-race Americans say that over the course of their lifetimes they have changed how they viewed their racial identity. According to the survey, about three-in-ten mixed-race adults (29%) who now report more than one race for themselves say they used to see themselves as just one race. But among those who did not report more than one race for themselves in this survey—but instead are included in the multiracial group because of the races they reported for their parents or grandparents—an identical share have switched their racial identity: 29% say they once saw themselves as more than one race but now see themselves as one race.

The survey also shows multiracial adults sometimes feel pressure to identify as a single race. About one-in-five mixed-race adults (21%) say they have been pressured by friends, family members or “society in general” to identify as a single race.

The remainder of this chapter examines in more detail the multiracial identity gap and how physical appearance, personal values, societal pressures and other factors help shape an individual’s racial identity.

Sometimes I identify as white because it’s easy. … Sometimes I just get tired of explaining who I am, and sometimes I just don’t care to. I also recognize that since I look white I sometimes identify that way because I know that’s what they think. White and American Indian biracial woman, age 27

A Mixed Racial Background, but Not Multiracial

Top Reasons that a Majority of Mixed-Race Adults Don’t Identify as Multiracial

Among adults with multiple races in their background who do not consider themselves to be multiracial, about half say their physical appearance (47%) and/or family upbringing (47%)—nature and nurture—are among the reasons that they do not identify as multiracial. Some 39% say they closely identify with one race, and about a third (34%) say they never knew their family member or ancestor who was a different race.

An additional 13% give some other reason for not identifying as multiracial, including 4% who say their racial background is unimportant to them, 2% who say the family member of a different race is too many generations removed and 2% who simply don’t identify with their multiracial heritage.

Fading Multicultural Identity

The survey finds that multiracial identity quickly fades with the generations. Among those whose ties to a mixed racial background come from a great-grandparent or earlier ancestor—a group that is not included among the analysis of multiracial Americans throughout this report—only 13% consider themselves to be multiracial. The share roughly doubles (to 28%) if a grandparent had a racial background that was different from that of the respondent and his or her parents, and it rises to 35% if one or both parents had a different racial background than the respondent.

I identify with the African-American culture more. One because I just look it. When an average person is walking down the street, they just see a guy who is colored. A man of color. Brown. Black and Asian biracial man, age 47

Multiracial Identity Fades over the Generations

And it is among this group, the 36% who self-report that they are two or more races but don’t consider themselves multiracial, that the power of physical appearance to shape racial identity comes into focus. Among these mixed-race Americans, the proportion who say they do not identify as multiracial because they “look like one race” increases from 47% (among all multiple-race adults who do not consider themselves multiracial) to 64%. About half (54%) of this group says the reason is that they were raised as only one race, while somewhat fewer (45%) say they closely identify as only one race. A third (33%) say they don’t identify as mixed race because they never knew their ancestor of a different race.

How Biracial Adults Think Others See Them

How do multiracial adults believe strangers passing them on the street see their racial background? The answer to that question varies substantially by mixed-race group. But one common thread runs through these responses: Few say they are viewed as multiracial.

According to the survey, only 9% of all multiracial adults believe they are perceived as a mix of races by others.

Most Biracial White and Black Adults Say They are Seen by Others as Black

A virtually identical pattern appears among black and American Indian biracial adults. Among this group, roughly eight-in-ten (84%) say strangers would identify them as single-race black (6% say they would be seen as multiracial). And about six-in-ten white, black and American Indian multiracial adults (62%) also say others perceive them to be black (with 20% saying they would be seen as multiracial).

A significantly different pattern emerges among white and Asian biracial adults. Only about a quarter of this group (23%) says they are viewed as Asian, while 42% believe they are perceived as white. One-in-five white and Asian biracial adults say they are seen as having a multiracial background.

The overwhelming majority of white and American Indian biracial adults (88%) say they are seen as white. Only 2% say they are thought to be multiracial, and 7% believe they are seen as Native American. Even among those who consider themselves to be multiracial, eight-in-ten say they are perceived as white by others.

Among Hispanics who are more than one race, about a quarter (24%) say that a stranger would see them as Latino while 17% believe they would be viewed as multiracial.

It’s often funny and interesting to see people’s reactions when I do tell them that I’m actually half Japanese. ‘Oh, really?. … I guess I can see it. Your cheekbones or maybe a little bit in your eyes.’ But most people, say 8 out of 10, don’t see it at all. White and Asian biracial woman, age 43

Attempts to Influence How Others See Their Appearance

Attempts to Change How Others See Their Race

According to the survey, about one-in-ten multiracial adults have talked (12%), dressed (11%) or worn their hair (11%) in a certain way in order to affect how others saw their race.

A similar share (11%) say they associated with certain people to alter how others saw their racial identity. (The survey did not ask respondents to identify which race or races they sought to resemble.)

Efforts to affect perceptions by looking or behaving in a certain way varied widely across the largest multiracial groups.

About four-in-ten (42%) black and American Indian biracial adults say they have presented themselves in a certain way in order to affect how others saw their race. A third of all adults with a white, black and American Indian background and about the same share (34%) of multiracial Hispanics also say they have made an effort to change the way people see their race.

Some Mixed-Race Groups More Likely than Others to Try to Change How People See Them

The survey also found that few multiracial adults have attempted to recast their racial identity to gain advantage when applying for college or scholarships.

Overall, only 5% of all mixed-race adults who have at least some college education say they have described their racial background differently than they usually would to get into college or qualify for a scholarship, including 13% of multiracial adults with an Asian background, 6% of black multiracial adults and 5% of mixed-race whites. (The survey did not ask how they described their identity differently.)

Growing up I remember wanting to get a relaxer for my hair. Even as a guy, I wanted my hair when it got wet to sort of fall down or have spikes. I wanted to dress a certain way because I wanted to embrace what I thought was … a white identity. White and black biracial man, age 25

Pressure to Identify as One Race

1-in-5 Have Felt Pressured to Identify as One Race

Multiracial adults feel the heat to identify as just one race more from “society in general” (15%) than from family members (11%) or friends (9%). (The survey did not ask respondents with which race they felt pressured to identify.)

Pressure to Identify as One Race, by Biracial Groups

Roughly three-in-ten multiracial Hispanics (31%) and about two-in-ten adults with a white, black and American Indian racial background (23%) or a biracial white and Asian background (21%) also felt pressured. Some 15% of white and American Indian biracial adults felt pressed to say they are one race. The pressure to identify with a single race is particularly felt by those who believe they physically look like a mix of races and not like just one race. According to the survey, about a third (34%) of all mixed-race adults who say a passerby would identify them as multiracial also say they have felt pressure to identify as one race. By contrast, some 20% of those who believe that a stranger would identify them as single race or as Hispanic only say they have felt similar pressure.

Changes in Identity over the Life Course

An individual’s racial background is fixed at birth but his or her racial identity can change over the course of a lifetime, the Pew Research survey found.

About three-in-ten adults (29%) who now think of themselves as more than one race say they once thought of themselves as only one race. An identical share moved the opposite way: 29% of those who have a mixed racial background but see themselves as only one race say they used to think of themselves as more than one race.

There was a time when I didn’t identify as black. In fact, growing up I really hung onto this idea that I was biracial. … It wasn’t ’til college that I made that switch from identifying as biracial to being black. White and black biracial man, age 25

Multiracial Background and Personal Identity

Constructing Personal Identity

Multiracial adults and other Americans even agree on the least important of the six characteristics tested in the survey. Only about one-in-ten multiracial adults (10%) and adults in the general public (11%) consider political affiliation to be a core part of their identity.

Importance of Racial Background Varies Among Major Multiracial Groups

Large differences emerged on the relative value that black, white and Asian mixed-race groups placed on their race as well as their family origin in determining their personal identity.

Overall, multiracial blacks are generally more likely than other mixed-race groups to see their racial background and family ancestry or country of origin as important parts of their personal identity.

For example, fully 57% of white, black and American Indian multiracial adults say their racial background is essential to their sense of personal identity, roughly three times the share of white and Native American biracial adults (20%) who express this view.

Four-in-ten black and American Indian biracial adults say race is an extremely important part of who they are, as do 31% of white and black biracial adults.

Among biracial white and Asian adults, 23% say their racial background is essential to their personal identity. Only 15% of all multiracial Hispanics consider their racial mix to be central to who they are.

Identity Among Biracial White and Black Adults and Single-Race Blacks and Whites

Multiracial blacks are more likely than other multiracial groups to consider their family ancestry or country of origin as key to their identity. For example, about a third (32%) of white and black biracial adults say their family ancestry is essential to their sense of who they are, double the proportion of white and American Indian biracial adults who hold that view. About four-in-ten black and American Indian adults (36%) and multiracial white, black and American Indian adults (42%) say their family’s ancestry or country of origin is essential to their identity. Among white and Asian biracial adults, 21% say this, as do 12% of multiracial Hispanics.

Most of the world sees me as white, but on a personal, more emotional level, I connect very strongly to [the Catawba tribal] community that I grew up with because it’s my family. White and American Indian biracial man, age 23
  • For respondents who selected Hispanic origin for their own race or origin, the question read: “Do you consider yourself to be mixed race or multiracial, that is, more than one race, such as mestizo, mulatto or some other mixed race, or not?” ↩

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On views of race and inequality, blacks and whites are worlds apart, most americans say government doesn’t do enough to help middle class, a rising share of the u.s. black population is foreign born, four-in-ten couples are saying “i do,” again, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

Essay: The journey to embracing my mixed ethnicity

Sarah Abdelkahlek, a junior majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

As a child, I spent a lot of time in my mother’s hometown about 100 miles outside of Pittsburgh. This small, charming dot on the map has a population that is 97 percent white. Needless to say, I stood out with my tan skin, dark eyes and curls large enough to host all 7,597 people who live there. My unusual features sometimes elicited questioning looks, pointed fingers and snide remarks.

A few weeks after my fifth birthday, my mother and I stood in line at her favorite childhood restaurant. The bell on the entrance door dinged and an older couple entered. They took one look at me and my fair-skinned, hazel-eyed, blonde mother and commended her for adopting me. At the time, I was too young to understand how offensive this comment actually was but old enough to sense that it made my mother uneasy. It was clear that the couple was not ill-intentioned, but it highlighted the ignorance that surrounds my ethnic ambiguity.

essays about mixed race

If I had a penny for every time someone has asked me “What are you?,” I could likely pay the full tuitions of every student in my class at GW. From strangers on the street to job interviewers to professors, the question does not seem off limits to anyone. I am not personally offended by the question, but it becomes a bit cumbersome to answer over and over again.

My initial response is always the same: “I am human.” Then I usually elaborate on my ethnicity. As easy as answering the question of “what I am” seems, it used to be hard for me. I hopelessly longed to blend in without being singled out. Now, however, I am proud to share that I am Egyptian American. But getting to this point was no easy feat: I had to reconcile the two very different sides of my family.

My parents, a small-town Pennsylvanian and an Egyptian immigrant, met at a restaurant in Pittsburgh in the early 1990’s. My father, eager to contribute to his new country, quickly joined the Marine Corps. My father proposed to my mother before leaving for boot camp, and they soon tied the knot, despite reluctance from both of their families. My mother’s family was surprised, as they thought she would end up with someone from her town, as many people did. They knew very little about my father and his ethnic background but eventually accepted him. My father’s family — almost 6,000 miles away in Egypt — did not get to meet my mother before she shared their last name. With time, they, too, came to love her as one of their own. Two years later, I was born. My parents named me Sarah — a name that has both Western and Arab roots.

My first language is English, but I have picked up some Arabic over the years, thanks to my paternal grandmother’s favorite Arabic-dubbed Turkish soap operas. She taught me the importance of serving guests with the finest tea and biscuits, burning bukhoor to freshen the house and making enough baklava to cover the thousands of miles between here and Egypt. She, along with the rest of my eccentric Egyptian family, urged me to take pride in my heritage. This, however, proved to be a lot easier said than done in a post-9/11 world.

In a time when anyone with dark features and a complicated, Arabic-sounding last name was labeled a “terrorist” or “terrorist sympathizer,” it seemed imperative to distance myself from some parts of my culture. For a long time, I desperately clung to things that made me “white.” I thought that packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch instead of leftover koshary would make me more normal. I thought that spending hours straightening my unruly hair would make me more relatable. I thought that associating more with my mother’s white side of the family would make me more “American.” Maintaining this facade was exhausting, and naturally, I began to lose sense of who I truly was.

It was not until my junior year of high school when I realized the error of my ways. I was compiling pictures for a class project and stumbled upon old photos of our family trip to Egypt in 2008. In that moment, I was overcome by nostalgia, unhappiness and regret — mostly regret, though. How could I repress such an important part of my identity? Why would I acknowledge only one culture when I am lucky enough to have two?

Starting college was a pivotal moment in my journey to explore my mixed identity. I was surrounded by a diverse crowd: 3.5 percent of my fellow undergraduate students identify as multiple races. I recently learned that there is even a student organization at GW for those who “fill out more than one box on forms asking for race/ethnicity.” With so much diversity around me, I no longer feel like an outsider.

For instance, I met one of my best friends, who is half-German and half-Lebanese, in a religion course my freshman year. We immediately bonded over the struggle of having language barriers in the house and feeling divided on religious holidays. We also discussed how difficult it can be to form an identity when we feel we don’t fully fit because we’re only “half” or, conversely, too much of one and not the other.

Although staying true to both distinct halves of who I am has not always been effortless, I would not want it any other way. I embrace the fact that I can immerse myself in two cultures. I look forward to one day telling my future curly-haired kids my story, but in the meantime, you can catch me walking around campus shamelessly blasting Amr Diab or Justin Timberlake, with a Tasty Kabob gyro or Chick-fil-A sandwich in hand.

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The Racism of People Who Love You

Essays on mixed race belonging.

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  • authenticity and belonging;
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  • “ 2023-2024 Book Club Picks ,” Jewish Women’s Archive , included in club picks reading roundup
  • “ Rosh Hashanah Reading Roundup ,” The Expanded Field by Gabriel Chazan , featured in newsletter reading roundup
  • “ Ask a Bookseller: The Racism of People Who Love You ,” MPR News/Ask a Bookseller (Minnesota Public Radio) , on-air review
  • “ Lima Public Library Book Reviews ,” Lima News , book included in local library reading roundup
  • “ Samira Mehta On The Racism of People Who Love You ,” Jewish Women’s Archive/Can We Talk? , podcast interview
  • “ Essential Reads: Women of Color Navigating Jewish Identity ,” Hadassah , book included in Jewish women of color roundup
  • “ Racism within mixed-race families ,” KERA/Think , interview
  • “ Wednesday, January 25, 2023 ,” WPFW/We the People , podcast interview
  • “ The Racism of People Who Love You: A Conversation with Samira Mehta ,” Patheos/The Anxious Bench , Q&A
  • “ The Biracial Vegetarian Who Came to Thanksgiving Dinner ,” Beacon Broadside , excerpt
  • “ New Releases: January 2023 Nonfiction ,” BookRiot , listed in January 2023 reading roundup
  • “ The Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2023 ,” Oprah Daily , listed in 2023 reading roundup
  • “‘ Untraditional’ Hanukkah celebrations are often full of traditions for Jews of color ,” The Conversation , original piece
  • “ Winter Reading Recommendations ,” The Revealer , included in Winter reading list

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The Racism of People Who Love You

  • American Society > Sociology
  • Biography and Memoir > Autobiography and Memoir
  • Literature and the Arts > Multicultural Interest > Asian American
  • Literature and the Arts > Nonfiction > Essays
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essays about mixed race

Essays and Commentary

Reflections and analysis inspired by the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide wave of protests that followed.

My Mother’s Dreams for Her Son, and All Black Children

Two women, one is author’s mother, Marie Als, left at a table.

She longed for black people in America not to be forever refugees—confined by borders that they did not create and by a penal system that killed them before they died.

By Hilton Als

June 21, 2020

How do we change america.

A group of protesters making a large shadow

The quest to transform this country cannot be limited to challenging its brutal police alone.

By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

June 8, 2020

The purpose of a house.

A teenage girl hiding her face in front of a laptop.

For my daughters, the pandemic was a relief from race-related stress at school. Then George Floyd was killed.

By Emily Bernard

June 25, 2020

The players’ revolt against racism, inequality, and police terror.

A row of players for the Washington Mystics kneeling on a basketball court with their backs to the viewers wearing white shirts that have seven bullet holes drawn on each player's backs. The basketball court also has "Black Lives Matter" painted on it and there is a large "WNBA" sign in the background.

A group of athletes across various American professional sports have communicated the fear, frustration, and anger of most of Black America.

September 9, 2020, until black women are free, none of us will be free.

An illustrated portrait of Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith and the Black feminist visionaries of the Combahee River Collective.

July 20, 2020, john lewis’s legacy and america’s redemption.


The civil-rights leader, who died Friday, acknowledged the darkest chapters of the country’s history, yet insisted that change was always possible.

By David Remnick

July 18, 2020

Europe in 1989, america in 2020, and the death of the lost cause.

Protesters raise their fists in the air at  the Robert E. Lee Statue

A whole vision of history seems to be leaving the stage.

By David W. Blight

July 1, 2020

The messy politics of black voices—and “black voice”—in american animation.

Scene from "Big Mouth";" the character Missy is in the center.

Cartoons have often been considered exempt from the country’s prejudices. In fact, they form a genre built on the marble and mud of racial signification.

By Lauren Michele Jackson

June 30, 2020

After george floyd and juneteenth.

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What’s ahead for the movement, the election, and the protesters?

June 20, 2020, juneteenth and the meaning of freedom.

Image may contain: Symbol, Flag, Text, and American Flag

Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones.

By Jelani Cobb

June 19, 2020

A memory of solidarity day, on juneteenth, 1968.

Protestors wading in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool  in 1968.

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The History of the “Riot” Report

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Writing About Race, Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Disability

View in pdf format.

As language evolves alongside our understanding of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and disability, it is important for writers to make informed choices about their language and to take responsibility for those choices. Accurate language is important in writing about people respectfully and in crafting effective arguments your audience can trust. This handout includes writing practices and language tips to help you discuss various groups of people respectfully and without perpetuating stereotypes.

Best Practices

  • Use people-first language. Use terms that focus on people rather than on the method of categorization to ensure your language is not dehumanizing. For example, use “people with mental illness” rather than “the mentally ill,” “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people,” and “enslaved peoples” rather than “slaves.”
  • Don’t use adjectives as nouns.   Using adjectives as nouns is not only grammatically incorrect, it is often demeaning to the people you are describing. For example, use “Black people,” not “Blacks.”
  • Avoid terms that imply inferiority or superiority.   Replace terms that evaluate or might imply inferiority/superiority with non-judgmental language. For example, use “low socioeconomic status” rather than “low class,” or “historically marginalized population” rather than “minority.”
  • Be specific.  When these descriptors are relevant, be as specific as possible to avoid inaccurate or generalized statements. For example, use “Dominicans” rather than “Hispanics,” or “people who use wheelchairs” rather than “people with disabilities.”

Writing About Race and Ethnicity

When writing about race and ethnicity, use the following tips to guide you:

  • Capitalize racial/ethnic groups, such as Black, Asian, and Native American. Depending on the context, white may or may not be capitalized.
  • African Americans migrated to northern cities. (noun)
  • African-American literature. (adjective)
  • The terms Latino/Latina/Latin are used mostly in the US to refer to US residents with ties to Latin America .

Umbrella Terms

  • Avoid the term “minority” if possible. “Minority” is often used to describe groups of people who are not part of the majority. This term is being phased out because it may imply inferiority and because minorities often are not in the numerical minority. An alternative might be “historically marginalized populations.” If it is not possible to avoid using “minority,” qualify the term with the appropriate specific descriptor: “religious minority” rather than “minority.”
  • Note that the terms “people of color” and “non-white” are acceptable in some fields and contexts but not in others. Check with your professor if you’re uncertain whether a term is acceptable.  

Writing About Socioeconomic Status

When writing about socioeconomic status, use the following tips to guide you:

  • “Avoid using terms like “high class” or “low class,” or even “upper class” or “lower class,” because they have been used historically in an evaluative way. Also avoid “low brow” and “high brow.” Instead, if you must incorporate adjectives like “high” or “low,” use the term “high” or “low socioeconomic status” to avoid judgmental language.
  • The word “status” (without the qualifier of “socioeconomic”) is not interchangeable with “class” because “status” can refer to other measures such as popularity.
  • When possible, use specific metrics: common ones include level of educational attainment, occupation, and income.Use specific language that describes what is important to the analysis.
  • Be aware of numbers: there are no distinct indicators of “high” and “low,” but there are percentages that make it easy to determine, via income bracket for example, where on a range an individual falls.

General Guidelines

When writing about disability, use the following tips to guide you:

  • uses a wheelchair rather than confined to a wheelchair
  • diagnosed with bipolar disorder rather than suffers from bipolar disorder
  • person with a physical disability rather than physically challenged
  • Do not use victimizing language such as afflicted, restricted, stricken, suffering, and unfortunate.
  • Do not call someone ‘brave’ or ‘heroic’ simply for living with a disability.
  • Avoid the term “handicapped,” as some find it insensitive. Note that it is widely used as a legal term in documents, on signs, etc.
  • Do not use disabilities as nouns to refer to people. For example, use “people with mental illnesses” not “the mentally ill.”
  • Avoid using the language of disability as metaphor, which stigmatizes people with disabilities, such as lame (lame idea), blind (blind luck), paralyzed (paralyzed with indecision), deaf (deaf ears), crazy, insane, moron, crippling, disabling, and the like.
  • Capitalize a group name when stressing the fact that they are a cultural community (e.g. Deaf culture); do not capitalize when referring only to the disability.

Referring to people without disabilities

Use “people without disabilities,” or “neurotypical individuals” for mental disabilities.  The term “able-bodied” may be appropriate in some disciplines. Do not use terms like “normal” or “healthy” to describe people without disabilities.

Writing with Outdated/Problematic Sources

  When analyzing or referencing a source that uses harmful language (slurs, violent rhetoric, etc.), either:

  • Explain that the author or character uses harmful language without stating it verbatim. For example: “The author uses an ableist slur when discussing [context of the quote], indicating that [analysis].”
  • Acknowledge its offensive nature in your analysis if you must quote the harmful language verbatim.

Do not change the quote or omit harmful language without acknowledging it. If you must use outdated and problematic sources, it is best to acknowledge any harmful language or rhetoric and discuss how it impacts the use and meaning of the text in your analysis.

Note that if you do need to use dated terminology in discussing the subjects in a historical context, continue to use contemporary language in your own discussion and analysis.

If you are still unsure of what language to use after reading this, consult your professor, classmates, writing center tutors, or current academic readings in the discipline for more guidance.

As we have noted, language is complex and constantly evolving. We will update this resource to reflect changes in language use and guidelines. We also welcome suggestions for revisions to this handout. Please contact the Writing Center with any questions or suggestions.

Thank you to the following people who contributed to earlier versions of this resource: Emma Bowman ’15, Krista Hesdorfer ’14, Jessica LeBow ’15, Rohini Tashima ’15, Sharon Williams, Amit Taneja, Phyllis Breland, and Professors Jessica Burke, Dan Chambliss, Christine Fernández, Todd Franklin, Cara Jones, Esther Kanipe, Elizabeth Lee, Celeste Day Moore, Andrea Murray, Kyoko Omori, Ann Owen, and Steven Wu.

Adapted from prior Writing Center resource “Writing about Race, Ethnicity, Social Class, and Disability.”

Office / Department Name

Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center

Contact Name

Jennifer Ambrose

Writing Center Director

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Mixed-race college essay?

Should I write my college essay about my experiences with being a mixed-race girl, or is it too run-of-the-mill? I’m half Asian, half Caucasian. I was the only mixed race girl in my elementary school, one of two mixed race girls in middle school, and then went to an international school for high school. My town is predominantly white.

I was the only one I knew who celebrated Chinese New Year. In my hometown, I couldn’t identify as white because they see me as Asian. I’m the only Asian girl in my church, in sports, pretty much everything.

I go to Hawaii every summer because all my relatives are there, my mom grew up there. In Hawaii, the majority of people are Asian, but I can’t identify with them because they see me as white. People there have asked me how I my skin is so light, whereas in my hometown my friends ask me how I stay so tanned.

Ultimately I love being mixed-race, even though I can’t identify with a specific group of people. I’m a hapa-haole (in Hawaiian). My mother taught me Cantonese words, my father taught me German words. I’ve gotten two amazing cultures with two histories that I love to learn about.

It’s all how you write it, and I think you have the DNA of a good essay here. It would fit the “background” prompt very well, and tell them something about you that likely won’t be revealed in any other part of your app.

I agree-- this could be really good.

I would try to include a little humor-- no “poor me” type of thing coming out. Concentrate on the upside: you’re not a bowl of ice cream, you’re a sundae, full of complementary flavors.


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Interracial Marriage in the U.S. Essay

Treating people with dignity regardless of their skin color is a pre-requisite that of national integration. The United State of America has been struggling with racism for many years now. There have been attempts to fight it by encouraging interracial marriages as a way of improving national integration. The report from Pew Research Centre indicates that people are increasingly embracing mixed race marriages.

More than 22% acceptance of mixed race marriages means that there is a slight improvement in how people view their counterparts from other races. This may be as a result of work of scholars who, from time to time, tried to state the importance of accepting one another regardless of skin color.

The statistics also proves that the 1976 ruling changed the views of different people on interracial marriages. During the four year period of 1967-1970, people began to understand the importance of interracial marriage but due to fear, others still held on to their beliefs. Less than one 1% agreed with the fact that human beings were programmed to follow what others were doing (this is always a life preserving habit).

The number of interracial marriages moved from an insignificant percentage to 5% by the year 2000 even with that nature of human beings. The attitude to blacks also improved at that time due to establishment of international community. However, out of the 77% who said Yes to the relationships between blacks and whites, few were not ready to enter into such relationships because of fear. They needed to resign to the status quo.

The Y generation born after 1976 has a different perspective because they are aware of people like Luther King who spoke as they bubbled with rage at the palpable injustices and inequalities that the Black Americans experienced. As a result, 91% accepted interracial dating. They interacted, fell in love and would easily accept interracial marriage except for a few who still lived in fear and were not ready to compromise their relationships.

From the recent research done in 2005, more people were expected to have a positive attitude because they were approaching global integration where racism was perceived as outdated. From the report, it was clear that 97% of Africans supported interracial marriages. The youth were also interacting with other races in institutions and were getting to know the facts behind racial intermarriages. It was this behavioral change that led to the 34% of positive responses among the youth.

The regional pattern among the westerners had a slight influence on intermarriages. It was obvious that human beings took time to embrace change given the challenges within their communities.

Acceptance could be one of the reasons why only 33% identified with friends and relatives in interracial marriages. The same happened in the Northeast and Midwest with a record of 19%. Further evidence of the life-preserving habit of human beings was shown in the census data done in 2000. Everyone did a common thing as in the case of white husbands marrying Asian wives.

While other strategies have failed to improve integration, interracial marriages can be the fourth wheel towards this effort. Creating a peaceful coexistence is important for the country. Therefore, mixed race marriage is important and should be embraced by everybody. It is only a matter of time (with enough education and awareness) that this global village can generate more relationships from all corners. We started from somewhere. If the trends from these research reports continue then the future generations will win this battle.

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  • Essay on Literature

Good Mixed Race Literature Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Literature , Father , America , Race , Parents , Family , Obama , United States

Published: 02/26/2020



America has a wealth of literary heritage which begins from the earliest days of English and Scottish-Irish settlement and as the nation continued to evolve, the literary canon continued to expand accordingly. With mixed races being part of the national makeup for several decades, it was only natural that literature from this sector of the population would begin to infiltrate the American literary American makeup alongside other genres such as the Asian and African American genres.

Mixed race literature as compelling non-fiction

One of the finest examples of mixed race literature is Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams of my Father’ which demonstrates a special longing for a father that Obama never knew. He was Kenyan while his mother was an American woman from Hawaii so the mixed race component is definitely there. Let us consider this excerpt: “First longings leapt up to brush my heart. Distant voices appeared, and ebbed, and then appeared again. I remembered the stories that my mother and her parents told me as a child, the stories of a family trying to explain itself. I recalled my first year as a community organizer in Chicago and my awkward steps toward manhood.” (Obama, 1995). Here we can observe the power of storytelling from the past to the younger generation which demonstrates the importance of the tales concept which is also used by American Indians. Obama had to learn about his father from his grandmother while in company with his sister. This is certainly a compelling situation and one can also sense the yearning of Obama to encounter his father and become a real family. He defines his progression towards manhood as ‘awkward, doubtless due to the fact that he lacked the father figure to look up to although thankfully this did not have any negative effect on his career which saw him rise to the highest echelons of achievement as President of the United States. However the mixed race literature element surely shows different strands of society in more ways than one and is a valuable addition to the literary canon and is not just part of the racial/ethnic element at all. In ‘Exploring the Popularization of the Mixed Race American’, Michele Elam looks at the progress made in mixed race arts especially on the publications and drama side of things. However Elam also notes the increased popularity of mixed race literature in very basic outlets such as cartoons as well as children’s literature. In this quote one can feel the pulse of the vibrancy which is informing mixed race culture in the United States: “I started noticing the increasing popularization of certain kinds of images of mixed race people in media,” a popularity that extended into education curricula, from children’s books on how to raise a mixed race kindergartener through to college courses in “mixed race studies” (Elam, 2011) This quote helps us to observe the differences which are going on in American society for Elam notes that although mixed race people were becoming much more popular in the media, not enough attention was being given to the literature emanating from this source. She seems to believe that the contribution of mixed race art is crucial to our understanding of the race question as we continue travelling through the new millennium. This is a potent observation and doubtlessly is important to our further appreciation of this literary genre. Heidi Durrow’s seminal novel, ‘The Girl Who Fell from the Sky’ is a typical example of mixed race literature where the author is half Danish but is black. At first her work received multiple rejections but when it as finally published it actually became a best seller infiltrating elite publications such as The New Yorker and national radio stations where she was repeatedly invited to talk about her book. One can also note that works such as these have a positive multiplier effect on the declaration of Americans who are of mixed race identity; in fact this has increased by no less than 32 per cent since the year 2000.

Works Cited:

James McBride; Color of Water, Simon and Schuster, 2011 Print Barack Obama; Dreams From My Father, Simon and Schuster, 1995, Print Interview with Michelle Elam; Exploring the Popularization of the Mixed Race American; Stanford University Press, 2011, Print Race Remixed; New York Time


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In One Image The Patient By Samar Abu Elouf

Beds are scarce at Nasser Hospital. So is gauze, disinfectant and even basic pain medicine. But in wartime Gaza, there is no shortage of patients.

With the wounded streaming in after an explosion in the southern city of Khan Younis, this doctor knows he has little time to tend to his patient before he must move on to the next.

New arrivals often end up on the floor. Without anything to lean on to take notes, doctors sometimes have little choice but to use the patients themselves.

That bottle does not hold medical-grade disinfectant. The hospital has had to make do with pandemic-era hand sanitizer.

It was 8:15 in the evening on Oct. 24, two weeks into Israeli airstrikes that followed a bloody attack by Hamas. This man was among those wounded in a residential area.

As the doctors race to try to save lives, the chaos presses in. People are wailing. Many are seriously wounded. Others are trying to find relatives. Families huddle around patients, desperate for information.

Those patients who are saved cannot expect to stay long at Nasser Hospital. They are quickly discharged into a city in ruins. Every bit of floor space is needed.

Supported by

What One Photo Shows About a Gaza Hospital in Chaos

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By Samar Abu Elouf

Leer en español

“Red!” “Yellow!” “Green!”

The air at Nasser Hospital is pierced by the cries of medical workers getting their first look at patients coming in from a city under siege. Red is not good. It is for the most seriously wounded people, but even the other codes offer little comfort in a hospital stripped of the most basic necessities.

It is generally very difficult to learn much about the patients I photograph. In this case, the man with the medical forms on him was said to have been pulled from the rubble. What was his name? I do not know. Did he survive? I do not know that, either.

But he appeared to have two things possibly going in his favor: He was a Green. And he was given a space, if only on the floor. The hospital cannot afford to waste time on those who clearly won’t make it.

It is hard to convey the horror that is Nasser Hospital these days.

Everything is a blur. People running, people screaming. Doctors and nurses rushing from patient to patient. Family members desperately looking for the missing, hoping someone can stop and help them.

Every sense is assaulted.

The smell is very difficult. It is like burned skin, or perhaps charred tires mixed with the odor of blood and flesh. It’s a very strange and specific smell — and I fear it may never leave me.

Earlier in the war, the hospital was busy, but things appeared manageable. Then came a flood of refugees, as the Israel military, preparing a ground invasion, warned civilians in the north to evacuate.

The other day I found myself next to a doctor who was saying that before the war, the hospital used to cap daily admissions at 700. “Today, on a regular day without shelling, we accept more than 2,000 cases,” the doctor said.

Like many hospitals in Gaza, fuel shortages tied to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade have left Nasser struggling to keep the lights on and the equipment running. Critically needed food and medical supplies are said to be trickling into the territory, but when I ask the staff at Nasser about it, they tell me: “We haven’t received anything.”

And so children come in shivering with fever, and with no acetaminophen, little can be done for them. I often pass by the pediatric unit, and it is always full.

This is all I can tell you. This is what I have seen with my own eyes.

essays about mixed race

Written by Eric Nagourney .

Samar Abu Elouf is a freelance photographer based in Gaza City. She has been working for The Times since the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2021. More about Samar Abu Elouf

Our Coverage of the Israel-Hamas War

Al-Shifa Hospital: Israeli soldiers continued to scour Gaza’s largest hospital   for evidence  to support Israel’s assertion that the complex doubled as a Hamas command center, as the country came under increasing pressure from Western allies to ease the suffering of Gaza’s population.

Hostages:  Israel and Hamas appeared to be nearing a deal  to trade 50 women and children abducted during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks for roughly the same number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons.

Peace Activists: A younger generation of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers want to be part of the dialogue about how to live side by side  after the war ends.

Testing an Unspoken Rule: The Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in the Greater Jerusalem swim club made a point of not focusing on their differences. That changed with the war .

The Conflict’s   Global  Reach

TikTok: More than a dozen Jewish TikTok creators and celebrities confronted the company in a private meeting  with executives and other employees, urging it to do more to address a surge  of antisemitism  and harassment on its online platform.

Visa Waiver Program: Israel is preventing Palestinian Americans from entering Israel from the West Bank , an apparent violation of an agreement reached before the war that permits citizens from the United States and Israel to travel to the other nation without a visa.

In the United States: Speaking at a news conference after a meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, President Biden said that the endpoint of the Israel-Hamas conflict had to be a Palestinian state that would be “real,”  existing alongside an Israeli one.

In Britain:  The Labour Party, the country’s main opposition party, suffered a significant rebellion in Parliament  over its policy on Gaza, with 56 lawmakers defying the group’s official position on the conflict and voting in favor of a motion calling for an immediate cease-fire.



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  20. Interracial Marriage in the U.S.

    If the trends from these research reports continue then the future generations will win this battle. This essay, "Interracial Marriage in the U.S." is published exclusively on IvyPanda's free essay examples database. You can use it for research and reference purposes to write your own paper. However, you must cite it accordingly .

  21. Essay On Mixed Race

    Essay On Mixed Race Decent Essays 385 Words 2 Pages Open Document Essay Sample Check Writing Quality Show More The Hispanic race consists the 12.5% of the US population. That is to say, my actual story as Hispanic is being born in New Jersey from US naturalized parents and they are Honduran by birth.

  22. Mixed Race Literature Essays

    Mixed race literature as compelling non-fiction. One of the finest examples of mixed race literature is Barack Obama's 'Dreams of my Father' which demonstrates a special longing for a father that Obama never knew. He was Kenyan while his mother was an American woman from Hawaii so the mixed race component is definitely there.

  23. Mixed Race

    Read this essay on Mixed Race. Come browse our large digital warehouse of free sample essays. Get the knowledge you need in order to pass your classes and more. ... Mixed race or family: Black Americans and the Okinawan In the modern society, interactions are based on the interaction compatibility of people rather than different social ...

  24. Opinion

    Guest Essay. American Elections Are About Abortion Now. Nov. 10, 2023. A black-and-white photograph shows two people holding signs. One says "No Issue 1" and the other says "Yes on Issue 1

  25. What One Photo Shows About a Gaza Hospital in Chaos

    The hospital has had to make do with pandemic-era hand sanitizer. It was 8:15 in the evening on Oct. 24, two weeks into Israeli airstrikes that followed a bloody attack by Hamas. This man was ...

  26. Status Of Two Cavs Stars In Question Vs. Pistons

    Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell are questionable for the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA In-Season Tournament game vs. the Detroit Pistons.