Recently I was asked to join a group because they wanted a more mainstream “white” or Canadian opinion or voice in the group. Now,normally I wouldn’t think anything of the comment as it wasn’t meant in a negative or racist way but simply because they wanted a more well-rounded, representative group. But it came at the same time I was following a couple of conversations on Twitter about race. So it stuck. And made me think… or to use my new favourite word, muse about race.
The first Twitter conversation was all about overcoming racial stereotypes. However, like some discussions on race, it was very cut and dried. Not so much that people had very definite opinions – although they did – but in that there were ‘white’, ‘black’ and ‘Asian’ people. But no thoughts seemed to be spared for those that were either mixed or none of the three main races. And while I was wondering how I would weigh in, one tweet caught my attention. It basically said (and it’s not the first time I’d heard this sentiment), “you can’t understand, you’re white.”
That’s ridiculous, on several levels. First, to assume that only non-white people experience racism is extremely ignorant. Second, even if by some miracle the people hadn’t experienced any racism in their life, racism isn’t the only form of discrimination. And finally, that’s assuming that because the person looked ‘white’, they were.
I am mixed race – Caucasian (white) and Native Canadian. I identify as mixed race if I have to check off a box on those surveys – although I’d prefer to identify as Canadian, rather than by race – but I also know that most people think I’m white. I know I look or “pass” for white.
Now my race isn’t a secret, I’m quite open about it when anyone asks, but I also know that because I look white and people generally assume I am, I have faced significantly less racism. Certainly less than my father did growing up with that hated label of being a “half-breed.” But, like most people, I have experienced some. Even some for looking “too white.” And yeah, some for being ‘white’. So yeah, I can understand.
Luckily, the other conversation was much lighter but no less serious in its own way.
You see, the other conversation I was following was about multiracial relationships. And just like above, one comment grabbed my attention. I don’t remember exactly how it was worded but the gist was that any relationship she entered – regardless of her partner’s race – going to be multiracial. Because she already was.
And it was like she just smacked me up the side of the head.
The same is true of me! And I had never thought of it that way before… ever.
I could date a white guy, an Asian guy, a black guy… ANY GUY… and we’re going to be in a multiracial relationship. It doesn’t matter who I date or what race he is, since I’m already mixed race, every relationship I have is multiracial.
How did this never cross my mind? Have I been fooled by my packaging like everybody else? Or is it because I don’t care about the race of the guy I’m dating so I just thought of them as relationships?
Now, I hope it’s the latter – and it’s true, I don’t care about race in my partner (although I do prefer guys with dark hair… oh wait, you can have dark hair and be any race.) But not caring about race, while great, is different from being an idiot and unaware (and I did feel like I was hit by the stupid stick for the thought having never entered my mind.)
I’d like to think it doesn’t matter nowadays. But I know it still does to some people. Which is why people were talking about it on Twitter.
But I wonder if we should change our view away from thinking of our race as our primary identifier and move towards using our culture. Especially as more and more people are mixed race. It might eliminate some discrimination as culture can be learned and therefore it’s something you have control over, unlike your race which is something you’re born with. Plus I can’t be the only mixed race person who feels stronger ties to my Canadian culture than either of my races. And mixed race just confuses people (and myself) as there is no or little identity associated with it.
All of this rambling musings on race, assumptions and how we are still perceived and judged based on the colour of our skin shows that unfortunately, race does still matter. Even in multicultural societies like Canada or the U.S. I wish it didn’t.
How do you identify yourself? What do you think we can do to make race less of a defining element?