The Biracial Identity Crisis: An Unfair Racial Tug of War
Updated: Feb 27
A narrative about the complexities surrounding being mixed race. In this case, half Black and half Asian.
Written by: Catherine Knox
Edited by Mateo Daffin
Mixed race people have existed in the U.S since before the country was even founded. Conceived, albeit, through marriage, violence, or consensual but secret partnerships, there have been generations of biracial people and they still continue to populate the country to this day. Despite this, many biracial individuals often face scrutiny on the validity of their backgrounds. When delving into the perspectives of biracial people today, we see how many of them do not always view their identity as valid nor themselves as beautiful. This phenomenon manifests as a biracial identity crisis, an issue with detrimental effects yet seems ignored by non-biracial/multiracial people. An unfair tug of war plays in the minds of younger and even older generations, an internal strife that isn’t always won. Rather than struggling to pick a side, the biracial community should feel confident in the fluidity of their identity.
I myself am a biracial woman: half Black (my father’s side) and half Filipino (my mother’s side). As a young child, my mom would take me to the Philippines around once a year where I would visit her side of the family. I would see my Filipino cousins and often wish I had their straight hair instead of the curls I convinced myself I had to tame. They would speak in their native tongue of Bisaya or Tagalog, and while I could partially understand, I still felt like an imposter. When I was around 10-12 years old, my mother instilled in me this habit of staying silent when entering any Filipino taxi cab. “If they hear you, they’ll know you’re a foreigner and they’ll charge us more money,” she warned. I agreed and fell asleep in her lap during the ride to the hotel. When I awoke, I heard my mother arguing with the driver in Bisaya accusing him of charging us more money by taking the longer route to the hotel. My mother’s face was red with anger and I felt more confused than ever.
As I grew older, I was beginning to understand how being mixed was a lovely thing but a war still raged within me. I was born and raised in Texas where I was mainly surrounded by other African American kids. Despite being Black, I still didn’t feel as though I belonged. I was labeled as not being “Black enough” if I didn’t listen to certain music or didn’t like certain food. When I would fill out online forms at school, they would ask for my race. Usually there wasn’t the “two or more races” option so I would just “identify” as Black and not make a fuss. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit America in March 2020, someone told me that “my kind” was to blame for everything that had happened. A nerve was struck and confusion set in. Did he believe that I somehow had control of the virus coming to America because I was half-Asian? In reflecting on these types of moments I’ve experienced my whole life, I realized that I had been grappling with my identity for too long and it was time for change.
Others affected by the mentally stressful biracial identity crisis may not be as properly supported in society. In a 2017 article by Allure magazine, Meghan Markle, the famous Suits actress and now Duchess of Sussex, talked about her struggles as a Biracial woman in Hollywood. She exposed how after castings, she was labeled as “ethnically ambiguous.” Markle, whose father is white and mother is Black, also opened up on the inequality and assumptions that she faced based on her skin color. She noted how, “I could put a name to feeling too light in the Black community, too mixed in the white community.”
Markle isn’t the only shining star that has wrestled with her racial identity. Music sensation Mariah Carey sang about the subject in her song “Outside.” In one line she says, “Always somewhat out of place everywhere / Ambiguous / Without a sense of belonging to touch.” Carey was raised in an all white neighborhood by her Black father and white mother. In the song it was clear that she had felt alienated in life due to her racial background. “I didn’t even think I was worthy of happiness and success. I thought I wasn’t allowed to be that person that would have that,” she told Today in 2020.
Regardless of status or popularity, biracial individuals deserve to have their voices heard when speaking on the fluidity of their identities. This struggle goes beyond just the insecurity of comparing yourself to others. It affects ethnic and cultural identity that can cause one to question their sense of belonging in society. When discussing the complexions of race, it’s important to note that ideals of white supremacy are still being upheld within multiracial communities. Lighter-skinned people, many of whom are biracial, are often considered as more desirable than their darker-skinned counterparts. Multiracial people with darker skin tones are sometimes even mocked by their own community for not meeting Eurocentric ideals of beauty. Therefore, certain biracial individuals may begin to feel as if they are either “not light enough” or “too dark.” It’s a different tug of war between wanting to feel comfortable in the skin one was born in versus trying to meet the imposed ideals of whiteness.
Research also shows that multiracial communities face a lot of anxiety and depression. According to the ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America), finding balance within the cultures and identities they are a part of can result in “feelings of displacement, inadequacy, and racial ambiguousness.” This identity crisis coincides with feelings of imposter syndrome since they feel confused as to where they do and don’t belong. Feelings of lack of belonging can then affect self esteem and evoke extreme depression or even suicidal thoughts.
Today, the number of biracial/multiracial people is vastly increasing but still remains a fraction of the population. The 2010 US Census revealed there were around 9 million people in the U.S that identified as two or more races. In 2020 that number grew to 33.8 million, a 276% increase. With this colossal uptick, hopefully there will also be an increase in resources or communities centered around the fluidity of multiracial identity. If not, I worry that this mental health epidemic will only worsen over time.
Markle, Carey, and I have faced many of the same internal conflicts at the hands of the biracial identity crisis. Despite the extraordinary number of others with similar stories, it still feels as though no one cares to address the racial insecurities that come with being mixed. Within our institutions there must be active change such as outreach groups and biracial specific therapy sessions in order to overcome this unfair racial tug of war. When we look in the mirror, we should see a beautiful product of intertwined heritage. My fellow biracial brothers and sisters must quit this fight between identities and embrace that they were born the best of both worlds.