Explaining My Multiracial Identity (So Others Don’t Do It For Me)
Every time someone guesses wrong, I am the one to apologize.
—“Excuse me, ma’am, I just wanted to inquire about your race and how it relates to the child you are holding”—and how dim you have to be to not realize a redhead can birth a brunette.
“identity politics.” I hated them.
—not just what you look like, but who you surround yourself with. The Indian immigrants’ dark skin meant they were more often accepted in black and Latino neighborhoods and social circles. When it came time to marry, many married black and Latino women; when the census taker came, confused as to what a “Hindu” was, he would mark both down as the wife’s race. (This would change a few years later with the 1907 Expatriation Act, which stated that “women assume the citizenship of their husbands regardless of residency.”)
Are they yours? Where are you from? Are you all together?
Sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew
But there’s a privilege in being able to announce one’s racial identity rather than be immediately tied to it. You become a fun surprise and fascinating and cool to people who feel they are the default, and thus boring.
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When we dress up, when we experiment, sometimes it’s because we are trying to discover who we are. But sometimes it’s because we already know and have nothing to hide.
More in this series
“Mrs. Patten Would Doubtless Be of Service if a Man”: Mary Patten and Shirley Jackson, Two Women Who Broke the Mold
Patten didn’t undress for fifty days while onboard Neptune’s Car because “the threat of rape had never been far from her mind.”