Biracial or Biethnic?

I have been trying to understand race and identity my entire life and it has been a complicated road. My mother is white and my father is a hispanic immigrant from El Salvador. Being multi ethnic (I guess I’m not biracial since hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race..?) is absolutely confusing, and in my 26 years and many hours of reading about race and identity, I’m not sure I’ve figured things out. While I culturally may not be very openly hispanic it doesn’t matter, because my brown skin is what people see first. When they meet me they make a judgement based on my skin tone and my name. There are opinions and stereotypes that people have about me and how ‘my people’ act. For this reason I have to think carefully about how I conduct myself in an academic setting and how I approach challenging discussions of race and where/when I choose to speak up. Frankly, I don’t have much of a filter on this topic and regularly call out what I appear to be biases, but it is incredibly draining sometimes.

For this blog post, I decided to respond to several comments that stuck out to me in the ‘Dismantling Racism in Education’ podcast:

 (1) “Because I’m brown that doesn’t make me a diversity expert or an expert on race”

Oh man, if I had a dollar for every time this has come up. So true. I understand the desire to have representation on panels discussing race, but I wouldn’t say that I am the expert on race. Like Sara said in the podcast, I have lived experiences that are unique to my white colleagues. For that reason I am more comfortable navigating the conversation of race, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be put on me to teach others what is wrong and right.

(2) “White Privilege”

Again, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve tried to navigate explaining this one. I appreciated the breakdown and separation of white privilege from social/economic privilege. These are two different things that should not be confused. White privilege is so closely tied to representation, being able to see your face represented and being able to see your experiences represented as the norm. That is white privilege. White privilege is ignoring that police brutality is a thing because as a white person you don’t have negative experiences with police officers, so how could anyone else? (Insert face palm emoji)

(3) “It costs white people nothing to speak up”

Yasssss. Please. Do speak up. For me. When I speak up, I’m considered an angry brown woman. Any time I bring up race or point out biases that my white peers have, I can guarantee you that going through someones head is ‘the race card again,’ and that is exhausting. Knowing that I can keep bringing up what I believe to be wrong, but then I get pegged as the continually angry person pointing out race problems. But why do I always have to be the one to say something. If we see ourselves as progressives, then it should be just as evident for me that something is racist as it is to the person next to me.

(4) “Many of us are reluctant to speak up because we don’t have the expertise”

I have heard this a lot, and I agree, as a white person you may not have the expertise, and I appreciate you admitting that upfront. So here’s what you can do. Educate yourselves. Please. Take the time to listen and respect others opinions. Listen, appreciate, and understand that those experiences are real. Do not question that experience just because you have never experienced it. That is what I would say, listen, and respect perspectives that are not your own. Practice becoming comfortable with conversations and situations that make you uncomfortable, that’s how we make change.

6 thoughts on “Biracial or Biethnic?

  1. Thank you for your thoughts, I really appreciate hearing your perspective. Your 1st and 4th points seem connected to me, though I am still figuring out what the connection is. 🙂 Just because an individual is a member of a certain group does not mean that he/she is automatically an expert, whether that group is a majority or minority. And I think what you suggest is right on: education. I do hope that in the future I will feel comfortable speaking up for others when I have the opportunity to do so.

  2. Thank you for your post Selva, I really appreciate ever single word you’ve written and identify with it. One sentence particularly stood out to me, “Do not question that experience just because you have never experienced it.” Yes! absolutely. There are so many times when I share something of my experiences and people look at me like – I think you’re overthinking it, over judging it, over paranoid about it….it is even more frustrating when you think someone “gets” you and then they actually SAY IT! I also agree with the piece about being tired, and yes do speak up, but I also think speak up for me with my permission because some days I am ready to fight the days I am not I wish someone would stand up for me.
    PS – it really isn’t that tough to educate oneself, right?!

  3. Thanks so much for this, Selva! I agree with all of this. I’m especially interested in figuring out how to get white people (self included) to speak up more. Because we simply must. One of the quotes from the podcast that stuck with me (and that echoes my experience over many decades) was about how we can’t expect POC to do all of the heavy lifting on confronting racism. It’s white peoples’ problem as well, and I think we need to own that.

    Same way with the “me too” movement (this is kind of pivot, but I think it works): People who harass and demean women at work can’t do it alone. Someone always sees something, but few speak out or intervene…because they don’t think it affects them directly, or they hope they are misunderstanding the situation, or they are afraid of the consequences of saying something. Until we appreciate that we are all in this together and need to support and appreciate difference, it’s going to be a long, long road.

  4. Yes to all of this! I really appreciate that your shared how these labels and demarcations are challenging for you AND that you provided some guidance for white people to act.

  5. Selva,

    I really appreciate your blog. I come from a mixed racial identity (my mother is hispanic and my father is white) and find it difficult to find my place. I too am not as outspoken about my cultural identity. I’ve gotten questions like, “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” and I understand people recognize my skin color and are curious about my ethnicity, but there is a better way to ask those questions so I don’t feel unwelcome. I worry that people want me to be the spokesperson for an entire cultural group when I am in a predominately white office-setting. I agree that we all need to acknowledge our own privilege and that is something that I have been able to do since coming to graduate school. I also appreciate your observation regarding speaking out regardless of being an expert. I have been a bystander in the past because I am from a mixed identity and I worry that my voice is not valued. My fear is that people will question my motives and experiences. This is something that I am continuing to work on.

    Thank you for addressing this topic.

  6. I love the way you break down some of the difficult to talk about parts of the conversation on race. I espevially love this point—“Because I’m brown that doesn’t make me a diversity expert or an expert on race.” Have you ever read a book called, This Bridge Called My Back editted by feminist anthology edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa? Its all about—‘don’t make me your bridge to understanding’ from perspectives of women of color. I think its a really powerful text.

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