The quest for racial validity

by Elise Chen / Beacon Correspondent • November 2, 2017

I identify as a person of color, but in the fight for racial justice I often feel more like an ally than a member of the POC community.

I’m biracial—Chinese on my dad’s side, European descent on my mom’s. As I navigate through the world, I usually pass as white, which provides me with privileges most of my POC peers don’t have. I understand I have a responsibility to use this privilege as a tool to amplify the voices of people who continue to be silenced.

In many POC communities, members are encouraged to prioritize the voices of those within the group who are most marginalized. They often discourage centering whiteness in conversations, because it’s exhausting for members to hear about white people again when so much of life already revolves around the systemic inequality created and upheld by white people.

But when you’re a POC whose existence does, in fact, center on whiteness, it can feel isolating.

In my efforts to respect issues of racial inequality typically considered more pressing, I have lost spaces where I can express my own painful experiences related to racial identity. It continuously stings when someone gives me a funny look after comparing my face to my last name, but I feel pressured to disregard this pain when confronted with the stories of discrimination that others face.

I’ve found myself withdrawing from the communities I once considered crucial to my sense of self. I’ve shied away from the protests and opted for slacktivist actions like retweeting threads, sharing articles on Facebook, and signing petitions because I don’t understand my role in the POC community. Withdrawing has become an action of self-preservation, and I know I’m not alone.

I’m not the only mixed race person who longs for a space where I can work through my complicated relationship with race free from fear of hurting the cause for racial justice rather than helping.

I know that my withdrawal is not acceptable. Not when I hear stories about peers leaving Emerson because of the racial bias they’ve faced at the school. Not when white supremacists regularly terrorize people of color.

It is so important for POC to have safe spaces where they can express themselves and their frustrations, where they can share their experiences freely. It’s especially important for these spaces to exist given our current racial climate—both in a national context and within the context of our school. But these safe spaces must also exist for white-mixed bi- and multiracial people.

Mixed race individuals who are part white need to keep supporting our POC peers who are facing worse discrimination than us. To do that, though, we need to take the time and energy necessary to carve out a space where we can safely share our experiences with one another without detracting from the more important conversations.