By Olivia Funderburg '18
Let’s talk about race. Race is a hot topic right now, because of recent attention on police brutality and potential racial profiling. Race is also an important topic, always. Whether we realize it or not, race, and associations that come with it, affect our daily lives. For me, the topic of race is a little complicated. But to start, I don’t want to talk about myself: I want to talk about Barack Obama. We all know who Barack Obama is—the first African-American President of the United States. I’m sure we can all recite that fact off the top of our heads, but it doesn’t tell Obama’s whole story. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, African-American refers to “an American (especially a North American) of African origin: a black American.” Yes, Obama is a black American, and yes, he is of African origin, but there is more to him. Obama is biracial. His father was originally from Kenya and his mother was born in Kansas. Obama is of African origin but he is also of white American origin. Labeling him the first “African- American” President of the United States isn’t wholly accurate, and somewhat ignores his maternal heritage. Obama is the first mixed-race president, and that makes him even more exceptional.
I had a conversation about his exceptionality with my mom after I had a sort of Obama epiphany. I had been reading his Wikipedia page, and that fact jumped out at me. I called her up to say, “Mom! Obama isn’t just African American! He’s mixed-race! People don’t really talk really talk about that, why don’t people talk about that?” She told me that she was, of course, completely aware of the fact that Obama is a multiracial person. She also informed me that she isn’t fond of the word “race.” She had expressed this sentiment previously, but I hadn’t really gotten what she meant. Now, I do. By my understanding, race (as a social concept) refers to groups of people who look alike. I like the word “ethnicity” a lot more than I like the word “race.”
For me, “race” connotes categorization; it’s about differences between people and separation. In contrast, I think a question of “ethnicity” asks about where you’re from; it asks about your history, your ancestors. Ethnicity is about people and culture and connections. Ethnicity is a more personal word, and I think it holds countless more possibilities than the current understanding of race does. Ethnicity is more inclusive, and it most definitely is about more than the color of your skin. Ethnicity is a more reasonable way of considering different types of people than through separations of race. What is race? When you ask about race, aren’t we all just part of the human race? Race is something I think about a lot because of my family. My mom is white and my dad is black. What am I? What is my brother? Black? White? We’re both, and we’re neither. We’re something inbetween.Being in-between is going somewhere with my white mom and having people question her relation to me. Being in-between is having someone say to me, “Well, you’re basically white,” or ask, “What are you?” That question, “What am I?” is so impersonal. How about, “Who am I?” The answer to that, or almost any other question, would provide much more substantial information about me. Being in-between is difficult, but it also allows you to embrace your identity and stop being afraid to be a little bit different.
Race, for me, is complex, and confusing, because I don’t fit into any traditional existing racial category. I’m biracial, multiracial, mixed-race; multiple terms can be used to describe me, and they all give the same general, vague information.Being multiracial isn’t always an option though. A lot of standardized tests or questionnaires require you to choose one option to describe your race, but don’t include multiracial as one of them. They merely list the option of “other.” I am not “other.” No person is “other.” There is almost nothing that bothers me more than having to check a box labeled “other.” “Other” shouldn’t be a label I, or anyone, is forced to use. I think it’s important for the understanding of race, or ethnicity, to expand in such a way that nobody will be put into an “other” category. Nobody is“other,” because everybody comes from somewhere.
Race is hard to talk about for anyone, but especially for someone like me, who can’t be labeled as being one race. I’m proud of being mixed; it’s part of who I am and where I come from. But being mixed is living in between racial divisions and that’s why (I get it now, Mom!) I don’t really like the word race. I think ethnicity is a better word than race for talking about people. We definitely live in a society built upon a lot of labeling, but some labeling wouldn’t be missed if it were to disappear. I, for one, wouldn’t miss labels of race. What race am I?
From February 2015 Issue