I identify as multiracial. I grew up when our country was still trying to understanding what multiracial meant. I grew up when our country forced me to choose a homogeneous racial identity on governmental forms and standardized tests. I grew up in a community where I was not White enough and I was not Asian Pacific Islander (API) enough. Where did I belong? What group would accept me? Over the years, I have formed my racial identity into one I would describe as API multiracial. Half-Asian, Half-White. I have realized I identify most with other multiracial folks although I can feel a part of different racial groups at different times.
I entered the world of higher education to work with students in the realm of social justice. Currently, I work in a multicultural center, overseeing intergroup dialogue. I am able to have many conversations with students about identity, privilege, and oppression. Through one of these recent conversations about White privilege, a thought occurred to me: Since I am half White, do I benefit from White privilege on some level? In other words, am I half-privileged?
In social justice work, privilege is commonly defined as “the systematic unearned benefits for people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group.” Then, White privilege can be thought of as the unearned benefits White people enjoy simply because they are White or perceived White. I guess the big question comes down to...Do I hold membership within the White community? And through my membership, do I enjoy unearned privilege?
When I was in graduate school in Seattle, I held one of the only mixed-race identities in my cohort. This part of my identity development was particularly difficult because from my perspective; our cohort community seemed very polarized over race – students of color and White students. I felt I did not fit into either group. Moreover, I felt in the middle of such “dialogues,” hearing the struggles and complaints of both sides. At times, I had memberships in both groups, and others, I had no memberships at all. For me, my multiracial identity will be forever transient. In certain environments, with certain groups of people, I will find different parts of my racial identity to be salient.
Back to my question...Do I hold membership in the White community? Like multiracial identities, the answer is more complicated than black or white, yes or no. Outright, on the surface, I do not enjoy many of the privileges that comes with being White. I am perceived API or multiracial and deal daily with the marginalization and oppression that comes with those identities: microagressions, the model minority myth, limited representation of my identity in leadership roles, and more. However, I do recognize many of the institutional privileges I have benefitted from because my father is White. I have two quick examples I want to share:
1. My family’s socioeconomic status: race and socioeconomic status are intertwined and I need to address the difference of income and wealth. Income is hourly, monthly, or yearly amount of dollars a person receives. On top of income, wealth includes all assets a person owns – house, car, stocks, bonds, etc. Wealth is what is passed down from one generation to the next and throughout our history, we can see White families have more easily retained and passed down wealth. In my father’s lineage, the path of inherited wealth is clear and I realize that wealth had a hand in getting me to where I am today.
2. My father’s connections: my first job was in high school. I knew I was going to apply to a computer science program for higher education, but I had little experience actually engineering. My father works at a national laboratory and was able to get me a paid internship working with the software engineer on his team. This not only helped me get my footing financially, but the opportunity gave me valuable experience which in turn gave me a leg up in the application process for college. Moreover, in the first year in college, I had an added advantage in a highly competitive computer science program.
I have discovered first-hand the complexities of multiracial identities. My identities continue to shift and develop, and I find new areas to explore and discuss daily. As a professional in higher education, it is my goal to work with our ever growing population of multiracial students to help support their own identity development and challenge them to grapple with tough questions like, “Am I half-privileged?”
Brendon is an Area Coordinator at Wheaton College in Massachusetts with an ancillary role as a Program Coordinator in the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning. Outside of higher education, Brendon spends his time blogging about intersections of social justice, board games, and books on his blog Reading and Gaming for Justice.