Biracialism: Discomfort with Racial Ambiguity


Allison Markman, Staff Writer

Students explored the origins of discomfort with racial ambiguity through a combination of personal experiences and history at the “Biracialism: Discomfort with Racial Ambiguity” Unity Week workshop, Maddie Yoon (11) said. Yoon hosted the workshop together with Clio Rao (11) as part of their Seminar on Identity (SOI) class, she said.

Yoon decided to host the workshop to start conversations about biracialism, a topic that is seldom discussed, she said. 

The idea for their workshop stemmed from their SOI class, Rao said. “Maddie and I began our planning process in SOI class, with the help of Ms. Odom and Mr. Shaw,” Rao said.
“We both knew that we wanted to talk about biracialism, but since that’s such a broad topic, we brainstormed together about how to narrow it down.”

Yoon and Rao began planning the workshop by brainstorming about their personal experiences as biracial individuals, Yoon said. “We wanted to think about which of our experiences would be relevant to the HM community, while also incorporating different articles and statistics we researched.”

Rao hoped that attendees of the workshop would gain a better understanding of racial ambiguity, she said. “It’s definitely a loaded topic, but discomfort with racial ambiguity is so normalized in our culture that it can be rather surprising to talk about its actual implications,” she said. “I hope people also were able to widen their perspective surrounding multiracial culture, and maybe even begin to disregard the stereotypes that are so present in our society.”

The workshop was discussion based, and presenters shared a personal experience, video, case study, and quote. Then they discussed the implications of the phrases used and the key takeaways from the video, including harms to personal identity that certain comments can have on biracial people.

Jared Contant (11) thought the format of the workshop worked well. There were many opportunities for discussion, especially with people he does not always talk to, rather than solely self-reflection, Contant said. 

The workshop allowed students to learn new information and then reflect on it in smaller groups, Malcolm Furman (11) said. Yoon and Rao would introduce an aspect of biracialism and then allow attendees to break up into smaller groups to synthesize their thoughts. “This allowed for a more wholesome experience in the workshop because we could engage with each other and our own personal experiences while learning about this topic more generally,” he said

Furman was struck by the lack of acceptance and social validation biracial people face within society, he said. The workshop discussed how society strives to put biracial people into boxes with certain racial labels, however many have more than one racial identity and do not fit as clearly into these boxes, he said.

Part of the workshop was dedicated to microaggressions — such as being asked “What are you?” — that biracial people often experience, Rao said. Yoon and Rao’s goal for this part of the workshop was to address people’s discomfort with racial ambiguity and the social invalidation of being biracial that cause these types of questions, she said.

During the workshop, the presenters showed a video titled, “What it means to be biracial.” The video contained personal reflections from biracial people about their experiences, Maya Westra (11) said. “What stood out to me about the video is that no matter who the person was, they had similar experiences [with the discrimination they faced],” she said. “Since this is unity week, I thought a lot about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging which I learned in SOI, and it really showed me how society and these experiences contributed to a lack of belonging and inspired me to think more about actionable steps that we as a society can be taking.”

Westra also found it important that the presenters spoke about the history of suppression against biracial people, she said. “We talk about identity often, however we don’t always get to the root of the suppression and where it stems from,” she said.

Contant attended the workshop to support his friends who were leading it and to learn about a topic that is not often discussed at school, he said. “I learned a lot about the different ways society likes people to conform to a certain list and to fit within specific parameters, and how this specifically impacts biracial or multiracial people as they are frequently treated like others and experience a divided sense of personality,” he said. 

The combination of insightful information and a good group of people made the workshop especially engaging, Furman said. “I enjoyed engaging in powerful conversations about why it is important that we recognize racial ambiguity and confront the reality of challenges biracial people feel in America,”’ he said. “There was a good group of people that attended the workshop, which allowed us to discuss complex issues while grounding ourselves in personal experiences.”