UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Point of View

Forum: The multiracial student experience at UC Berkeley

Following the publication March 7 of an article about four mixed students at Berkeley, we are inviting the UC Berkeley community (students, faculty, staff, and alumni) to share their own experiences and thoughts about being multiracial not just in Berkeley, but in America.

We will publish the most thoughtful e-mailed responses (send to bpowell@berkeley.edu) below over the next several days, most recent submissions first. Responses should be brief and must include the sender's full name, year and major (or title and department); for verification purposes, you must send from a Berkeley e-mail account. Submissions may be edited for length and clarity.

April 4, 2006

'I don't want people to ask, yet I want them to know. I appreciate physical ambiguity, yet I often yearn to visibly belong to a racial group. I feel satisfaction knowing that my appearance defies racial stereotypes and is proof of contemporary racial ignorance. I realize my privilege in avoiding derogatory slurs like "chink," a slur directed at my loved ones too often. I despise the racist jokes that are not intended for me, but that do apply. There comes the guilt in wanting to identify as Chinese, but not encountering negative experiences of visibly Chinese individuals (or those that are mistaken for Chinese). Can I still say that I am Chinese? Or wanting to identify as Black, but feeling the guilt of not being "Black enough." Can I still say that I am Black? Better yet, is it OK for me to accept a scholarship for Black students (well, I did)? Or finding it funny that I rarely mark the "White" box because I do not identify as White, though my last name is Scottish (no, I wasn't adopted).

The burden of being required to racially identify and then absorb the reaction of peers is lessened now that I am out of grade school. Nevertheless, it surfaces not infrequently. I have recently found peace in recognizing my ancestors and their accomplishments, no matter how I act or where I did or did not grow up. Our families are ours, and no one can deny us our stories, our history, who we are, and our lives in a society embedded in racial definition. There is no "authentic" experience or way of being in this world. I am who I am, and we all must forge a space for ourselves as people with pride and dignity in our roots, no matter how we are perceived by others.

I know, easier said than done.'

—Joycelyn Macbeth, Ethnic Studies '04

March 10, 2005

'A mixed race background can afford someone prestige, which he can ply like a shapeshifter, and which can eventually make him invisible. Incidentally, black mixed with something else is distinct from white mixed with the same.

Before I went to Berkeley, being black and Korean made me superior. People stared at me — or cooed. Subtler still was the defiance that my physical appearance permitted. I could escape the stereotypes leveled against blacks — the worst kind. I could be skinny without being tagged as ill or anorexic. I could take honors in natural science without my classmates suspecting me of cheating. I could prefer the intellectual or fantastic movies and novels traditionally favored by whites. The juxtaposition of "black and Korean," the "worst" and the "ugliest" (in that vein of thinking that Berkeley students chastise themselves and one another for endorsing) against the "truly exotic", transmuted me into what felt like a third race. I grew up among groups predominated by white individuals — as an honorary white person. Now I belonged, but better than they did. Had "white" ultimately symbolized specialness? Then I had redefined white. The alchemy of the quintessential American was my mixed race. I had come from the lowest victims. Yet specialness meant worthiness, and I'd won the game, by the rules of the Dream itself.

However, I could not conceive of my racial background apart from the isolation in which it was fostered. When I came to Berkeley, I avoided mixed students. When I read your article, I felt piercing gladness. Immediately, I replied — awash with a second emotion, the loneliness that borders on fury.'
Adia Shy, English '04, Los Angeles, CA

March 9, 2005

'My experience as mixed-race person is probably different from those of the students interviewed. A generation older, I've had more time to reflect. Also, in college I took a survey course in East Asian civilization, spanning its millennia, rather than the Ethnic Studies courses offered at Cal, which cover mainly the immigrant experience.

While racism has confronted me, from my exposure to two cultures I have also become aware of what I call "positive prejudice." I've come to realize that some white liberals, such as my own mother, have positive but unrealistic attitudes about the Chinese, such as, "The Chinese invented gunpowder but didn't use it for weapons." This I now know to be untrue; the Chinese quickly used their invention for bombs, rockets and guns. Positive prejudice seems to arise in some whites unhappy with their native culture needing to project their desires onto another culture. From my exposure to both my parents' cultures, I have become aware of some of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Like most mixed-raced people today I do not see one as superior to the other and refuse to elevate one of them. '
—Leon L. Tsao, executive assistant to the director of the Electronics Research Lab

'Perhaps because I'm "mixed," I found this article provocative. I've been offended many times by ignorant comments/questions based upon my face, hair, and perhaps behavior.  Non-Asian: "That doesn't seem like it should be your name.  Do you speak English?  Are you from China or Japan?"  Asian: "You hold your chopsticks really well for a ___."

But then I think: even if they know that I'm Chinese-Caucasian-American, they can't stop there to understand much about me and how I was raised.  Mandarin — with a Taiwanese accent — was my first language, but my mother's family actually speaks Cantonese.  My mother is not stereotypically "Chinese" (keeping in mind China's diversity) because she grew up in Hong Kong, where she learned English and wore bellbottoms.  I don't know my biological father so I don't precisely know what kind of "white" I am, but I suppose I'm culturally the typically "mixed-Euro-American" of my stepfather!

Thus, for me, race is an artificial construct, which isolates me from those unknowledgeable of the biracial experience.  At the same time, my races help me to partially define my identity and feel unique. Nonetheless, I hope for the day when people will instead focus upon their numerous similarities.'
Heidi Mason, Geography '04

March 8, 2005

'I was interested to see that the survey of UC undergraduates included different categories for "white," including "Middle Eastern." The categorization of Middle Eastern as "white" has always perplexed me. My father, who is from Iraq and is dark-skinned, has not been treated as "white" in, for example, airports (even before the word "Iraq" on the passport became an issue). My mother is white, and while my sister is darker-skinned and looks more "ethnic" than I do, she and I have both gotten the "where are you from/what is your background" question many times. When asked, I just smile and say "L.A."; if the person persists with the question ("I mean, where is your family from?"), the length of my answer depends on my mood.

What makes it more complicated for my family is that "Jewish" is always identified in this country with white, and especially with Eastern European descent. Many people don't realize that there are Jews from Arab countries, like my father, whose native language is Arabic and who looks completely Arab. While I feel strongly that "Middle Eastern" should not be categorized racially as "white," my real issue is with the invisibility of people like myself (of Middle Eastern or other non-European or mixed descent) within the American Jewish community.'
—Lital Levy, Ph.D. candidate, Comparative Literature

'I've never really identified myself as a member of any ethnic group. In high school, I hung out with a very diverse bunch of kids because I didn't feel that I fit in with any of the bigger crowds. I haven't felt that as much at Berkeley. Actually, I don't think consciously about being multiracial most of the time. It's when people assume I'm only white that I feel offended — though I really shouldn't be, since I do look white. Even though I haven't been exposed very much to Chinese culture, I can't deny that it's at least a part of me. And I don't like it when other people deny me my right to be mixed.'
Adina Honniball, third-year EPS (Geology) major