Coming Out as Biracial: The Truth Behind Passing as White

“Is that your mom?!”

I’ve been asked this
question throughout my life by people ranging from childhood friends on the
playground to complete strangers on public transportation. These four little
words, often asked with a sort of well-meaning curiosity, never fail to
unsettle me, the racially ambiguous daughter of a Filipina immigrant and a
first-generation Swiss-American.  

This question forces me
to realize that though I identity as a mixed person of color, I am not seen as
such. Rather, I can pass as white.

It is only when my olive
skin and vaguely Eurasian facial features are juxtaposed with my mother’s tan
skin and Asian features that my racial background is questioned and I’m
presented with the following choice: either ‘come out’ as biracial or continue
to pass as white.

When I was younger, I
didn’t realize the implications of this ability. I shrugged off comments by my
Filipino family members that praised my lighter skin tone and “white nose.” I found
humor in stories about how passersby often confused my mother for my nanny on
our daily walks. It is only recently that I understand that my ability to pass
has afforded me definite, unavoidable privileges over other minorities,
including my own mother.

Because of my racial
ambiguity, I’m protected from harmful
stereotypes or verbal attacks. I have never been called a “chink” or mocked by
my peers in a pseudo-Chinese accent. I have never had my academic success attributed
solely to my racial background, nor has my personality been scrutinized on how
it aligns with my culture.

Moreover,
I can choose when I want to be political and speak up for my Asian heritage.
And if I choose to do so, my commentary is often seen as more legitimate than
that from a more phenotypically Asian counterpart.

Most
significantly, I can close myself off from racism and choose to remain in
ignorance. Among my white peers, I can choose to not be seen as ‘other.’

While this ability has
given me these privileges throughout my life, it has also robbed me of a sense
of legitimacy as a person of color. On an immediate level, I’m not included
among other Asians and Filipinos; I don’t experience a sense of solidarity
among other minorities. On a more serious level, my experiences are often
dismissed, trivialized or outright silenced by other minority groups since I am
“basically white.” 

Yet such dismissals are not without reason. Simply put, can
I assume a marginalized identity if I haven’t lived a marginalized experience?

These comments and
perceptions all together have relegated me to ethnic limbo. I am not fully
accepted by minority groups yet I don’t fully identify with white American
culture. I exist on the edges of both realms, not entirely a member of either.

Throughout the years,
this process of ‘coming out’ has not gotten easier. Though I’m more adept about
the timing and context of my disclosure, I still struggle revealing my racial
background for fear I won’t appear ‘Asian’ enough. I still reel against comments
that invalidate my heritage based on my appearance. I still wait for approval.

My
experience is by no means unique. Around 3 percent of Americans identify as
multiracial, with numbers estimated to climb by to 21 percent of Americans by 2050.
In Pomona’s class of 2018, mixed individuals number around 7 percent.

Yet it is an issue that
is rarely talked about at the 5Cs. Amid the many race-based groups on campus, from
AAMP to OBSA and CSLA, there exists a profound lack of dialogue about the mixed
experience, which entails unique obstacles that can’t be addressed by typical
monoracial-based discussion.

If the Claremont Colleges truly want to be a place that respects racial
diversity, the consortium needs to be inclusive of all minorities’ experiences, including
those who are racially diverse themselves.

For more resources or information about issues that affect mixed individuals,
please visit the 5C club MERGE on Facebook or contact club president Cortney Anderson PO ’15 at
cortney.anderson@pomona.edu.

Lauren Bollinger PO ’18 is from the Bay
Area and is interested in majoring in either English or sociology. She is a
member of MERGE (Multi-ethnic and Racial Group Exchange), a club devoted to
raising awareness about multiracial issues at the 5Cs.

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