Lilian Min
September 23, 2015 6:00 am

“What are you?” It’s a question many a person of color has heard before, but the question is especially fraught for people who are biracial. It’s still difficult for people on the street to grasp that race is more complicated than what someone looks like — which, of course, is small comfort for people who are biracial and just want to go through their day without fielding queries and challenges about their background, family makeup, and “real identity.”

Illuminating that difficulty is the goal of the hashtag #BiracialLooksLike, which lets biracial people tell their own story and share the incredible diversity within the broad and growing designation. Started by writer Jaya Saxena, the project began as a way to counteract both the marginalization and fetishization of biracial people: “#BiracialLooksLike had a simple motive behind it: A place for anyone who self-identifies as biracial and is comfortable posting selfies, and a way to show everyone else that there is no one way for biracial to look. Also, perhaps, it could make the experience of being of mixed heritage not so isolating.”

The result: A flood of selfies and stories from biracial people taking the conversation about mixed race identity into their own hands.

The #Biraciallookslike selfies showcase the inherent diversity within the biracial identity, and the conversations around and by multi-racial people will only get more important in the future — according to the Pew Research Center, the population of people with more than one racial background is growing three times faster than the general population. (Or as Ilana on Broad City put it, “Statistically, we’re headed toward an age where everybody’s going to be like caramel and queer.”) However, it’s important to not frame the conversation about the growing multiracial population as “Race relations won’t be a big of an issue when everybody is more than one race,” especially when research suggests that biracial children have more difficulties in establishing self-identity.

In that vein, it’s also important not to slot biracial people as some weird human aesthetic ideal, a point former The Hairpin editor Jia Tolentino explains: “It’s the rhetoric that matters here, the unplumbed fetish for these [biracial] faces and what they can be forced to represent . . . God, those kids would be good-looking! Here we go, riding the swirl into a fully equal future, in which all of our faces will glow like one giant Instagram and the filter is white, white, white!” Or as The Toast editor Nicole S. Chung, the mother of biracial children, suggests in a satirical piece, “Monoracial people — like me for example! — I mean, gross. This was definitely the foremost thought in my mind when I met my spouse, fell in love, and decided to build a life with him — all I could focus on was how adorable our progeny were going to be because of the culture-mixing!”

What #Biraciallookslike does is let biracial people explore and share their identity in their own way. What other people can learn from their sharing is to not make kneejerk assumptions about peoples’ races and identities, a good rule of thumb for social interactions in a world that’s rapidly changing and diversifying in ways that literally weren’t legally possible even a few decades ago. We applaud the conversation that Saxena started and that’s now taken on a movement and mission of its own.

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[Images via Twitter.]

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