Harris’ dual identities challenge America’s race labels

AP News

By Sally Ho

August 20, 2020

As a young girl, Neal said people often tried to make her choose one identity over the other because her mother is an immigrant from Philippines and her father is an African American who grew up in Chicago and Hawaii. And she said some Filipino relatives told her to avoid sounding or acting “too Black.”

“It turned into an anti-Blackness that I didn’t even know I had,” she said.

Sheila SatheWarner’s two sons are Black and Asian, just like Harris. SatheWarner is Indian American, and her husband is of African Caribbean descent via St. Croix.

While one boy looks more Indian and the other more Black, SatheWarner said she has stressed their Black heritage, much like Harris’ mother. She encourages them to embrace the natural texture of their hair and reminds them to never play with toy guns for fear of them being targeted by police.

“We’ve always talked to them about both their heritages. We have been committed to visiting St. Croix,” said SatheWarner, a middle-school principal from Alameda, California. “They are both Black.”

The subject is inextricably linked to the “one drop rule,” a legal principle rooted in slavery that anyone with even a drop of Black lineage could not own land or be free. Today, it manifests itself in the way people visually categorize others and the social hierarchy between races, said Sarah Gaither, a Duke University professor studying race who herself is Black and white.

No one carries the same experience or should serve as “identity police,” said Gaither, who stressed the importance of allowing multiracial, multicultural people to define for themselves who they are, and accepting that a biracial person’s identity may evolve.

Officially, the U.S. census claims that about 3.5% of U.S. residents identified as two or more races in 2018, up from 2.4% in 2000. But when Pew conducted its own survey, its number increased five-fold when accounting for people who identified as one race but said that at least one of their parents was a different race or multiracial, as well as people who had at least one grandparent of a different race than themselves or their parents.

And though respondents were allowed to identify as more than one race in the U.S. census beginning in 2000, the race category options still are not all-encompassing.