Charles’ spokesperson told reporters that the claim “is fiction and not worth further comment.” But we do know that this type of identity questioning is far too common for the multiracial demographic and that it often impairs one’s social belonging, which is key to feeling positively about yourself. In fact, recent research has shown that in a sample of 293 multiracial people, over 94 percent reported having experienced questions like “What are you?” as they relate to their physical appearance or skin color. And although not all multiracial people mind questions like those if they are asked out of genuine curiosity, these types of encounters can be dehumanizing and “othering.”
Charles’ reported comments also shine a spotlight on racial microaggressions — a subtle statement or behavior, whether intentional or not, that communicates something negative and yet still ambiguous about a person of color. While they are often small and even seemingly insignificant, microaggressions cause significant psychological harm, research shows. And if you have ever heard a question like “Is your hair real?” or “Do you speak English?” or “Where are you from?” you also have most likely faced a racial microaggression.