Dani Putney has always wrestled with their racial identity.
Growing up in Rio Linda as an mixed-race Filipinx kid with olive skin and “very English” surname, Putney remembers sharply a clash of experiences — heading down to Jollibee in South Sacramento; hearing but not understanding their mother as she spoke Tagalog to relatives in Cebu; marking only the “white” check box on school census forms.
“I definitely felt a little bit strange, and by a little bit, I mean, a lot,” Putney said, now a PhD student at Oklahoma State who’s written a book of poetry on mixed-race identity. “There were these interior things I wasn’t sure how to put a finger on.”
Understanding how multiracial people operate and are perceived in political and social spheres is still an evolving research field, said Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Identity and Diversity Lab who studies multiracial identities and grew up in Sacramento.
Some researchers have found that multiracial people may be more liberal leaning on certain issues compared to people who identify as only white. And there is evidence that there may be psychological benefits to identifying as multiracial, such as being more likely to reject the idea that that race biologically predicts one’s abilities.
“Some research has shown that multiracial people are able to think more flexibly and they may accept people for who they are without questioning them,” Gaither said. “They’re more willing to do so because they have firsthand experience being questioned personally (and also) growing up in diverse family environments.”
It’s a perspective that Gaither, who is biracial but presents to most people as white, knows well. Gaither’s father is Black and her mother is white. Growing up in Carmichael in the 80s and 90s, Gaither recalls her suburban childhood as a largely positive one, but unavoidably marked by race.
“We had a number of experiences of people not thinking he’s my dad, or that he’s kidnapping me when we’re walking through the mall,” she said.