In this episode of In The Know: Walks of Life, a 19-year-old biracial woman shares how she started to feel comfortable in her own skin after struggling with her racial identity. While figuring out her identity as an individual, she also processed feelings of anger towards the racial labels she felt forced to embody throughout her life.
Sharing that she is Japanese-American and grew up in a predominantly white small town, the subject talks about the complicated feelings that arise from living in a “multi-ethnic identity.”
When she was younger, the woman says she felt more white than Japanese because she had no cultural connection to Japan. In fact, she didn’t even really think about her racial identity at all until her peers started pointing it out to her.
Once she got to high school, all of a sudden she felt she needed to “prove” her Asian identity, because that was how she was labeled. She started to experience racism from other students and cites a time when she publicly stood up for herself as a defining moment in the evolution of her personal identity. “That was a major turning point for me in choosing to understand what it means to live in a body that is not white in an area that is white,” she explains. “That was a really framing moment for me.”
At that point, she became, in her words, “a social justice warrior” and started to explore and try to understand the history of racism in America. Through that exploration, she started to become angry at the realization that “this country is systemically f***ed.”
Grappling with her personal identity coincided with the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, and she found herself feeling detached not only from her own white identity, but white people in general. “I didn’t wanna embrace that part of myself,” she shares.
But after taking a course in college, she started to reckon with the binary thinking she’d applied to the world and herself, and realized that labels and categories suppress one’s personal growth.
“I think that claiming this Asian identity made things harder in a sense,” she says. “It started feeling like I had to fill this pair of shoes. I needed to be an advocate at all times. And it really made me let go of, I don’t want to say ‘individuality’ … I don’t know, I feel like I got so caught up in what it means to be Asian, it lost its personal meaning.”
As a result, she’s embraced intersectionality and is now exploring who she is and isn’t letting herself fall into specific categories. But she knows that the risk of cornering oneself still exists even within intersectionality. “I just kind of have to go with the flow and not let the markers of intersectionality keep me in a box.”
“In The Know: Walks of Life” is available on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Stitcher.
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