Crossing the line

Off the Beat

jasmine-tatah-online

Over the last few months of writing a weekly column about my mixed background, I’ve realized how proud I am to be biracial in spite of the occasional sense of exclusion.

I’ve talked about what racial categories mean to me, discussed the feeling of being excluded from my Algerian side and my Japanese side, explored the history of my Algerian roots and Japanese roots to reconcile that exclusion, and revisited my insecurities as a kid and how that ultimately turned into pride. I’ve admitted the faults in the narrative I built up coming into college, scrutinized my definition of diversity, appreciated why it was so difficult for me to find my place on campus, and learned how to understand my identity and communicate that to others.

But if there’s one thing that’s come up in my head over and over again while writing this column, it’s that there’s value in intersections.

I’m glad that I’m not attached to any particular racial group because it prevents me from judging and feeling resentment toward others. I can’t necessarily understand everyone’s experience, but I can try to see what things look like from more than one side of a racial divide.

Part of it has to do with being mixed. Maybe part of it also stemmed from the fact that my parents were both influenced by each other’s unique culture and that they’ve always had a diverse group of close friends. Sometimes they subtly encourage me to always try to form new connections across the cultural spectrum, too. I try to be exposed to as many experiences as possible, and I’m probably a little too conscious of when there’s an obvious imbalance in the cultural distribution of my peers.

In my first week of graduate school, everyone seemed to have already made their immediate group of friends. I didn’t know why (maybe because of the column about identity I had been writing all summer), but I immediately noticed how blatantly segregated we were. Black, brown, white, Asian — everyone had so naturally settled into their racial or cultural comfort zones. I came to the program excited for the diverse student population it was reputed to have, and I’m still seeing exactly the same trends I sometimes saw at Berkeley.

I thought that on a different campus there might be less division along racial lines than what I had experienced before. Of course it makes sense to gravitate toward people who look like us and share similar experiences. But that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with people outside of our own ethnic group.

There are advantages to having a mixed perspective. I’m privileged because I can choose how to categorize myself. I can be “Asian,” “White — Middle Eastern or North African,” “Two or more races,” “Other” or “Prefer not to respond” depending on the day. No matter what I call myself, the fact that I have a choice makes me immune to feelings of antagonism.

I’m fortunate that I’m not often affected by racist remarks. I can opt to either be offended or amused by stereotypes about Asian or white people. I can poke fun at one side of me, feeling like I’m betraying my own identity but finding it harmless at the same time.

And sometimes I can’t help but want to connect with racial groups I don’t belong to. I’ve felt estranged from the two sides of my own identity and wanted to bridge the gap between them to feel connected to both communities. The idealistic part of me wants to connect to the rest of the communities I don’t belong to as well.

It makes me wonder how race can be such a minor part of how I see myself but a major part of how the rest of the world sees me. If racial categories have such little meaning, there doesn’t seem to be any real obligation to self-segregate the way society has trained us to.

Maybe it’s not my place to make that call because I haven’t experienced what single-race individuals have experienced. I have privilege as a white and Asian mixed-race American. While I don’t speak for all people with similar backgrounds, I personally haven’t faced discrimination or intolerance, and I’ve never really felt unsafe in a space.

But I also know that because I sometimes see my own race as ambiguous, to me the boundaries between communities seem as arbitrarily determined as the racial boxes that so many of us don’t even fit into.

I wish people saw that the other race is never as far away as society or history has made us believe. We should always celebrate our culture, take pride in our ancestry and acknowledge the discrimination our communities have faced. But perhaps we should use these differences as grounds to learn and connect with each other rather than as grounds to widen the gaps between us.

I am so proud of what it means to be mixed. I represent the food, languages and norms of two different nationalities. I can disprove multiple stereotypes, sit on two sides of racial discussions and relate to several campus communities. My mixed-race peers and I are proof that multiple cultures can exist within a single body, that the distinctions between racial groups are more minor than they seem and that identity doesn’t have to dictate how we see people unlike us.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.