Redefining — by not defining — biracialism

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Last week controversy arose over Japan’s 2015 Miss Universe contestant, Ariana Miyamoto, because she’s biracial— something critics, many of whom are Japanese, have taken issue with. Miyamoto has an African-American father and does not look like what most people imagine a traditional Japanese woman to look like.

As several news outlets have pointed out, Miyamoto speaks Japanese, lived most of her childhood in Japan and has a Japanese mother. Much of the discussion in defense of Miyamoto has consisted of the idea that these qualities make her Japanese, despite her biracial status. While I applaud the well-intentioned support for Miyamoto’s chosen racial identity, any legitimation of her race is unneeded because each person should be the sole authority of their racial identity.

I firmly believe no one should have to defend their chosen racial identity. And it sure as hell isn’t okay for anyone to police or undermine the racial identity someone has chosen. Even though the United States is more racially diverse than Japan, this type of exclusion exists here, too. And it will continue to exist everywhere until we change the way we think about racial categories and stereotypes.

I’m particularly angered by the criticism directed toward Miyamoto because I, too, am someone who is biracial, and I understand the obstacles that most, if not all, multiracial people face coming to terms with not fitting in with one racial category.

Seemingly small comments like “But you’re not a real Asian,” or “You don’t act Asian,” (both of which have been said to me on this campus) can have a huge impact in delegitimizing someone’s identity.

One tweet by a critic of Miyamoto, which was translated by The Washington Post, said, “Her face is foreign no matter how you look at it!” That commenter’s criticism is merely that Miyamoto doesn’t look the way the commenter personally thinks a “typical” Japanese person should. These types of remarks are based on stereotypical ideas of how a racial group should look and act.

A lot of racial identity policing is likely rooted in people’s desire to put others into categories and stereotypes based on race. Since multiracial people often don’t act or look in ways racial stereotypes might predict, they complicate the cliches that people rely on to categorize each other.

Obviously these conventions don’t do the complexity of any person justice, whether someone is multiracial or monoracial. Every racial group is infinitely diverse, which no stereotype can encompass. There is no inherently correct way to look or act to fit a racial category.

Racial identity is not merely a matter of appearance or genetics, but is one factor combined with social and cultural experiences that have shaped each person’s racial experience. Policing how multiracial people chose to identify neglects our right to understand the experiences that we feel best reflect ourselves.

Asking someone to defend their chosen identity simply isn’t okay. Someone cannot possibly know by just looking at another person the experiences they’ve had that have shaped their choice of racial identity. Choosing to question a person’s racial identity is exclusionary and frankly, hurtful.

For me, being raised in a town with 98 percent of the population identifying as white has irrevocably shaped my perceptions of my own racial identity. I was, and am, excluded from white culture in ways that have made me choose to identify as biracial or Korean rather than white. I share this not to defend my chosen racial identity, but to exemplify how it is personal and subjective to experiences and how powerful being inclusive or exclusive of someone’s racial identity can be.

Because Miyamoto says she’s Japanese, she’s Japanese, and I commend her for representing Japan and celebrating her identity. It doesn’t matter to me if she can speak Japanese or any other way she’s felt the need to defend her racial identity to the media and critics.

I trust her to know her own racial identity and experiences best — better than you, me or anyone else. And you should too.

Audrey is a senior in LAS.

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