Your Gaze Doesn’t Define Me – The Identities of Mixed-Race People

I decided to write this blog post because I recently came under attack with accusations of being a “racial imposter,” using my “proximity to Brownness” for personal gain. While I can easily dismiss this accusation from someone who doesn’t know me or my work, the accusation has dredged up a lot of the trauma I’ve experienced around navigating a mixed-race identity; never being enough of one and too much of the other. I thought that since I’ve written a bit on this topic, it would be helpful to hear from others about their mixed-race identity, specifically folx who are mixed with European (white) ancestry, like myself. First, I want to share a bit about me and my experiences as a mixed-race person.

Here is a picture of me and my dad. This was taken in late November, long after the melanin Seattle’s summer sun blessed me with had started to fade. My dad is usually darker, too, spending a lot of time in his backyard garden watching his corn grow and feeding his chickens gravel. Our last name, by birth, is Castro. My grandfather, my dad’s dad, was in the Navy during the Zoot Suit Riots in Southern California. This was a time of extreme anti-Mexican, specifically anti-Pachuco, racism and violence. My grandfather tried to protect his children from this violence by helping them assimilate as much as possible, which is why we don’t speak Spanish. When my dad was attending school in Southern California, speaking Spanish in school was illegal anyway.

Growing up in Southern California, surrounded by people who looked like me, there was never a doubt about my identity. I was always seen as, and have always claimed, Mexican-American. Even though my grandfather tried to distance us from that identity by not teaching us the language, we remained part of it because of geography and the culture of the communities we were immersed in. It wasn’t until I was in high school and learned about the Chicano movement from my Mexican-American peers that I started to claim Chicana as an identity. I don’t have proximity to Brownness. I am Brown. Of course, part of being mixed with white is understanding the light skin privilege we may bear. I certainly do receive it, and reflect on it quite frequently. 

This is me and my mom. I think my likeness is closer to my dad, and I don’t really see my mom when I look in the mirror. My mom’s family is so far removed from their ethnic heritage that they had nothing to pass down to me. In fact, I would say their ethnicity is Ozark, the region of the US my maternal grandparents are from. Their sayings and food reflected the Ozark culture more than the German or Dutch they thought they may have descended from. But yes, the DNA my mom provided for me came with undeserved privilege. I work to recognize and challenge that every day.

The same person attacking my character and identity said, “There are such things as white Latinas.” Yes, there are. I’m not one of them. I can trace my ancestry to West-Central Mexico. My people are Nahuatl and Purépecha. And while I don’t claim to be Indigenous with a capital I, I am the descendant of Indigenous American people. I am also the descendant of Spaniards, Nigerians, and Senagambians – all on my dad’s side. Am I light-skinned? Sometimes. Am I white? No. I’m Xicanx – an American of Indigenous Mexican descent, with all of the racial, ethnic, and political connotations that come with that identity. 

Below are some reflections from mixed-race folks on how they identify and why. I am deeply appreciative of the contributors to this piece who were willing to be vulnerable and claim their identity in the ways that they understand them. Tlazocamati.

Chris Colley


Dutch/German father. First generation Chinese American Mother

Mixed Race Chinese American

My identity has evolved over time. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, in a predominantly white community, I referred to myself as half Chinese. With family roots in Hawaii (Chinese, not native Hawaiian) we did use the term Hapa while on the Islands or within our Chinese community. That term is loaded, and I personally have struggled with how, or if, to use it. I have two children who are also mixed race, though more white presenting than me. I call them mixed-race Chinese American, too, and it feels inclusive within our family to use the same identity for me and the kids.



Mixed Filipinx

In my mirror, I see my mother: her cheekbones, the warm undertones of my skin, the roundness at the end of my nose. I see my father, too: the red that tinges my otherwise dark hair, my light hue in winter, my height. It’s all there and that’s the point. To claim one would be to deny the other. I am mixed Filipinx. I could slip through the shadows and pretend to be white. Many people prefer it. They point out that I am “white passing.”I reject that term. It infers that white is something to aspire to and evokes duplicitousness – always“passing”but never full, a membership easily revoked depending on who is looking and who is in power. I claim full identity, which is that of a person born in PI who came to the U.S. young, raised by an immigrant and a white American in a school/town where my siblings were the only other kids who were not white; a person enduring microaggressions and the pain of bearing witness to racism’s impact on family members, who lives with polarizing emotions of guilt from benefiting from being light-skinned and the loneliness of not belonging anywhere, of feeling my pain has no place; a person who is learning daily to subvert that guilt, to unravel the unconscious racism and privilege that have root in me and to use privilege to stand in solidarity to undo systems of oppression to fight for me and for others.

Rachelle Horner


I am Half Black and Half White

Biracial African American

I Identify as biracial African American because I did not grow up in a biracial household. I grew up in a Black household. My father, who is white, left while my mom was pregnant with me and they were divorced by the time I was born, so I never knew the white side of my family. This is why I include the African American (more often I just say Black) in my identity. It is home, it is family, it is culture. However, I am light-skinned. Out in the world, though people very clearly don’t code me as white, they don’t really know what I am and I get asked the, “What are you?” question a lot. This is one reason I identify as biracial and not only African American or Black. Another reason is I am very aware of the privilege I possess because of my light skin. I would be denying that privilege and the unearned advantages it has provided me in the world if I did not acknowledge that I am biracial and that whiteness, white privilege, and white supremacy have played a role in how the world has treated me differently as a person of color than it has treated my mother, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents. To deny that privilege as a way to prove my Blackness is white supremacy at work. It is a lie, and it engages in oppression Olympics, ultimately using me to invalidate, and silence Black people who do not get to benefit from the ease with which whiteness paves your way.  I identify as a Biracial African American because, in owning all parts of myself, I better understand how to wield that identity to dismantle institutional racism and not let it be used as a tool for white supremacy.

Shawna Moore


African American, Puerto Rican, Filipino and Portuguese. 

I identify as multi-cultural. I was raised to honor and take pride in all the parts of me.

Being raised multi-cultural and not denying any parts of my culture and heritage has shaped the individual I am today. With my Puerto Rican grandmother teaching me that being sun-kissed, curly haired, hip swaying, mango-eating, and family is everything; to my Filipino/Portuguese grandfather born and raised in Hawaii, that family, faith, community, and giving is life; to my Filipino great-grandfather and Portuguese great-grandmother that worked on the Dole plantation, but somehow found love in one another in the middle or inequities and injustices; to my amazing mother who wanted to make sure I could navigate life, because society would see my father’s African American skin before they saw my mind, my heart, my inner beauty, or my passion. People don’t get to decide who I am, or how I represent. I do!!

Leave a Reply