What Are You

Image: Multiculturalchildren.org

Image: Multiculturalchildren.org

I remember wearing my bright, aqua blue Panjabi with exquisite designs on the collars - that my family bought when I was in my home country of Bangladesh - at my high school’s international night this year. While I was munching on delightful roshroshogulla, a Bangladeshi dessert, I vividly remember a tall, poised, Indian man awkwardly yet confidently strolling towards me; he then blatantly stared at my Panjabi and my light skin. I recall him posing the following question: “Are you even Bangladeshi? You’re too white to be a true Bangladeshi.” His thoughts along with my lingering enigmas in regards to my culture led me to question my identity solely because I am lighter than most Bangladeshis- this was not an enjoyable feeling then and that still remains true today.

When discussing the racial, ethnic, and cultural identity of individuals, it is professedly dormant for people to assume that identity can be summed up in one word: black, white, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, Bangladeshi, American, etc. The concept of identity is much more complex than that. In today’s world, people immigrate and move around quite often whether it’s because of economic hardship or political sovereignty; the world is not as sectioned off as it has been in the past. With advancements in technology, specifically in modes of transportation, the world has unquestionably become more accessible. With more diversity among inhabitants in certain areas, there will subsequently be a higher percentage of interracial relationships. So in future generations, there’ll be a higher percentage of multiracial individuals. According to the US Census Bureau in 2010, nine million Americans identify as two races or more, myself included. 

While acknowledging the present, it is also essential to reflect on the past. Loving v. Virginia was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court which struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States. The plaintiffs in the case were Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman whose marriage, according to the Virginia state law, was deemed illegal. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this case was appealed to the Supreme Court, ruling unanimously that “anti-miscegenation” statutes were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment on June 12th, 1967. The Loving case was a challenge to centuries of American laws banning interracial marriage, i.e, any marriage or interbreeding among different races. Restrictions on interracial marriages existed as early as the colonial era, and of the 50 US states, all but nine had a law against the practice at some point in history. Without Loving v Virginia’s decision, my parent’s marriage would have been considered illegal, therefore me being born a crime. 

This is my dad, me, my Nanu (grandma) and my mom in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am embracing my multicultural self :)

This is my dad, me, my Nanu (grandma) and my mom in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am embracing my multicultural self :)

The USA is a country where people from all over the globe come for better opportunities and seek to build a more fruitful life for themselves and their children. My mother did this to better her education from the developing country of Bangladesh. And as a biracial Bangladeshi-American, I would like to provide the reminders that this country is built on immigrants from every single corner of the world, and multicultural families create children with valid, multilayered identities; these multilayered identities are the future of race and it is time that they are discussed in a serious, open-minded, and accepting manner.

Biracial or multicultural identity is something that is not discussed sufficiently. This is partially because people often aren’t properly informed on how to ask a sensitive question about cultural identity. For many multicultural people, we’re familiar with the “What are you” question. I am sure that this question, when asked, makes you feel dehumanized and objectified as if you lack a valid and worthy identity. Aside from the fact that there’s a huge distinction between asking questions out of curiosity versus ignorance, being different doesn’t give bystanders a non-expiring free pass to always ask any cultural/identity-related question that comes to mind. It is most definitely different depending on the situation and the person. I myself welcome questions the majority of the time, but others may not appreciate constant questions. The topic of racial, cultural, and ethnic identity can be a sensitive one, but it’s absolutely necessary to be well-educated on racial relations and identity issues as a person of an increasingly diverse world. 

So, let's break the stigma. Let us spark dialogue about multicultural identity to our peers, our parents, and our society, and challenge your enigmas- question your culture in order to learn from it; this has led me to finally vocalize confidently that I am proud to be biracial, and you should be proud of your identity. Without the tall, poised Indian man who posed a question to me, I believe that I would have never found my true self, and I would have never been able to undeniably write this message.