Commentary

Standardized Labels

The ACT test proctor distributes the test, reading aloud directions that ask me to fill out the personal questions before I begin. I hesitate. Do I say that I am Asian today? White? Or am I just an “other”? It’s early in the morning, and I don’t know which part of my identity I feel a stronger affiliation to. I think about how choosing one label or another will always reject the other half of my identity.

These thoughts always come to mind when I am confronted by my biracial identity as I fill out the bubbles on a standardized test or answer in a survey. Growing up in a diverse city like New York City, race was never the most prevalent facet of my identity. In Andover’s more vocally diverse community, however, a certain responsibility to acknowledge my biracial identity, to connect equally with both halves of my race.

One of the privileges that comes with being biracial is accessibility. I am Asian and I am also white. I know how Asian people talk about white people, and I know how white people talk about Asian people. Peers speak honestly with me about race because they assume I don’t strongly affiliate with being only white or being only Asian. With this honesty, however, comes a deep separation from both races. Rather than seeing me as a combination of both Asian and white, people often see me as a separate “other.” I become neither white nor Asian, denied the opportunity to choose.

Because I didn’t grow up in a typically Korean household, I didn’t feel especially Asian during my childhood, often noticing how I missed out on one-half of my family’s culture. My father, although first generation Korean, never learned how to speak Korean and I was never raised with strong Korean ties. I have never been to Korea and also haven’t learned to speak. This disconnection encouraged my friends to say things like “You don’t even act Asian; you’re basically white,” as if complimenting me. Over time, I slowly detached from my Asian identity.

Coming to Andover forced me to reevaluate my connection to Asia. Through diversity groups such as MOSAIC, a mixed-heritage affinity group based out of the Community and Multicultural Development office, I have been able to better understand and explore what it means to be biracial. But it has still been hard to identify where my biracial identity lies on Andover’s racial spectrum. Similar to the race box on standardized tests, race culture at Andover divides itself most prevalently by majority categories: Black, Latino, Asian and white. We often hear opinions on race from people of these races, but not as often from those who identify as biracial. It is especially challenging to voice my opinions on racial discussions while I struggle to fit myself into a certain racial box.

It is crucial for Andover students to question the confining tendencies that are often promoted by our culture surrounding race. As someone who identifies as biracial, I feel the detrimental effects of this restrictive system every day. But ultimately, I refuse to become limited to a label.

Jan 15, 2016