Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Indigenous and Multiracial
The heinous acts of genocide, forced labor, forced boarding school attendance, sexual violence, and removal of art, artifacts, and heirlooms are all forms of intentional erasure by white colonizers - intentionally disconnecting Indigenous communities from their families, ancestors, heritage, and cultures. These individual and systemic acts of violence have resulted in multigenerational trauma and continue to impact Indigenous communities.
Consensual interracial relationships and intentional sexual violence perpetrated by colonizers has resulted in a sizeable population of multiracial Indigenous individuals. Very little is known about their racial identity development experiences. Just a few days ago, a new research article was published that begins to explore multiracial Indigenous college students' experiences.
Five multiracial Indigenous college students identifying as Indigenous and White, Indigenous and Latino, or Indigenous and Asian were interviewed for this work. Below we dive into three resulting themes including personal hesitations, selective invisibility, and assumptions and disclosure.
Multiracial Indigenous students grappled with their complex identities, often sharing concerns about authenticity and sufficiency. This is extremely common amongst multiracial individuals - feeling like you are ‘not enough of’ to fit in fully. One participant shared,
“Sometimes I have personal reservations about myself. I dunno how people see me, or like, how I am supposed to respond. I am Hopi and Latino, I should be proud, but I am nervous. Am I both? Or separate?”
Study participants shared that they were often perceived as monoracial White, and often felt their Indigenous identity was invisible to faculty and peers. Each of the students shared how they were selective in where and when they would disclose their multiracial Indigenous identity but also wanted to be seen for their multiracial identity and now categorized as monoracial or White. They didn’t want to erase this important and beautiful element of their identity but also didn’t always feel comfortable disclosing their identities to others.
Assumptions and Disclosure
Multiracial Indigenous students often shared that they were often misidentified and others assumed they were monoracial White. The students shared a recognition that they benefit from White privilege in some settings, but also shared that their complexity and identity felt invisible to others. Multiracial Indigenous students commonly shared that they felt others (peers, faculty, and staff) didn’t care about the complexity of their identity and didn’t care to try to understand. They felt dismissed and inauthentic, and wished for more nuanced conversations about race and identity. They wanted their wholeness and complexity to be seen and accepted.
When others made assumptions about them, students shared they often felt they needed to defend their identity or prove their identity by blood quantum or other ways. (Blood quantum is a term for the highly controversial measurement of the amount of Indigenous blood someone has. It was initially used as a system to limit tribal citizenship by the US Federal Government, and is still used by some Nations as a part of citizenship requirements - a great podcast about blood quantum can be found here.)
Multiracial Indigenous students shared that many people really don’t understand Indigenous identity or cultures, and they often experienced microaggressions when monoracial students learned of their multiracial Indigenous ancestry. Students shared comments they heard about their physical appearance and how others would gatekeep their belonging by denying their group membership. Others experienced racist remarks about their Indigenous culture that were hateful and ignorant.
As a result of these experiences, multiracial Indigenous students wanted to see more support and recognition of multiracial identities, especially multiracial Indigenous identities.
As parents and individuals dedicated to multiracial kids and families, this work shares a bit of the nuance experienced by multiracial Indigenous young adults. It is our role to support our kids to confidently identify with their many cultures, create safe and intentional spaces for conversations about identity and perceptions, and prepare our kids for experiencing microaggressions about their physical appearance and multiracial identity.
We also need to be intentional to talk about our children’s histories and not whitewash events to avoid discomfort. Our kids need to know about slavery, genocide, colonization, and all of the atrocities perpetrated against their ancestors and by their ancestors (at an age-appropriate level, of course) and explicitly talk about how this makes them feel and about the questions they may have. Undeniably, knowledge is power. Continue this conversation and learning in the Samahra Community - download our app today!
The article today can be found here.
Article citation: Sasso, Pietro A., et al. "Personal “Reservations”: Revealing the Selective Invisibility in Multiracial Native American Students." Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice (2023): 1-14.
Photo by Vadim Bogulov on Unsplash