How to look like a black person

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With nationwide protests against police brutality, rising incidents of anti-Asian racism and the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, race relations within and between the Asian American and Black communities have quickly shifted into focus. Conversations surrounding these groups, their subgroups and how they relate to one another have been messy and complicated. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction this summer, communities challenged the model minority myth, colonialism and colorism to explain how the histories of both Black and Asian communities have shaped how they interact today.

Young Asian Americans encouraged one another to confront the anti-Blackness in their own families and communities. When Dan Reed was in fourth grade, the teacher passed out a fill-in-the-bubble test that gave students the option How to look like a black person indicate their race. Reed might not have known it in fourth grade, but he said people have tried to put his racial identity in a box for his whole life. Yet when interacting with people outside the community, even other Indian people, he was almost always racialized as Black. And that came with exclusion.

The older Reed got, the more he realized the implications of presenting as a Black man in the United States. This year has made him more aware of how people see him. Though he has been immersed in Indo-Carribean culture since childhood, his Indian heritage tends to be lost on strangers.

I think a lot of mixed people kind of go through that same thing with feeling like they have to identify with one race instead of all of the races that make up who they are. When the Black Lives Matter movement grew this summer, Hayes said her family encouraged her to engage with both Black and Filipino history.

When researching the Philippines with her mom, Hayes learned for the first time about the idealization of white features and pale skin that is prevalent across Asia. As an actress, she said this political moment has made her realize the internalized racism that exists in her industry. For Mariko Fujimoto Rooks, being good at school was sometimes a double-edged sword. Her academic performance in high school placed her in higher-level classes and eventually got her into Yale, but, often, she was the only Black person in the room.

Rooks, who is Yonsei, or fourth-generation Japanese American, found that students and faculty were quick to pick and choose which aspect of her identity to categorize her by.

And the Black students who were unapologetic about their identities were demonized, too. As a college senior, Rooks now has more access to both Black and Asian communities, but said that operating in Asian spaces has also made her more aware of anti-Blackness. One of the most distinct memories Shanell Dozier has of high school is when a white boy approached her in the cafeteria and accused her of lying about her identity. The incident compounded the feeling of isolation she experienced as trying to navigate her Black and Indo-Fijian identity.

Her mom, a Fijian of Indian descent, raised her around her South Asian family and tried to educate her about their collective history. And I don't speak Hindi as well as they do. Skin and hair shaped how Dozier saw herself growing up. She was often teased for the texture of her hair, being told it was "fake" when she wore it straight. The colorism prevalent in South Asian culture and media made her question if she fit in with her lighter-skinned peers. She said she grew up seeing skin bleaching agents on TV, "and it would actually make me want to do that because I felt like I was too dark or that my color wasn't good enough.

She's thankful she never ended up trying those products, but that otherizing influence still follows her. Growing up, Alani Fuji says that her experience as a multiracial child set her apart from her peers. Her mother passed away when she was young, and she and her twin sister were raised by their father, who immigrated from Japan.

In school, she mostly hung out with other Asian American students, partly because of their similar upbringing by Asian parents, but also because she was often racialized as just Asian. People have tried and failed to categorize Charles Nathan since she was a. As a person of Black, Japanese and Mexican descent, boxes were never really her thing. Nathan grew up in central California and was constantly immersed in all three cultures. Casual racism, not just from strangers, is also familiar to Nathan.

In school, more overt racism came from Asian friends, who Nathan said would stereotype and mock her for her darker complexion, Black features and multiracial parents. All the while, those same friends would appropriate Black culture. Washington, who is Black and Korean, has long been interested in understanding how multiracial people, particularly Black Asians, are perceived by society. As a psychologist whose practice includes working with multiracial kids and their parents, Jenn Noble has a lot to say about how America misunderstands — and in some ways mythologizes — the experiences of multiracial people.

She added that the problems multiracial people deal with often come from the pressure to fit their identity in a box. Because of the small size of the Sri Lankan population in the U. Noble said that increased exposure and visibility of multiracial people can help raise awareness.

But she cautioned against the idea that the mere existence of multiracial people means that racism is no longer an issue. Still, she said that in the larger Alaskan community, she witnessed colorism and anti-Black bias. During her senior year, Gavin ed the cast of Blasian Narratives, a student-directed show about multiracial identity.

Gavin also traveled to perform at other colleges across the country, and participated in a docuseries about the program. Sonia Smith-Kang, the vice president of Multicultural Americans of Southern California, said the work of raising kids who are Black and Asian should come rife with education and conversation. In her house, this looks like art, music, food and books that are representative of their cultures. Smith-Kang also encourages conversations, especially when it comes to current events like anti-Asian rhetoric or nationwide BLM protests. She emphasized the importance of conversations around anti-Blackness in Asian communities and the pushback against colorism.

The best way to prepare kids for these uncomfortable situations is to practice, she says.

You really just want to create this proactive environment. Because you're trying to help your kids problem solve. Since she was Murphy has spent time with both sides of her family, in Boston and Japan. Her desire to connect with others like her led Murphy to start an affinity club for multiracial students while attending a predominantly white private school. In the past two years Murphy has connected more with people who share her identity, but in the chaos of has brought new challenges in how she thinks about her identity.

In addition to the stress of the pandemic, Murphy said that the emotion brought on by summer protests against police violence and racism were particularly tough for her. Still, she said that she feels a responsibility to continue to help build connections among Black, Asian, and multiracial communities.

But she also quickly grew aware of how her darker skin made some in her tightknit immigrant community see her differently. When McLamb began attending a predominantly white middle and high school, competition among students was intense, and she quickly realized that microaggressions against people of color were common.

McLamb started working with other Black students to find support and community, and studied Black history and culture. But her school environment still made it hard. Now in college, McLamb is involved in activism and has participated on panel discussions on her Black Asian identity.

Lockhart reports about race and intersectional identities, social justice movements, policy and politics. She's written for Vox and Mother Jones. IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser. Politics U. Share this —. Follow NBC News. By Sakshi Venkatraman and P. Sakshi Venkatraman.

How to look like a black person

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