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Examining Mixed-Race Identity in America
by Mychal Johnson, Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion and Rahul Y. ‘23

Over the course of this year, I have served as a mentor for the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership Scholars Program. The BCIL Scholars program is for students interested in pursuing an independent project related to the BCIL mission to "engage with real world challenges and explore solutions within and beyond the classroom." 

Rahul Y. ’23 asked if I would be willing to be his mentor because his independent study topic was on multiracial experiences and identifying possible solutions for creating a sense of belonging. I knew I could serve him well as a mentor because the topic is connected to the work I do in the Brentwood community. I didn't anticipate how much I would appreciate watching Rahul genuinely engage in the research process and create a body of work that would impact me personally. Rahul's research and outcomes on the multiracial experience resonated with my lived experience as a biracial individual and helped create a sense of community. I truly appreciated the opportunity to work alongside Rahul. Who better to explain the research than the researcher himself...

"While conducting my independent study, entitled 'Mixed-Race in America,' I made it a priority to research and gather information from many different sources. I felt this was key to ensure that I had a well-rounded view of the multiracial experience, as each mixed-race person can have a very different lived experience. The biggest and arguably most important part of my research was the interviews. I conducted these with both students and faculty at Brentwood, as well as those involved in the mixed community outside of Brentwood (ex: the leaders of the UCLA Mixed Student Union). During these interviews, I asked a series of questions about their experience growing up and engaging with their multiracial identity in order to identify some common themes surrounding how they identify and whether this can/has changed over time. Among my many findings, some of the main ones included the idea that oftentimes other (typically monoracial) people will try to force multiracial people into a racial/ethnic 'box.' To fit into that box, mixed-race individuals are tempted to choose the 'easier' option, which is identifying as one of their races or ethnicities that they may relate to more or look more like, or having to go through the process of explaining their background. Over time, it becomes frustrating to have to constantly explain their identity to others. On the flip side, many of the individuals I interviewed also emphasized the importance of not letting others define them; as multiracial people can be perceived differently by each person, it is important that they are confident in their own identity and are able to articulate how they identify. In addition to interviews, I also read a few books that touch on different aspects of the multiracial experience, whether it’s a book about a historical multiracial community or an anthology of the experiences of mixed-race teenagers from the early 2000s. Lastly, I read articles online by thought leaders in this space and looked at data regarding multiracial individuals and the quickening growth of the multiracial community in the U.S. over the past 50 years. 

"As a multiracial and multicultural person, I was able to personally connect with a lot of what my interviewees shared. The multiracial identity is not an easy one to have and is often ostracizing, as it can leave people with the feeling of not belonging/not knowing where to belong (which was another large theme I discovered through my research). On top of that, because the mixed-race community itself is so diverse, while people of different mixes can relate to each other in many ways, it can be difficult to find someone else whose experience is similar enough to completely relate to. There are so many layers surrounding being mixed-race and the intersectionality that accompanies it, and I am so grateful that I got the chance to explore it in-depth and in the process learn more about others’ experiences as well as my own."

If you are interested in learning more about Rahul's project, visit this link.

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