You Don't Fit Neatly Into a Box

In any event, there is no getting around the fact that the number of multiracial people is growing.

For instance, a recent survey of the Seattle Public Schools revealed that 20 percent of its students identified themselves as coming from multiracial families--yet there is no checkoff for multiracial children. In 1992, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time in history, the number of biracial babies is increasing at a faster rate than the number of single-race babies. The number of black/white biracial babies grew nearly 500 percent. Huge increases were also recorded in biracial births of babies to Japanese and white parents, and to Native American and non-Native American parents.

A 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning the remaining state laws against interracial marriage was a symbol of changes in cultural standards. Mildred Jeter, a black/Native American woman, married Perry Loving, a white man, in Virginia in 1958. They were sentenced to one year in prison in 1959 for their interracial marriage.

Over the past 25 years, attitudes towards interracial marriage have changed dramatically. Millions of interracial marriages were noted by the census bureau in 1990. A 1989 Seventeen magazine survey found that 40 percent of the young (and primarily white) women asked indicated that they would date interracially.

Acceptance seems to be creeping in. But that doesn't mean life is easy for children of mixed parents.

"Growing up in a family where your parents are from two cultures is difficult," Root explains from personal experience. "You don't feel like you fit in." She recalls as a teen-ager, wanting to shave her legs. But her Filippina mother told her she couldn't because in her native land, only prostitutes shaved their legs. "So I had hairy legs in a place where that wasn't very acceptable," Root says.

She recounts being made fun of by other classmates, being showered with the same racial epithets as members of other races ("I was called a nigger, as were other minorities," she recalls) of having dates broken because boys' parents couldn't accept her. Ironically, her father experienced an even worse fate when he decided to marry outside of his race (he is of German, Irish and Scottish descent). He was "cut off" by his father for marrying a non-white person. To this day, Root has never met her grandfather.

"Hatred and bad feelings come out in the most insidious ways," she says. "They don't have to be blatant, such as what happened to my father. It could be the questions you get asked, the way you are looked at. As a multiracial person, you have to battle not to internalize stereotypes. My mother worked very hard to teach me to protect myself as a mixed color kid. She never felt embarrassed by how she looked or who we were. And she fought to instill that sense of pride in us."

Root has taken that lesson a step further, creating a "Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People." "It puts down on paper what people have been talking about when it comes to race issues," she says. "It is a tool for discussion."

Her bill of rights is posted on the Internet, put up on the walls of other organizations, and has been circulated among other groups, such as the International Interracial Association.

"Multiracial people blur the boundaries between the races and don't fit neatly into a box," she says. "Questions such as 'What are you?' or 'How did your parents meet?' or 'Are your parents married?' indicate stereotypes that other people use to make meaning out of a multiracial person's life.

"When we refuse to fragment ourselves or others, then we become capable of embracing the humanity in ourselves and in others. We become less fearful, less judgmental and less subject to defining ourselves by others' opinions of us."

Hope in Hawaii: A True Multiracial Culture
A Bill of Rights for Multiracial Americans

Links to Multiracial Sites

Send a letter to the editor at

Table of Contents