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The Daily Tar Heel

You’re Hispanic, right?

No? Well, are you Middle Eastern?

No? Then what are you?

Oh, that’s so interesting!

The above is just a sample of the prodding questions that sometimes come with biracial or multiracial identity.

Biracial identity has been catapulted to the forefront of American culture with the political rise of Barack Obama to president of the United States.

The president was born to a Kenyan father and an American mother and considers himself African-American. He has acknowledged the difficulties of growing up biracial. He was often teased and, to make matters worse, he had a distanced relationship with his father.

The issues that existed for the president pertaining to racial identity and social acceptance exist for many Americans.

There are more than 7 million people in the United States who identify as two or more races, with more than 180,000 of those are right here in North Carolina, and those numbers are on the rise. There are about 850 students at UNC who identify as more than one race.

It is important to be aware and sensitive to not only general racial difference, but also to the distinctions that exist for students of multiracial backgrounds. There are many situations that can present real challenges for biracial or multiracial college students.

As every prospective UNC student fills out his or her college application, he or she will also have to identify themselves racially. This information is used to record the demographic characteristics of students at UNC.

This can present a real quandary for biracial students. How does one make such a choice? To choose one race and not the other is to deny one half of your racial ancestry and essentially one of your parents.

There might be historical implications, especially for those who identify as half-black. A remnant of the Jim Crow South was the “one drop” rule, which stated that if one had a drop of black blood he or she was considered black.

Choosing “two or more races” or “other” doesn’t suffice as a racial identifier either. Students should be allowed to pick something more than the current generic option of the “two or more races” identifier. After all, students should have the option to be proudly Latina and African-American at the same time, or to boast both Asian and white ancestry simultaneously.

In different forms, biracial or multiracial individuals are often confronted with the age-old question, “What are you?” This might not seem like a big deal to people who visually appear to be a member of only one race. But for those whose appearance is racially ambiguous, this question can be offensive or even troubling. Multiracial individuals can feel isolated by their mixed ancestry or feel as if they do not belong to either group.

Biracial identity is a fascinating subject, but we must remember to remain sensitive to the various nuances that exist for people who identify as two or more races.

Averi Harper is a columnist from the Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior journalism major from Long Island, N.Y. Contact her at

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