‘Racial Impostor Syndrome’: Here Are Your Stories

Have just included a few of the mixed identity anecdotes but as mixed union rates increase, more people will be grappling with these identity issues:

It’s tricky to nail down exactly what makes someone feel like a “racial impostor.” For one Code Switch follower, it’s the feeling she gets from whipping out “broken but strangely colloquial Arabic” in front of other Middle Easterners.

For another — a white-passing, Native American woman — it’s being treated like “just another tourist” when she shows up at powwows. And one woman described watching her white, black and Korean-American toddler bump along to the new Kendrick and wondering, “Is this allowed?”

In this week’s podcast, we go deep into what we’re calling Racial Impostor Syndrome — the feeling, the science and a giant festival this weekend in Los Angeles that’s, in some ways, all about this.

She asked, “Do you hear from other listeners who feel like fakes?”

Good question. So we took it to our audience, and what we heard back was a resounding “yes.”

We got 127 emails from people who are stumbling through that dark, racially ambiguous forest. (And yes, we read every single one.)

Here are excerpts drawn from a few of the many letters that made us laugh, cry and argue — and that guided this week’s episode.

Let’s start with Angie Yingst of Pennsylvania:

“My mother is a Panamanian immigrant and my father is a white guy from Pennsylvania. I’ve always felt liminal, like I drift between race and culture. When I was young (20s) and living in the city, I would get asked multiple times a day where I was from, where my people were from, because Allentown, Pennsylvania, clearly wasn’t the answer they were looking for … It always felt like the undercurrent of that question was, ‘You aren’t white, but you aren’t black. What are you?’

“But truthfully, I don’t feel like I fit with Latinas either. My Spanish is atrocious and I grew up in rural PA. Even my cousin said a few weeks ago, ‘Well, you aren’t really Spanish, because your dad is white.’ Which gutted me, truly. I identify as Latina. I identify with my mother’s culture and country as well as American culture. In shops, I’m treated like every other Latina, followed around, then ignored at the counter. I married a white guy and had children who are blonde and blue eyed, and I’m frequently asked if I’m the nanny or babysitter. And white acquaintances often say, ‘You are white. You act white.’ And I saltily retort, ‘Why? Because I’m not doing your lawn, or taking care of your kids? You need to broaden your idea of what Latina means.’ ”

Jen Boggs of Hawaii says she often feels like a racial impostor, but isn’t quite sure which race she’s faking:

“I was born in the Philippines and moved to Hawaii when I was three. … I grew up thinking that I was half-Filipina and half-white, under the impression that my mom’s first husband was my biological father. I embraced this ‘hapa-haole’ identity (as they say in Hawaii), and loved my ethnic ambiguity. My mom wanted me to speak perfect English, so never spoke anything but to me. After she divorced her first husband and re-married my stepdad from Michigan, my whiteness became cemented.

“Except. As it turns out, my biological father was a Filipino man whom I’ve never met. I didn’t find out until I tried to apply for a passport in my late twenties and the truth came out. So, at age 28 I learned that I was not half white but all Filipina. …

“This new knowledge was a huge blow to my identity and, admittedly, to my self esteem. ‘But I’m white,’ I remember thinking. ‘I’m so so white.’ After much therapy, I’m happy and comfortable in my brown skin, though I’m still working out how others perceive me as this Other, Asian person.”

Source: ‘Racial Impostor Syndrome’: Here Are Your Stories

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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