Racial classifications should not describe identity, said students participating in a panel discussion held by Re:Mix, The Racially and Ethnically Mixed Student Association.
Re:Mix held the panel discussion Tuesday night as part of its Mixed Race Heritage Month celebration. Mixed race individuals have parents who are of two different races.
Titi Williams-Davies, an MBA student and a Presidential Administrative Fellow, is half-Nigerian and half-British. She said people do not recognize that she has a mixed cultural ancestry. They just hear of her background and say, “‘Oh, OK, you’re black.'”
She continued, “Just because I’m in a black sorority doesn’t mean I only like black things. If that were true, does that mean I disown my father because he doesn’t fit the checklist?”
“What does that even mean, to act black?” Williams-Davies asked. “Or to act white for that matter?”
Students also criticized society’s fixation on race and how people are curious about knowing the precise race of a person, even though race is in many ways an arbitrary classification.
“Sometimes people ask you (what your race is) as though you are a specimen,” freshman Jillian Hubbard said.
When a teacher at her high school pointed to her as an example of how blacks come in all shapes, sizes and colors, Hubbard said eight of her classmates’ heads snapped around to look at her because they assumed her lighter skin meant she was mixed race.
Students also tackled the role of race on the GW campus, how some students cling to those that share their race.
“I’ve seen the extremes at GW,” said junior JuDonn DeShields, vice president of Re:Mix. “Those who see all people first for who they are and those who just stick to their own, hesitant to find someone different.”
DeShields added, “You’d like to think that was a thing of the past, of a pre-Civil Rights era, but it seems to become more prevalent.”
Though some criticized the idea of talking about race as a way to classify people, DeShields said he is proud to identify himself as decidedly mixed-race.
“Sometimes people asking ‘what are you?’ can be a beautiful curiosity,” DeShields said. “They have to wrap their mind around interracial marriage and the fact that people who didn’t get along fifty years ago are now having babies together.”
The transition to college was another popular topic of discussion.
“If you’ve been raised a certain way it can be very confusing to come to college and have people tell you, ‘this is what you are, based on only your race,” senior Tony Tonioli said,
He said talking about biases is an important first step in better understanding what separates people.
Tonoli said, “Even admitting you have stereotypes in the first place is significant.”