What Are You?

I self-identify as multiracial. My mother self-identifies as Filipina and is mixed with Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and Native Islander. My father self-identifies as African-American and is mixed with Irish and First Nation Cherokee. While a huge part of my personal journey involved unpacking diversity-related challenges from my youth, I’ve come to see my multiracial identity as one of my gifts to the world. Along with other multiracials, I am in the unique position of being able to break down the barriers that keep us from recognizing the essential humanity common to us all. Multiracial people are living symbols of our past and where we are going as a country.

Data on race has been collected since 1790. When the U.S. Census Bureau started collecting detailed data on multiracial people in 2000, the first time respondents were allowed to check off more than one box, 6.8 million people chose to do so. By the 2010 Census, that number has grown by 32 percent.

The 2000 Census represents the first time multiracial people could name their own reality. But mind you, not all multiracial people self-identify or self-report as such. Additionally, how you self-identify in conversation with someone, may be different than the boxes one might check off for the census or in another context. In fact, we may all be multiracial. It’s just that some things show up and some things don’t, depending on how recently the mixing occurred. Was is 100 years ago? 200 years ago? Or was it 20 years ago? And what is identity exactly?

Identity is how you see yourself, how others see you (in the world of social psychology this is referred to as your “social identity), and your reaction to that outside perception. We are all born innocent. Identities develop over a lifetime. Additionally, they can be extremely complex and fluid. So, identity is the dynamic relationship between these elements and can be pretty darn complicated.

The second element of one’s identity is known as your “social identity”. Your “social identity” is your membership in certain social groups and the implications of belonging to these groups. Social groups can be defined by gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Examples of this might be your place of work, a religious or spiritual community you are a part of, or a club that you or your family belongs to.

Here’s the kicker: our self-identification with a particular social group may have no influence on how we are categorized by others. We are constantly evaluated by others in ways that make sense to them, not necessarily to us. This is a reality that one must acknowledge in order to have an honest conversation about identity in America and the larger global community.

Having a positive self-identity means knowing what is true about you, including: your natural strengths, gifts, capabilities, your core beliefs and values, your learning style, how you process and organize information, and other characteristics or tendencies. Most importantly, however, the hallmark of a positive self-identity is loving and accepting of what it is about you that makes you different.

Becoming who you are is an ongoing process. You’re always going to be a work in progress; you’re never done. I’m sure the idea of having a project that’s never done is probably nightmare to the perfectionist overachievers out there (Im a recovering perfectionist). The truth is, life is an incredible adventure and today - this moment - is the main attraction. Committing to a daily practice of staying in the present moment and not judging yourself or others as we ALL navigate the perpetual “identity journey” is actually a beautiful thing that we all need to embrace with humility, curiosity, love, and excitement for what is in store for us around the next corner.  

As for what's around the corner for this country, studies now show that by 2042, white people will be the statistical minority in the US. In light of this "changing face of America", I see myself as a bridge builder, in so far as every time someone asks me, “what are you?”, it’s opportunity to have a conversation that turns racial common sense on its head. Why do we categorize each other in this way? And does it make sense to keep doing this? Are the race boxes for the census going to make much sense 50 years from now? What about 20 years from now? Additionally, this conversation is an opportunity for someone to learn about me, and for me to learn about them. To make a connection. To exercise my empathy muscle. To listen. One of the most amazing things that has come from crazy identity rollercoaster is the discovery of my purpose. And my purpose here in this life is to be healing, loving, and empowering presence in the lives of people around me. This opportunity to share my story with the world is part of my living on purpose and I am so grateful and full of joy that I am able to do so.


The roots of my self-limiting beliefs about myself came from growing up as a multiracial person in the very white world of Northern Virginia independent schools, with no positive role-models to show me to how embrace my multiracial identity. I never felt Black enough, filipino enough, or white enough. I never felt like I was enough. Breaking free from these self-limiting beliefs has been the best and most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. However, I’m not unique. Everyone has a story like this. As you read these words I invite you to look inward and reflect on what your story might be. Was there one experience that you can remember that colors the way you think about yourself and the world? What messages have you internalized about yourself and others? Do you have a positive self-identity? If so, why? If not, maybe you can piece together why that is and start turning that ship around so that you too can break free from self-limiting beliefs and share your gifts with the world.

Make room for quiet and stillness in your life, because not only does creativity come from the depths, but your identity, your internal truth, comes from the depths as well. In this space you will begin to find yourself. We all have everything inside of us to create a beautifully joyful and purposeful life for ourselves. Again, this is an ongoing process, but this is what life is -the never ending opportunity to be creative and make a life that makes you happy. What is the next step for you?

Lots of Love,

Heather WilsonComment