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Mixed-race individuals and mistaken identities

Mixed-race individuals often encounter mistaken identities. The stories and racial mixes featured below only represent a small slice of human diversity on this planet:

Story 1:

A group of African American tourists stopped a Tamil boy on the streets of Singapore, thinking he was also a black American. They asked him which state he was from. To their surprise, he replied, "I was born here".

Background: The Tamils are a South Indian group. Some South Indian males residing in the U.S. have been mistaken for African Americans.

Story 2:

An Eritrean man sees a picture of a black American of European and West African descent, and remarks "He looks like my (biological) brother."

Background: Eritreans, and other East Africans like the Ethiopians and the Swahili, have absorbed Arab immigrants from Asia since ancient times.

Story 3:

A Chinese of West Asian descent is often addressed in the Vietnamese language by Vietnamese people.

Background: Many Chinese of Arab/Persian descent are likely almost 'full-blooded' Chinese, because their ancestors came to China in the Middle Ages. But West Asian features can still be found in Chinese Muslim populations.

Story 4:

An observer comments on young American of European and African descent, "He doesn't look black, he looks like an Arab".

Background: A large proportion of black Americans have European ancestors, a legacy of the slave days.

Story 5:

A Chinese and Indian mixed race young woman was assumed to be a Malay.

Background: Malays are a Southeast Asian people living in Malaysia and Indonesia. They are part of the Austronesian family and are related to the Filipinos and Pacific Islanders.

Story 6:

A Japanese and Indian mixed race student was thought to be Bhutanese or Nepali.

Background: Nepal and Bhutan are 2 countries between China and India.

Story 7:

A young South Asian woman growing up in the US was mistaken for a Latina so often that she eventually started learning to speak Spanish.

Background: In the US, some Asian Indian individuals are mistaken from Mestizo Latin Americans of European and Native American descent. Ethnic South Asian actress Sarita Choudhury played a Latina in a American film Gloria (1999). Other Asians like the Armenians are sometimes also misidentified as Spanish or Mestizo. An Armenian boy in the US started picking up Spanish just by the fact he had been addressed in Spanish so many times.

Story 8:

A 6 year old Russian Jewish boy growing up in America thinks the Hebrew words his father taught him are really Spanish because he is often mistaken for Latino.

Background: In the US, many dark-skinned Jews from the former Soviet republics are often mistaken for Latinos. Young, naturally tan Jewish boys are followed around stores.

Story 9:

An Eritrean man is mistaken for an Asian Indian.

Background: Eritreans, like many other East Africans, are of mixed Arab and Negro heritage. A young woman from Djibouti (in East Africa) was also misidentified as a South Asian. An Indian man also remarked how much some East African women resemble Indian women, both in traditional dress and appearance.

Story 10:

A Burmese family is assumed to be Latin American at the US INS.

Background: The people of Myanmar (Burma) have a mix of Indic and Mongoloid ancestors.

Story 11:

An Indian boy bears strong resemblance to a Jewish man of Arab descent working in the same corporation.

Background: Most Jews in Arab countries have no European ancestors (unless they come from relatively recent European immigrant communities). They are derived from Jews who migrated to Arab countries without passing through Europe. Some Jews in Arab countries came via Europe, but not the ancestors of the Jewish man in question. The color of both men is a chestnut brown.

Story 12:

The offspring of a Chinese man and an ethnic European woman were described by relatives as "Mexican-looking".

Background: Other Chinese-European offspring have also been described as Mexican-looking.


What is the purpose of telling these 12 stories aside from the fact they are interesting personal anecdotes? This is to illustrate:

  • The futility of trying to decide who to reject and who to accept on the basis of race.
    You might misidentify an individual from a despised group as someone of an acceptable race, or vice versa. e.g. an East Asian who looks down on Southeast Asians as "dirty and vulgar" may find out the Southeast Asian-looking individual he despises is really a Chinese-Persian mix without a drop of Southeast Asian blood.
  • The shortsightedness of saying, "That is another race's problem, that's not my problem."
    For individual people of color who function in a European-majority society, what they actually identify as has little bearing on how the 'mainstream' treats them. It is what they look like that matters. For example, In the U.S., a European Jewish boy questioned by cops who think he is Hispanic cannot escape by responding, "Actually I am Jewish. I do not belong to an ethnic group stereotyped as criminal!" Even though he officially qualifies as 'white', he cannot claim the racial profiling of minorities does not affect him.

We people of color may be "biologically unrelated" and come from vastly different cultures, but we are in this together. Some of us unrelated individuals could even be passing for each other's siblings or cousins. Why do we even bother discriminating among ourselves when all of us alike are oppressed by the Eurocentric power structure of the modern age?