A Racial Impostor Epidemic : Code Switch Our episode about multi-racial people and their search for identity struck a nerve. Now we're asking, "What other stories do you want to hear?"
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A Racial Impostor Epidemic

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A Racial Impostor Epidemic

A Racial Impostor Epidemic

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SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

Hey everybody. You're listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

And I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And we've been in the lab or the kitchen or, you know, late night in the studio. Actually, no, we've been at NPR headquarters in D.C. in a conference room (laughter) looking over what we've done over the past year and talking about what we want to do differently. And one of the things we talked about was what was really popular, and we have some data for that. One of the most popular episodes, the episode that got the most downloads, the most feedback from you over email and Twitter was our episode called A Prescription For Racial Impostor Syndrome.

DEMBY: And it was one of our favorite episodes too, although we argued a lot about it behind the scenes.

MERAJI: (Laughter) Yes, I don't want to relive that. It was one of our favorite episodes, actually, because of all the feedback we got from you, our listeners, and how many conversations we had with y'all on Twitter and elsewhere about your specific experiences around identity. And we loved hearing from you and talking to you.

DEMBY: And debating with y'all.

MERAJI: And so we're going to play that episode for you. And at the end of it, we need your help. Tell us what you like about CODE SWITCH, what you don't like about CODE SWITCH, what we're missing and what we can do better in 2018.

DEMBY: Like are we preaching to the choir?

MERAJI: Do you want to hear more conservative voices?

DEMBY: Are we having enough fun?

MERAJI: You know I'm always down for more fun.

DEMBY: Absolutely. Whether it's new perspectives, new voices or just - you want to hear some new music, we want to hear what you have to say. We'll tell you how to get in touch at the end of this episode. All right. OK, here goes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KRISTINA OGILVIE: (Reading) I can't be the only one with racial impostor syndrome. So do you hear from other listeners who feel like fakes? God, I hope the answer is yes, or I'm going to feel so goofy.

MERAJI: That's Kristina Ogilvie reading an email she wrote to us. And we didn't want to leave her hanging, so we asked you a few weeks ago - who out there feels like racial impostors?

DEMBY: Shereen, everybody was like - me, I do. We got so many emails, hundreds of emails from people saying that they felt the way Kristina did.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Because I don't look mixed, I never felt as though I quite fit in. In a way, I think I feel guilty for even thinking I'm part black, like I don't deserve to identify that way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I barely know any stories about my family members' life in India, Iraq or Iran. I kind of feel a sadness about the whole thing. I feel like claiming these cultures feels wrong, like I'm an impostor. At the same time, it's my actual family background, and I wish I had more of a connection to it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: My parents do not read or speak Japanese. I'm too whitewashed and Americanized to fully understand and relate to the immigrant experience but never seen as an American.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I feel like an impostor. How can I be Mexican if my Dad doesn't think of himself that way?

MERAJI: Just in case you haven't figured it out, you're listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: And I'm Gene Demby.

Shereen, this week, we're going to get into this human need to belong and why so many multiracial and multi-ethnic and bicultural people feel like they don't.

MERAJI: Mm-hm (ph).

DEMBY: We're loosely calling this feeling racial impostor syndrome. It's when folks feel like they don't fit in with their people - or, I guess, the people who are presumed to be their people, I guess.

MERAJI: Right. It's definitely a thing, and we've brought in some special guests to talk about it with us. We've got a social scientist who breaks down some of the psychology behind multiracial identity, then a sociolinguist tells us how losing your family's language really does play a role in feeling left out. And we wrap with the creator of an annual festival by and for multiracials and the people who love them. Fun fact - they are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States.

DEMBY: Y'all are.

MERAJI: (Laughter) We are.

DEMBY: But first, let's fill out a little bit of Kristina's story. You heard her at the top. She reached out to us after listening to, Shereen, your piece on Puerto Rican identity. And in her email, she mentioned that you seem to have no issue pronouncing Spanish words with a Spanish accent even though you're only half Puerto Rican.

MERAJI: Only?

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: All right. For those of you who are new to the show - and I'm sorry for those of you who have heard this a million times before (laughter).

DEMBY: I'm raising my hand.

MERAJI: My mom's Puerto Rican. My dad's Iranian. And I, too, suffer from racial impostor syndrome. I actually had an acute flare-up last year, Gene.

DEMBY: (Laughter) OK.

MERAJI: I was planning my wedding. I wanted to add some Persian elements. But I was, like, warring inside my head. I felt like it would be wrong to do that because I don't speak the language. I'm not that close with that side of my family. Anyway, I was really struggling with this phony feeling so many people wrote to us about - like, I had no right to claim this part of who I am. And, you know, for those of you who listen to the show, I'm definitely much more rooted in my Puerto Rican-ness, my Boricua-ness. So yeah.

DEMBY: So what did you end up doing at the wedding?

MERAJI: I did it.

DEMBY: Did you end up, like...

MERAJI: I went Persian.

DEMBY: And you, like, mispronounced all the (laughter)...

MERAJI: Oh, I did it all wrong.

DEMBY: ...The Farsi words.

(LAUGHTER)

DEMBY: But unlike you, Shereen, Kristina feels like a fraud when she pronounces the Spanish words the right way, even though she's also, like you, half Latina.

OGILVIE: My dad is Afro-Panamanian, but he moved to the States when he was 12. So he - he's, like, the only one of his family who has no accent.

DEMBY: Yeah.

OGILVIE: He actively tried to lose it. So he's one of those immigrants, right? And then my mom is a hundred percent - like, so German she's from Sweden.

MERAJI: (Laughter) So German she's from Sweden - does that mean she's like really, really, really, white and blond? Is that what that means?

DEMBY: That's what I'm imagining.

MERAJI: Yeah.

DEMBY: So I need to, like, give you some more context here. So she has a Afro-Latino dad. She has a German mom. And in middle school, her dad moves the family back to the States, which left Kristina, this racially ambiguous kid who spoke very formal German, trying to make sense of where she belonged with her friends and peers. So when she got to college, she started trying on different identities to see which of those might stick.

MERAJI: Oh, I've done that.

DEMBY: Haven't we all?

OGILVIE: I joined the African-American Students Association first, and I didn't feel comfortable there.

DEMBY: Why not?

OGILVIE: 'Cause they were closed meetings. At the time, I was like - well, if my mom can't come - you know (scoffing), stop. I didn't understand the need for, you know, having a safe space basically at the time. And I honestly just didn't feel like I - again, it felt performative.

DEMBY: It felt performative for you to be at these...

OGILVIE: Yeah. I just - I felt fake. I felt really fake. But, you know, you're sitting there. You're trying to find yourself. And so, you know...

DEMBY: Right.

OGILVIE: ...It's like I went looking there - not going to happen. I went looking with the Latinas, and I found a bunch of, like, lifelong friends. It was awesome. But again, it wasn't - it wasn't me because I don't speak Spanish - well, very little Spanish. So everything I know is from, like, music.

DEMBY: So let me ask you - I mean, this is a question I'm curious about. What would feel authentic to you?

OGILVIE: Oh, one of the most comfortable places that I feel is - I have a friend, Michelle (ph), and she's black. And she is just as nerdy as I am. Like, literally, we're texting about the new "Thor" trailer. I'm so excited.

DEMBY: It's a good trailer.

OGILVIE: I'm so excited. So that is a space that feels really comfortable to me. POC nerds - that is going to be my most comfortable place because I don't have to watch what I say 'cause I do make a lot of LOL-white-people jokes. But then I'm also like, you know, just always talking about some nerd stuff, you know. And that is, I think, where I connect with people now.

MERAJI: So a lot of what Kristina said about how she feels like a fake was echoed by this psychologist I talked to. Her name's Sarah Gaither, and she runs the Identity & Diversity Lab at Duke University.

DEMBY: That sounds fun.

MERAJI: Oh, yeah. I would want that job actually.

DEMBY: Me, too. Me, too.

MERAJI: Her work focuses on why it's so hard for multiracial and biracial people to develop a real sense of self, a real sense of belonging. And her work is very personal to her.

SARAH GAITHER: Yes, I am a - what they call a me-searcher (ph). So I myself am biracial. Outwardly, I look very white, but my dad is black. My mom is white. And that's made me very interested, not only in how race is perceived but once you learn something about someone from an identity angle, how does that knowledge impact your behaviors toward that person or your expectations you might have? And so myself, not ever fitting into the black community, at least physically, has really led me to focus a lot in my own work about this trouble of belonging that a lot of multiracial individuals tend to face in our society.

MERAJI: We got hundreds of emails from listeners about something we are calling racial impostor syndrome here on CODE SWITCH. And that's where someone who's mixed doesn't feel like they can truly claim either identity. Where do you see this pop up in your research?

GAITHER: I think this falls in line with this basic need to belong that really stems from a lot of the stuff that I focus on in the lab. We all want to belong to certain groups. And when a mixed-race person is constantly struggling across every context of their life to be white enough or black enough or Asian enough or Latino enough, that creates a sense of impostor syndrome or this extra need to try and belong to these groups. Being constantly told that you never fit in to your respective racial backgrounds really does make you feel like a fake person. It makes you feel like you don't have a family, you don't have a group to call your own. I, myself - I carry around a family photo in my wallet every day of my life to sort of prove to people that I have a black father.

MERAJI: Really?

GAITHER: And so there's these experiences that we all have within the community that I think causes a sense of impostor syndrome to a certain extent. And what we know from a lot of research to date is that multiracial people tend to face the highest levels of social exclusion compared to any other racial or ethnic group. They're excluded twice as often.

And so, unfortunately, this constant identity denial - you're not black enough, white enough, Asian enough, whatever the case may be - has led to higher levels of different types of mental health outcomes for the multiracial demographic because they have this identity crisis, this identity struggle, where they're trying to constantly fit into their respective in-groups.

MERAJI: What are the rules that are set up? How are you a part of the group? And how are you not a part of the group? And who gets to set those rules? And who enforces the rules?

GAITHER: Yeah, I wish I knew who set those rules so that I can belong to the groups that I want to belong to. The biggest rule that most people tend to use is your physical appearance. I think if you can pass as black or pass as Asian or pass as Latino, then you get to claim those experiences of being a racial or ethnic minority group member. So most of my work and most of psychology work overall would argue that we don't like to include ambiguous group members in our group. If there's a reason we can find to exclude them, we will find that rule or that reason.

MERAJI: Why is that? Because...

GAITHER: We want to have our groups be who we are, right? We - it gets back to this needing to belong, this group-centered focus of identity. We want to be surrounded by people who reflect the same senses of values that we do. And we have this innate ability to want to protect that in-group.

MERAJI: Can you kind of walk us through an experiment?

GAITHER: Yeah. There's lots of different approaches that we take. So in my work, I find if you simply remind a biracial person about their black identity, for example, and then they interact with a black person, that same racial identity mindset is going to make that interaction go really well. People are going to smile. They're going to really just enjoy the interaction overall. But if I took that same biracial person and reminded them about their white identity and have them interact with a black person, you would see more typical negative interracial interaction outcomes that we see in research all the time - so increased anxiety, less eye contact, more fidgeting.

And so this was some of the first data to suggest that if you are multiply belonging to different racial groups, this ability to navigate between these identities really can impact your behavior in different ways depending on if you're thinking about identity A versus identity B.

MERAJI: Do you also prompt them by saying - hey, you're biracial? You're both.

GAITHER: (Laughter) Yes. We also do that, yeah. We do all kinds of fun - we call it priming in the lab. We do all kinds of those things. Yeah. So some of our work - if you just simply ask - in a recent paper that we had published, if you remind multiracial people that they themselves are multiracial, they have these flexible racial identities, that actually boosts creativity and problem-solving abilities for multiracial people.

To be fair - that same creativity study, we recruited monoracial people and reminded them about the fact that they have multiple identities because we all have multiple identities. They might not be multiple racial identities, but that multiple identity mindset in a monoracial person also boosted those same flexible thinking outcomes.

MERAJI: Hearing this gives me a sense of pride. It makes me feel like - oh, yay, you know, something good about us. And then I step back and think - oh, but does that make it seem like I'm better than other people when I really embrace the fact that I have these dual identities? I don't know. It's this (laughter) - I'm having, like, this...

GAITHER: Yeah, no. It's a struggle. It's...

MERAJI: ...Psychological warfare in my head.

GAITHER: Yeah, no. It's a struggle. And then that gets back to, you know, mixed people on average wanting to fit in with whatever those groups may be and not wanting to have to constantly compare themselves to other groups. What's really unique, I think, about the multiracial experience is the fact that they've always existed in our history. We've always had mixed-race people. But it isn't until very recently that the mixed-race community overall has been a little prouder in being able to claim those types of identities.

There's this exotic kind of view of multiracial people as well, and that makes talking about this group a little awkward for some people at some times. So whenever it's brought up as - are multiracials this magical superbeing or this ability to bridge racial divides? - I definitely don't think that they're a end-all, be-all solution to all of the racial disparities and inequities that we have in our society. But what I do think is that mixed-race people, as a group, really do push our boundaries and what we think about race in a new direction. Our society is really fixed in thinking you can only be one thing at a time.

MERAJI: Sarah, thank you so much for being with us on CODE SWITCH and sharing your research with us.

GAITHER: Thank you so much for having me. It was really fun.

DEMBY: So, Shereen...

MERAJI: Mm-hm?

DEMBY: ...Can I just say something about this that is just, like, making me itch a little bit?

MERAJI: Please, indulge me.

DEMBY: So, you know, it feels a little bit like that old stereotype of the tragic mulatto, those characters who are biracial and they're wrestling with some inner demons about, like, not belonging. I'm not black;. I'm not white. You know I mean? You feel me?

MERAJI: I hear you.

DEMBY: But then also - and this is sort of a different point from that. Like, there are times when people focus on their mixedness that, in some cases, can feel like people are trying to run away from their blackness, you know, out of shame or because they think that might be advantageous to them in some way. I don't know. I don't know.

MERAJI: I know what you're saying. And I - obviously, that happens. We know that happens. But I also know plenty of mixed people, plenty of multiracial people who also want to be down with, you know, their brown side.

DEMBY: Right. That's fair.

MERAJI: They would give anything to be all black, et cetera, so they can exhale and finally feel like they belong somewhere, you know, so their friends stop calling them half-breed or off-brand. And let me tell you - this has happened to me (laughter).

DEMBY: Somebody called you off-brand for real (laughter)?

MERAJI: Yes, off-brand. You know - and it's like - and it happens every time you tell a corny joke or you do something wrong. Like, everything you do wrong is blamed on the fact that you're mixed. And then everything you do right is also assumed to be because you're mixed, getting back to what you were saying, you know. And so I don't know. You just can't win.

DEMBY: And I guess all that can be true at the same time, you know. All those things can exist in the world at the same.

MERAJI: It's complicated.

DEMBY: It's very complicated. We got to arguing about it (laughter).

MERAJI: Oh, we were arguing about it, you know. There's no right answer to this. And I know - I feel like you want there to be one answer to this.

DEMBY: I don't want there to be one answer. I just...

MERAJI: That's why I was yelling at you for, like, an hour in our...

DEMBY: That argument was, like - I just never appreciated the depth of your beige rage.

MERAJI: Yes, your monoracial supremacy.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Anyway - after the break, I'm going to talk with someone who says it's never too late to learn your heritage language. And even if you don't, you still have every right to claim your culture.

DEMBY: And we talk to the founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival, which is the nation's largest gathering of mixed-race and multiracial people. All you people suffering from racial impostor syndrome, she really feels you on this.

HEIDI DURROW: It really resonates with me, absolutely. I feel it when I'm trying to be Danish. And then I try to break out, like, Danish words so people realize - oh, she is OG.

(LAUGHTER)

DURROW: And I feel it when I'm trying to be black, right?

MERAJI: Don't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: And we are back with the sociolinguist so we can get into this language stuff. She's Chinese-American. She grew up in the Southwest.

MERAJI: And she speaks four languages. Don't feel bad, everybody.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Underachievers, all of us.

MERAJI: (Laughter) She speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish and English.

AMELIA TSENG: Hi. My name is Amelia Tseng, and I study language, identity and multilingualism. So I've worked primarily in U.S. minority communities and diasporic communities, looking really at questions of what happens to language and identity across generational time. So what's different between the first generation of people who moves to a country and their children and grandchildren?

MERAJI: You are absolutely perfect...

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...For this podcast episode because we're talking about this feeling that one of our listeners wrote to us about. And it's where you're a particular race or ethnicity, but for various reasons, you don't feel comfortable claiming that race or ethnicity.

TSENG: Sure.

MERAJI: And one of the reasons people feel very uncomfortable - we got so many emails. And they said, it's because they don't speak their parents' or grandparents' or, in one case, their great-grandparents' native language.

TSENG: They feel a sort of insecurity or a desire for connection but a sort of wondering, who am I? Am I really authentic?

MERAJI: Yes. And you've researched this. This is what you do. Why are they feeling so emotional about this?

TSENG: So one thing for heritage speakers, which is a term that's often used for speakers in these situations, where they have a home language or a cultural language but they may not be perfectly bilingual in it - it's important for them to know it's not their fault, first of all (laughter). As the children of immigrants - as heritage speakers, we really do feel like it's sort of just us, you know. If we'd tried harder, then we would be better at it.

And that's an attitude that actually our communities and our families quite often perpetuate too. If you're not growing up in that country, it's unlikely you're going to get that much exposure unless your family only speaks that one language at home. And even so, when you go to kindergarten, there'll be a change, right? It's not bad. It's just the way things are. That said, there is a lot to be said for trying to regain your heritage language or to maintain that connection. And I would encourage people to do that and not to feel badly if they never become, quote, unquote, "perfect."

MERAJI: Have you found in your research that it really does strengthen your sense of self, your sense of identity, when you do go back and learn even if you're not perfect and you may never be perfectly bilingual?

TSENG: Speaking from personal experience - even though Mandarin wasn't one of my home languages, when I learned Mandarin as an adult, I did feel a stronger connection to my culture and heritage. And I was also able to connect with my parents on a different level because some of the ways that they thought and some things that were in the linguistic barriers before were understandable to me.

From the wider research that I've done, people see language as a very strong part of identity and a very strong part of cultural identity, which is largely a really good thing for reasons of pride and maintenance and continuity but can also have some of the unintended negative consequences like we were just talking about, where that sort of enormous pride in the language actually puts a lot of pressure on, say, the grandkids who aren't very good at it. And there's a little bit of linguistic gatekeeping going on there, where there is an element of discomfort for heritage speakers who are less fluent because they do feel like it's an important part of their heritage. They do feel that pressure to be better at it.

And many times, the message they're receiving from within the community - but also from the broader community, speaking back to this idea of race as a construct and what it means to be authentic - is that until they do it right, they're not or by not being perfectly linguistically proficient, they're in some way rejecting their cultural heritage.

MERAJI: You know, I've run into situations, actually, where I've had co-workers say things like, well, you know, such and such person was just hired because they have a Spanish surname.

TSENG: Oh, lord.

MERAJI: They hardly even speak Spanish. Are they even really Latino? You know, I speak better Spanish than them.

TSENG: Perhaps it's that, as a society, we still haven't quite caught up with the new diversities that we have. I mean, we may just not have a framework to process it - right? - like, the other professor who's kind of looking at biracial identity and saying, well, you know, how does this fit with the constructs that we have? Maybe we don't have the language.

So in particular, when it comes to language and identity and culture in heritage speakers, I think that that question of - who gets to decide, and how do they get to set themselves up as the judge? - is an important one institutionally, obviously, for some of the examples you raised, that can have consequences in the workplace and certainly in schools but also in families. It's also important to celebrate the new practices, right? We can get so fixated on kind of, you know - are you for real such and such, and what does that mean, and does it mean that you have to look exactly like me and come from my country and speak exactly my language in exactly the same way?

But we should also be recognizing that when people go to a new environment, they're going to be different. They're going to change and adapt and come up with new hybrid processes that conserve these connections with the home culture and language but also blend them in new combinations and come up with new ways of being. And that's something which is quite wonderful and creative and should be celebrated and acknowledged as opposed to being sort of constantly put down as a not-enough kind of thing.

MERAJI: I feel like this was a therapy session...

TSENG: (Laughter).

MERAJI: ...And I owe you money.

TSENG: Nah (ph). Does that make sense?

MERAJI: No, it really does. It was really good.

TSENG: Be yourself and own your own experience because it is distinct and unique. But also know that you're not alone. Many, many, many other people over the years and right exactly now in this moment are in the same situation, trying to figure out - who am I? You know, where is home? Am I doing it right (laughter) in a sense?

Also, other people may set themselves up as judges, but you don't have to take that on board. And having said all of that, if maintaining the heritage language and strengthening heritage language abilities is something that is important and it's something that you'd like to do, then I would say, go forth without fear. And irrespective of where you eventually get, that's great. But it doesn't change who you are.

MERAJI: Well, thank you so much for being here and talking about this with us.

TSENG: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: That was Amelia Tseng. She's a sociolinguist at the Smithsonian and American University.

MERAJI: You know, one thing both Amelia and Sarah said was that even though being multiracial and multi-ethnic is certainly not new, we're still trying to figure out how to talk about it.

DEMBY: Right. And talk about it amongst each other, right? It seems like you mixed-up people trying to figure out the language amongst yourselves - right? - which brings us to Heidi Durrow, who we mentioned before the break. She's not only the founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival. She's also the author of the novel "The Girl Who Fell From The Sky." It won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. The main character in that novel, by the way, resembles Heidi in that she has a black father who served in the military overseas and a white mother who is Danish. Heidi, by the way (laughter), refers to herself as an Afro-Viking.

MERAJI: I think I might like that better than Persia-Rican (ph).

DEMBY: So you have this festival, the Mixed Remixed Festival.

DURROW: Yes.

DEMBY: You do it every year. It is a - I don't want to misrepresent it - it is a conference, a festival for people who are multiracial and multiracial adjacent or biracial and biracial adjacent.

DURROW: (Laughter) I like that. I like to say we all know someone, are someone or love someone who's in the mixed experience. So it's for all of those people, which means basically all of us. It's a film, book and performance festival. And we have readings and film screenings and workshops and panel discussions and family craft activities. And it all culminates in a live performance at the end of the night. And there is lots of curly hair.

(LAUGHTER)

DURROW: And there is a lot of crying, too, because people walk into the room and they realize no one is trying to do math on their family. We all look like we fit with each other. To not have to hide or dissemble or pretend or make other people comfortable - it's such a relief to be in that space.

DEMBY: So you've defined mixed race as sort of, like, the biological fact to the extent that race is a biological fact - you know what I mean? - or is it experiential?

DURROW: I like to talk about the experience. I mean, I find that whole idea of biology very difficult and problematic. And that's why, for me, it's really important that - you call them multiracial adjacents - but, you know, I - when I talk about white people also, I feel like I need to put quotes around it sometimes. I'm not really sure who is, quote, unquote, "white" in any situation.

One of my big frustrations is people not realizing my mom isn't just a white person. (Laughter) It makes me so upset when people think she's just some white lady with a strange accent.

DEMBY: (Laughter).

DURROW: In New York, many years ago, my mom came to visit me. And we were going to see an exhibit that was closing that weekend, so we had to go see it. And of course, it was packed. And this was the exhibit of the lynching postcards, the photographs.

DEMBY: The lynching postcards were the postcards that were photographs of actual lynchings, of people celebrating. They were given out as souvenirs and eventually barred from being sent through the mail.

DURROW: You know, unlike most museum situations I think that I'm in, at least half of us were African-American. And, see, now I'm using different words here...

DEMBY: Right.

DURROW: ...Like us, them. It gets confusing. I was counting us as an us. My mom was there. I was counting her as an us. And I saw her, and I called out mor, which is mom in Danish, and she turned around. And as she turned around, she bumped this woman who happened to be African-American. And I saw this happening in a flash. And I could see, like, seriously, flames coming out of this woman because this white woman had bumped her...

DEMBY: At the...

DURROW: ...At this exhibit.

DEMBY: At the exhibit, right - the context in which it's happening in, yeah.

DURROW: And I just rushed over to my mom, and I hugged her. And I looked at the woman like, you know, she's one of us (laughter). She's with me. Like, I know this is a difficult moment, but let's not put that on her. She's good (laughter). She's mine. I'm hers.

DEMBY: Right.

DURROW: We're yours. We're all together. It's those kind of moments where I feel like I want, somehow, her identity to be known to - you know, that she is a person who loves us, my brothers and me.

DEMBY: So at the Mixed Remixed Festival, when everyone's in the room, are people using different identifiers? Are they saying, you know, I'm biracial. I'm black. I'm white. I'm mixed. I'm - like, what are - how are people ID'ing?

DURROW: What we like to say is, I am a story.

DEMBY: OK.

DURROW: Right? That's really what we all are. We're not very attached to labels and boxes and being able to check something off that makes sense to other people. You get to be exactly the story that you are in all of its complication.

DEMBY: Heidi Durrow is the author of "The Girl Who Fell From The Sky" and the founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival.

Thank you, Heidi. This was really fun.

DURROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: All right, y'all. Before we go, we really need your help. We want to know about what you want to hear more of from us in 2018. We're shopping which stories you want us to cover, which notable people you want to hear from. So if you could take just a few minutes and go to npr.org/codeswitch, you'll see a link to a questionnaire. We would appreciate it so much.

MERAJI: Yes. And you can also email us - codeswitch@npr.org - with the subject line talk back to CODE SWITCH. And be as detailed as possible, but don't be too mean.

DEMBY: Be mean. Give us your bile.

MERAJI: Give us something to work with, though...

DEMBY: Yeah, that's right.

MERAJI: ...Definitely not bile because that's not chewy. You can't chew on that.

DEMBY: That's disgusting.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: Yes, the more detailed, the better.

MERAJI: Thank you in advance.

DEMBY: Shereen, I think that's our show for this week. You can get at us on Twitter, y'all. We're @nprcodeswitch. And subscribe to the podcast wherever fine podcasts can be found or streamed. And if you could, leave us a review on iTunes. It helps people find our podcast.

MERAJI: This episode was produced by Leah Donnella, Sami Yenigun and your's truly. And it was edited by Sami Yenigun.

DEMBY: Shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Adrian Florido, Karen Grigsby Bates, Kat Chow, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Walter Ray Watson and Steve Drummond. And welcome to our new intern, fresh from New Orleans, Komari Devarajin (ph). Woot, woot.

MERAJI: I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: And I'm Gene Demby. Be easy.

MERAJI: Peace.

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