Friday, August 8, 2014

Biracial Privilege: the List

When someone experiences political privilege, typically it's at the inconvenience or expense of someone else ... 

 ... and that's the main reason I feel racial privilege needs to be acknowledged, even when that privilege is limited.

On a Black forum I frequent, there's ongoing debate as to whether or not biracial people (about equally Black and White) and those who are mostly White, experience racial privilege, relative to people who are mostly or fully Black. Because I believe biracials do, I promised to generate a list of some BR/White privileges I've either experienced, or witnessed other BRs receive. First, here are a few factors I suspect help determine the degree of privilege:

  • phenotype  (ethnic appearance)
  • lightness/darkness of skin
  • white acculturation  (to what degree someone is familiar with or participating in White culture) 
  • dress style  (Euro-associated, Afro-associated, Asia-associated, etc. ... and/or some combination) 
  • racial demographics  (specifically: level and duration of exposure to Whites)
  • local politics  (conservative, liberal, moderate, etc.) 

In my opinion, the Whiter or more ambiguous your BR phenotype, the lighter your skin tone, and the more White or biracial-acculturated you are, the more likely you are to experience quite a few of the following privileges. ...

Overt racism

You've never had a "negro wake up call" (to your conscious awareness):

For example: Was never called an n - - - - r, or other slur for Blacks; never had someone let you know "your type isn't wanted around here." ... No one has locked a car door or clutched her purse as you walked by. 

Whites and non-Blacks typically give you a warm social reception. They readily smile and initiate discussions and don't usually seem nervous or standoffish to you, as a group.

Achievements, accolades and media exposure

As of 2010, BRs still only represent 2.7% of the American population, according to the USCB, but are disproportionately over-represented in American academia, politics, and other vocations and industries, especially relative to Blacks. 

In reality, there are likely more than 2.7% of us. While dual ancestry could have been claimed on the 2010 census, (waning) acceptance and practice of the "One Drop Rule" may have led some BRs to only identify as "Black". But even if there are twice as many BRs in the US compared to the latest USCB report, BRs still appear to over-represent Black people in the areas described above. In that way, BRs may have some privilege as a group, based on model minority status, relative to Blacks.

BRs are also disproportionately over-represented in media. BRs - most often ambi-BRs - tend to suffer less negative stereotyping in the media, relative to Blacks. This may translate into social privilege in the form of a warmer, or at least more neutral, reception by many non-Blacks. 

As a BR, you see people like you playing a variety or roles in movies and on TV, that are meant for Blacks, BRs, Latinos, Italians, Greeks, Whites and others. 

That over-representation is a privilege. Some groups are less psychologically visible as Americans, because they must go out of their way to find images of themselves in American media, or in public venues. BR presence is especially dominant in "Black" magazines and advertising.  

Social Situations

You will more likely have immediate social acceptance from White and non-White Americans. 

For example: If you're a White-appearing or ambi-BR, Non-Blacks may say things like, "You're so handsome ... I need to introduce you to my daughter," while looking you directly in the eyes and wrapping an arm around your shoulder.

A less dramatic example: Older, conservative-looking White strangers act in familial ways, like offering to fix your shirt collar, or flip a tag back into your shirt). They tend to ask before touching your hair.

Positive stereotypes are often ascribed to you. 

Any stereotype can be problematic. Positive stereotypes create pressure to live up to high expectations, and any stereotype paints a group with too broad a brush. But those positive assumptions can result in unearned, relative privilege, because those who are positively stereotyped are often given the benefit of the doubt in many situations, where others aren't. While BRs sometimes get negatively stereotyped as "confused" or  (less frequently) "tragic",  there are several very positive stereotypes that likely offset the negative ones. ...

For example: Statements commonly made about BRs are, "You have the best of both worlds" (whatever in the Hell that means), "You guys are always so great looking","You represent a better future", etc. Silly BR stereotypes will often be more positive or neutral than negative.

You can often express negative feelings openly without fear of being reduced to a negative stereotype.
For example: Assuming you look ambi-BR or White, you've likely never really thought twice about possible racist backlash for spontaneously expressing your anger, outrage or disgust toward a White person in a position of authority over you, or in front of a larger White audience. You're pretty sure you've been viewed as an individual expressing a problem you wanted fixed, rather than as a (Black) trouble maker to be tolerated, dismissed or punished.

You've done inappropriate things like raise your voice at your boss or yell at a White cop, and you weren't treated harshly or arrested as a result. There may have been a neutral reaction, as if the person decided you're just having a bad day. They don't tend to reprimand you or give you that citation you deserved for going twice the speed limit.

No one's given you cause to believe you've been stereotyped as the "aggressive Black man" or the "angry Black woman", etc. You don't worry about coming across as a stereotype and you don't selectively watch what you say around Whites.

You're unaware of racial tension between you and White people.

For example: In-store security people barely notice you. You're not uncomfortable or self-conscious of your ethnicity while in White public spaces, or when there are cops nearby. When you're a tourist in a heavily White area, you know from experience that all it takes is looking slightly lost, and people will immediately volunteer to give you directions. (Yes, even in "unfriendly" cities like Los Angeles, NYC and Newark; and regardless of your gender.)

You've never been questioned about your intentions when shopping or momentarily sitting/standing outside a business establishment. You don't wait longer than non-Blacks to be seated at restaurants. You aren't praised for being "articulate". You aren't expected to speak for all Black people in discussions. If you are a women: from experience, you know that when your car breaks down, a good samaritan of any "color" will likely show up very soon, if not right away, to help you.

When it's just you and a bunch of your White friends or acquaintances ...

You don't notice White strangers staring or giving dirty looks when it's just you among your White friends or acquaintances. (Geography needs to be kept in mind here. The more racially diverse the region, the less likely you are to get open reactions.)

Racial shape-shifting 

If you are racially ambiguous, certain groups may immediately treat you "as one of theirs", leading to warm, "familiar" social exchanges and easier business interactions.


You will attract people from diverse ethnic groups with relative ease (though racial barriers to marriage may or may not exist).

Of course the degree of ethnic diversity in your environment is a pretty big factor.

You have been openly hit on by hard-core racists (like neo-Nazis or other "White pride" enthusiasts), in front of their racist White friends. I'm not suggesting it's a privilege to be hit on by these knuckle heads. I'm saying their reaction to you is a strong indicator you're accessing White privilege in every day life, possibly without knowing it.

People don't seem to care who you date or marry.

If you've dated (or date) Whites and/or non-Blacks, no one bothered to point it out. No one acted like it was unusual. You didn't get incredulous or dirty looks from anyone. Once again, geography needs to be kept in mind. A more racially diverse region typically means less open reactions.


If your have lighter skin than Blacks, as most BRs do, you will have an easier time finding employment than Blacks.  

There are some recent studies that appear to reveal a "colorism" bias when it comes to who gets hired. But the mistake many scholars make when studying colorism, is not treating the subject of colorism as another form of racism (multi-racial favoritism): There's a high correlation between lighter skin and European or partial-European ancestry, regardless of the “non-White” group/s being studied.

Dr. Matthew S. Harrison's study findings about colorism in the work place (The Hidden Prejudice in Selection: A Research Investigation on Skin Color Bias (Harrison & Thomas, 2008), are described by * Philip Lee Williams (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences), whose report includes statements she said Dr. Harrison presented at the 66th annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Atlanta, Georgia:

"'The findings in this study are, tragically, not too surprising,' said Harrison. 'We found that a light-skinned black male [likely a biracial man] can have only a bachelor’s degree and typical work experience and still be preferred over a dark-skinned black male with an MBA and past managerial positions, simply because expectations of the light-skinned black male are much higher, and he doesn’t appear as ‘menacing’ as the darker-skinned male applicant.' ... '

Given the increasing number of biracial and multiracial Americans [highlighted for emphasis], more research similar to this study should be performed so that Americans can become more aware of the prevalence of color bias in our society ... ' ” 

There's a 2006 study by Dr. Joni Hersch, called “Skin Color Discrimination and Immigrant Pay”. 

Dr. Hersch reports: "I present strong evidence of a wage penalty to darker skin color among new legal immigrants to the United States. Immigrants with the lightest skin color earn on average 17 percent higher wages than comparable immigrants with the darkest skin color. ”

According to a New York Times writer (“Study of Immigrants Links Lighter Skin and Higher Income” (2007),  Dr. Hersch said of her study results, “On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education.” 

You don't worry about your "race" keeping you from getting any type of employment. 

You don't find yourself wondering if someone didn't call back because of your "race". Generally you get reasonably prompt call backs. Potential employers seem surprised or uncomfortable upon first meeting. ( Naturally the assumption here is you have basic people skills and aren't a lousy interviewee who's inappropriately dressed or has hygiene issues.) 

If you've been 30 min.s late (or later) to an initial interview at a major corporation, you were still greeted pleasantly. They agreed to interview you anyway and may have still offered you the job.

Legal matters

You assume your (partial) Blackness won't count against you in legal matters.

You just drive, you don't "drive while Black" ... 

 ... unless you're in Arizona, where you might get pulled over for "driving while Mexican" (that's obviously more likely if you're ambi-BR).

You might receive shorter prison sentences and serve less time.

To balance out Dr. Harrison's study findings about colorism with men in the work place,  I turn to one of Dr. Lance Hannon's studies about colorism and women: "The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders" (Hannon & DeFina, 2011).

Here's a statement from the “summary” section of the study, as viewed at the site linked above: 

"Controlling for several factors, the results indicated that black women deemed to have a lighter skin tone received more lenient prison sentences and served less time behind bars.”

* Online sources I located mirrored claims put forth in The Raw Story, that “light-skinned Black” women appear to get sentenced to about 12% less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts, and appear to serve 11% less time." 

It will be easier for you to buy a house in most neighborhoods & easier to get a rental acceptance from landlords. 

You're fairly confident you could buy a house in most suburban, White neighborhoods, and be warmly received by all or most of your White neighbors ... or you're pretty confident they'd be very warm and responsive if you approached them first. Based on most Whites' reactions to you in general, you guess they'd likely introduce you to their family, maybe invite you in for tea.

You've rarely had to wait to procure a reasonably priced lease from a White landlord, for a very good looking property, in a middle to upper-class neighborhood.


You've never thought much about your skin tone. 

You don't secretly or openly compare your skin tone with Nicki Minaj, Solange Knowles, Sanaa Nathan or anyone else. Being unable to relate with that tendency in some people to compare their skin tone to others' is a sign of privilege, often BR privilege ... because while not all BRs have light skin, many of us do, and quite a few of us don't stop to acknowledge the resulting social and political advantages light skin yields.

Beauty products and Band-aids match your skin. 

After all these years, it's still hard for Blacks and those with dark skin, to walk into most local drug stores and purchase Band-aids that match dark skin. I imagine the same is true for a lot of beauty products too. Many BRs aren't inconvenienced in this way.  

You're not looked to as the spokesperson for your race in race discussions.

When you're in the company of acquaintances and the topic of race comes up, you don't get treated like you're expected to speak for all Black people.  People don't look at you when they talk about Black people, expecting you to speak up on behalf of all Blacks everywhere. People don't shuck and jive, trying to "speak Black" in your presence.

Do biracials who have more of a Black phenotype experience any racial privilege?

Regardless of how you look as a BR ...

 ... Unlike someone Black, you will always carry an awareness that you are, in fact, about half-White. This is true even if you choose to ID as Black only. In addition, most BRs - whose mothers tend to be White - have contact with their White parent, plus some or all White relatives and often a White community. What affect does that have on someone BR?:

That intimate access to Whites is a privilege in a White-dominated society, because that access primes BRs for easier, more confident race relations with Whites (think Barack Obama). White acculturation yields relative comfortability with Whites that can impact success in the areas of business and academia, even though some level of racial prejudice is likely endured along the way. 

But again, regardless of how much or little privilege is experienced, the important thing to remember, is that privilege by definition means someone else is at a disadvantage. Recognizing and admitting to relative privilege is a vital step for BRs whose goal it is to cause less pain and help heal race relations with Blacks. 

* Though Dr. Williams' claim of color bias per his study are confirmed, Philip Lee Williams' description of Dr. Harrison's study findings need verification from this author, who hasn't yet gained accessed his full study. 

* Since I can't access Dr. Hannon's full study online without paying, I can't confirm unverified, quantified results claimed by other sites (like


Anonymous said...

Im White person from LSA who'd like to dress the issues between blacks and biracials and whites

as a white person, doing my best to try to learn more about the culture of African American , or people, and learn about what causes the continued culture divide between blacks and whites I've learned that I'm much more likely to recieve a negative reaction to my being white from a person identifying as full black than I am someone who is biracial. I can understand why full black people have a natural aversion to white people and even anger because of privilege, white people haven't done right in recent history. There are some of us out here who are trying to learn better ways. but when we get spit on by black people for making an effort it's really discouraging. then we get spit on by some our own people too for speaking up for black issues. called an n lover or a traitor to our race. multiracial people though, AND also full blacks even who try to bridge the gap between races get the same thing. they get called an uncle tom, they get called traitors to their race. it makes me sad. when we hate another we hate ourself. those people you're calling names are human just the same as you. .

if people keep putting down people for making an effort to get along how the heck are we ever going to have peaceful relations? And seriously...hating people for things they can't controll like black, white, mixed race OR how or where they grew up is sad. White people and Multi racial people also can't change how others percieve us. so to hate us by how we're percieved by white people is incredibly unfair especially when alot of us really are working on those racist people and other white people to get them to see the issues of race and make things better.

NO I'm not exactly complaining. I know some will say I'm just a white person whining about my problems, but no. I don't have to be there for black people or do any of this. Because I'm white I have the option to go back and hang with my white friends and enjoy my white priveledge and not worry about you. But I don't stop trying to bridge the gap even when It has me so frustrated some times. I keep trying even though I keep getting hated on, because I want the world to be a better place for everyone. With less hate from all directions. Kumbaya

Jay Walker said...

Thanks for your response. Every time someone White (like you), multi-racial, Black, or Asian, etc., demonstrates respect and empathy toward all other groups, it matters. Each time any of us speaks up and endures comments like, “traitor, Uncle Tom, etc.” to honor the needs of our broader human family, it matters.

Striving for “peaceful relations” as you call it, was never going to be easy, because at times we are all prone to possession by fear, insecurity and resentment. You said, “Because I'm White I have the option to go back and hang with my White friends and enjoy my White privilege and not worry about you [Blacks].” That does look like a privilege on the surface, doesn't it? But that's actually self-imposed confinement, and an inconvenience, especially since Whites are quickly becoming a numerical minority in the US. It is already becoming near-impossible to avoid non-White American spaces, media, and people. So your choice, Anonymous, to not restrict yourself to other Whites, isn't just right-headed, it's practical. … Kumbaya right back atcha.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have always believed that just knowing the fact that you are part another race is enough to make your experiences and outlook on life different than a monoracial person. I can only imagine the hurt that comes with denying a part of yourself for political reasons. I have never seen anyone truly appear to be happy about denying part of their heritage. They will say its a choice but then also try to force other mixed race people to do the same. I don't believe they would try to force other people to do the same if they really felt like it was a personal choice. I think some choose to do it because they feel like they benefit more from claiming just black, they don't benefit from biracial privilege or were rejected by their nonblack side. 

Phenotype does play a role in the privileges you are able to access. As someone with two older siblings who can pass for Southern/Eastern European White or Hispanic, I know and have seen that their are many doors open for them that aren't open for me. At the same time, as someone who is not ambiguous or white looking but appears Indian/Indonesian to most, I realize that there are also many doors open for me that aren't open for those of is with a more visibly black phenotype. One personal example that goes in line with what you said above was visiting Romania to see Dad's family last year. While my father, sister and brother were warmly relieved and assumed to be natives by strangers, people often mistook me for being a member of the Romani ("gypsy"- which is actually a slur) population because of my tan skin. Some were hostile to me for this very reason alone. It was amazing all the difference phenotype could have on one's life experience. This blows any theory that Biracials all have the same experience or that we are all seen as just Black out of the water. There are so many of us with varied phenotypes that it seems America, maybe the world, doesn't know what to do with us. I feel like some of these experiences can only come with actually being biracial. As much as some people claim to understand or assume they know what our experiences are like, I don't believe they could really know.

Jay Walker said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. You make such a great point: people need to walk in someone's shoes, rather than assuming they understand that person's experience. ... When speaking about others' experiences, it's good to at least have gathered their opinions about the matter first.

Jay Walker said...

Just a heads up to everyone: You may need to break up really super long posts into a couple SEPARATE posts. Some extremely long comments (4 or 5 of them) have vanished from this page somehow.

Thanks, and I do look forward to hearing from you.

Anonymous said...

This just proves that there is not just one "biracial experience". I am not biracial but I am Creole and both my parents come from long lineages of light skinned mixed raced people. I am very fair and always get mistaken for other races. But most often Black folks can tell that I am black. I was raised in a all black neighborhood and work with mostly black people in the workplace. I have been bullied and ridiculed by black people because I am mixed raced and because of the way that I look. No one ever offered to introduce me to their son! White people are confused by my appearance so they stay away and ostracize me. I have never felt embraced by either group. I am not married. That is my experience.

Jay Walker said...

Anonymous, I've outlined what I view as a range of possible experiences among BRs. It's likely the more White-appearing BRs will experience solicitations to date a relative. I appreciate your contribution to the discussion. If you wish to get married, I hope that happens for you.

Anonymous said...

It's probably stupid that this ruffled my feathers the wrong way, but it did. I'm a 14 year old biracial girl and I've experienced a lot of racism in my life. Whether because where I live (Oklahoma), what I am or something else entirely. ((I didn't know I was biracial until I was 10. Despite my lighter skin tone, I had a "black" nose and an afro and stereotypically black features. Despite the fact that my mama was pale and my daddy is brown. I just thought I was black - black wax all I knew until I had a rude awakening in 5th grade. 5th grade was awful. Kids can be really mean.)) I don't deny that this list may be true for some biracial people, but I feel that a lot of these assumptions were misguided and well, assumptions. White people have certainly not treated me well. Even my family. Biracial people DO have certain privileges, but I'm of the opinion that every race or phenotype has small privileges whether among people of their own race or of another. Some races (whites) have a LOT more privilege. So biracial people do have privileges and sometimes I just want to cling to the ones I do have because I only have a very few (especially where I live). But I know that's wrong and were actively trying to even things out, so I don't. But a lot of this list wasn't true for me or my family at all. And I shouldn't have expected them to, I suppose. This adage rings true "Don't judge a man until you walk two moons in his moccasins."

Jay Walker said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing your experience. I stated this list came from “BR/White privileges I've either experienced, or witnessed other BRs receive.” My intention wasn't to capture any one person's personal experience with absolute precision. I believe that task is beyond my ability. I'm sorry to hear the limitations of my list left your frustrated. I sought to display a range of possible and known privileges.

The description you gave for your own experience is educational, and extremely valuable to this discussion. I'm listening very carefully to you and others re: this topic.

Can you state examples of any of the limited privilege you state you have but are bothered by? Do you have an example of the form that privilege has taken for you? I do acknowledge we're talking about limited privilege here - that we BRs as a group do experience prejudice also (as you reported). … You make a good point about different groups in general having different privileges. Very true.