Racial Justice & Decolonization Can’t Happen Without Disrupting Monoracism

What would it look like to center the voices of multiracial folx in the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (SIRJD)? I would not only encourage student affairs professionals to think about this, but I would argue it is also necessary.

Even within our conversations about racial justice, race is often talked about through a single racial identity lens. Students of Color, White Students, Native Students are all mentioned in the narrative. However, what about students who do not fit within these boxes? How about students who identify with multiple racial identities? What does it mean to work towards racial justice but only talk about race monoracially? As a multiracial person, my heart sinks every time we talk about racial justice and only talk about race through a monoracial lens.

“There is no social justice without racial justice” was a quote said multiple times in the video about the SIRJD. I would also argue there is no racial justice without disrupting monoracism. In the video, I appreciate the way Jamie Washington, Vice President of ACPA, talks about engaging in conversations with his multiracial and monoracial grandchildren because those experiences are different. Furthermore, I appreciate the way that Stephen Quaye, President of ACPA, talks about his son being able to move through the world living boldly with all of this identities as a multiracial person. These stories of multiraciality need to be centered in the SIRJD to disrupt the constructs and the boxes our society has put forward about race. As a budding student affairs professional, I have learned we cannot treat experiences and students monolithically. The same holds true for multiracial students. I hope for a world that Stephen describes, one where multiracial people can feel bold in all their identities.

When multiraciality is not mentioned in the larger narrative about racial justice, it leads to a possible erasure of one’s identity. While a multiracial person might find parts of their experiences in discussing their White identity and some parts of their experiences in being a person of color or their multiple identities, this does not encompass the beautiful complexities of their identity as a whole.

As I began my graduate work, I started to notice that my story and my experiences as a Biracial Filipina were not ones that I was finding in the research we were reading for class. I did not fit into one specific box when it came to my race and ethnicity. The thought of trying to work through this complication was daunting so instead I chose to avoid it at all costs. My graduate program pushed me to engage in critical self-reflection around my social identities. This previous desire to avoid self-awareness around my identities because of its lack of representation in the dominant narrative prompted me to desire for more research.

In the beginning of my student development theory class, we read theories about college students that often reflected Whiteness. Because I identify as half White, there were pieces of these theories that fit my experience but I still found myself searching for the other parts to fill the empty holes. I have a clear memory of turning the pages of the syllabus yearning for the pieces of my incomplete puzzle. I remember seeing week seven with two Asian American scholars writing about identity development for Asian American students and this filled me with a sense of eagerness as I awaited this week, only to find that one of these readings would be eliminated from the syllabus. When we discussed this in class, there were parts of the theory that again fit my experience and other parts that did not. I questioned and asked myself, “What is missing? If these are the two parts to my whole, why can’t I put them together to conjure up my experience?”

It wasn’t until we began to explore multiracial identity in week 10 that I started to understand the empty abyss I was feeling around my identity. The readings from this week were powerful, especially one in particular. This was the chapter by Johnston-Guerrero on Embracing the Messiness: Critical and Diverse Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Development. When I had to answer questions like “Should I go to the students of color caucus or should I take the Whiteness class?”, I chose to avoid both because I did not think I could fit anywhere. However, after reading Johnston-Guerrero’s chapter, I began to realize the importance of embracing what society deemed to be messy, “Realizing the near impossibility of distinguishing between the two, I argue the importance of embracing the messiness that comes from conceptualizing race and ethnicity” (Johnston-Guerrero, 2016, p. 44).

This empowerment that I felt after seeing a glimpse of my experience reflected in a text is what inspires me to engage in research around multiracial identity. There are so many stories around race that are silenced and untold because they do not align with monoracial hegemony and/or Whiteness. These experiences deserve and need to be told.

I am a strong believer research and stories are a form of systemic intervention that help disrupt oppression. By centering these experiences and these stories in the imperative, our field can create empowerment for a group of people whose stories are not always shared.

All of our stories and all of the systems of oppression are intertwined and connected. As Audre Lorde says, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” In order to move towards a world with racial justice and decolonization, it is vital to disrupt monroacism.

Bio (She, her, hers)

Lisa Combs is a second year master’s student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She currently holds a Graduate Assistantship in the Office of Community Engagement and Service. Her responsibilities include advising student leaders, organizing days of service, and programming involving community change projects and public issues. She has practicum experiences in leadership programs and student activities. Her research interests include identity development of multiracial students and leadership self-efficacy. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English from Ohio State University.

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