I recently took an intergroup dialogue-training course for administrators and graduate students interested in leading a related course offered at my university. We were ushered through a number of activities to explore our own life experiences and interrogate any biases we might bring to our class as facilitators. One of the exercises that particularly stood out to me during the training was the “Racialized Life Map” worksheet. We were asked to record the first 5 experiences we can recall in which we encountered or recognized ourselves as racialized beings.
As a Black biracial (African American and German American) woman several moments came to mind. I can remember in kindergarten, being asked if I was adopted by my classmates after my father came in for career day. I recall getting strange stares from my father’s coworkers on take-your-daughter-to-work-day or even being called the “N word” by a white classmate in 6th grade after school.
The memories continue…my first recollection of being tokenized by my middle school history teacher occurred when she asked me to speak on behalf of African Americans in class when the topics of slavery and the Civil Rights movement arose. As a high school senior, I vividly recall my guidance counselor telling me I had a strong chance of getting admitted to my top college choice, an elite, small public university in southern Virginia, because I am black. I was constantly socialized and treated as an African American woman. You see, in my mind, I didn’t have a choice to be biracial. Based on the aforementioned interactions along with a lifetime of experiences, I have identified as Black for most of my life. This, often conscious decision is based on people’s perceptions of my racial identity.
I was born in Virginia 20 years after the Loving v. Virginia (1967) Supreme Court case, which ended anti-miscegenation laws in the United States and made it possible for my parents to get married legally. I grew up in Northern Virginia with my African American mother (Bronx, NY) and German-American father (Fulda, OH) and my older brother. We lived in a predominately White neighborhood and subsequently I attended predominately White schools. My close friend group was a microcosm of my school, predominately White, until I entered middle school. With the joining of multiple schools in the area, I had many more interracial interactions and friendships. My friend group quickly changed from primarily White to primarily Black. This trajectory continued throughout the rest of my life. I found more comfort, sense of belonging and connection with the Black community in multiple spaces. That was my safe space and it’s where I remained. I maintained these friendships until I started college at a small, predominantly White university in Williamsburg, Virginia.
College propelled me into a state of exploration and afforded me the space to become aware of my racial/ethnic identity. In hopes of feeling a greater sense of belonging and community, I choose to participate in predominantly Black organizations. On campus, I served as Vice President in the Black Student Union, Education Chair of our collegiate chapter of the NAACP, and also joined a historically black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, which I later became chapter President. These affiliations connected me to administrators and faculty who had a significant impact on my collegiate experience. My mentors in college were mainly people of color. Because I identified as African American, I looked to African American faculty, administrators and spiritual leaders for guidance and affirmation during my undergraduate and graduate years.
Graduate school has afforded me the opportunity to explore multiracial literature and delve into the lived experience of multiracial people. I discovered connections between myself and other multiracial people that I had never experienced firsthand. Although I still experience this world as an African American woman, I am much more inclined to share my biracial identity and embrace the intricacies and complexities of my broader identity. I hope that my work in the field of higher education will one day contribute to multiracial scholarship for years to come.
Jeanette Snider is an Assistant Director in the Undergraduate Program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Jeanette is currently in her third year of doctoral studies in Maryland's Higher Education Administration program. She has a passion for working with students and helping them reach their full potential at all levels of their educational journey. This is reflected in the programs, initiatives, publications and consulting experiences she has led or participated in while at the university. Jeanette’s research interests’ center around multiracial/biracial student experiences as well as high achieving African American students at predominantly White institutions, and issues related to race, equity, and diversity.