Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash
Reformed Margins is proud to present this guest post from Dalen Miller. Dalen is an engineer from Minnesota. He is married, biracial, and a member of a Baptist church in Minneapolis.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Minneapolis.”
“No, where are you from?”
This exchange is one that I have had many times. The unspoken question behind the question is “What are you ethnically?” I am biracial, half-Asian and half-Caucasian, but because I’m mixed on both of those sides as well, it makes it hard to place me in an ethnic group by physical features. I’m clearly not entirely white, but I also don’t quite look Chinese or Japanese.
The question “What are you?” isn’t one I thought very much about growing up until it was forced upon me. I grew up thinking it was normal to eat rice every day, that Spam musubi was a common lunch, that eating grilled brats with rice instead of a bun was typical, and that wearing shoes inside is weird. Because I am the product of an interracial marriage, my home was a mixture of different cultural expectations and practices, but to me it was just home. That’s just how my family did things.
I was blessed to grow up with parents who loved Jesus and took us to a church where the gospel was preached, and in this church we weren’t the only biracial family so I never really felt out of place. I always thought of myself as part of the majority culture in the Midwest, that is, white culture. I didn’t think of myself as Asian or mixed, just normal. Thankfully, through much of my childhood I wasn’t confronted with the negative effects of racism. However, this meant I never really thought through my own identity and how it affects me. My parents didn’t try to shield me from reality about race, it was just something I didn’t have to worry about much. Once I started college though, that changed.
Up until I was about 16, I don’t remember encountering open racism personally. I do remember around that age, I accidentally brushed up against someone on a bus and they muttered a slur under their breath at me. That may have been the first time I began to realize that people who don’t know me may judge me based on how I look. I’ve been called a “Chink” a few times, never by people I know, but it made me realize that the world was not the bubble I had grown up in, with other biracial people being the norm.
Casual racism still exists and is something I have had to deal with. Hearing offhand remarks and jokes about my race among acquaintances became my normal. As I got further into college I realized that to my Asian friends I was white, but to my white friends I was Asian. It never quite felt like I was one or the other, always stuck in between. I still just thought of myself as normal. Coming to grips with this reality hasn’t always been easy. Thankfully, I had been in my church for so long that I never felt like an outsider based on race.
It seems God has used my background to help to challenge assumptions I have made that aren’t always true. It’s made me aware of cultural norms that influence how I think church should be done that aren’t necessarily biblical and that cultural expression in worship is inevitable, and not necessarily bad. I’ve become convinced there isn’t one perfect way to run a church service here on earth.
Being biracial has also challenged political assumptions I’ve had as I think about my own experiences with race relations. It’s challenged my assumptions about where I live and how far our culture has come in terms of race. There are times where I’ve been called too liberal by conservatives, and too conservative by liberals when it comes to racial issues and issues of identity. These are things that I’ve had to deal with and get used to.
As I’ve entered adulthood, I’ve become more comfortable with the fact that I am biracial. There are elements of my mother’s culture and my father’s culture I have taken with me, and now the strange blend is my own. I’m glad to be what I am, even though it’s not always comfortable. I’m also glad to live in a city where I have met other biracial families. I’m especially thankful to be in a church that doesn’t shy away from issues of race, and seeks to make me welcome.
I think the question “Where are you from?” can be an excellent way to learn about someone, what city they grew up in and what part of the world they are from. But I’m not a fan of using it as a hidden question to figure out what someone’s racial background is. If you’re really curious, get to know me and ask me directly. I’m more than happy to talk about who I am.