by Special Correspondent Thea Lim
Do you remember last last week’s Freakonomics study that claimed biracial black/white kids were liable to be twice as messed up as kids who were monoracially black or white?Apart from the racist generalisations of that study, some of our readers (including myself) were peeved at the insinuation that the only kind of biraciality that exists is the black/white kind. But good news everybody: there’s now a study for Asian/white biracials too!
Biracial Asian-Americans are twice as likely as monoracial Asian-Americans to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder, U.S. researchers said.
At first glance, this study seems to be treading the same problematic lines as the Freakonomics study. Like, call us crazy (haha!), but us biracial Asian Americans don’t like being told by a researchers that we’re twice as likely to be bananas as our monoracial Asian friends and relatives.
But take a closer look:
Among the biracial individuals in their national survey the researchers found 34 percent had been diagnosed with a psychological disorder — such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse — compared to 17 percent of monoracial individuals.
Considering that many biracial folk from a wee age have to put up with a lot of nonsense from families, both communities of colour AND white folk, and just society in general, it doesn’t surprise me if researchers find we experience higher levels of unhappiness.
If you ask me, there are two problems with the way this study has been described. One has to do with the way we talk about mental health, and the other has to do with confusing nature with nurture.
Calling anxiety, depression and substance abuse “mental disorders” medicalises or pathologises these behaviours. In other words, it makes them sound like diseases, like derivations from healthy human behaviour. But any adult (and many kids) know that’s poppycock. Many people just feel worried, sad, or drink because life is difficult. Having that reaction is not necessarily a mental disorder.
I do believe that things like generalised anxiety disorder, major depression, and substance abuse problems exist. But it’s hard to tell how these things were diagnosed for the purposes of this study. Were all the biracial Asian Americans they spoke with struggling with serious, life-long or endogenous cases of mental disorder, or were they just having a hard time? I have found that these days we’re much quicker than we should be to label the bad day blues a sign of madness.
If you’ve ever looked at one of those Depression checklists (you see them in newspapers, doctor’s offices, on the internet), you can see right away that some of the questions are a little, well, odd. They usually ask things like: “Ever had a period of 2 weeks or more where everyday you felt blue?” Come now, who hasn’t experienced a 2 week period where they felt like poop? Especially someone dealing with confusion over their identity, feelings of unbelonging, or daily racism?
I’m not saying categorically that the study didn’t use an accurate test of mental disorder. And I’m also definitely saying that I understand violent sadness can sometimes be diagnosed as a disorder. But it’s just that it would behoove us to be a bit skeptical that anxiety, depression and substance abuse observed by the study all formed Mental Disorders.
Now, this study (or at least as it has been described) makes it sound as having “mixed blood” (yick) is what causes distress. That if you have a one white parent and one Asian parent, hey presto! Genetically you will probably be mad. This suggests that the problem, ie mentally disordered behaviour, is inherent to biracial folk.
In the snapshot way the study has been described, nurture isn’t explicitly recognised. It’s not suggested that the source of those behaviours could originate elsewhere (ie an f-ed up society), and that these so-called mental disorders could simply be a response to a bad situation, rather than a congenital problem.
You could argue that the problem isn’t the study, but the media’s depiction of it. I would say yes – but at the same time it is the researchers’ responsibility to ensure their press releases emphasise all the important info – like the possible fact that culture and not just genetics is a culprit.
It took me a while to figure out that what I disliked was not being mixed race, but being mixed race in a racist culture that fetishises or misunderstands the mixed race experience. What I mean is, the problem isn’t me and my mixed race self, it’s the culture I live in.
It was actually a disability activist who helped me to understand this difference. She has a mobility disability and she commented that what she disliked was not being disabled – that was a part of her identity and experience that made her, her – but being disabled within a culture and infrastructure that ignored her right to her basic needs.
I don’t mind the suggestion that mixed race people might have a hard time. Hey, it’s true! This study, if couched in different terms, could actually be helpful and validating to communities of biracial Asian Americans who struggle with their position in a race-obsessed society.
What I mind is the suggestion that mixed race people are innately defective. This kind of conversation that mislocates the problem in the person of colour rather than the society is what creates self-hatred. This is why it’s so heartbreaking when, for eg, East Asian men or Black women talk about how they see themselves as impossibly ugly. We’re hoodwinked into thinking that we’re the ones who are bad and gross, instead of the culture we live in.
But then again, you can’t trust me. Statistically I’m a loonie.
Sidebar: Let’s also note that defining “biracial” as half-white and half-something else is not accurate! Like you could be half Pakistani and half Malaysian. You’d still be biracial! Let’s stop ignoring the experiences of people who are mixed race but have two parents of colour. Doing otherwise makes it seem like the mixed race experience is only remarkable when a white person is involved – it insists white experiences be included.