"What are you?" Multiracial individuals' responses to racial identification inquiries

Giac-Thao Tran, Elisa R. Miyake, Vanessa Martinez-Morales, Annamaria Csizmadia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objectives: Guided by a racial microaggression framework and utilizing a mixed-method approach, this study explores multiracial individuals' interpersonal experiences and perceptions of racial identification inquiries- queries directed toward them as others attempt to determine their racial background (e.g., "What are you?"). Methods: As part of an online study, multiracial college students (n - 40) were presented with a hypothetical situation in which racial identification inquiries were delivered by a White, racial minority, or racially unspecified communicator. Qualitative analyses identified the categories and thematic codes of participants' open-ended explanations of the personal relevance of these hypothetical situations and proposed endings. Nonparametric tests examined differences in situation, affect, and communication partner ratings based on race of the communicator. Results: Findings affirmed that racial identification inquiries are commonly reported by diverse multiracial individuals (92.5% of the present sample). Qualitative coding of participants' explanations of personal relevance and proposed endings for the hypothetical situations, as well as ratings of situation, affect, and communication partner, revealed both positive and negative characterizations ascribed to racial identification inquiry experiences. Participants who imagined the queries came from a White communicator allotted less time to continuing the conversation than those in the control condition (communicator race unspecified). Conclusions: A racial microaggression framework was relevant but not sufficient in reflecting the complex nature of racial identification inquiries for multiracial individuals. The insights into multiracial individuals' perceptions of these stimuli encourage more critical and dynamic thinking about racial categorization systems and interpersonal racial processes for this underrepresented but growing population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-37
Number of pages12
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Discrimination
  • Microaggressions
  • Multiracial
  • Racial categorization
  • Racial identification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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