Workplace Discrimination in the Age of Racial Ambiguity

By: Caroline Sarda

In an increasingly diverse and global climate, we often find ourselves in situations of conscious diversification—whether it be in our conversations, our media production and consumption, or in our workplace. However, we also simultaneously find ourselves in an increasingly integrated and “ambiguous” climate—one in which those hard and fast labels (especially those regarding gender and race) seem less and less relevant. At one particular crossroad of this progression stands the multiracial, multiethnic, or simply “ethnically ambiguous” woman. With a self-determined racial identity—which is often disregarded by society—to include multiracial people in any discussion regarding discrimination (in the workplace or otherwise) is to inherently raise the question of society’s aesthetic and outdated notion of race in the modern world.

In examining workplace discrimination as it applies to gender, we often tend to fall back on the somewhat tokenized wage gap statistics that, over time, have come to represent the most tangible measurement of both the problem and a possible solution. Numbers, facts, categories—concrete pieces of information—are able to at least temporarily satisfy our need for a simplification and rationalization of the problem. These statistics also, pointedly, leave out any mention of multiracial or multiethnic women. That being said, these statistics undoubtedly do serve a substantial role in both our discussions regarding gender inequality in the workplace and in our fight for palpable, active legislative and administrative change.

 In 2015, The American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women working full time in the United States were paid 80% of what men were. This inequity is compounded when race comes into play. While white (non-Hispanic) women make 75% of the white man’s dollar (and Asian women 85%), African American women make 63%, Pacific Islander women 60%, American Indian women 58%, and Hispanic and Latina women 54%.

However, with an ever-increasing population of biracial, multiracial, and multiethnic women often deemed by society as “racially ambiguous,” what does is mean for our conversation about the intersection of sexism and racism in the workplace to fall along such narrow, harshly defined lines? Where do mixed race women fit? Do their experiences simply align with their non-whiteness or self-identified race? Or does the human propensity to assess and assume based on aesthetics dictate where they fall among these statistics?

Although not much research has been dedicated to this specific area, Nancy Leong’s article, “Judicial Erasure of Mixed-Race Discrimination” has received much attention in the field. In the article, Leong states, “Sure, Tiger Woods has White, Black, Asian, and Native American ancestors…but when society sees him on the street, they see a Black man.” And assumptions can become even more inaccurate and harmful the more ambiguous one’s appearance seems. As a half Filipina and half Irish young woman, many people perceive me upon first glance as either White or Hispanic. Would I then be received in the workplace as a White woman? Or a Hispanic woman? An Asian woman? Or would any discrimination that I potentially face align with my actual racial identity?

It has even been suggested in some spheres that multiracial individuals face discrimination that is, in fact, rooted in their multiracialism itself apart from their simple non-whiteness. However, the lack of substantial and widely available evidence remains a barrier to any concrete progress or widespread awareness.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, we have no choice but to force ourselves and society to deconstruct and rethink our perceptions of race to make room for those that exist without concrete identifiers. Our obsession with the aesthetic nature of race is an outdated facet of our consciousness and simply cannot withstand the increasing visibility of multiracial individuals that challenge both racial discrimination and the routes that we have henceforth taken to combat it.