The definition of the word monoracial is to be ‘composed of or involving members of one race only’. Monoracial privilege therefore refers to the advantages and benefits that come with being a person who is one race only. A person of any race can have this privilege if they are of only one race.
Monoracial privilege is an extremely controversial topic. I am 100% certain this article would never be posted by a popular feminist blog for that very reason. Many black American people insist monoracial privilege is not real and some multiracial American people agree with this too. I’m less clear about perspectives on this in the UK, where I live, and where race is less discussed. In this article I will outline some of the privileges that come with being monoracial and you can decide for yourself where you stand on this. I think the only reason people can get away with saying monoracial privilege doesn’t exist is because multiracial perspectives have such a long history of being ignored or dismissed. There is a lack of research on the racial experiences of multiracial people and as a group we have really only just begun to join forces and to speak out about our experiences. All of this makes it very easy for monoracial people to insist that multiracial perspectives are invalid. Despite the fact that the impact of racism on multiracial people is relatively unexplored territory and most people know nothing about the lives of multiracial people, many monoracial people constantly tell us what our experiences are and are not. This has been the story of my life. Between white racism and horizontal hostility from the other minority ethnic group or groups we belong to, multiracial people are often expected to keep our mouths shut. Well, I’m here to say, no I don’t think so! I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not going to be silenced by monoracial people. I know that monoracial privilege is real from my own lived experience.
Some people talk about anti-multiculturalism or monoracism (forms of oppression multiracial people face due to their multiple identities) as a way of raising these issues and not offending people who won’t accept monoracial privilege. I’d argue though that if we accept a particular group faces a certain kind of oppression, by default we must accept that the people who don’t face that oppression, have privilege. It’s really that simple.
Saying monoracial privilege does not exist is a further form of silencing and oppression for multiracial people. I’m getting fed up of being told in black communities about my privileges and how multiracial people should shut up about the issues we face because they just aren’t that bad compared to black people’s experiences. I don’t even know how we could compare who has it worse and I don’t think it is productive to get into those kind of arguments. Even if one group did have it much worse that does not invalidate the experiences of the other group. There are arguments that multiracial people are exposed to more racial prejudice than other groups, not less, because of the multiplicity of their racial identities. As an example I have received racism for being both black and multiracial. Now I am not trying to say my experience is harder than the average black person’s in the UK. What I am trying to say is this is all very complicated stuff and we can’t over-simplify it to suit our personal agendas. Both monoracial people of colour and multiracial people are in oppressed groups.
Monoracial privileges – let’s break it down
It’s the privilege of having people believe you when you say what race you are.
It’s the privilege of having easy access to a community of other people who are the same race as you.
It’s the privilege of being able to date and marry someone of the same race as you.
It’s the privilege of having the choice to have children which are the same race as you.
It’s the privilege of not having people assume your family members are not really your family (if you are monoracial but part of a multiracial family you are excluded from this privilege).
It’s the privilege of not being raised to think that you exists in halves/ quarters/ percentages etc. and have a fragmented identity.
It’s the privilege of not being made to feel you have to choose which heritage you identify with.
It’s the privilege of not having to prove your racial identity or have it outwardly defined for you in terms of how you should identify.
It’s the privilege of not being made to feel you are ‘not enough’ of a certain race.
It’s the privilege of not being fetishized and objectified because of your racial mix.
It’s the privilege of not being shut out of one or all of your ethnic communities because of your race.
It’s the privilege of living in a monoracial world which only validates monoracial identities and perspectives. Just as we live in a world that is patriarchal and white supremacist, we live in a world that is governed by monoracial norms. People with bi and multi identities face prejudice.
It’s the privilege of having outlets and resources for people of your race.
It’s the privilege of not having to deal with multiracial stereotypes on top of any other racial stereotypes.
It’s the privilege of not being raised by parents you can’t identify with racially, who don’t know what it is like to be your race and who may not be able to adequately support you navigating your racial identity.
It’s the privilege of having your racial identity accepted automatically as a valid identity in its own right.
It’s the privilege of not living under the constant threat of rejection from other racial communities if you speak your personal truth.
It’s the privilege of not having your reality denied as a multiracial person.
It’s the privilege of not being pushed to assume a monoracial identity.
It’s the privilege of not being excluded from conversations of race even though you experience racism.
I could keep going.
I am now going to tackle a couple of counter arguments to monoracial privilege and point out why they are inherently faulty.
‘But we are all multiracial!’
No we are definitely not all multiracial because being multiracial means your parents are of different races to each other. If your parents are the same race as each other (unless they themselves have parents of different races, like Zoe Kravitz for example) you are not multiracial. I don’t care if your great, great, great, great, great uncle was from India, this doesn’t make you someone who is living a multiracial experience.
‘It’s anti-blackness to talk about monoracial privilege!’
It’s not anti-blackness. It’s possible to hold racial privilege in some ways but not have it in others. Just as I have to accept some light-skinned privilege even though I experience racism, monoracial black people need to accept monoracial privilege. No-one is saying monoracial privilege is the same as white privilege. Like I said, it’s simply the privileges that come with being one race only. I can’t see what is anti-black about that.
‘But monoracial privilege is just not even real!’
Ever thought it’s not real to you because you personally benefit from it and don’t experience the type of oppression I’m discussing?
‘But people of colour can’t oppress multiracial people because we don’t have instituitional power.’
Ok, now your argument is getting better. I’d still say you are wrong though. It’s common for multiracial people to lack any sense of group power at all. We are often isolated and lack access to multiracial communities. In fact, multiracial communities and resources are relatively new. In the UK we don’t have much that is specifically for multiracial people at all.
Multiracial people have a history of being defined by others, who are both white and non-white. This commonly starts with our parents. We learn how to be from monoracial role models at home and in wider society in most cases. Look at how multiracial people of black and white heritage are made to feel like they are betraying black people in the US if they don’t identify as black.
While monoracial people of colour don’t have institutional power they still often have easier access to communities and resources for people of their race, so I’d argue they do have some power to oppress multiracial people, though arguably less than white monoracial people.
Anyway, you don’t actively have to be oppressing someone to experience a privilege.
‘Blame white supremacy for this mess, not monoracial people of colour!’
Ok, cool. By the same token then that means I don’t have to accept any accountability for colourism because that was caused by white supremacy too. That argument doesn’t wash does it? It doesn’t matter who started the mess. It’s EVERYBODY’S responsibility to clear it up.
‘But multiracial people have light-skinned privilege so they don’t get to complain about anything. This is just light-skinned tears!!’
Wow, I love the empathy in this one. First of all not all multiracial people have white heritage anyway so we don’t all have light-skinned privilege. While it’s true in some cases light-skinned multiracial people will access certain privileges, this does not in any way negate monoracial privilege.
And talking about light-skinned privilege and monoracism it may be helpful to know that both black and multiracial race people are over-represented in the mental health and criminal justice system in the UK. Multiracial children are also over-represented in the looked after system and child protection systems in the UK. Studies here have also shown that the mental health of multiracial children is compromised by experiencing racial prejudice from both white people and people of colour. I just recently read an article about a multiracial boy who killed himself because of racist bullying, but I guess his parents need to just shut up right, because he was light-skinned?
In the UK multiracial people have not been shown to have more social or economic capital than black people. Maybe this is different in the US where segregation is more of an issue, and explains why so many black and multiracial Americans struggle with the idea of monoracial privilege. Even if multiracial people in the US do have more social and economic capital (and I question this), this still does not mean monoracial privilege is not a real privilege.
We also need to accept that the experiences of people of colour are different throughout the world and therefore some privileges may work differently in different countries. You might want to try reading up on the experiences of multiracial people in South Africa for example.
Feel free to respond with comments below with your perspective on this. I’m sure people will! I will brace myself for the backlash.
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