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Want to Be Less Racist? Move to Hawaii

The “aloha spirit” may hold a deep lesson for all of us.
Source: New York Times

HONOLULU — Kristin Pauker still remembers her uncle’s warning about Dartmouth. “It’s a white institution,” he said. “You’re going to feel out of place.”

Dr. Pauker, who is now a psychology professor, is of mixed ancestry, her mother of Japanese descent and her father white from an Italian-Irish background. Applying to colleges, she was keen to leave Hawaii for the East Coast, eager to see something new and different. But almost immediately after she arrived on campus in 1998, she understood what her uncle had meant.

She encountered a barrage of questions from fellow students. What was her ethnicity? Where was she from? Was she Native Hawaiian? The questions seemed innocent on the surface, but she sensed that the students were really asking what box to put her in. And that categorization would determine how they treated her. “It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone sees race the same way,” she told me.

Back in Hawaii, being mixed was so common as to be nearly unremarkable. Many of her friends were some mixture of East Asian ethnicities, white, Filipino, Hawaiian and more, and for the most part, everyone hung out with everyone else. The Dartmouth student body, on the other hand, seemed self-segregated. The nonwhite students primarily stuck with their own race — blacks sat with blacks in the cafeteria, Asians with Asians, Native Americans with Native Americans. (Dartmouth, which was around 75 percent white then, has since doubled its share of nonwhite students.)

For the first time in her life, she wasn’t sure where she belonged, and she found herself wondering: Does it have to be like this?

Dr. Pauker belongs to a small group of psychologists, many of them mixed themselves, who have begun to explore the advantages of being multiracial. For instance, Sarah Gaither at Duke, a frequent collaborator of Dr. Pauker’s, has discovered that, when reminded of their multiracial heritage, mixed-race individuals score higher on tests that measure creativity. This is probably not because they are inherently superior in some way, but because the very thing that’s so difficult for them — the need to navigate multiple worlds — may actually enhance mental flexibility.

Read the rest of this article at New York Times, it is well worth taking the time, I found it fascinating. pp