Linguistic Shortcuts and Self-Preservation:

How Multiracial Individuals Use “Racial Elevator Speeches” to Field Inquiries about Race

Colleagues, acquaintances, and complete strangers often ask multiracial and racially ambiguous individuals to identify their racial/ethnic background through questions such as “what are you?” Through in-depth interviews, my work confirms this pattern and goes on to examine how multiracial individuals respond to these inquiries. I find that participants developed “racial elevator speeches” or scripts that they applied across multiple contexts, rather than tailoring to every new situation. Multiracial participants chose their racial elevator speeches intentionally, often designing them for convenience and to satisfy social norms. As a result, elevator speeches did not necessary reflect perfectly accurate accounts of racial ancestry or even personal identity. I connect the implications of this pattern to the rigidity of racial categories and the limitations in how we measure race.

Reminders and References:

How Others’ Racial Appraisals Shape Multiracial Identities

Scholars often use the multiracial population to make broader projections about race in the US. Yet many overlook how variation among multiracial identities can lead to drastically different experiences with race. While we might expect differences such as race and physical appearance to shape how individuals experience race, my data highlights contradictions to this pattern. Based on interviews with college-age multiracial individuals, I find that experiences with race differ primarily by the salience of race, rather than solely appearance or race itself. Race salience varied based on two types of interactions with others: racial reminders and racial references. This study contributes to the body of scholarship that examines how race is contextual and social, using multiraciality as a case study to further understand how race functions in the US.